Prairie View

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Follow Up on "Ownership"

"Ownership" is the title of the previous post.  In it I referenced having had a conversation in which I mentioned the "ownership" conversation on Facebook.  The lead-in for the in-person conversation was this question:  "Do you think [our church] would be ready for a [FotW(church name)] -type church?  

"Well, I think some of us would be, but not all of us," I said.  I can't remember what all I said after that, so I'll simply try to summarize some of my thinking here rather than recount the conversation.

I realize that I really don't know enough about what FotW is like to know whether I'd like a church like that or not.  The church is in Boston, and many of the attendees are students at Sattler.  I do know that they meet in homes, they have communion often, the women wear coverings, and they think of themselves not as Anabaptists, but Anabaptist-adjacent.  

Very recently I got a FB friend request from the wife of one of the pastors.  I am also part of a FB group in which her husband is a moderator (or at least he was when I was part of the group earlier--I took a break between then and now).  

In the in-person conversation, I said that I think the people at our church who would be ready for a FotW-type church are generally forward-thinking and outward-focused.  When our church started (in 1958), many of the decisions about how things would be done focused on maintaining good relationships with the Old Order Amish we had just left, although certainly the leaders in the new group would have thought of themselves as being forward-thinking and outward-focused too.  I think that would have been how many others in Anabaptist groups saw them as well.  I recognize that most of the people younger than I am (I just turned 70) do not remember how things were at that time, and they have no sense of needing to use Old Order Amish thinking and practice as a reference point of any kind.  

When I see people disregarding the values that came to us through that avenue, I think I feel like people must feel who love a handicapped child or an adult with dementia, and they see others ignoring, or worse, mocking them.  Of course we can't make people respect or love what we respect and love, but when they do, it's ever-so-sweet.  Not only does it make us feel affirmation for our perspective, we consider it to be revealing of maturity and good discernment on their part.  Our gut feeling is that they too will come to value these good things for themselves if they can receive traditions as a gift, and embrace them in practice.

While I see value in being forward and outward-thinking, I also see benefits in looking back.  I'm concerned that when we fail to do that, we can too mindlessly discard some of the very good things that have come to us through our traditions.  When we discard those good traditions, we run the risk of losing some of the very characteristics that are appealing to a watching world.  Not only that, we lose some of the cohesiveness that makes thriving possible for those who are part of the group.  

I tend to think also that we make too much of what we need to do to accommodate people who want to join our group from different backgrounds.  I suspect that some of the accommodations we think we should make are actually not that important to people looking on.  

Admittedly, I'm basing this partly on what I hear from Hiromi.  Honestly, I think he might be more in favor of our church maintaining its distinctiveness than most of us are who have grown up in these traditions.  He doesn't bat an eye about us asking those who wish to join us to "do as we do" if they want to be members of our church (Caveat:  There is one notable exception, which I will not elaborate on here.  Suffice it to say that having a FotW-type church would not resolve that one issue.).  Granted, his perspective is informed by his Japanese background--something which adds some unusual dynamics to the mix.

In the in-person conversation, we talked about women wearing home-sewn cape dresses.  I know that this is definitely not the expectation in the FotW group.  I believe most of the forward/outward-thinking crowd thinks our practice is impractical, a needless relic from our Amish past.  Although I have at times have had similar thoughts, I noted in our conversation that I think uniformity in our home-sewn dresses also provides benefits.  I, for one, am really glad I don't need to shop for my own clothes.  Some of the people who have made the switch but still seek to wear modest clothing find shopping very challenging.  Life is streamlined in a good way, as I see it, when shopping for ready-made clothing is not needed.  Changing styles dictated by designers or retailers are a non-issue.

What's not to like about a creative/crafty endeavor like sewing, not to mention the fact that it's a great self-sufficiency skill?  There is, of course, the occasional person who becomes part of a church like ours who doesn't know how to sew.  Something always works out for people like that though.  Others sew for her, she can plug into the garage sale market, or she sometimes learns how to do it herself.  

What I've gone on about here for some time is essentially an outward expression of non-conformity.  I think some of the FotW enthusiasts would see this as giving credence to their observation that our way of being a church focuses on the outward at the expense of the inner life.  I'd like to call foul on such rhetoric.  I may elaborate in a future blog on why I think this is not a fair critique.

Before I sign off here, I'll add a few notes to remind me about what I still want to address.

1.  Boston is not rural Partridge.

2.  A Swiss-German cultural background is not the same as an Indian or Mediterranean background.

3.  When it comes to meeting needs, a big meeting-house church in Kansas might have resources to meet those needs in ways in which a FotW-type church would come up short.  I have in mind a specific case of exactly that happening recently--for a person who until recently had only remote connections to both groups. When it takes "a village,"  we can be a village--maybe better than they can.

