Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plain Secrets 3

In today's blog on Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish by Joe Mackall, I'll discuss some of the highlights of this book, which is about the conservative Swartzentruber Amish of northern Ohio.

Mackall deals at length with buggies, which are of symbolic as well as practical importance to the Amish way of life. He points out that there is no more potent symbol of the Amish to the outside world than the buggy. Also, no Amish group, no matter has liberal, has given up the buggy. They may air-condition them, put in modern upholstery and attach headlights, but all groups are wedded to the buggy.

This is not because of nostalgia for an idealized 19th-century past. Instead, Mackall says, the buggy holds the community together. Buggy travel is slow and this keeps the Amish close to home, he says. It keeps them tied to the community. Mackall describes a trip he takes to a Home Depot with his friend Samuel. It takes about two hours to drive the 10 miles by buggy and after they arrive, they spend a long time in the store, both because frugal Samuel has to calculate building supply prices to the penny, but also because the horses need time to rest. Not only does the buggy tie Samuel to his community, it also causes people to adapt to a slower, more natural life rhythm.

Mackall is also critical of the buggy, at least as the Swartzentruber Amish use it. Unlike other groups, they won't put on lights, so the buggies can be difficult to see in the dark. As I remember, they have compromised and will use some sort of reflective sticker, but that can be difficult to see in a fast moving car until it's too late.

As a neighbor, and as himself a parent, Mackall worries about the safety of the buggies on roads increasingly crowded with cars. (My impression is that the roads near Mackall's and the Amish homes are sparsely traveled by the standards of most of America but have seen an increase in cars. The Amish worry about the increased number of cars, but seem unwilling to change their ways. ) Mackall cites statistics about accidents and fatalities with buggies, which are low, but still occur. Mackall is frustrated, because he believes many of the accidents and fatalities could be prevented.

He also worries about the Amish habit of letting children stand in the back of the fragile buggies. Once, he's sees a young child fall out of the back of buggy that is only secured with an X made by two bungee cords. The child hits its head, but the father insists the youngster is fine. Mackall is concerned and again, frustrated that the Amish won't take more precautions.

He notes that Swartzentruber Amish approach medicine somewhat differently from the rest of us, relying heavily on chiropractors. Of course, they have no medical insurance. They do use hospitals when necessary. They're also likely to pull teeth more quickly than we are, taking the practical approach (to them) that lots of costly dental work isn't worth it.

The story of Jonas, who has left the Amish to join the "English" world, is woven throughout the book. We see how very difficult it is for someone with no documentation, not even a social security number, and no high school diploma or GED (the Amish leave school after grade 8), to make it in the modern world. His family, under pressure from the wider Amish community, shuns Jonas in hopes of getting him to cave in and come back. Jonas is also hampered by his own naive views of the wider world. He initially survives only because English friends take care of him. Part of the discussion of Jonas describes a halfway world of Amish "ex-patriots" who have left the Amish community but never quite give up Amish ways. Jonas is both attracted to this half-way world and yet determined to fully assimilate into "English" life.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Swartzentruber Amish is their courtship rituals. While different Amish groups have different rituals, among the Swartzentrubers, young people between 17 and 21 engage in a dating practice in which they will lie awake all night on a bed together.

Mackall touches on the low status of women in the Swartzentruber hierarchy. He worries about Samuel's daughters and their lack of choices in a patriarchal community and wonders if he would feel compelled to help them, betraying Samuel, if they wanted to leave. Yet he sees Samuel's wife as contented with her lot as homemaker and mother of ten children, though he also applauds her literacy and her enthusiasm for reading Amish fiction. I wish Mackall had spent more time on the topic of women's status in the community.

Mackall tries to paint a balanced portrait of the Amish community. A thread of anxiety runs through the book: He fears that it will be perceived as a betrayal by Samuel and possibly get his friend into trouble with the community, where he is a minister.

It's difficult to see how Samuel won't be wounded by the book. The book does raise concerns about the line between friendship and scholarship. Is it ethical to make our friends subjects we dissect and analyze? How do we walk that line? Clearly, it's valuable for the wider world to gain insights into the Amish culture, but at what cost?

Ed's birthday

I missed my friend Ed's fiftieth birthday! It was on July 25 and I had meant to e-mail him. I did today.

I've known Ed ever since junior high school, which makes him my oldest friend. We lost touch in high school (I moved) and during college. We reconnected when I was working my first "real" job, at Waverly Press in Baltimore. I had car problems that just wouldn't end, and Ed (and our mutual friend, another Diane) went out of their way to give me rides to and from work, something I've never forgotten.

Through the shared rides Ed and I rekindled our friendship. It helped that we were both living in Columbia at the time too. We had some good times sharing Double "R" Bar burgers from Roy Rogers and tending to everyday things. I also remember one particularly happy time -- happy because it was so ordinary or "random," as my kids would say -- when Ed and my high school friend Linda and I walked around a Columbia lake on a summer night, then sat on the wooden pier and talked, and I felt very contented and at peace.

Ed is one of the most caring and loyal people I know. Now he lives in Arizona, so I don't see him very often, but I do want to wish him a Happy Birthday.

The Shack

Yesterday, I ordered The Shack. Has anyone heard of it? Read it? Have any thoughts on it? It's a self-published work of fiction about, as I understand it, a man who feels led to go back to the shack where his young daughter was killed, where he meets up with and confronts God with a lot of hard questions. Apparently, it's become a word-of-mouth phenom and also ignited controversy because some right-wing Christians have questioned its theology. But since my Jesus Creed cyber pal Peggy Brown (I'll at some point put in a link to her "Abbess" blog) said I had to read it, I bought it. I was frugal: I got it from, but I thought as I was ordering it, you are leaving in two weeks and you ordered another book???? Are you crazy? Well, probably.

Anyway, I'd love to hear people's thoughts if they've read this book or heard of it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Visiting chickens

Yesterday, I went to Stephanie's house and dropped off two winter dresses that Sophie once wore so that Stephanie's two young daughters can use them. I saw the bees and five chickens Stephanie keeps in her backyard.

Stephanie chose her 1951 brick cape cod house in part because the Catonsville neighborhood where it is allows chickens and bees. She built a coop herself and bought six heirloom chickens. One turned out to be a rooster. She gave it away so as not to disturb her neighbors.

Two of the chickens are red, two black and one white with black speckles. They are all breeds the big commercial poultry farms eschew because they are not the best layers. However, they are hardy, healthy breeds, Stephanie said, and more intelligent that the commercial birds. Each one will lay an egg a day for most of the year. Stephanie will sell her extra eggs.

It was a pleasure to see Stephanie's little girls holding the tame chickens in their arms. I got to stroke the birds and found their feathers surprising soft. The chickens have no fear of humans and are gentle and easy to handle. It was a treat to watch them waddle around the yard together and to know they are being treated in a humane and loving way.

