Saturday, September 13, 2014

Collective Memory, Collective Unconscious

Whenever a friendship that I make with a Mexican deepens, whether rich or poor, educated or not, the question comes up: “What do you think about the USA stealing from Mexico more than half of our territory?”

We could quibble about whether the land was stolen or not, but most US Americans are blissfully unaware of the history surrounding the acquisition of most of what is currently the southwest of the US, starting with Texas and moving west and northwest to include Arizona, New Mexico, California, Utah, Nevada and most of Colorado. We seldom pause to wonder why most of these states have Spanish names, and have myriad Spanish town names within their borders.

More than eight generations have passed since the time when the US gained a large chunk of Mexican territory. No one is alive who experienced that event. Yet the event lives on in the collective memory (psyche) of the Mexican people. It was a humiliating and traumatic defeat, and any relationship a Mexican begins with a US American is shadowed by that collective memory.

I grew up an ethnic Mennonite. Our people also have a collective memory of persecution that goes back nearly 500 years. I know that this inherited memory affects how I view the world and how I act. I see it in other ethnic Mennonites who have different migratory patterns than my group and who live in varying parts of the world.
For example, the Old Colony Mennonites who live in northern Mexico signed an agreement with the Mexican government in 1920 to allow them to be exempt from military service and to allow them to be exempt from attending public schools. This agreement has never been revisited, in spite of the fact that many things have changed over the 95 years since. They are sorely afraid that making any changes will make them feel persecuted once again for their beliefs and have to leave their land; just like when they had to leave Russia and Canada.

In my own experience, I say that I am for the marginalized; that the God of the Bible is on the side of the poor and the oppressed. I write and teach that we should be “hungering and thirsting for justice” when in fact I mostly sit on my hands when it comes to doing anything. I am an example of “Die Stille im Lande,” the “quiet in the land.” I find it difficult to join marches and political protests. I, like the Old Colony Mennonites in Mexico, because of my collective memory, am afraid of being persecuted and losing what I have.

Vincent Harding, an African American Mennonite pastor who joined Martin Luther King’s movement in Atlanta while founding a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit there for MCC, eventually left the Mennonites because they displayed the same ambivalence   toward political protests as I. I am not proud of this either for me or my people, but recognize why it exists. Of course, many of my ethnic brothers and sisters around the world have been able to break out of their collective memory and work more directly for the marginalized and the oppressed. And people whom we have proselytized are not affected by the same collective memory. They reach back to the original Anabaptist movement, from which Mennonites sprang, as a reason why we must protest oppressive laws.  

With the idea of a collective memory in mind, the recent eruption of anger in Ferguson, Missouri, should come as no surprise. Our African American brothers and sisters have over 500 years of slavery, mistreatment and oppression to feed their collective memory. No matter how much progress has been made, our country is no where near healing the trauma that was caused by those years of oppression. Like my Mexican friends, my African American friends, whether rich or poor, educated or not, bring this subject up whenever we have any serious discussion.

Recent neuroscientific research has postulated that collective memory is passed on through our genes. Carl Jung has long theorized that humans are born with a collective unconscious. This collective unconscious can be both universal, i.e., shared in common by all humans, or particular, i.e. shared in common by particular groups of people. According to my unscientific observations, shared above, I believe this to be true.

Collective memory shapes us and forms us. No matter how unique we are as individuals, there are many unconscious factors that make us behave as we do. I believe that we can overcome these tendencies through contemplation, taking our nighttime dreams seriously, and getting to know people different from us to get to understand their particular collective memories. But that is a topic for another blog . . .

Friday, September 5, 2014

Herald Press publishes new book on spiritual formation Clymer brother and sister co-write

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.— Many people have grown tired of the pat answers that the church and religion have provided regarding questions about faith and meaning in life.

A new book addressing the deepest questions of the soul, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening, was released by Herald Press in early September. The authors, siblings Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis, offer 12 keys, or insights, for unlocking the heart for spiritual growth.

Don is a spiritual director and Spanish professor who has led cross-cultural semesters at Eastern Mennonite University, in Harrisonburg; younger sister Sharon is a writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader from eastern Pennsylvania.

Twenty years ago, this brother and sister pair would not have dreamed of writing a book together. Growing up in a family with 11 children, the younger ones scarcely knew the older ones, according to Don and Sharon. So how did they decide to write a book together?

