The Virtue of Good-natured Patience

iowa city winter_walkwayI work in a restaurant. I alternate between the back of house as a prep cook and the front of house, taking orders from guests and facilitating the staff who are serving and cashiering that day. At the back of the house there is the usual kitchen atmosphere, with people rushing around at the height of our service hours, and a lonely lull while I dice, stir and portion.

I expect my co-workers and managers to be a bit wound up when we are really busy. I even expect that sometimes they will be less than polite and patient. I try to cope with that by meeting their expectations beforehand, working to stay an hour to a day ahead of demand. I prepare the food and put it where they can expect to find it. If I fall behind, then they, in all fairness, can come to me and tell me what they need and when they need it – which is usually “now.” A big part of my kitchen job is planning what needs to be prepared in what order, and allotting appropriate time to it.

I have to be the patient one in this, patient with their demands, calm in the face of a storm that is brewing almost every shift. It requires balancing a hundred details in my mind; if I lose my cool, it will all fall apart for everyone. I sometimes have to stand up to competing demands, and explain what is being done at what time, and how their needs can be facilitated. That usually means stating simply, “I won’t get to that for 30 minutes. If you need it now, if there is none left from the last shift, then you will have to do it yourself.” And because we intend to keep working together without throwing plates, soup pots or knives at each other, we maintain a patient degree of sanity and reason.

white house kitchen 1892

It would be so much better if customers would be as patient with us. While we are not a cordon bleu kitchen, we are not a fast-food chain. Quick service means that there is a limited menu, and most items are prepared to some degree to be finished as ordered. The wait is not 30 minutes, but it is not three minutes, either.

But rather than an apologetic for our service philosophy, I am writing of my concern that many people are impatient with our service, and the service in other retail places. Why are we all demanding that food be instantly placed before us? Why are we demanding to have what we want, when we want it, which is right now? The patience people employ when service is not instantly given is a tightly wound, judgmental containment.

There is a strong virtue in good-natured patience.

Usually we experience a temperamental patience that is mere polite holding of the tongue while impatient. It means the bearer of the patient situation is internalizing the stress of that situation, that one is being imposed upon by having to wait. It is a self-focussed thought process; the self is too impatient to give other people the courtesy of time.

Simply put, without all the semiotics and philosophy: Some people consider themselves too important to have to wait in the ordinary course of events.  They frown, cross their arms, say things like, “No, it’s all right, I can wait a few minutes.”

There are people who smile, and say, “Oh, I quite understand, so sorry I have to put you to this trouble, it seemed like such a simple thing to ask for.”

And what they mean is that they did not want to invest fifteen minutes in waiting for what is essentially a complicated process. They become patronizing, and they may smile, but their body language says that they are annoyed and impatient, even if the delay is because of their misunderstanding. Those who endure a situation requiring patience are the ones who criticize later. The wait staff was slow but couldn’t help it because of personal failings. (I have been called stupid in different ways, even by seemingly patient customers.) these same people may say of their secretary that they put up with her despite her ineffectiveness, and they say it with a smile, being long-suffering saints in the office.

Good-natured patience could is entering a situation with an open mind, adapting quickly to circumstances, and adjusting expectations to fit the event as one finds it. Really, it is better to say to oneself, in a busy restaurant, “I know I don’t have the time to wait, so I will go elsewhere today.” If the wait staff or manager asks why you are leaving before being served, a gentle explanation is all that is necessary: “I didn’t expect it to be so busy today, and I have limited time. I understand that not everyone can be served at once, so I will come back some other time.” The angry patience of standing in line, staring at one’s watch, infects those waiting and those serving. It does make the situation worse.

goodbreadrecipe2Christian good-natured patience is entering every moment with an open heart. It is standing in the Kingdom wherever we are. It is a pervasive understanding that one is not the most important individual everywhere; it is humility. Christians practice a patience that knows of the mysterious and great work of God, from the natural cycle of the seasons and bringing forth fruit, to the realisation that all that is good happens in God’s time, not ours. That time might be right now, or it might be what seems to be a long delay.

I was not a patient Christian in earlier years. I am not well-known for my patience now. But I am beginning to understand the great patience of God, who does not give up on his creation, especially humanity, which has been so wayward for so long. We love God, and yet we do not like to wait for his plans to unfold. We confuse the things of this world that we covet with the good gifts God gives us. We want a reward we can see, eat, touch, and spend like cash.

The patience of Christ is the patience of the athlete, working day by day to build a better body, more strength, more accuracy, more speed. The patience of Christ is the patience of a woman expecting a child, living through the weeks as everything about her changes.