Stephanie outlined how easy it is to keep chickens. They don't even need to go to the vet. After hearing horror stories of chickens debeaked so they don't peck themselves and each other to death in distress at their overcrowded conditions, it felt good to see happy fowl in a natural setting. Maybe as the energy crisis drives up fuel and food prices, more people will want to keep chickens. Getting such pieces of agriculture back to a human scale will be good the birds! It would be good for humans too as I believe something deep inside of us(at least some of us!) longs to treat animals in a balanced and harmonious way.

On renting

I learned a couple of things from renting our house:

1. You can wash your garage door windows! Yes. Indeed. We never once washed those windows in 13 years in the house. It had never occurred to us. At least not to me. Consequently, there was a build-up of fine gritty dirt and grime on the windows that more or less obscured the light shining in. (Luckily, we have a regular window in the garage's side wall bringing in southern light, so the garage wasn't completely dungeonlike). And voila, once we washed that row of windows, a miraculous thing happened. We can see through them! I go into our light-flooded garage, glance up and can actually see the driveway and our cars and the yard, as clear as if I were looking through glass! Which I am! It's a wonderful sight.

2. Bathroom rugs won't make or break a deal. I didn't need to go out and buy those two new bathroom rugs just because we had a dropped a tiny splotch of bleach on the corner of one rug. But I did. I rushed out yesterday to a store having a sale and found a little blue reversible rug for the master bath and while I was at it, one in tan for the downstairs half bath. Because if I hadn't, the house wouldn't have been perfect and that meant maybe nobody would rent it!! But you know what? A family had already decided to rent our house, even with that little pink discolored spot on our rug! However, we do now have two nice, albeit small rugs to put on our bathroom floor in Barnesville.

It is a huge relief that our house has rented and to a family that seems perfect. That was the last big piece in the puzzle of moving to Barnesville. Now, it's a matter of packing, making arrangements with the utilities, phone, banks etc., canceling the health club membership and the newspaper, notifying the post office of our forwarding address and ... moving.

So, I can breathe easier and the house doesn't have to stay perfect from top to bottom all the time! I'm also freed from my worries about what our 1970 tract house doesn't have: no glamorous oversized master bath, no walk-in closets, no two-story entrance foyer, no granite countertops. We have a plain linoleum floor in our kitchen. We are down a long driveway and front to a bike path, which is nice, but we also have neighbors a stone's throw away on either side. While to me the house is large, by the standards of today, our home is merely average sized. We're in a pleasant neighborhood and have had wonderful neighbors, but the house is not the newest nor the poshest! Our kids will miss the house though: they've lived here almost all of their lives and are attached to it.

Now, I can return to the mountain of freelance writing I've been putting off to get the house in shape to rent. While it's been a little nerve-wracking, I've been following that inner guide which told me to concentrate on getting the house ready and that the freelance work could wait! That's pretty counterintuitive in the newspaper biz, so I'm praying that inner voice was right.

Anyway, I can get back to work without the fear of being jettisoned from my home office, aka the living room, at any moment by a prospective renter wanting to tour the house. Hurray!

Our house

Today, the family from Toronto signed a lease to rent our house in Columbia for a year. We are very happy. Now the words "our house" have enlarged to encompass the new family. Our house is a homey house, not a fancy house, so I'm glad we found a family to appreciate it.

Chincoteague photos

A little over a week a ago we spent two nights in Chincoteague. Above is me relaxing on the balcony of our room in Chincoteague. Below is the view of the sunset over the Chincoteague channel from our balcony. As you can see, it was serene and lovely there.

Busy Times

These have been a busy times, making it hard to keep up with blogging. This past weekend a family from Toronto toured our house twice as a possible rental. I hope they will rent from us. The wife in the family made my heart do a little leap when she talked of all the books she had to pack. A kindred spirit! Maybe our house, homey and down-to-earth, will appeal to her. Or maybe she'll pick the other house she's considering.

Tomorrow, we have another viewing. Needless to say, I hope someone rents the house and that the house will be a gift to them as well as the renters a gift to us. I'm trying to "be not anxious ..." and to some extent that is working as sometimes a peace that says "this is not so important, let it go" descends on me ...

The boys left for two weeks at camp Shiloh on Sunday. Johanna drove them down, along with Elvin, her son, and Ashwin. That was most welcome. I appreciate Johanna doing this very much, though I missed the annual ritual of settling the boys in their cabins. For the first time in years, Sophie is not going to Shiloh. The house is quiet.

Bethann can take the piles of random crayons in our crafts drawers and recycle them, perhaps into candles? Or she knows some place that will take them? I will drop off two pretty winter dresses that Sophie once wore with Stephanie today so her girls can use them. I look forward to seeing Stephanie's chickens and bees. Who knew you could keep chickens in suburban Catonsville? I find the idea enchanting, although I know chickens can be messy.

I think I am going to miss the growing enthusiasm for green living around here: for gardening, keeping chickens (humanely of course!!), recycling, walking and biking, using alternative energy. What I love is the attitude of enthusiasm: energy conservative and greener living isn't a duty, it's seen as fun, as a pleasure, as a better way of living. It's as if the energy crisis is an excuse for doing what we wanted to do anyway. However, I may find the same attitude in spades in Barnesville!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Universalism versus particularity

I read an interesting essay about atheism in the on-line Sojo. The author equated the current crop of atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, with fundamentalist Christians because both groups take the Bible literally. The writer also pointed out that it's mostly college-educated white British and American males leading the atheist charge.

One comment I found particularly interesting: In the 20th century, more blood by far was shed by atheists who could kill by reducing humans to "abstractions" than by the religiously faithful.

I was struck by the term abstraction. Many universalists I know have, in my observation, found in all religions a few abstract principles: love your neighbor, help the vulnerable, practice the golden rule. I agree that it can be fruitful to recognize these commonalities rather than condemning other religions as wrong.

But does this abstracting of a few universals diminish individual religions? Robust religion is not abstract, but lived day-to-day in particular ways. The different world religions share commonalities, but they also diverge from one another in ways that are often irreconcilable. They are not the same and they don't even necessarily worship the same God. They may not all be different paths up the same mountain.

I believe the tendency to want to make all religions the same, or find the universal principles behind all the religions, is the product of a particular historical moment. I've noticed that almost all of the zealous universalists I know are over 60 years old. Perhaps the recognition of the commonalities between religions was the great "aha!" moment of a certain generation. This was also the generation that grew up in their parents' world, where assimilating all the ethnicities into the great "melting pot" of American life was an important goal, more so than emphasizing difference.

