Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle


Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist first, according to the Gospel of John.  This passage really stood out to me as particularly relevant during the season of Advent and in light of the previous post's commentary on seeking and finding.

He first found his own brother Simon and said unto him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is, being interpreted, "the Christ"). (John 1:41)

Monday, November 21, 2011

today I am thinking about...idolatry!

In Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God, there is a chapter called "Idols."  She means the various ways we, through pride or fear or misunderstanding, mis-conceive of Christ.  The spiritual life, she believes, ought rather to be called "the seeking" because, just as His Mother discovered during the Passover pilgrimage of His twelfth year, He needs to be sought in order to be found.

And yet we are so selective about what we want to find.  The author recalls a scene from her childhood when an elderly and quite wealthy friend would sit on the vast lawns of her estate (the one that was built from slum-rents), and read aloud from the Bible, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."

She writes:

We all tend to that sort of scripture reading.  And though we do not depend only on reading, yet it is really necessary, in our search for Christ, to read the Gospel, and to read it without flinching; or if we must flinch, at least without giving up the attempt.

But we are still faced with the fact that Christ lives with us, in the same room, and we do not know Him. (...)  We form a wrong conception of Him, an ego-projection Christ, an imaginary Christ who fits into our own narrowness, who does not shatter our complacency. (...) [But] Christ does answer all our real needs.  People who have what is called a "special devotion" to one particular aspect of Christ's humanity, find in this approach to Him the true answer to some deep need in themselves.  One of the greatest motives of God's love is to answer the needs of men...

If we had kept the strength of our primitive needs, we should not want to make idols...[T]he basic needs, the roots as it were, of human nature are good; they are given to us by God in His great purpose of increasing life.  Love, in its several great manifestations, is given that life may be begotten and nourished and cherished, strengthened and handed on and not exclusively physical life, but the life of the mind, too.  Our other great instinct, self-defence, it is newly created form was just an immense awareness of the wonder of the gift of life, which gave man the instinct to preserve it in gratitude. (...)
But we have watered down and whittled away the power of our deepest instincts we are afraid of the completeness of Love and afraid, or too lacking in vitality, to rejoice fully in the glory of possessing life.
She carries on describing the limitedness that comes with having a limited view of Christ and of God, and the cruelty or rigidity exhibited by those whose god is cruel or rigid, but then she returns to the original question about progressing in the spiritual life, or rather in "the seeking:"

Now we have one answer to the question, Why must we always be seeking for the lost Child?  Why must we always feel the pain of loss?  If we did not, we should not realise that our idols are not God, are not Christ.

Bad as they are, they match our limitations; and if they could content us, we should never know the real beauty of Christ: we should not become whole.  (...) Our conception of Christ makes us what we are, makes our effect on others what it is, influences us and influences everyone with whom we come into contact.

Our Lord said to His Apostles: "It is expedient for you that I go away."  It is the same for us.  We know Him only by continually learning Him anew; we get away from false gods only by continually seeking Him we hold Him only by losing Him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

the annual

This year there were only two of us for our reunion.  We missed our third so very much. 

my daughter said, "Leia looks so happy!"

We stopped in Leia's highschool-hometown for all of twenty minutes but we were spotted. I even suspect that we were talked about later.  Ah, small Midwestern towns...

This was a first for us, not meeting up in a big city.  Last year was NYC, before that Denver, and before that we all shared a place in Chicago.  But I'll tell you what: discovering small German-Mennonite farming communities in KS was a real foreign experience for me.  Talk about culture shock!  (in a good way)

Thanks for all of it, Peia.  I sure felt spoiled and I hated to go.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

carrots and cults

At the open air market held on Saturdays, I sometimes buy from a certain group of farmers who live about an hour and a half south of town.  This morning, I purchased some carrots and a winter squash.  I've wondered before who they are, as they seem to be some sort of commune.  Non-traditional Mennonite, maybe?  (Because a few of the men have beards.)  That didn't seem quite right, though, so I eagerly took home a booklet of "reading material" when they offered it.

Folks: if you are looking to write up a 46-page handout in order to prove without a doubt that you ARE indeed a religious cult, you should be sure to include the following.

#1: an article on why you are not brainwashing members, depriving them of sleep or working them round the clock.

#2: an invitation to join their community because all serious Christians realize that going to church only once a week will inevitably lead to spiritual death.  (be sure to use the phrase "spiritual death" and maybe make up a word to describe those church-going so-called Christians.  Like, for example: "churchites.")

#3: be sure that there is a healthy sprinkling of these themes in your articles: that the wealthy and comfortable of the world will be first in line at hell's door, that the lukewarm in faith will be sent to hell, that those who laugh at or ignore you and God are bound for hell, that those who are addicts and drunkards and who are living immoral lives are going to hell.  That everyone outside of your door is suspect, and especially those who refuse to join you and that they are probably all going to hell.

#4: plenty of articles about the wrath of God and how it is going to be "poured out" on unbelievers and sinners and fornicators and all the other "rebellious" out there.  Oh and there will be plagues and diseases too, probably.

#5: a condemnation of all the "religious systems set up by men" and idolatry in various forms.  Beware of false spirits and false gods.

#6: an emphasis on the spirit rather than the body.  As in, "turn away from carnality and sow in the spirit so that you can reap in the spirit." (not an exact quote, but it's the main idea.)

#7: a piece entitled: "Hour of the Spirit's Call."  Because it captures the urgency, exclusivity and importance of the cause about as succinctly as possibly, and besides it's catchy!

#8: include a clarification regarding Communism, what it is and what it's not and how it relates to communal living and ownership.  (hint: that was a tip for cult leaders from the 1970's, for any who might happen to be reading along.)

