Monday, December 19, 2016

Ice. And Men Who Aren't Nice.

This past week we got cold weather and freezing rain, which coated the whole world in ice.  Then we got cold temperatures with clear skies and sunshine, which pretty much never happens here, so the ice didn't melt and the world felt like a glassy fairyland.  Then it got cloudy and foggy and frosty, and still the ice clung to every blade of grass and fence wire and lilac twig.

The Minnesota girl in me--that young lady who loves walks in bracing frosty air and thinks it just isn't Christmas or winter unless the world is white--she was ecstatic.

I feel a bit inconsistent because back in our northern Ontario days I liked winter and ice and stuff but I used to get so sick and tired of it by February that I thought it was just beyond bearing and that surely God never meant for people to live this far north.

This is what I really like: four distinct seasons, with a good dose of each, and then moving on to the next one when it's time.

Ontario didn't do this.  Neither does Oregon.

But this week it was cold and frosty and icy and beautiful, and it made me very happy.

I took pictures and pictures and more pictures.

Recently I wrote about a few things that are a bit dangerous to discuss, things that make certain decent-appearing folks turn into online rats, sneaking along with shifty eyes and gnawing at chair legs, and also hens, pecking unctuously at stray seeds, and also dogs, howling at moons and other imaginary threats and also biting you in the haunches when you turn your back.

But then life went on and all the animals slipped back into their lairs and changed back into decent-seeming people that say hello to you at the post office, so I realized one can survive these storms and spats, and the wounds heal if you wash them with peroxide and bandage them up good.

Also I'm getting older, which makes me less afraid.

So I will share something else I've been thinking about.

Jenny endured a bit of harassment the other day.  She was with a few other girls and a man made some creepy comments and also floated a lewd suggestion of something they could do.

She was at a place where we frequently go, so it wasn't like she was out of her normal setting.  It was the man who was out of place.

Also, there were enough people around that she was not in physical danger.

Thankfully, she didn't feel all violated or fearful.  But she had two matter-of-fact observations:
1. It was the first time something like that has happened.
2. She didn't look Mennonite.

It was a cold day.  She was wearing a long coat and a hat and scarf, so it wasn't obvious that she wore a skirt and prayer veil.

We found this very interesting.

And I've been thinking too much about it and wondering what conclusions one can draw.

I know that harassment, catcalls, propositions, and other forms of disrespect happen to women.  From some discussions online, I get the idea that they happen to most women and they just conclude that Men Are Like That and you just learn to live with it.

I've had just a few unsavory encounters over the years.

But for the most part, these things don't happen to me or my daughters, at least not when we look obviously Mennonite.  It shouldn't happen to any woman, ever, no matter what she looks like. So why have we been spared to such an unusual degree?

I asked the family about this.

"Well," said Emily, "there's what ought to be, and then there's what IS."

Steven said, "People treat you different depending what you wear.  If you walk down the street in a buttondown shirt, people treat you more respectfully."

I said, "But YOU would never treat a woman disrespectfully, no matter what she wore.  Why is that? I don't remember ever teaching you that."

Paul said, "You set the bar so high with how you treat people that that kind of behavior didn't really come up."

Ben said, "Well, there WERE a few 'don't you ever's."

"Is there still enough residual respect for religion that people are more careful around a woman who looks religious?" I asked. "Like how people are still sort of reverent around nuns?"

Ben said yes.  He thinks guys are more careful around this Muslim woman he knows.

All the guys in the family agreed that men take cues from women as to what kind of behavior they're willing to put up with, and act accordingly.  So, said Steven, some sleazy guy sees a Mennonite woman  and he thinks, Nuh-uh.

That statement puts a lot of responsibility on women, which is disturbing.  And yet, what is it exactly that makes him step back, if he does indeed decide to step back?  Surely there are a variety of other factors that influence his choice.  He's not going to holler something inappropriate with a policeman nearby.  What power and influence, if any, does a woman have in this situation?

Looking Mennonite isn't a magic wand against assault--let's be clear about that. And our culture can breed the secretive sins of sexual abuse and such, which is a whole other subject.

But this is about harassment from strangers, and about most-of-the-time, rather than always.

I have never dressed conservatively or taught my daughters to do so for the reason that Christians often give--to keep the brethren from sinning.

I've learned that the brethren whose hearts are bent on sin will find ways to sin no matter how women dress.

What I teach my girls is that they belong to God, their lives ought to reflect Jesus, and their bodies have the sacred role of being temples of the Holy Spirit.  So their clothes should communicate dignity, royalty, value, beauty, femininity, and respect.

Somehow, that has also worked to protect them.