Lately, we've come back to a celebration of the differences between religions and people. Much of the emergent conversation, as we hear over and over, is about connecting with the ancient church, appreciating the diversity in Christianity and the power of stories to change lives. Religion is not primarily about rules or abstract principles, but about narratives we can enter into. Stories provide rich depths of meaning and symbol not available in a set of principles. Different religions, like poems, come alive in their particularity.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Convergent Quakers

This from Martin Kelly, on Convergent Quakers:

Just the last thing is that for me if our work isn't ultimately rooted in sharing the good news then it's self-indulgent. I don't want to create a little oasis or hippy compound of happy people. Friends aren't going to go to heaven in our politically-correct smugness while the rest of the world is dying off. It's all of us or none of us. If we're not actively evangelizing --liberal translation: sharing the spiritual insights and gifts we've been given--, then we are part of the problem. "Convergence" is Quaker lingo. When we say it we're turning our back to the world to talk amongst ourselves: a useful exercise occasionally but not our main work.

I believe Martin makes excellent points above, especially that we need to share the spiritual transformations and gifts we've been given. As others have said, the world is crying out for witnesses to peace, hope and compassion.

I came to the emerging church long before ever hearing of convergent, but as I understand it (and I may well have it wrong), convergents are Conservative Quakers (I read Conservative to mean Christ-centered or Christ-leaning or, at least, Christ-seeking Friends practicing unprogrammed worship) who want to become part of the emerging church conversation. Being part of that conversation means a radical willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of other people, even when that's uncomfortable, a yearning to bring opposing groups together and an active attempt to find the good in what other strands of the faith practice and believe. It also means being winsome, in other words, being people other people (outside the clique) want to be around. It means being humble and admitting we don't have all the answers and that our group--even our group!!--has made mistakes.

To the extent that the convergent Friends have started a conversation that pulls closer people and groups who are/were at odds with each other, I believe it's doing a tremendous service for Quakers and the wider world. I think it has started good conversations and has injected civility into the Quaker discourse. Quakers, I believe, need to be talking civilly with and trying to love and see the good in Quakers in "opposing camps." Quakers, including myself, would benefit by getting out of their comfort zones. Quakers, including myself (and I already do this quite a bit, but could stand to do it more), would be enriched by talking more and listening more to the wider Christian world. I would go so far as to say that Quakers were not meant to become so unworldly as to cut themselves off from everyone else. I know some Quakers are grieved that so much ill has been done in the name of Christianity--but terrible things have been done in the name of every major religion and by every atheist group that has gained power. None of us are above it all.

At its core, the emerging conversation is two things: First, it's trying to be authentically Christian. As the early Quakers did, emerging types are getting out of the steeplehouse and meeting people where they are: in bars, in houses, in coffeeshops and at the point of their needs, be it offering a ride or mowing a lawn. This is hard and exhilirating. It's different from hanging a sign on a church or a meetinghouse and saying "come to us," an approach that has been criticized as arrogant.

Second, the emerging conversation is about replacing religious and political polarization with listening and love. As noted above, it involved the "winsome" ethos: serving others and "being a pattern" is more important than ambushing people with a formulaic set of beliefs. It means again (and Martin spoke of the movie Groundhog Day, in which a man is doomed to repeat the same day over and over until he "gets it" about what's important in life, so I'm going to repeat myself) it means a radical willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of other people, even when that's uncomfortable, a yearning to bring opposing groups together and an active attempt to find the good in what other strands of the faith practice and believe. It also means being winsome, in other words, being people other people (outside the clique) want to be around. It means being humble and admitting we don't have all the answers and that our group--even our group!!--has made mistakes.

The parallels between the emerging church and early Quakerism are obvious and often noticed. I hope the current convergent movement will grow and prosper. What do you think?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Relationships and Art

Two quotes from the Andrew Stanton interview on Wall.E in Christianity Today:

You could blame consumerism as one thing that's happening in this film, but there's a million other things we do that distract us from connecting to the person next to us and from furthering relationships, which is truly the point of living. So I came up with the idea that as WALL•E was picking up trash, it would have all these signs of humanity for him to rifle through, to get him interested in what humans were all about. I loved the idea of WALL•E finding something real. He was fascinated with the idea of living. And what's the point of living? Something real. He was a manmade object with something real inside him. And he found something real while surrounded by manmade objects. That just was poetic for me.

He goes on to say that a great story or movie makes you care:

And typically that's because you've tapped into some truth. Truth isn't always pretty, truth isn't always fair, and truth isn't always inviting. But when you tap into it the right way you can't ignore it, and it touches you to your core. That's what I'm a junkie for when I see a great movie or hear a great story told, and that's what I'm really trying to go for when I'm doing any kind of story.

© Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.

I'm interested in what books, works of art or relationships have touched people to the core. What distracts you from relationships? How do books, poems, works of art, etc. help your relationships?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wall.e's director is a Christian

Roger read my review (I finally wrote it!) of Wall.e last night, in which I mention parallels between the movie and the Noah's ark story. He searched around the web for other mentions of this parallel and found the following interview with Wall.e's director in Christianity Today:

Wall.e's director is a Christian, it turns out. (He also directed Finding Nemo). Like many Christians in the arts today, he doesn't want to preach or be heavy-handed but he said that the Adam and Eve story informed the movie. Wall.e, like Adam, longs for an end to his loneliness and dreams of a mate, who comes in the form of the robot "Eve." The Noah's ark theme was unplanned, Stanton said, but as it emerged, he went with it.

One of my exciting finds as a religion reporter was encountering a number of people doing art from a Christian world view and faith perspective (because they are Christians) but deliberately avoiding the world of schlocky, sentimental or heavy-handed Christian genre art. Joey Tomassini, for example, who has an MFA in art from, I believe George Washington, goes to Latin American countries and creates collaborative murals with children from orphanages, using art to help empower them. For his master's thesis, he collaborated with a homeless man on paintings, even letting the man sleep in his studio. When he presented his project, he said half the class loved it and half the class condemned him for engaging in risky behavior.

Do you know of other examples of people expressing their faith through art, but in a way that is not heavy-handed?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Japanese Buddhism: In Trouble?

An article in the July 14 New York Time discussed the possibility that Buddhism might be dying out in Japan.

Some of the reasons given:

-The Japanese have an eclectic view of religion. They move easily between Shintoism and Buddhism and aspects of Christianity. The implication is that they are not wedded to Buddhism.

-Buddhism has more or less lost relevance to everyday lives in Japan.

-Buddhism suffered a blow to its credibility when it closely aligned itself with the militaristic government and policies of WWII Japan. Now its words of peace ring hollow.

-Buddhism's last stronghold was in funerals but people are increasingly avoiding the high cost of a Buddhist funeral by going to a secular funeral home or simply cremating the dead and skipping the funeral.

-Buddhism was strongest in the rural areas, where the population is fast dropping.