4.  Income levels of those in leadership in the FotW group are very different from that of leaders in our church, although I presume that pastors are not salaried in either case.

5.  Getting the right balance of top-down leadership and widely-shared responsibility is always a challenge.  I suspect that both "they" and we have arrived at something that works reasonably well in our respective situations, but might not work as well if transplanted into a radically different setting.  

6. We really don't need to be more like FotW.  We need to be "more like us" in all the good ways, and, above all, we need to be more like Christ.  I remember a time when most of us thought it would be a good thing to be more like Bill Gothard.  At this point, that seems like a horrible thing.  

7.  I would like to hear from some proponents of FotW exactly what seems good about their group and practice.  

 


  

Friday, June 10, 2022

Ownership

Below is part of a recent Facebook exchange in which I reviewed something that seemed relevant to what is being discussed locally, among our church people.  I hope to add more later, but it will need to wait.   In the meantime, I'd love to hear any feedback from readers.  Note that I have only used the initials of the person who commented.  If that person wants to go beyond this to be identified, I'll be happy to oblige or to give space for the person themselves to initiate it.  

I've interacted with others personally on this topic since this appeared on Facebook.  Posting this here is an effort to comply with a request that I share in writing some of what I said in aa private conversation.  This is a small beginning. 

I hear a lot these days about the need to have ownership in matters that affect us. I think this is often really code for expressing distaste for hewing to standards which one had no hand in creating. When I hear sentiments like this, I often think of something my younger brother Ronald wrote some years ago on "ownership." It made sense to me, and I'll repeat it here as I recall it.
Ronald noted that we can acquire ownership of a material object by various means. 1. If we created it we can own it (note that this is consistent with the "code" meaning). 2. If we receive it as a gift we can own it. 3. If we purchase it we can own it.
I see parallels to the above when we're thinking about traditions or social or even legal expectations. No one should lightly toss aside what may, upon close examination, prove to have been a gift. Beyond that, close examination may reveal that these traditions and expectations are worth "owning" via investment. In any case, don't predicate ownership of something on having created it. Be willing instead to consider the meaning of the term in its various facets, with an openness to taking ownership in one of the less "I'm in charge here" ways.

Your point is well made. We can take ownership through means other than intentional choice on our part. However, it also follows that not all such "receiving" is necessarily beneficial or positive in the outcome.
The invitation to closely examine is appreciated, and necessary.
What are the questions we should ask when we find ourselves in a "receiving" position? What are the motivations and goals of those who are doing the "giving"? Has the thing being "given" borne fruit that is desirable? Do we possess the experience and/or vision to discern the answer? Are they "giving" for the benefit of the receiver, or for other reasons?


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Miracle and Too Much Same Old Same Old

 At church we have been praying about Lil's medical needs over several years of difficulty.  She has had numerous facial surgeries to remove recurring tumors.  Nerve damage over time resulted a year or so ago in her not being able to blink normally, and her cornea began to dry out before they realized what was happening. A lot of intervention happened right away, and the worst crisis seemed to be averted.  Of late, however, her vision has been too compromised for her to be able to read anything in normal-sized letters.  A few weeks ago, we heard that an appointment was scheduled with a cornea specialist in Kansas City, and we were asked again to pray that help would be found.  On Monday, those on our church email list got this message from Lil and her husband: 

"Last night Lil tried to read the large print text on her phone with her right eye and couldn’t.

Today upon arrival in the Kansas City area for our appointment with the cornea specialist the receptionist told Lil, “You came to the right place!” As we waited I showed Lil an interesting text on my phone that I had just received without thinking. Lil exclaimed, “Arthur, I can read this!” She could see and read the small print on my phone with her right eye for the first time in months! 
During her eye examination the specialist confirmed, “Your cornea is smooth and clear. There is nothing wrong with your eye!” Now after the appointment she can clearly read even small print with her right eye!
We aren’t sure about the exact time the miracle happened, but we think it happened while we were sitting there in waiting room! This was also a miracle of timing! We stand in awe of our Good God! Lil says this is a MIRACLE in capital letters! 
We want to God to get the glory He deserves! He has made the blind to see! Lil is overwhelmed at the gift of being able to read the Bible and journal again!
You have prayed for us and supported us! We are deeply grateful and we are very thankful! We want you as a church to know... Thanks for all you have done for us!

All those exclamation marks!  And still the words hardly capture the exuberance all of us feel at having seen God at work in such a tangible way.   

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Here's a fairly long and very worthwhile article on lament.  The story that functions as a lead-in perfectly encapsulates the problem that results from not feeling that Christians have permission to say anything that isn't happy happy happy.