#9: 2% of the pamphlet should be promotional and recruitment-oriented, and 98% for the transcriptions of your prophet's visions and/or sermons (for extra extreme boringness).

And here's a free bonus tip: use "thee" and "thou" because God (and King James) did and it makes what you say sound timeless and cool and authoritative.


In all seriousness, this is a very sad phenomenon.  I looked them up and found out that this particular group is thirty years old; they've spent almost twenty of them locally.  I cannot imagine how they recruit new members with materials like the one they handed me but the man I spoke with today looked about my age.  Then again, maybe he just grew up in it and doesn't know any different?  Either way, it is heartbreaking.
He and the others don't look nearly as happy or relaxed as they should have (if they'd really been Mennonite) and that should have tipped me off from the start.  Instead they look tired, and tense, kind of like they work too hard and don't get enough sleep. 

Anyway, they grow great carrots.  The kids and I used their veggies to make carrot-and-orange juice in the juicemaker and it was dee-lish.

Stay tuned for more installments in my series on cults, identification and recovery; I've got a couple more posts on that subject in the works.  In the meantime, won't you please say a prayer for all the folks trapped by cults--the leaders and the followers.  It's just a sad, sad business. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

they're just kids

These children of mine are so adorable and unique.   They each have their own distinct way of living their truth that they are the center of everything that matters in the universe.  Rules, manners, codes of conduct be darned: they will do what they want, when they want.
My guilty confession is that I actually kind of love the particular variety of self-centered spacey-ness my kids exhibit; I know very well that they are unlikely to remain so freely uninhibited for much longer and once it's gone, it's gone.  A mom friend told me that she had noticed this trait in my children even in the relatively short periods of time she has spent with them and she admired their "self-confidence."  She was gracious but I secretly suspected that her epiphany moment was when my son marched into her kitchen and demanded hot apple cider "right now." 
They don’t have bad manners…they’re just kids being kids.  (At least I hope so because my reminders to behave have yet to bear visible fruit.)
At any rate, I sort of prefer it when they drift off into dreamland and forget themselves.  I'll choose those moments over some of their ones of hyper-awareness.  A conscious grip on their surroundings is often closely accompanied by the desire to Do Something To Put Them Right, which is exactly what the middle child did last Sunday.  Her younger brother was running rather than walking back to his seat after having received his Communion line blessing, and clearly someone needed To Put A Stop To It At Once.  My daughter chased him down, reached him just in time to prevent him from calmly and inconspicuously sitting back down in the pew; she grabbed him from behind by his neck and gave him a good firm tug.  As no less than thirty spectators looked on in horror (okay, some were laughing), he spun around and slammed to the floor with a loud shriek while she stomped over to her spot on the pew and plopped herself down defiantly and crossed her arms.  (She felt it was important for me to know, later, that she had been “helping” me.) 
So here's my digital note to self: enjoy them while they are still oblivious and clueless.  Enjoy the moments of uninhibited and unrestrained “kid-ness,” even--or maybe especially?--during Mass.  Like the time two weeks ago week when I looked over at my eldest (age 7) during the Consecration to find that she had rolled both legs of her cotton stretch pants up to above her knee, for maximum dorkiness—I mean, comfort.  Or this past Sunday when I glanced her way and noticed that she had very carefully stuffed her dress (red) into her tights (black) and now had a big bulging middle, with skinny black stork legs sticking out underneath. 
What are you doing?” I hissed, and she looked up at me, innocent and with a somewhat confused look.  She whispered back: I’m tucking my dress into my tights.”  Ah, yes.  So you are.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quick Takes

1.  Usually, I avoid places like Walmart and fast food joints.  But even this failed anthropologist can see that these are some of the main social centers of this Southwest town.  Pretty much, I feel as if I am doing fieldwork anytime I go to the Burger King, and I stick out about as much as a white researcher would in some remote African village.

2.  Our Walmart is the second-grossing in the nation, I've been told.  On weekends, our town's population is quadrupled with folks coming in to do their shopping.  On the first weekend of the month, it's even more.  

3.  Speaking of cultural happenings that are just "ethnographically too much" (as one of my dear college professors used to say), Halloween is just nuts here.  We got a peek at some of it, but I hear that the real fun stuff takes place in the neighborhood just about a mile or so away from us---where the docs and lawyers and jewelers live.  Apparently, full truckloads of kids get bused off the Rez and the streets are packed with folks hauling garbage bags full of loot from house to house.  Maybe next year I'll venture up there and check it out.  I hear it's like a Walmart on the first Friday of the month times 10. 

4. My daughter was mad at my son for some reason.  She decided to get back at him and hit him where it hurts.  He was going to be John the Baptist for the Saints Day party and she was going to stick with her parrot costume from Halloween.  "At least I get to be a cute little creature; you just get to eat bugs."

5.  I have several runner-friends and sometimes on Sunday mornings we go a few miles out on some nearby desert trails.  I never thought I'd be into trail running but it turns out it's kind of fun (and really challenging).  It makes road running seem really boring in comparison so I might have ruined that for myself, oops.

6.  My son wandered away while we were out shopping the other day.  I was kneeling under clothing racks and calling for him for about ten minutes, thinking he was just hiding.  When I finally found him, he was much more shaken up than I was about the whole thing so I didn't even need to lecture at all.  He has promised never to do it again and I believe him.   

7.  In exactly one week, I will be en route to go visit a dear friend in her hometown in the Plains.  For three and a half days we'll be staying up way too late sipping tea and/or wine, catching up, snuggling with her cats and seeing the sights.  Maybe even catch a play?  I can't wait.

more at Jen's