In universalist Quaker circles, Buddhism is more or less revered. I was told, however, by a professor Eastern religion at McDaniel College, that the Buddhism liberals love is an American cultural construct that bears little resemblance to the Buddhism practiced in most Asian countries. For example, while American Buddhism is a highly individualistic faith practice rooted in a 1960s zeitgeist, Asian Buddhism (and clearly that is a broad and varied field!) typically is based in the community, such as in ancestor worship. Asians who come to this country, he said, will often import Buddhist priests because the religious community creates good karma by serving the priests.

According to, roughly six percent of the world population is Buddhist. It is the smallest of the four largest world religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism all have more than double the adherents. There are more adherents to "no religion" than to Buddhism.

What do you think can "save" Buddhism or any other religion that is losing numbers? Or to put it another way, what makes a faith strong?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Farewell party and Seton Hill Quakers

Pav hosted a farewell party for us yesterday in her beautiful backyard. A pool surrounded by a border of flowers is the centerpiece and children, young and old (!), enjoyed swimming.

I was delighted with the chance to talk with so many people who have been part of my life for many years, and to talk with some, like Lynada and David Johnson, who are recent friends I am so glad to have met.

Afterwards, Ken and I drove to the Christ-centered Seton Hill Meeting. We opened the church, because Kevin-Douglas and C.W. are in Cambridge, England. They traded houses temporarily with Marrisa Johnson and her family, who are in Baltimore so her son Rob can have surgery.

It was wonderful to meet Marrisa, a gentle and grounded Quaker, who seemed perfectly calm and at ease although she had just arrived from England late last night after a harrowing day of delayed flights and missed connections, etc. Our worship group was small, as we missed the Liversidges, Kevin and CW, Georgia, Sharon and Rachel and other friends. We were joined by two Quakers from Bethsesda, Susan Kaul and Pierce, who are visiting BYM meetings.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Return from Chincoteague

We returned from a lovely stay at Chincoteague on Saturday, having compacted our usual two weeks there to two nights.

Our hotel overlooked the Chincoteague Channel. We could sit on our balcony and watch the sun set and listen to the cries of the birds. The hotel served a complimentary breakfast, so we would eat outside at a table overlooking the channel and watch the aggressive, speckle-headed seagull patrol the pier and chase away the other gulls. We watched a mother duck and her brood of very young duckling cross the grass to the side of our breakfast terrace. The ducklings were so little that they huddled all around her in a circle as they walked. The speckled-headed gull didn't like having them around and even pecked the head of one duckling.

We couldn't do everything we usually do in Chincoteague. No biking, for example. But we had ice-cream at Mr. Whippy and the Island Creamery, went to the beach, swam in the hotel pool, ate at Maria's, Bill's and Steve's (all these first names; you'd think we knew these people) restaurants, shopped, read and went to the movies.

As Roger said, it feels as if we've never left Chincoteague, even though we haven't been there since last summer. It is our home away from home and a relaxing place to be.

When we got home, I was more aware of humidity and stagnant air here after the fresh air of Chincoteague, beautiful as this part of the country is. And my worries redescended. Nobody had looked at our house while we were gone. I am getting concerned about finding a renter. My worries are being increased by the constant bad news about the economy. My inner fascist comes out, and I'm driven to have the house looking perfect all the time, because that is something I can control. Slowly but surely Roger and I are adding small improvements. While everyone tells us horrible stories about renters, I am trying to block all that out and focus on making our house a gift to the people God will send us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


It's official: Will is taller than me and I'm the shortest in the family. First Sophie, 17, grew taller--she's now 5'-8"-- then Nick, 13, shot up. He's about 5'10." Last night, I caught a glimpse of Will, 13, next to me in the mirror. He was taller! I couldn't believe it. When did he shoot up?

Today, we head for two nights at Chincoteague. Usually we rent a house and go for two weeks, or at least, Roger and the kids do, and I drive back and forth from work. Ironically, this year I'm not working for the first time in seven years, except for freelancing, and I could use the long vacation more than ever. But two days of R&R will be wonderful too. I will try to post from there.

Poverty or Simplicity?

"Poverty does not mean scorn for goods and poverty. It means the strict limitation of goods that are for personal use. ... It means a horror of war, first because it ruins human life and health and the beauty of the earth, but second because it destroys goods that could be used to relieve misery and hardship and to give joy. It means a distaste even for the small carelessnesses that we see prevalent, so that beautiful and useful things are allowed to become dirty and battered through lack of respect for them."
Mildred Binns Young, 1956

I tried --and failed -- to find the pamphlet on-line from which this quote is taken, so if anyone knows ...

I'd hoped to discover whether the "It" of the sentence that begins "It means a horror of war ..." replaced the word poverty. Would poverty mean a horror of war ... or a distaste for the small carelessnesses ...?"

Reading a tiny tidbit about Quaker Mildred Binns Young, I found that she did write about functional poverty, so in the above passage perhaps her "it" really means poverty. I think in today's parlance we would use the term voluntary simplicity for her kind of poverty or perhaps simple abundance.

The sentence that struck me was "it means a distaste even for the small carelessnesses that we see prevalent, so that beautiful and useful things are allowed to become dirty and battered through lack of respect for them."

How many small carelessnesses have allowed the things in my life to become dirty and battered? Or more to the point, how much rushing and forgetting has led to things piling up, getting lost, getting dented or broken? We simply replace these things ... we live in a culture with a seemingly endless supply of inexpensive consumables.

But wouldn't it make sense to slow down, have less and take better care of what we have? I think of a saying of John Wesley's, Methodism's founder, which I heard: "Earn as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can."

Ok, Ok, that's the Protestant work ethic in a nutshell. And we can take work to weird, excessive levels in this wired culture. But there's a wisdom in not wasting that I think we've completely lost sight of.

If Young bemoaned waste around her in 1956, a time when people had about half of what they do now, what of the mountains of waste around us today? I saw a YouTube video that said that 99 percent of what we buy is trash within six months. And then, of course, there's the movie "Wall.e" which I will discuss in another post.

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World part of the satire is that the "betas," the consumer class in a brainwashed world, are taught rhymes about replacing things rather than repairing them. It's high comedy, apparently, in the 1930s, to imagine a society in which people are taught to throw out sweaters that are missing a button. But that is more or less how we live. In fact, we give the sweaters away before they're missing a button!

When did all this go over the top? I think I can pinpoint two places when waste and excess started to be normative in our culture, both dating from the early 1980s. The first connects to the movie "Ordinary People," which won the best picture Oscar in 1981 (?). There's a scene early in the movie where Mary Tyler Moore, playing a housewife, is pushing her son's serving of French toast down the disposal. Someone in the movie must question her, because she says something like "you can't save French toast." I actually remember conversations with people at the time about this: can you save French toast? Is it OK to throw food away? Was this character being wasteful? I can hardly imagine having such conversations today. That was also the time when diet programs routinely discussed our guilt over wasting food and assured us that it would not feed any hungry person to throw away food we were too full to eat. Today, food waste isn't even mentioned.