Maybe it's not so much the clothes as the confidence they project. Or perhaps the aura of being protected and cared for.  I don't know.

My daughters and I have all attended public colleges and worked and traveled and stuff, so it's not that we've never left the farm.

I'm curious how our experience compares with that of Christian women in general.  Or city vs. rural women, or Midwest vs. West Coast.

This is a touchy topic primarily because if you tell women how to act and behave to lessen the chances of getting raped or harassed, it's called victim-blaming because it's so easy to make it a "you should have just" conversation rather than holding the man fully responsible for his crime or behavior.  It's hard to talk about minimizing risk without also assigning blame.

So I am not telling women how to act and behave and dress.  But I'm wondering if maybe women have more power than they realize to raise the general cultural standard of morality, because someone needs to correct this situation, and, as my sons say, a rapist isn't going to stop for anyone, but most guys will take their cues from women about what they can get by with.

I don't think women should think of themselves as passive and powerless.

At the very least, we have the power to teach our sons right from wrong.

I wish all men would treat women the way my husband and sons treat women. Every woman in every circumstance is safe around them.

I also wish every woman could experience the sense of safety that I've always known.

What's the best way to make that happen?

Feel free to comment thoughtfully but don't be a rat, chicken, or dog.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

LFH--On Advent and Waiting

Letter from Harrisburg
A little faith eases weight of waiting
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
DEC 11, 2016

We are all waiting for something,” my friend Trish said in the women’s class at church last Sunday.
As Mennonites, we celebrate Christmas with lots of food, music and Scripture, but we don’t observe the Advent calendar as a church tradition.
Trish became intrigued with the custom and decided to teach about it in Sunday school.
Week 1 is about faith and waiting, she told us. Faith keeps you believing with an expectant hope, even through years of silence.
Week 2 is about preparation. We should be actively getting ready for whatever it is we hope for, even if there’s no sign of it yet.
The next weeks focus on joy, love and finally Christ, the promised child arriving after hundreds of years of waiting.
I looked around the circle of women. Trish was right. We were all waiting for something — a diagnosis, word from a loved one, adult children to find their way, a husband to return, babies to sleep through the night, healing in body and soul, financial strains to ease, private hopes to finally be fulfilled and silent suffering to end.
With most of our heartaches, no ending date is given. I’m never sure if not knowing the duration is the worst, or if it’s harder to know you have four more months of vomiting with this pregnancy, three more years of constant slogging until graduation, 10 more years of working with impossible people until retirement.
Eventually, when we think this situation is never going to end, the page finally turns, the light comes on, the dark splinter is pulled and the festering wound can heal at last.
Like most of us, I spent the past year waiting for a list of deep and unspoken matters to resolve, and for smaller and more public things as well — such as a building permit.
It should not have been this complicated. For years, I’ve wanted a cozy and private place to write. Then, suddenly, the components were all there: my husband wasn’t quite as busy; we own a bit of property across the road, along the creek; we had a 70-year-old shed torn down; and its lovely weathered boards were perfect for building a little cabin.
I explained what I wanted and Paul drew up a design. I was thrilled — a vague dream coming to life.
We hadn’t counted on the county’s objections. A request for a simple permit turned into a long and seemingly endless series of requirements, requests, regulations and restrictions.
Paul insisted they were only doing what county land-use offices do, but I was convinced some vindictive person had made it his mission to deny me my dream.
The waiting went on and on. We submitted forms and contacted engineers and paid fees. On walks down Powerline Road, I would stop and look at the building site among the trees and hawthorn bushes, wondering how long I had to wait and whether this was a dream that would slowly die.
If I had my cabin, I would do this there,” I thought every time I tried to find a secluded place to write or planned to meet someone for a quiet conversation.
But, like the Advent tradition teaches, I kept making preparations in spite of the unclear timeline, the lack of any evidence that the hoped-for would come to pass. I gathered a small antique table from a benefit auction, a file of ideas, vintage-looking fabric to cover an office chair, and the little display shelf my grandpa made for me, some 50 years ago.
Enduring with grace was the only part of the process within my control.
Then, one day in late fall, Paul came home with a bright yellow paper giving us permission to continue, and that time of waiting was over.
The process was made easier, I realize, by a faith made stronger by tough things in the past.
Nine years ago, our teenage daughter was sick with a vague, debilitating and chronic illness. Every day we hoped for improvement, prayed for it, longed for it. Every day she would come downstairs, curl her thin body into a chair next to me, and beg me to assure her that she was going to get better.
I don’t remember what I told her, but I recall the huge and frightening unknown before me like an opaque fog that we were forced to walk into, morning after morning, a place where we were forgotten and time stretched endlessly. 
At the same time, we had friends and family who stayed with us, assuring us of God’s presence by their own, so we knew we had not been abandoned.
The daughter got better. It was a long and bizarre journey, but today she is a senior at Oregon State University, paying for it herself, and doing well.
I’m still amazed that the waiting actually ended. Our gratitude was and is enormous. I see glimpses of purpose and redemption now in her determination and her compassionate heart. She became someone who finds a way through and who will never say the wrong words to a sick person.
When the time is right, a door opens and light comes in.
My niece Annette knows all about waiting. She and Jay married in 2005 and then, instead of easily growing a few babies like all of their friends, they faced infertility, disappointment and failed adoptions for years.
I recall the sense of desolation, the grief, the anger that women who didn’t want babies were having them, and this stable couple who would make wonderful parents couldn’t conceive.
Then, without prelude, the endless fog lifted, a child was available for adoption, and they had a son, their long grief and emptiness flipped over to an enormous completeness and joy.
Less than two years later, in the most astonishing of blessings, Annette was pregnant with a daughter they named Liberty.
And incomprehensibly, another pregnancy followed, soon after, just when they were going through an especially stressful time. Annette says, “God gave me a word one day for her. ‘She is a symbol of light in a dark time of your life’ followed by Isaiah 60:1—‘Arise, shine, for your light has come.’ The stress didn’t go away but we felt peace. ‘Ayla’ means shining light. Her middle name is Hope, and she is our little shining light of hope.”
We saw them all in Minnesota recently, having gathered to celebrate my dad’s 100th birthday. Justice ran around pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon. Liberty played in a dress I had made for her, and little Ayla sat on her grandma’s lap and giggled.
Children are always precious, but I think we see the value of these three more fully for having waited for them so long.
This, then, is my Advent resolve — to embrace the waiting, to keep faith in the silence, to be kind to those suspended by circumstances and to prepare with expectant hope for the gifts that are certain to come.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