Here's what I wrote on Facebook when I shared the article:

"Listen for lament—find some place to sing with other believers the songs of sorrow. Pray the Psalms—line by line until you join the throng that wrestles with God and receives the blessing of a limp and a new name. Then your heart will not be as afraid of lament, nor your soul so leery to live the paradox of sorrow and joy. Then we may learn to sing with a new passion the words we must learn from those who not only sing of sorrow, but lived lament until it broke loose into the freedom of joy . . . "
This is only one piece of the wisdom found in the article below, on lament. I was interested especially in understanding how sorrow and joy can be experienced simultaneously and expressed both privately and communally. Praying and singing the Psalms seem to be key components of how it happens."

You'll also find in this article help in differentiating between complaint and lament.  This seems like a key distinction.

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Here's another Facebook post from yesterday.  

This morning I heard a House Wren song for the first time this season. Better get that bird house out ASAP. Where to put it so that it's audible on summer mornings without being too loud right outside an open bedroom window? That's the question. #Housewrenphenology

Update:  We couldn't find the little yellow and red wren house that has been knocking about somewhere indoors for too long, and Hiromi announced that we'd just have to buy a new one.  I never heard the wren later in the day, so maybe we had only an unattached male who has flown off now to seek a mate elsewhere.  I am sad that we may have missed out on having a whole wren family's dietary needs supplied by insects that might otherwise decimate our garden crops. 

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Here is the most involved FB post from yesterday.  It provides a broad context for something that I have referred to in snippets and allusions elsewhere--the gap between what it takes financially to maintain a modest standard of living and leaving enough time to accomplish what is necessary for meeting other commitments and obligations.  I'll copy the image first.  



Next is the text that followed the image.

Feeling overwhelmed?
I hear you. Once we start running on the treadmill it can be hard to step off. We need money to get by in the world, so we work as hard as we can, so much so that we end up short on time to do those money-saving and soul-nourishing things we used to do. You know the ones - camping with the kids, riding or walking to town, getting out into the garden, reading books. A life short on time starts to cost us more money...so before long we need more work, and around and around it goes.
The system sets us up for this kind of life. GDP grows when people are toiling away and filling the gaps with purchases that they would otherwise produce themselves. Seeing the psychologist, drinking more than you know is healthy, and getting takeaway for dinner again because you're too tired to cook is all great news for GDP.
The good news is that you have some control over the balance of your life. Sometimes it's as simple as making the time to step back and look at your patterns with fresh eyes (friends can be great mentors for this). Rest is a radical act, and is a human need often left behind.
What ways have you found to restore the balance in your life? And what resources have you found to be helpful?

Finally, my introduction to the image and the text following it.

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Shared with Public
Public
I heard Amish writer-naturalist David Kline describe this exact problem in an illustration from his own life as a dairyman. When several silos were to be taken down at a nearby university campus (with a college of agriculture), he and several other farmers in the area arranged to see to the dismantling and removal, in exchange for being able to have the materials at no charge. Each of the farmers ended up with a very expensive "new" silo on his own farm, with a vanishingly small cash outlay. He noted that for many of the "farmers" around him who also had off-farm jobs, taking time off to get those silos home and rebuilt didn't make sense financially because they could make enough money to buy the silos outright by simply working more hours at a high-dollar job. I get it. The logic still seems problematic.
I won't go into all the reasons why (hint: think about taxes), but I think it's a mistake to discount the value of time spent working together with our family and neighbors--in pursuit of an affordable option that may require a great deal of effort and time to accomplish. I doubt that the underlying motivations for discounting this option are usually as nefarious as the worst forms of greed, impatience, covetousness, and discontent, but I'm pretty sure that their opposites can most easily be developed in the absence of a high-paying job away from home that is pursued at all costs.
The Lord's provision, the university's excess, and Amish sensibilities all came together as one good example of how "The Catch-22 of Modern Living" may not be as permanent or as ubiquitous as we have been led to believe. I'd love to see a lot more widespread commitment to seeking ways to work around this Catch-22.

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I'm sharing a writing challenge here at the end.  For now, I'll wait to take on the challenge (at least for public consumption).  Here's the challenge:  In 75 words or less, write what happened in Washington, D. C. on January 6, 2020.  Submit it in the comments here, if you would be so kind.  Also, Dan Rather wants to hear from you.  Read about it here.  I'll post a picture to jog your memory.  



Sunday, April 17, 2022

Disappointment and Hope at Easter

I learned something about Lent this year.  I thought it ended with Easter.  That is, in fact, how some people mark this time.  Others believe that Lent ends on the Thursday before Easter, on Maundy Thursday.  I missed posting something on my blog yesterday, for the first time during Lent (except for the time when something went awry on Blogger and choked on some of my posts and ended up swallowing at least one).