Don says he began hearing chatter at family reunions that Sharon was taking courses on spiritual formation and direction at “some Kairos” place in Pennsylvania. Don himself had begun taking similar courses at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation, so after years of “barely knowing that each other existed, we began to share our discoveries with each other,” he said.

Don was reading Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality during the summer of 2009. “I was really taken by this book. All the things I had studied in my program at the seminary seemed to come together.” He started meeting with a small group of interested college students to practice the “four nonnegotiable essentials of a healthy Christian spirituality.” One of Rolheiser’s essentials was termed “mellowness of heart.” Don said, “I thought a lot about what this concept meant and gave a number of devotionals on the subject. I felt there was enough material on ‘mellowness of heart’ for a book.”

Don and Sharon spoke about their mutual interests during a family gathering in early 2010. Don felt that Sharon’s experiences with many people as their spiritual director and her bout with cancer gave her an unusual depth of understanding. “I also knew that she was a great writer,” said Don.

Sharon had read Rolheiser’s Holy Longing while a student at Kairos: School of Spiritual Formation, in Lancaster, Pa., and was intrigued when Don began exploring the mellowness of heart concept. “When he first asked about writing a book together, though, I was hesitant,” Sharon said. “I wondered how I could do this, being so physically drained from six months of chemo treatments while finishing my spiritual direction training.” But she began to process the idea.

Don’s experiences teaching a senior seminar at Eastern Mennonite University dealing with suffering and loss had deeply moved him as he discovered the frequency of brokenness among students. Added to the brokenness were their questions about faith and God. “I wrote the book with them in mind, hoping that I could guide them toward a deeper commitment to God and a more ‘spacious heart,’” explained Don.

Impetus for Sharon came from knowing of spiritual seekers who long for emotional and spiritual intimacy with themselves, others, and God. “I wrote to encourage more understanding that gaining self-knowledge is not narcissistic, but actually helps one know the Source of life and love,” Sharon said.

In The Spacious Heart, Sharon describes some of her fears of getting involved in spiritual direction. Eventually, she said, “my [spiritual] director’s companioning me, and her deep listening, reflected love to me. This allowed me to heal and grow in intimate, close relationships with others and with God.” Still, Sharon had no plans to become a spiritual director herself. “But the Spirit and my own heart kept drawing me,” she recalled. She enrolled in training at Kairos in 2008 and began taking on those seeking spiritual direction in 2009.

Sharon uses many stories in the book, some from her spiritual direction practice, others from her upbringing, feeling that stories help people understand where they come from and where they want to go. “I wrote to encourage all who are disillusioned with church or old faith paradigms, who long for stories of spiritual awakening, and who aren’t able to go to a spiritual director,” noted Sharon.

Don first became involved in spiritual direction as a mentee, and then took training to be a spiritual director. He has been giving spiritual direction since 2003. Both Don and Sharon also blog regularly at and, respectively.

The authors hope that the book reaches a wider audience than those in the Mennonite church, including as a possible textbook for classes on spiritual formation. Marva J. Dawn, who wrote the foreword for the book, has praised the book’s emphasis on justice and other “traditional” Mennonite issues. “Several of the traits that are usually associated with Mennonites make this one of the best books on spiritual disciplines that I have ever read,” wrote Dawn.

Mary Herr, who cofounded The Hermitage retreat center in Three Rivers, Mich. with her husband, the late Gene Herr, noted the fact that there are not a lot of Mennonite-authored books on classic spiritual disciplines. Herr said, “A book by Menno writers on spiritual disciplines is sheer gift. So grateful for the book.”

The Spacious Heart is available for $16.99 from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Contemplating Life

“When the external life and the inner life are working together, we always have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons—lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal, in part because they can integrate the negativity of failure, sin, and rejection and they can spot their own shadow games.” ~Richard Rohr

This pithy statement from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation of August 28 is true but a bit more complicated than it appears. Arriving to “actual transformation” is hard work and takes many years to complete. Integrating our image of God with the “negativity of failure, sin, and rejection” doesn’t happen automatically.

We avoid facing our shadow self like the plague. It is much easier to project our sin and failure on other people rather than owning up to them. Jesus identified the phenomenon when he said in Matthew 7:5, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, nearly 2,000 years later, called it “projection” and identified the projected items as the “shadow.”