5-Grain Scratch

Tonight I'm a hen, scratching and pecking for random bugs and seeds.

1. I just can't be a minimalist.  I'm sorry.

I am known among sisters and daughters for packing a lot.  I look at them in awe as they come marching off the concourse with one compact little tote or backpack.  "Oh no, we don't need to go to baggage claim," they say.  "I have it all in here."

I don't know how they do it.

Emily pares her life down to such bare essentials that it pains me.  And she travels with that one denim backpack she's had since I think seventh grade.

How is this even done?

When you go visit minimalists and you always have to go to baggage claim and haul two large suitcases off the carousel, in a addition to the rolling carry-on and tote bag you had on the plane, you start to feel like the eccentric aunt who is chuckled about behind her back.

But how do you carry bags of walnuts and boxes of books in a little bag that fits in the overhead bin, that's what I wonder.

I credit some of my maximalism to having traveled in Northern Ontario with small children.  We used to drive some 400 miles north from Dryden for staff fellowship meetings.  Once we arrived, often in the deeps of winter, we would stay for a few days at least and the nearest town was 125 miles away.  It behooved me to think of every contingency and to pack cough syrup, a thermometer, extra diapers and outfits, and  plenty of pens.

After 22 years here in civilization I am learning that most of the time I will be within easy driving distance of Pepto-Bismol, should I need it, and maybe I don't need to pack it.

But I will say that when the minimalists need a Band-Aid or Benedryl, they know who to turn to.

Last weekend I finally decided the time has come to pack like a minimalist.

We were going to Minnesota for Dad's 100th birthday party.  I still needed checked bags, what with Dad's books to sell, Christmas gifts, and of course walnuts to give away. Thank you, Southwest, for that free-checked-bags policy.

But my wardrobe for the weekend--I was going to pare that down like my daughters and the cool people on Pinterest with their "capsule" wardrobes.

So.  A denim skirt for travel and a wool purple and black plaid skirt for the party Saturday and church Sunday.  Dressy white t-shirts.  A purple jacket and a black sweater that would both go with the plaid skirt.

Simple, compact, elegant.

And awful.

The plaid skirt was too tight since I've gained weight in the tummy regions without realizing it.  Have you ever been stuck in a too-tight wool skirt for two days?  Don't try it.

Then the purple jacket proved too dressy to wear with denim, so I wore and WORE the black sweater, which, since I am a messy person, soon had a smear on the lapel and, the next morning, a crusty circle of dried frosting on the sleeve.

So I was in the bathroom dabbing at that overworked sweater with a wet washcloth and thinking WHY did I think this was such a good idea??