Be patient with other people. Be patient in love, in the very moment in which we are living. Be patient with yourself, and happy that God is seeing fit to make us all like himself.

Staying Plain

Plain as Prophecy

It seems a double handful of friends in various places have decided they are no longer plain. When I ask why the answers range from “My husband/family didn’t like it” to “I was tired of telling people I’m not Amish.” The most honest answer was probably “It was a mistake, I wasn’t meant for this.” I won’t question people’s motives, but I can’t see it myself. Plain is so easy – so low-key – so cheap!

A long time ago I got tired of the mirror. I didn’t want to be the person checking her hair, checking her clothes, checking her make-up. I wasn’t fashion obsessed, but I had the idea that as an artist, my body was a canvas, and I would show the world who I was by what I displayed on it. But instead of having a number of “costumes” that went on easily, so as to get on with the day and serve as a billboard for my creative work, dress became a matter of insecurity.

I was projecting who I wanted to be, not who I was. I was manipulating how people saw me. They didn’t get to know me, they got to know my clothes.

While I am usually in habit now, out on the street, I still dress Plain at home and when I travel anywhere. Do people think I’m Amish? Maybe. Not a bad thing. I don’t do anything that would embarrass an Amish woman or mislead someone about the Amish. (This also reminds me to behave modestly in all things.) And if someone asks me if I am Amish, I say that I am not, and that I belong to a different church. If they are curious enough to ask more questions, it is an opportunity to witness to them, to spread the gospel. Either in habit or Plain dress, I am happy to pray for or with someone if they ask. This is apostolic witness; no Christian should be ashamed of it.

Me, full habit

Me, full habit

Stay Plain. Become Plain. It means you never fuss with clothes again. The habit is a medieval form of Plain; those in religious orders might consider taking it up if they put it off. Plain is comfortable. It is practical. It is inexpensive. You can have a smaller house because you don’t need extra closet space. It doesn’t go out of fashion. It is easy to sew. Covering means that you don’t worry about hairstyles, grey hair or thinning hair. Plain means you need one mirror in the house. You gain self-confidence. You know how people see you: As a Christian. It is a commitment to a way of life that liberates.

medieval nun

Plain means you stop thinking about yourself as some sort of ornament decorating the world, and become Real. Becoming Real means living in God’s Kingdom, now and always, rather than staying in the illusion that is the world and our insecurities.

nun in cloister

Storming the Gates

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you will know that I have been waiting to be reinstated into licensed ministry for a long time. My last parish work was in 2005. I did not expect to be out of the cassock this long.

I have looked for parish work all over the world. There is one big obstacle: my bishop has to give me letters of good standing. In effect, he has to sign my license over to another bishop. He has not done that, and does not want to do that, but also has not met with me in the last year to discuss what I may do.

I am called back into parish ministry of some sort. I need to know if it is going to be here, in the Diocese of Fredericton, or if I may now be given letters of good standing, or if I am just out of the Anglican Church. I am insisting on knowing.

I am storming the gates. I’ve been quiet and polite long enough.

I have much to offer: I am well-read, I have the classical languages under my belt, and I am a good speaker. I like people; I like visiting people. I am always willing to look for the lost sheep, or find better pasture for the flock. I am earthy and grounded. I don’t have airs. I am not above the people, I’m just ne of them with a different role. I am not ambitious. I believe I am authentic and genuine.

I am called. That is the important part. I am called by the Lord to serve His flock, to be the sheepdog to His good shepherd.

I like my bishop. He likes me. This is a ridiculous situation.

So I am storming the gates – not to conquer, but perhaps to liberate. Perhaps to free myself, perhaps to free the church, in a small way.

Bishop Medley, first bishop of Fredericton

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.

Gentle as Doves, Wise as Serpents

I’ve been involved or connected in some way to different church groups, from very low Protestant (Baptist) to very high Catholic (in Latin.) I’ve known church leaders who wore tie-dyed t-shirts and others who wore gold vestments. I fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, I hope. It’s not that I’ve seen it all, but I make it my business as an educated Christian to learn something about different groups. I’ve learned my lesson about getting too close or too involved. I intend to stay right where I am, for good or for ill, whether the church I am in (Anglican) is right or wrong about some doctrine or practice. I find nothing harmful in this church, and Anglicans have, over the centuries, grown for themselves a tolerance for private opinion and belief. We are required to  follow certain public practices of faith, and to avoid teaching anything contrary to the church, but privately, we may hold our own beliefs, without signing a confession of faith. This acknowledges that people may be on different stages of a long spiritual journey, and that any of us, from baby to bishop, may hold an erroneous belief privately that will be corrected in time by scripture and the Spirit. It is why we are told to attend divine worship, to fellowship with other Christians, and to accompany our scripture reading with daily prayer. The Book of Common Prayer and holy scripture are our Confession; the BCP is to keep us from straying from Christian thought and prayer, and the scripture is the living word of God, containing all that is necessary for salvation. It is living because it speaks truth to us, despite its venerable age; it addresses human nature, and the relationship between humanity and our Creator. We hear His voice in it.