When E.T. came out in 1982, I remember all the conversations about how many toys the kids in the movie had. We'd never seen such a surfeit of toys! The children had a whole walk-in closet stuffed with stuff! I remember discussions about how we had nowhere near so many toys when we were growing up. Nowhere. Near. But after that movie, the excess started to seem normal. It's as if the movie set a much higher bar for the "new normal" in toys. I know my children, born in the 1990s, have had far more toys than I did growing up, and I was not at all deprived.

What do you think? How do we control our consumption? Does it create a sense of abundance not to have to replace things? Can you pinpoint, what for you, were cultural moments when our notions of "normal" seemed to shift? Is this a spiritual issue?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Food for Thought

We hear a lot about food. From Supersize It to the epidemic of obesity to slow food, from vegetarianism to veganism to macrobiotics to the various diets formed around the explosion of food allergies, food seems to have taken on an increased complexity.

At my Quaker meeting, we try to juggle the needs of vegans with those allergic to soy, wheat, nuts, dairy, etc. ... There was a piece a few years ago in a Vogue (or perhaps Town and Country) magazine that I read at the hairdressers by a woman living in the south of France who got so tired of guests e-mailing her ahead time with what they weren't eating ("Please be informed that I'm on a no-tomato diet ... and of course, I only drink soy milk") that she refused to cater to anyone's food needs at all!

My children were transformed -- or perhaps traumatized in a good way!-- by seeing "Supersize Me" in school. This documentary records the ill health effects of a man who eats nothing but MacDonald's food for a month. Anytime he is asked to supersize a meal, he does. At one point, he throws up. Since seeing the movie, my children refuse to eat at MacDonalds. Truly, there is a God!

Anyway, Will tells me that MacDonald's no longer supersizes but instead offers "value meals." He also told the story of a friend's father who ordered himself three quarter pounders, two fries and two milkshakes at the drive-through window. The mind boggles.

When my children were in the early elementary years, their school was chosen to be part of a program in which all the children were given breakfast at school. The rationale was that breakfast helps children learn and yet a. some children in poverty weren't getting breakfast and their parents were ashamed to send them for free breakfast (which unlike lunch, most kids didn't participate in) and b. some children in before-school care were getting breakfast so early that they were hungry well before lunch.

I was happy about the idea -- as was told to us -- of children going to school and getting a balanced, nutritionally complete breakfast. Somehow, I pictured steaming plates of freshly cooked foods: eggs, bacon, French toast, orange wedges. What was I thinking? What the kids got was processed cold food in little wrappers pulled out of a bin beside the teacher's desk: packaged danishes, sweetened yogurts, milk and cereal boxes, bottles of juice. Nothing fresh, nothing warm. Not enough. Airplane food. It was a disappointment and, I thought, radically wrong to teach children that this is what "healthy" eating is. At the same time, I recognized that the school wasn't in the food service business, and wasn't going to hire short-order chefs to stand at the back of the classrooms and toss omelets for the little ones.

So I am surprised and delighted by the --dare I say?-- old-fashioned approach to food I've seen at Olney Friends School. After breakfast the last time I was there, I asked Helen where they bought the cinnamon buns.

She told me they do all the baking themselves, except for hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls and sandwich bread. I was amazed.

Eggs laid by their own hens, lettuce grown in their greenhouse, potatoes grown in their own fields and what we now call "free range" beef cattle grazing nearby. The school even has a gardener on staff. Real cooking from scratch. And the students helps out, from gathering eggs to harvesting potatoes to making maple syrup to planning and cooking a meal from time to time. It's almost like stepping back in time or into an alternative universe.

Real food. Locally grown. I can't get over it. I keep thinking there must be a down side but I can't figure out what it is.

At home, we try to cook and bake and make things from scratch, but also often fall back on carryout pizza (but never MacDonalds!) Last fall, we even made our own ricotta cheese, though we haven't repeated the experiment. I love having a garden, but this year, with the move, we haven't put one in. What kinds of things do you do to cook from scratch?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Plain Secrets: Jonas

In Chapter two of Joe Mackall's "Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish," we meet Jonas, a young man of about 20 who has left the Amish community. Jonas will be a recurring figure in the narrative. He is the nephew of Samuel Shetler, Mackall's Amish friend and neighbor.

We learn of the custom of rumspringa, in which Amish youth are encouraged to take a few years and sow their wild oats in the "English" (our) world. However, the strict and conservative Swartentruber Amish do not practice it. At no point do they want their teens or young adults to leave the community.

Jonas, however, has for a long time felt a yearning to be part of the "English" world.

He tries twice before he leaves successfully. The third time works only because he has friends on the outside willing to take him in on a long term basis. But even once "in," he faces huge problems. He has no social security number and no way to establish his U.S. citizenship. Like the other Amish, he left school after the eighth grade and has no high school diploma. He also happens to be functionally illiterate. On top of that, he has little knowledge of the world he's entering. For example, he's never heard of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe. And he can't drive.

Further, he has put his family, to whom he is close, in a difficult position. They are under a great deal of pressure to cut ties with him to make things as difficult as possible for him in the hopes he'll return to the fold.

At the end of the chapter, Mackall sums up Jonas's position as follows:

He would find out just how much there was to understand outside of a closed Swartzentruber Amish life, and learn how many of his ideas of what it took to make it in the English world would be tested. He would feel just how powerful and far reaching the tentacles of the church really were, realize how few resources he possessed to make it in the outside world and understand that his parents would have to choose between their son and their church.

Some say it's unfair of the Amish to stack the deck against their youth by, for example, denying them a social security number or a high school education. But couldn't it be argued that, were the tables turned, our culture could be accused of stacking the deck against our youth's entrance into the certainty, security and ecological balance (I'm deliberately leaving out faith issues) of Amish life? For example, most kids in this culture grow up with little knowledge of farming or sustainability.

Would it be "fairer" for each culture to educate their youth to be able cross more easily into the other culture? Is it really a choice to live in a culture if we're not given an education that would allow us to transition easily into an alternative culture? Or is this not an issue of "fairness" as much as that it would make sense for each culture to "cross train" it's youth in some areas? Would four more years of schooling benefit the Amish? Would a period of time on an old-fashioned farm benefit the "English?" Are such cross overs too "dangerous?" (I would define the Amish danger as the possibility of permanent division of their youth from God; I would define the English danger as too costly an education for too little perceived benefit.) What do you think? What do you think in general of the "trained helplessness" of both cultures?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Attitude or Behavior?