Emily said, "I guess it's all in what you consider a bother.  I would consider hauling more luggage way more bother than washing a few spots off a sweater."

I said, "Oh my, I would WAY rather haul a bit more luggage."

So that was the end of my stint as a minimalist.

2. Our Thanksgiving guests consisted of two young men who sing with the Gospel Echoes Northwest prison ministry and five young people that Ben and Emily got to know at the grad student fellowship at Oregon State.

The conversations led to this thought that I posted on Facebook:

I find it fascinating how we all speak English and yet we have such different vocabularies. We had a few grad students here for Thanksgiving. We could talk about where they're from and what they do, and 5 minutes later they would look at each other and switch to a whole different vocabulary of which I knew almost nothing. Paul talks about moisture testers and 5-grain scratch and Marshall. Steven drops medical initials like DOA and DNR and lots of others I've never heard of. Quilters talk about batting and Kaffe Fassett. You might be confused by queries and Oxford commas and AP Manual of Style and uploading to Kindle, which my writer friends and I discuss with enthusiasm. And then Jenny and I went to Dutch Bros. and she confidently said, "Small blended pomegranate infused Rebel." I looked at her in disbelief and said, "Where did you learn those words?!"

3. Dad seemed to really enjoy his party and powered through the whole afternoon plus all the family activities the next day with only one nap.

He is amazing.
Dad and Uncle Johnny.
Some party people.
Emily served punch.
Her cousin Leah tasted it.
Matt and Justice, who acts a lot like Matt did at his age.

4. Speaking of vocabularies, I have been thinking about turning my last two books into audiobooks.  Hence, this:

I had a scheduled phone call with a young man from an audiobook producer.
Him: Sorry I'm late. I was trying to connect with you on Google Hangouts.
Me: Oh. Well. Sorry. I don't know anything about that so I was waiting on a phone call.
Him: That's fine! I don't mind talkin' on the phone. This is classic. Yeah, this works!
Me: ........[thinks]......can i actually work with someone who says talking on the phone is classic...........???
Later in conversation:
Him: Yeah, one of us looked up your books online and yeah, your name--Dorcas--Hmmm, that's a pretty classic name.
Me: .........???..........

If there's anyone reading this who is experienced with producing audiobooks and who speaks the language of my people and generation, please contact me.

5. You might recall a blog post not long ago about racial issues.  I hesitate to bring this up, as I didn't enjoy the searing flames that erupted from my screen for the next two days.


Two things.

A. I mentioned a project of letting racial-minority people express themselves on my blog.  This is still in the works but is happening more slowly than I intended.

B. I may have changed my mind about the responsibility of people today for injustice in the past.

I get annoyed at the implication that every white American today should be hauling around this backpack full of guilt for oppression in the past.

As I said:

Don’t try quite so hard to make every white person feel personally guilty for what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore, any more than you’d blame me, just because I’m Mennonite, for how the deacon in Holmes County treated you back in 1968 when you wanted to hang out with his daughter.

But I'm rethinking that just a bit.

If you know your history, you'll recall how the Anabaptists, the precursors of Amish and Mennonites, were persecuted horribly in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s.  Imprisoned, tortured, driven from their homes, burned at the stake, and more.  The suffering was terrible, it affected a lot of our ancestors, and it went on for a long time.

That history is very real to us, and every Mennonite and Amish child knows the story of Dirk Willems who ran across the frozen river to escape the thief-catcher but turned back to help when the thief-catcher fell through the ice.  And then Dirk was burned at the stake anyhow.

We always have a mindset that religious freedom is temporary and persecution could arrive again at any time.

This sense of immediacy is increased by things like Paul's great-grandpa almost getting tarred and feathered for not buying war bonds in WWI, by the Harrisburg Mennonite Church getting burned down because its members wouldn't go to war, and by the bullet hole somewhere in our house from a drive-by shot during this same era.


A few days ago Emily went to hear a Catholic speaker at some kind of forum at OSU.

She felt distrubed when he said, jokingly, that he has a barbecue apron at home that says, "I'd rather be roasting heretics."

Even the Protestants in the audience laughed.  Emily thought, "Um, that's my ancestors."

I felt a lurch in the gut when she told me about it. It seemed that the speaker and the rest of the audience both felt far enough removed from history that they could find it funny.

Not us.  It's still too fresh in our past.

True, it might not have been his ancestors piling the wood around ours, but we still felt he should treat the subject with care and respect.

Maybe that's how First Nations and African-Americans feel about white people.  I plan to ask them.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: The thing about coffee shops is --you need the right atmosphere!
Ben: You definitely want to limit your carbon monoxide and make sure you've got at least 21 1/2 % oxygen...