We put up false fronts, called personas, to keep other people from knowing the real person behind the front. These false fronts come from what is expected of us from our socialization—culture, family, church, occupation. They are not completely bad; we need them to function. They become bad when we begin to believe that these false selves are our real selves. They become bad when we repress the bad stuff and project it on others.

There are two ways to get to know your shadow, according to Jung. Think of a trait in someone that you can’t stand. More than likely that is a part of your self that you have not dealt with and you project it onto the person you can’t stand. Or ask your spouse or close friend if you are like the person you can’t stand. If they are honest, they will identify the shadow traits you try to conceal.

Most of us don’t have the courage to do this, however. We’d rather mosey along living under the pretense of our personas and our false selves. That is, until someone inadvertently yanks the mask right off your face. That happened to me when someone told me that they thought I was experiencing a spiritual crisis. I was wearing personas of churchman, missionary, and Bible teacher. The statement, a mere observation with no intention to hurt, cut me to the core. It exposed my pretense and made me turn inward; to contemplation among other spiritual disciplines.

Contemplation allows us to see the false selves for what they are: false. If we started contemplation as part of our daily “rhythm and rule,” we would eventually be able to discern the true self from the false self. Most of us, however, are not capable of doing that on our own. We need some kind of crisis like my own mask “off-ripping” to look for help. When we reach that point, we need a guide to help us along the way; a spiritual companion, a spiritual director or a counselor. And we need time.

Once we begin the painful yet liberating process of contemplation, we are confronted with all the shadow traits we had been projecting on others. Fortunately, we also find the true self buried under the garbage of our false selves—the God image within us. This God-image carries his eternal love for us as well as his unbounded mercy and grace.

When the shadow and the God-image confront each other in contemplation, the God-image transforms the shadow and we “have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons,” just as Rohr claims. When these two opposites are integrated, we have “lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal.” This does not happen overnight, however. For me the process took years and I am still a beginner on the journey.

Without contemplation, we have superficial lives that are resentful, that grumble and that poison. We see too much of this around us, even among Christians. My wish is to encourage people to begin the process of contemplative transformation before a crisis hits, to turn inward to find the true self before too many personas are established. I would rather be around people who “sparkle and heal” than people who grumble.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Good-bye Sole Mates

There is nothing more important to me than a good pair of shoes. Especially if they fit. I have been blessed (cursed?) with duck feet (some would say that’s why I’m named Donald—don’t you dare go there!). I usually need to go a half size larger than my foot length in order to accommodate my wide feet. That results in tight sides with floppy fronts. To find a perfect fit is nearly impossible, but when I do, I wear those shoes into the ground. Literally.

I had such a pair of shoes. I wore them for two years and eight months. They weren’t the prettiest shoes or most fashionable I’d ever owned, but they functioned quite well. They were casual enough that I could wear them to my office and to the coffee shop. Often those were the same place. They were formal enough that I wore them to my son’s wedding. Who knew?

They were slip-ons. I could wait till the last minute to get into them before going out the door. I could easily slip them off when I wanted to prop my feet up. They required little to no maintenance. Because of the rough surface, they didn’t scuff much, and a good polish every month kept them looking like new.

Sole Mates. Old on the left, new on right.
These shoes nursed my arthritic knees through their most painful days. They also accompanied me to the hospital where I had double knee replacement surgery and followed my new knees home again. They were faithful companions during my three-month long recuperation.

These shoes accompanied me to Guatemala and Mexico. They walked the streets of Guatemala City, Antigua, Chichicastenango, and along the shores of Lago Atlitlán. They walked the streets of Puebla, Cholula and Mexico City and visited numerous museums and cultural events.

These shoes took me to the cities of Zurich, Zermatt, Interlaken, Bern, and Basel, to name a few. They walked along the banks of the Aare River and trudged on alpine mountain roads and took me to lake-side celebrations. They visited barns and palaces. They traveled on cable cars, cog-wheeled trains, double-decker trains, planes and boats.

These shoes attended small churches, mega churches, big city churches, extremely rural churches and a few Bible studies. They attended six weddings. They preached in four pulpits. They worshiped in English, Spanish, Q’eqchi, Kaqchikel and Swiss German. They taught in innumerable classrooms before hundreds of eager-eyed learners and some not so eager.