Enthusiasm is discouraged in the Anglican way. Temperance, in its oldest meaning, is preferred. Enthusiasm leads to error, to emphasizing one aspect of faith to the detriment of others. Too much emphasis on liturgy may cause some to neglect charity; too much emphasis on our fellow man may lead to neglect of our relationship with the Lord. We are here to serve God, not ourselves, not our particular preferences even for the work of the church. Too much concern for our own sinfulness may make us introspective and distant from our Christian companions. Too much concern for evangelizing may alienate others who see us as judmental and arrogant.

While every moment is meant to be spent prayerfully, it doesn’t mean we neglect our duties for prayer.  The mature Christian weaves the prayer of the heart and the hands into everything. Serving in one’s business and home with humility and efficiency is working prayer, the prayer of the hands. Thoughtful contemplation of a passage of scripture, in context, day by day, will produce more spiritual benefit than rushing through the Bible just to say one has read the whole book. And skipping from chapter to chapter, verse to verse, encourages nothing but scripture-mania, a desire to prove all of one’s thoughts with snippets of the Bible. Read carefully and slowly, a chapter or so at a time; stop, pray, think. Hold onto those thoughts and ponder all of it in the heart. I would prefer that the concordance be used judiciously, if at all, by laypeople. It is tempting to turn to it for proof-texting, which is pulling verses out of the Bible with no regard to their meaning in the context of the larger work. Nothing is gained by hammering others (or oneself) with verse after verse of the Bible.

I think one of the biggest temptations for Christians is to look for stricter groups to join, churches that emphasize keeping the rules. All Christians are called to follow Christ, and obey Him; He points us to right conduct in this world. He also frees us from legalism and fear, from attempting to save ourselves by keeping rules. We are given, in His death and glorious resurrection, the new life, if we embrace Him. We are then free – free of the old covenant, which emphasized the law and guilt, and free to follow His Way of radical love. Jesus did not worry much about keeping the rules of the temple priests, and He allowed His disciples to follow His example. They didn’t wash as instructed, harvested on the sabbath, participated in His healings, and sat to meals with those who were outside the law. After He had returned to His Father, the Holy Spirit guided them, even into rule-breaking and actual law-breaking (for it is better to obey God than the ways of men). Gentile converts were not held to the Jewish law; even Jewish converts could set aside kosher. The Christians gathered on the Day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, to remember His moment of glory and our moment of salvation.

The Anglican church is far from perfect. We are just beginning to examine our past complicity with the powers of this world – kings and governments. We have much work to do, and we should avoid our past mistakes, principal among those sins allowing the persecution of those who differ with us, and actual bullying of those who would reform the church when it is spiritually dormant. Within our unwritten doctrine is a spirit of tolerance, and a spirit for growth.

The Prophecy of Headcovering

freshly washed kapps

 I’m sure a number of people wonder why it is that an educated woman like myself would choose to cover. Surely, after seven years of liberal theological education, I would not be so retrograde as to adopt a way of life and dress so – conservative. And conservative, to many moderns, of the worst kind, associated with lack of education, even ignorance. It’s a step backward, even a blow to progressive thought.

I’m not a progressive. I’m more likely post-post-modern. I reject the ephemera of culture.

Paul, in I Corinthians, scolds that church for their innovations in meeting. Perhaps they are trying to incorporate practices from pagan worship; perhaps they are being flamboyant in some way. (One writer, Thomas Cahill, speculates that that there might even be some cross-dressing. I can see his point; some of the Corinthians may have been attracted to a community where the outcasts were accepted. Paul needs to explain to them they have to give up their old ways, though.) Paul tells the men to uncover their heads in worship – could they have been imitating pious Pharisees and draping themselves dramatically in their tallit? Or worse, were some of them wearing women’s shawls to cover elaborately dressed hair? In Corinth, it was probably the latter. And some of the women were cutting their hair short like men, and refusing to cover, as modest women almost always did. Paul emphasizes that the covering is an honour given women (much as Moses veiled his face after meeting with YHWH), probably as a way to admit them into the assembly with the men. If they start throwing off their coverings, what next? Paul knows that men and women mixing in the ecclesia will scandalize the synagogue.

Both men and women are to be modest, plain in dress, and to reject cultural ostentation. They are to dedicate themselves to the way of the Lord, not some worldly way of living.