Cath made a comment about the Amish and our world:

The world I live in expects people to come to deep conclusions of values and attitudes and then adapt their actions to those values and ideals. The Amish engage in actions that they hope will promote certain values and attitudes--and judging from the rate at which young Amish ask to be baptized, I think they achieve their objective.

I tend to "accept" our culture's assumption that one determines one's values and then tries to live by them. This then leads to a hierarchy of values in which one discerns that some values are more important than others, and that other, secondary "values," can be jettisoned or dealt with as an afterthought. I also imagine this model leads to anxiety, because individuals inevitably will fail to live up to their values, especially without group support.

What do you think of this? Who and what determines your values? Do you have any knowledge of how other cultures (non-Amish, non-American) handle the connection between values and behavior?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Plain Secrets: degree of separation.

In the first chapter of Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish, Joe Mackall offers a swift, thumbnail history of the Amish. The Amish began as anabaptists in 16th century Europe. Anabaptists rejected both Catholicism and Protestantism as it was then practiced, and believed that only adults could make a decision to be baptized as Christians. They wanted to live apart from corrupt society and in the manner of the early believers in the New Testament. Like the Quakers, they believed in living lives of peace and non-resistance, and like the Quakers, they refused to swear oaths. When they were persecuted in Europe, they took William Penn up on his offer to provide freedom of worship and came to America.

As mentioned yesterday, there are about 180,000 to 200,000 Amish in North America. (They have essentially disappeared in Europe.) The Amish population in North America has doubled in the past 20 years and Amish now live in 28 states and Ontario. However, 70 percent of Amish are concentrated in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

Mackall's entre into the Amish community came when he drove his neighbor Samuel Shetler to his mother's funeral in Canada. Unlike other Amish groups, the Schwarzentruber Amish community of which Shetler is a part strictly forbids car travel, except in emergency cases. Because Samuel would have missed his mother's funeral if he tried to get there by buggy (it was a 10 hour trip by car), the local bishop allowed him to be driven.

Mackall introduces us to Samuel Shetler's work as a farmer. We also get a glimpse of the Amish ethic of nonviolence. When his girls are hit with soda (pop) cans thrown at them from cars by boys as a prank, Samuel asks the local sheriff to intervene by asking the boys to stop. Shetler leaves it at that. He has no desire to prosecute the offenders, who do, in fact, stop.

Mackall presents the Shetlers as hard-working, practical, frugal and worried about the growth of the non-Amish population in Ashland County, where they live, primarily because of the extra traffic on the roads.

The chapter also introduces, although not explicitly, a theme that runs throughout the book, the separateness of the Amish. It's illustrated in this chapter by how different the Shetler's lives are from most other Americans. Samuel Shetler lives close to the land, running a family farm. His does not leave home to go to an office that takes away from his wife and children. His family is close at hand, his children underfoot. And he does not respond angrily or fearfully to violence by retaliating against the boys who throw the "pop" cans at his children or by suddenly deciding his children must ride to school in a buggy or be walked to school by adults.

While Mackall gains the friendship and trust of Samuel and Mary Shetler, he never makes the least inroads with any other member of the Amish community. Not even Mary's father, who lives on Samuel's farm in an in-law house, will invite Mackall in for a visit. Samuel will be open and welcoming to Mackall when it is just he and his family and Mackall, but if other Amish are around, Shetler changes and distances himself from his friend. He can act as if he scarcely knows him and can give off a cold "get lost" vibe if he is talking to another Amish. Mackall knows he's unlikely to be invited to the important community events in the Amish world. When he invites Samuel and Mary to his daughter's wedding, they do not come.

As a result, Mackall's friendship with the Shetlers comes across as somewhat clandestine and he definitely is treated, albeit politely, as a second-class citizen when he meets up with Amish society. The Amish are hospitable to him, but not intimate.

The Amish have been a closed group since the beginning in order to keep separate from the world. This has helped them maintain an identity and not be assimilated into the wider culture. They avoid anything beyond polite interactions with the outer world. Do you think such a severe level of separation is necessary for a religious group to maintain its faith?

Related questions: At what point does a religious group's separation become dangerous or unhealthy? The Amish, while separate from mainstream Christianity, have never, to my knowledge, been labeled a cult. They have never been accused of not being Christian, despite the fact that their pacifism, avoidance of politics, and community ethos runs counter to the militarism, attempts to influence public policy and individualism of some strains of Christianity. Why do we, in general, see them in a positive light?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plain Secrets

In "Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish," English and journalism professor Joe Mackall writes about his friendship with the Shetlers, Amish neighbors of his in northern Ohio. The Shetlers provide Mackall a window into one of the most conservative of the Amish orders, the Schwartentrubers.

Mackall does not want to use his limited experience of one Amish group, and in particular, one family, to generalize about the "Amish" as a whole, a group which, at 180,000 to 200,000 strong in North America, outnumbers Quakers. In fact, he's at pains throughout his book to distinguish between the different groups within the Amish: Old Order, New Order, Weaver, Swiss, Beachy Amish, etc. He also doesn't want the book to focus on what he calls "appropriation" of the Amish as a means to self-discovery or as convenient symbols for pushing a particular ideology, be it nostalgia for an idealized past or a back-to-nature quest.

What he wants to do is to focus on one family, the Shetlers, and how they live as Amish.

Yet by deliberately separating themselves from us, the Amish can drive us into introspection. Mackall will spend a good deal of the book as a character in his own personal drama, the hapless "English" interacting with the Amish, and as a narrator, he will repeatedly ponder his own mixed response to people who are simultaneously both his friends and his subjects.

How do you view the Amish? I once saw them as quaint oddities on the outer fringes of society. Later, I began to grasp that religion, not rejection of technology or of the twentieth century, was the basis of their community. I recognized that the allure of modernity to them was secondary to supporting and nurturing community. While I could probably never become Amish, they've come to shine for me as an alternative to the way the "rest of us" organize society, a challenge to the notion that the way we do it is the "only" way or the "right" way. Apparently, people can thrive in a very different setting and in a society organized on very different principles. There are other ways to live.

I remember getting lost once with Roger en route from Philadelphia to his parents' house in York. I perked up as we drove by barn after barn, tidy farmhouse after tidy farmhouse and field after field of corn. I felt a deep sense of relief and comfort that so many family farms were still thriving in this country. A little while later, as we passed several buggies, I realized we were in Amish country. I remember feeling both deeply disappointed that these weren't "mainstream" farms and at the same time grateful for the existence of the Amish and the wedge they provide against modernity.

Back to the question: How do you view the Amish? What do you think we can learn, if anything, from them? And if you are Quaker, do you find it surprising that there are more Amish than Quakers in North America?