Unfortunately, I had to put these wonderful companions, my sole mates, to rest. As I was walking along a gravel alpine path several weeks ago, I noticed some of the little stones were penetrating into my foot. I realized that I had walked the sole bare. Probably had walked nearly 1,000 miles in them. The sad day had arrived. The shoes that had fit me like a glove and had journeyed with me to so many places had to be put aside.

After a vain search for the same shoe in local stores, I scoured the Internet for the brand and model I wanted to replace my sole mates. They were no where to be found. I tried every combination of possibilities on dozens of shoe websites. Finally I came across the brand and model I was looking for. It wasn’t exactly the same model as my retired shoes, but close enough.

The new shoes came today. Eagerly I opened the box. The fit was pretty good, and the look better than I expected, but I couldn’t slip them on without a shoe horn. They were a bit tight at the duck-foot edges and snug because of my high arches, but I knew they would stretch as I wore them. I will miss my old pals. I will probably even put them on again for nostalgia and needed comfort. But I need to give the new pair a fair trial before I abandon them. Will they succeed like their brother?

Where will this new set of shoes take me if I finally adopt them as my new sole mates? If anywhere near as wonderful a ride as the last pair, I’m in for a delightful road ahead
. . .

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Confessions of a Polyglot

I was invited to a meal by a Swiss family who knew I could speak Spanish. They had also invited two Guatemalan pastors who were visiting Switzerland. I was to serve as interpreter for the conversation between the Swiss family and the Guatemalans. Swiss German to Spanish. Spanish to Swiss German.

This was not an easy task for me. Neither is my mother tongue. At one point in the conversation the Swiss man asked the Guatemalans a question. I turned to them to translate the question and repeated the question to them verbatim in Swiss German. I had no idea what I had done until everyone else at the table burst out laughing.

I am a polyglot. This means that I speak several languages. This does not mean that I am totally fluent in every language I speak. When people ask me how many languages I speak, I reply that I am still learning English. The more I learn in each language I speak, the more I realize how little I know. Languages evolve and words and expressions that I learned 30 years ago are no longer used, and many new ones have entered the language.

I learned to speak Spanish after I was 19 years old. I learned to speak Swiss German after I was 32 years old. I’ve learned to understand other languages along the way, but English  is my mother tongue. I’ve been speaking English my whole life. I can express myself much better in my mother tongue than in any other language. This bears itself out with two simple illustration from my own experience. There are two things that one would rather do in their mother tongue no matter where they are or what they are speaking. Count and pray. Trying to figure out how much something costs for me always gets translated into English. No matter how long I’ve lived somewhere. Same thing with prayer. God understands me better in English.
It is true that sometimes when I am completely immersed in the language that is not my mother tongue, I find myself thinking in that language. Yet, when it is time to go into a store or some other space to speak with someone new, I find myself composing sentences in my head before I enter. This never happens in English. I have enough resources in my native tongue that I can simply enter a new space and begin to express myself.

English has become the lingua franca of the world. It is the official language of the European Union. Moreover, English is spoken by millions of people around the globe, but only about 20% of them speak it as their native language. Even though they may well get along in English at a certain level, they probably cannot express their deepest longings. Even though they may find themselves thinking in English when immersed in it, they probably still count and pray in their native tongue. They probably begin to think of what to say before they enter a store.

Because English is so wide-spread, many US Americans assume that it is not necessary for them to learn other languages. This is a very arrogant stance. As I have experienced when speaking languages other than my mother tongue, no matter how advanced I am in that language, I am still at a distinct disadvantage. So when we assume that we can use English wherever we go, we are putting at a distinct disadvantage those who do not speak English natively.

Indeed, some communication is better than no communication at all, but we need to be aware the dynamic we are setting up when we demand that the other person speak our mother tongue. The reason that English is so ubiquitous is because it was the language of empire builders. First the English and now the US American empire. So as a native speaker of English from one of these empires, not only do we put others at a disadvantage when assuming that English is the language of communication, we also reaffirm our power advantage and privilege. Even just a few words in their language helps level this power dynamic—how much more when we can put together complete sentences and paragraphs in the others’ language.

I am a polyglot. Like translating between Spanish and Swiss German, I love the challenge that communicating in languages other than my native language brings. However, I am still most comfortable speaking in my native tongue. Learning another language helped me to be more humble about the relationship between languages and the people speaking them. As we communicate with those who do not speak our language natively, we need to keep this in mind.