Christians today certainly struggle with that issue. Who can pick out a group of Christians in the mall, or at a theatre? Most Christians in our culture buy into that culture, literally. We look worldly, act worldly, dress worldly. There is little to say, “We’ve found a better way.” And although Christians invented the word “Charity” to mean inclusion, kindness and generosity to the poor, we are as caught up in the cycle of spending and debt as the rest of society. We have little to give, so millions around the globe are hungry, sick, and desperate.

This is the prophecy of headcovering: Paul had no clue that he was speaking to us. He thought he was trying to get the Corinthians back in line. But his strong words to them, to live as Christ lived – simply, modestly, generously – are words to us. And we need to demonstrate that Way and Paul’s prophecy to the rest of the world. They, including the churches, have lost direction. I hear preaching and see the printed word telling Christians that God will bless them with goods, with worldly prosperity – not with the persecutions and trials that Jesus warned about. Christianity is not a cargo cult.

I am not concerned about proving that God wants women to cover, or that He wants us to be modest and counter-cultural. The teaching of the Bible is that we are to do these things; the reasons haven’t gone away just because we are somehow better educated. Our witness is against the prince of this world and his evil. One of Satan’s lies is that everything has changed, that what was wrong before is right now, because we are moderate, intelligent, enlightened people. God save us from this falsehood, that the dimming of our reason is the same as enlightenment!

It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, old or young, highly educated or barely literate; the Lord has called us all to witness in every place. The world, drifted so far from His Way, needs the sharp surprise of the visual witness – the modest, Plain, simple Christian.

If we walk in His Light, we can see the error of the world. And should we not warn others that they are stumbling in the dark?

Relocation Woes

I’ve done a lot of it – moving. I hate it. We pared our possessions down to a minimum – I could pack and move in about two hours – and I still hated it. Homesteading again will have some different challenges, so I had to buy some things and keep others that I would not have chosen to move.

Canning jars for instance. Who in their right mind moves empty jars? Me, if indeed I am sane. Cannign jars are expensive, they last for years, and they are hard to replace except by spending more money. I got almost all these jars for a pittance. People here ar eno longer canning. They still do where I am going, so I don’t expect to find canning jars at rummage sales for $1 a box anymore.

I am moving bags of flour. The Loblaw’s chain store here had flour on sale at $3/5 kilos. That’s about 11 pounds. I bought eight bags. It is in the freezer right now; I will take it out today, seal it into plastic bags, and move it. Grain products are outrageously expensive in Canada. We grow grain, I know. Why are we paying so much more than Americans?

I have bought some kitchenware that I know won’t be available in New Brunswick – Ontario has a larger, wealthier population, and they discard higher quality goods sooner, so this all came from rummage sales and thrift stores.

I am moving fabric, even scraps. There isn’t that much of it – it amounts to three half-full garbage bags, which will pad things in the trailer. Again, cost and availability are factors. Once this supply is used, I will be haunting the remnant bins and thrift stores for bargains. Occasionally someone has cleaned out a closet or even a relative’s house and given me good fabric. I just received some good wool pieces that way. I see on Kijiji that treadle machines are sometimes available; I hope to get one in the next year. They are probably long gone in Ontario, turned into decorative end tables.

I still have a box of vet supplies (not drugs) and my electric sheep shearers, as well as my hand shearers. I was tempted to offer them for sale, but now I’m glad that I procrastinated. I don’t know if I am proficient enough to offer my services shearing, but if a friend will let me practice on her sheep, I might get good at shearing again so as to hire out in the spring. Shearing is dirty, hot, strenuous work – it’s the main reason wool is a high labour industry. Shearers get butted, kicked, bit and peed on. It is an Iron Man competition every day of the season.

I will finally get to unpack my spinning wheels! We have moved so much, and into such, well – genteel – surroundings lately that my wheels have been packed for almost two years. I have old wool to get washed and carded; I will probably take it to a mini-mill and just get it done, assuming any of it is worth keeping. Fairly clean unwashed wool will keep for a few years assuming insects and mice don’t get into it, although washed wool lasts for decades if it doesn’t get too hot or wet.

I feel as if we are pioneering, or headed to some foreign country, although we are going home, at least for me. It is a different life from the one we have been living. I am no neophyte to it; I know that these winter days will be filled with food preparation and craftwork – and not for recreation, but for our use and possibly income. It is a very slow pace of life. There will be reading, and sleep, and shovelling snow. There will be some exploration of our environment, and more preparation, as we look to gardening and keeping a few small farm animals.

I expect that if done properly our physical and siritual health will improve. I will have time to focus on Nicholas more. I look forward to the slow winter days.