Bits of Barnesville

We returned Sunday from our weekend in Barnesville. For now, I will take a page from Regina and write a list of some things I saw in Barnesville:

The fresh coat of white paint with forest green trim on the Towe house, where we'll be living.
Two layers of old wallpaper peeled off the kitchen wall there.
A bedroom painted pale green.
A big raspberry patch with ripe raspberries.
Wild berries growing by the driveway leading to the house.
Lake Malaga at sunset. It looked like a Maxfield Parrish painting in the dusk, with the trees reflected in the water.

Other things:

Meeting the couple who planted the raspberry patch when they lived in Towe house years ago.
The sense of peace in the Stillwater Meeting.
Sharing breakfast and lunch with teachers from the Quaker music camp.

When were driving out to Lake Malaga, where Bev, an administrator at Olney has her house, we passed an Amish man driving a buggy, wearing a shirt that seemed brilliantly blue in the light. Will, instinctively social, waved to him vigorously. The man frowned and shook his head as he passed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Towe house photos

Some more photos of the house we will be living in and its environs. We won't be in suburbia anymore! The captions refer to the picture above.

View of south side of house. The two picture windows look out from the living room.

The meadow to the south as seen from the living room.

They took down the wallpaper in the kitchen!

Me in front of the very long driveway to the house. You can see the house as a white speck in the background.

The barn next to the house.

Sophie's Birthday

Sophie turns 17 today.

It seems as if much has happened since her birth.

Those few weeks before she was born (she was born well past her due date) are etched into my memory. I would go almost daily to the Baltimore Birth Clinic so they could monitor the baby's heartbeat. It meant a drive down Northern Parkway to Park Heights Avenue to the square brick birth center. The birth center was in an orthodox Jewish community of large old houses. Sometimes I would see women in long skirts with their babies and toddlers. The neighborhood always seemed leafy and peaceful, even though it bordered one of the worst neighborhoods in Baltimore. Even back then, I instinctively recognized that there was something good about living in a community where you could walk on the Sabbath to the synagogue.

Though I wanted a natural childbirth, I went over the alloted time past my due date and into the supposed "high risk" zone. So I ended up giving birth with my midwife (and Roger of course) at Sinai hospital. I was born in the old Sinai hospital, which was torn down shortly after my birth. I felt an extra sense of connection with Sophie, a sense of homecoming, because we born in the "same" hospital.

Of course, nothing in life is quite as overwhelming as the birth of your first born. I couldn't get over that perfect baby coming into being.

Sophie now is a wonderful young woman, strong and resilient. She is very much her own person. Right now, she manages her own life of working at a deli, dog-sitting, baby-sitting, dance camp, seeing her friends and driver's ed quite well. We're able to trust her at home when we go to Barnesville for the weekend. She loves people and dance and wants to be a preschool teacher when she grows up. We're very glad she's agreed to come with us to Barnesville and attend Olney.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Friends old and new

I have met kindred spirit Regina on the web. She has a blog at Regina, a Quaker, loves Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson. “Same,” as my younger co-workers used to say, meaning “I love Jane and Emily too.”

Regina has some blog entries that are very short like an Emily Dickinson poem. I like this one:

Beautifully simple things seen on my early morning walk:
a colorful sidewalk chalk drawing
a lime green door
a male cardinal sitting in a lovely live oak tree
my neighbor washing her mother's car
not a cloud in the sky

Bill Samuel, a friend of more than 8 years and a Friends in Christ cohort, responds often and thoughtfully to these blogs. He has a blog at called Bill Samuel’s reflections, which I like very much. He also provides information about all things Quaker on the net at He has other Internet presences you can link to through the above thought. Bill is often quoted or referenced in the blogosphere.

Martin Kelly of Quakerranter and another cyberspace presence like Bill, has been generous about publicizing this blog to Quakerdom.

Cath has responded to the blog, but I don’t know anything about her. Cath, if by some chance you see this, maybe you could tell us if you have a blog?

Kevin Roberts is a Quaker and part of Stillwater Friends Meeting. I saw him this past Sunday, when we were in Barnesville. Kevin moderates the ConservativeFriends list at

Marshall Massey, who responded to a blog about goodness and perfection, can be found at

I can’t get to c wess daniels at but maybe others can. C wess, I would like to meet if, as you said, you are traveling through Barnesville at times en route to Columbus.

Lisa, who sometimes responds as anonymous (as do others) because that's the only way to get a posting up, is in my current Quaker meeting in Ellicott City and in a Bible study I attend. She’s one of those people who disguises as an ordinary person.

Anyone I have missed, please let me know.

Disguised as Ordinary

My mom's group brunch, which no doubt sounded liked a grand affair -- and I have warm, beautiful memories of such affairs at Liz's house--was very small and intimate. It consisted of Lauren, who hosted, Linda and me.

Which was wonderful.

Within the larger mom's group, there was a core of about five of us who would meet irregularly at (another) Dianne's house for brunch. We were all so happy to get those invitations! Dianne, who has since moved, was a hostess extraordinaire. She was (and no doubt still is) a remarkable, strong, creative, high energy person who transformed a typical colonial tract house into an almost sacred space of beauty and serenity. She used paint, attention to detail, twigs and wildflowers gathered ... I remember her impatience with the way some friends in our affluent suburbs would turn her design advice into pricey projects. "It doesn't have to cost a lot," she would always say, clicking with frustration.

Dianne was also an amazing cook and hostess. She wasn't afraid to create a mood, use fine china or experiment with recipes. She had very little trouble getting people to visit. In fact, an invitation to her house was a coveted part of the mom's social calendar. The rest of us were in awe of her gift of hospitality.

In any case, Lauren's brunch was a way to bring together what was left of the old Dianne group. Since Dianne herself has moved, there was the possibility of, at most, four to five people. That we gathered three was an achievement.

I can't overstate how terrific it was to see Lauren and Linda. Even though we hadn't met this way in four years, as we caught up, we fell into the easy intimacy of old friends or family members.

These are people I know on very deep level.

When they recounted spiritual milestones from their pasts, I remembered being there at the time when the way opened or the illumination came. I felt woven into their lives at an intimate level, in a way that's only possible for people who are spiritually connected.

I was struck when I saw them this time, at what strong, remarkable people both women are. One of the greatest gifts of taking the leap of faith and embarking on the spiritual journey has been the amazing people I have met. There have been many. Probably many of you are reading this blog.

But remarkable as Lauren and Linda are, they go through life disguised as entirely ordinary people.

One the truisms--and truths--of the spiritual journey, is that the world of the spirit all around of us--the Kingdom of God-- is so easy to miss. Without transformed eyes, I could work or live side-by-side, day-by-day with either woman and never see her gifts. Or glimpse them and not "get" it.

They remind me to be thoughtful and mindful so that I don't miss the miracles lurking all around me while I'm waiting for the spectacle that may never come.

I'm reminded too of how faith has transformed them: they have an inner joy and security that comes from basing their lives on faith.