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Committing to a blogging schedule, even a temporary one, was a first for me.  I'm pleased that I was able to maintain it for the most part.  I'm not so pleased that it took so much time and loss of sleep.  I don't write fast.   Also, I ended up with fewer carefully crafted pieces than I idealize, often relying heavily on others to make a case for what I would have liked to convey after having integrated it with my own thinking and experience.  

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We had a sunrise service this morning, starting at 6:45.  I missed the service entirely, showing up just before the coffee and sweets were served--between the outdoor service and the indoor sermon.  The explanation for why I missed it is a little complicated, but I'll say first that it would have been a great deal easier to manage if I had not needed to bring food and if Hiromi had been planning on attending.  

It's not that getting up that early is a problem.  I usually like to get up early, and regularly do so on Sunday morning.  I guess I was simply too exhausted from a long day yesterday and had too many details to see to this morning on my own.  I'll admit that knowing that a heavy cloud cover and a damp morning awaited made me feel like this is not the best year to inaugurate a new sunrise service tradition.

I had begun the day with a list of what needed to be accomplished and a prayer for the Lord to direct me in the details of each task, according to his pleasure and my need.  I spent the day purposefully, with minimal frustration at what was or was not going right around me.   I washed and hung out lots of laundry.  I cooked good food.  Domestic peace and tranquility reigned.  Hiromi and I took a walk together in the afternoon.  

I baked cherry coffee cake for the morning church event.  I prepared two gifts to be given away at church.  One was for friends served by Hands of Christ, and the other was for a dear friend from church.  A small potted Easter lily was included in each gift and some lovely, naturally-colorful fresh eggs from my niece Hannah's chickens.  I included the book by Nik Ripkin The Insanity of Sacrifice in the church friend's gift.   I purchased this devotional book for myself recently and impulsively doubled the order with gift giving in mind.  I've been enjoying readings from this book for several weeks. 

In the small group of people with whom I ate my morning goodies, I confessed that I had not made it to the earlier service and that it was because I had decided to do what made sense this morning  I'm almost sure that it was a little bit shocking to some people who heard me, and I really should have done a better job of saying what I meant.  Doesn't everyone know that if there's a church event, it makes sense to be there? Well, yes.  But sometimes things can go on without me.  Things that used to doable but not easy for me sometimes are not even doable anymore. Fortunately some things that have been easy for me in the past are still doable with minimal stress.  I think it's those things that make the mos tsense for me to concentrate on now.  

My equanimity this morning was deeply reliant on several realities that have come into sharper focus as I age.  One is that I have increasing limitations and need for the Lord's direction and empowerment for navigating both mundane and novel activities.  Another is that stress and panic and exhaustion are not normal Christian states.  A third is that the Holy Spirit is a gentle helper, and God is not a hard task master.

I'll not try to excuse myself from everything that might require concerted effort, but I will recognize that I will be in a far better place than otherwise if I listen carefully to the voice of the Shepherd, who lets me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  This will restore my soul.  He will spread a table before me, and pour abundance into my empty cup. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

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I like the idea of breakfast casseroles after a sunrise service.  For anyone with blood sugar issues, eating protein before listening to a sermon is a better way to ensure wakefulness than consuming carbs alone, even when the risk of a sugar crash is offset partially by caffeine consumption.  

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I wasn't the only family member who struggled with  getting to the sunrise service this morning.  Here's what Shane wrote on Facebook.

Good sunrise service at church this morning! One note I'm filing for reference is that it is more worshipful and restful if you wake up before 6:35 on a morning you are supposed to lead congregational singing at 6:45. Actually, that's a personal hypothesis without data to prove it, but I think it would be worth experimenting with next year. The five o'clock alarm to give me time to select appropriate music didn't quite work out. I'm blaming the sick kid and the night spent on the couch, but I'm interested in trying something different next year!
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        • Shane Iwashige
          J Wendell Bishop I get up around 4:30 during the week, and usually 5:45 on weekends. I don't even know when I last slept until 6:35... Of course I did the morning I was supposed to lead singing at an early service.
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      • Craig Miller
        A new record for morning hygiene?
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        • Shane Iwashige
          Craig Miller it was right up there with the best! I was able to walk in as the opening remarks were concluding and confidently strode up to lead singing at the right time. Unlike some of the dreams I've had in the past, I even had my pants on!😂 I don't know about the personal hygiene record, but I'm absolutely confident I've never gone from sleeping to conducting in 15 minutes before.
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Our extended family had plans to gather this evening for a simple meal and the egg-dyeing festivities that we often do together, but the "sick kid" referenced in the above post derailed the plan.  Some of his brothers started feeling puny today too.  We canceled and will try again later. 

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I'll leave you with a link to one of the many good Easter mediations I've read this weekend.  Life after death is a marvel that I'll never figure out, but I'm so very grateful that because Jesus lives, all who sleep in Jesus need never die.  They'll switch locations, but never cease to exist.