Also, both women, but Lauren most visibly, believe, in a completely non-egotistical way, that God cares about every detail of their lives. Every detail. Especially where they're in an even small mess. They put it all in front of God. They believe everyone in their lives: husbands, boyfriends, children, friends, extended family, are all infinitely worthy of God's attention and care, and that it is their responsibility to carry all these needs to God. By constantly bringing the ordinary people in their lives before God, by taking them seriously enough to believe God wants to influence every bit of their lives for the good, they show an elevating love for the people around them. They infuse the people in their lives with an importance that makes them extraordinary. To me, these women show the emptiness of believing in an impersonal God. They reveal the value of faith in an ever-present, ever-active God.

Again, for all that I describe them as virtual saints, these are very ordinary people.

Though neither woman is a Quaker, this day-to-day deferral to God and attempt to discern God's will to guide all their actions seems congruent with early Quaker thought that God is not a God of a church building you inhabit an hour a week, but a God to guide all of life.

I'm also amazed at the timing of this brunch. I was fretting in the back of my mind about needing to get in touch with people like Lauren to let them know I was moving --and then Lauren called! It was almost as if God were telling her now is the time to see me before I leave. And if she didn't think it important to listen to God's voice, we might have missed this opportunity.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Blog delay

I'm having an unusually busy morning -- story to file for Maryland Family, followed by a "reunion" brunch for my old mom's group -- so I will try to post later this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


We head out for Barnesville today, our house being carefully watched by our neighbor Vashti. Our van is loaded with winter items: wool sweaters, space heaters, Christmas ornaments, sleds ... We will store these in the basement of our new house.

As we head out to Barnesville, I think about ... subdivisions. One of the remarkable things about Barnesville is the lack of any neighborhoods of tract housing. Or so I think. I can't quite get my mind wrapped around this, as I can't get my mind wrapped around so much about this move, such as no Thai food. I keep thinking that around the next corner or far enough down some two-lane street, I will come to entranceway of ... Barnesville Estates or Quaker Heights executive homes. But so far, no. It truly appears there is nary a subdivision in Barnesville.

This makes Barnesville somewhat like a movie set to me. It's a largely late-nineteeth-early 20th-century town architecturally, its streets lined with Victorians and Queen Annes, it's downtown core surrounded by farmland.

There are some streets with newer houses interspersed amongst the old--brick ranchers and split foyers. And as we drove around downtown Barnesville during Memorial Day, we saw several grand old Victorians in a row and next to them, a couple of trailers. For me, who has spend most of her life in tightly zoned and regulated housing environments, the trailers in what would here be a "historic district" were somewhat jarring. My first thoughts were a sputtering, wait a minute, what's going on here, we need to have zoning, this can't be ... but then I remembered all the articles I've written about the problems of affordable housing in my area, where most of the trailer parks have been closed, forcing people into high-priced apartments. I thought, OK, Barnesville's zoning (or lack thereof) puts all people on an equal footing, rather than marginalizing the poor.

I take comfort in the trailers, the brick ranchers ... they're reminders that Barnesville is Real World and not a Hollywood set. Otherwise, I might think I'd truly lost it and was fantasizing this whole episode.

Roger and Sophie went driving the back roads the last time we were in Barnesville. They found no subdivisions.

Actually, Barnesville reminds of Addison and its environs in downeast Maine, where we rented a house on the beach from Quakers for several summers. That place too was, in some ways, a step back in a time, a land, almost in Canada, that was simply beyond the "tree line" of fast food and subdivisions. (Barnesville does have fast food.) We saw nary a housing development around Addison, though, traveling the back roads one day, we did see rural poverty.

Nick scared me the last time we visited Barnesville. We were in the car, rounding a corner when he screamed, "Mom, mom, there's a horse and buggy on the road!" in total alarm. I nearly had a heart attack. Actually, I didn't nearly have a heart attack, but my heart did do a little clutch because of the shriek in his voice. We'd turned the corner before I saw the horse and buggy, but I thought it was the Amish we are told live nearby.

I realized then that we had never taken our kids to Lancaster to see the Amish. Roger and I were both brought there by our respective parents as children, but these days sensibilities and sensitivities dictate that we don't go and gawk at the "plain people" as if they were a zoo exhibit. So Nick had probably never seen a horse and buggy on a road.

This move is going to be an interesting and growing experience. I'll let you know if I find a subdivision ...

As an aside, Roger gave me a book called Amish Secrets, about an Amish family who are part of a very conservative group, the Schwartzentruber Amish of Northern Ohio. I am reading it now and finding it most interesting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Simplicity and serenity

Thanks to everyone who has responded to the blog lately.

We are continuing to sort through stuff in our house and are actually making progress towards getting organized. The house is starting to look good! And it feels better already to be traveling lighter.

Roger and I filled three trash bags last night with give-away clothes. I would say that was crazy, but in this culture, a mere three bags probably rates as the essence of simple living. We also put a bunch of wool sweaters into two plastic vacuum bags I bought. You literally vacuum out the air and they shrink up. We will bring these to Barnesville to store.

As we proceed through this move, I'm trying not do everything pell mell. While initially I had thought of trying --of course!! -- to pack in as much freelance work as I could before I moved, to make as much money "while I could," I've hit unusual walls on several stories that have blocked me from moving forward with them. My deepest sense has been that I should see the walls as there for a reason, and focus my energies on the move. I feel at very much at peace with that in my inner core but there is the outward core that says, but, but, but we need ... money, money, money. I'm trying to ignore that nervous chatter and stay in the center. Put first the kingdom ...How much money do we "need?"

Someone once said haste is of the devil and someone else said haste IS the devil. While possibly overstated for effect, both statements have the ring of truth to me. I feel sad looking back over the past decade that our children's lives have been so hurried. Rushing has been normal for them. To put this in context, we are family that has tried hard to limit activities and be attuned to simplicity, but we've still gotten caught in the vortex. If I had it to do over again, I would have and do a lot less with much more thoughtfulness and deliberation.

It would be wonderful to live calmer lives in Barnesville, but much of the simplicity from which serenity springs is interior, as Thomas Kelly write in Testament of Devotion. He taught in Hawaii before World War II, when the island was an isolated, slow-moving, tropical paradise (maybe a little like Barnesville without the cold weather?). He thought he'd achieve a calm life there, but alas, brought his own baggage along.

Where you live can influence the pace of your life, or so I have to believe after hearing the many Midwesteners who move here mention how emotionally cold and fast-paced this area is. On the other hand, like Thomas Kelly, I also have to believe the serene life comes out of a core that intentionally seeks that rhythm.

On that note, I have to hurry to end this so I can hop in the shower so I can pick up Sophie from a sleepover so she can tend to the dogs she is housesitting for so we can both get to an appointment so I can get back home and out the door again to buy touch- up paint for my front door ....

But I will try to do all of this with serenity!