Friday, December 10, 2021

I’m Religious, Not Spiritual

Yes, you read that correctly. It is the opposite of a phrase you've probably heard from friends or the media. Among the college students I taught for many decades,  one of their rallying cries was! “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” The idea behind the phrase is that I believe in God, and I have several spiritual disciplines that I practice. However, I do not want to be involved with organized religion because it is too hypocritical. This sentiment became even more pronounced as the Evangelical church in the USA became increasingly aligned with extreme rightist ideology.

While listening to a podcast featuring an Episcopal Priest, he stated: “I’m religious, not spiritual.” From his statement, I got the title for this blog post. At first I was brought up short by his proclamation, but after he briefly explained his position, I had to admit that he had a point. 

He claimed that the quest for spiritual enlightenment is a very individualistic endeavor, lessening the need for community and gathering together for worship. This fits all too well into the individualistic culture of the USA. Although he was not against spiritual practices, he wanted to make a point about the need for organized religion to properly maintain connections to other people, along with providing important rituals. 

The Catholic Church has always had a certain focus on spiritual practices, often only for certain people Forms of meditation and other spiritual practices have recently become very popular in Protestant circles, including Mennonites. In the Salt & Light materials prepared by Herald Press for Sunday schools, each lesson includes a section called "Spiritual Practice." I personally have been on an inward journey and even wrote a book about spiritual practices titled: “The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening." Through these practices, I have become more aware of myself, deepened my relationship with God, and even learned how to relate better to others. I affirm individual practices of devotion. 

I have lived in collectivistic cultures where most individual quests, like spirituality,
are suspect. Seemingly the only way to connect to God is through corporate worship, and services are provided almost every evening to fulfill that need. Their worship is lively spontaneous and meaningful. They are relational and committed to community.  This is certainly a good dimension of spirituality. 

"I am spiritual but not religious." "I am religious but not spiritual." I find both of these expressions to be an inadequate expression of spirituality and religion. They set up an "either/or" dichotomy. Life is more ambiguous than that. I think both an individual quest and a corporate expression of spirituality are necessary for a healthy spiritual life. In the aforementioned book, borrowing from Ronald Rolheiser's book "A Holy Longing," I outline four essential practices for a healthy spirituality. They are equally divided between individual and corporate quests.

    1. Contemplative prayer or meditation. Individual quest

    2. Belong to a community of faith. Corporate quest

    3. Social justice. Corporate quest

    
4. An open, spacious, mellow heart. Individual quest

Therefore, I am both spiritual and religious.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Comprehensive Review of my Honduras Memoir

 


Contextual note for this book review: I was born and raised in Honduras by pioneer Mennonite missionary parents. But I “came of age” as a teenager, young adult in the United States. Hence my experiences are opposite of the author, Don Clymer, who was raised Mennonite in Lancaster County, but transitioned into adulthood while serving in Honduras. Moreover, as a boy growing up in Honduras, I had personal experiences with voluntary service men. In fact, my interactions with the VSers formed my first impressions of what American young men were like (the impressions were, uniformly, good). 

    Coming of Age covers the years 1968-70. In the case of author, Don Clymer, these involve his late teens, until just before his 22nd birthday. In lieu of serving in the military (Vietnam War years) via the draft system, Mennonite conscientious objectors were given official alternative options of serving two years elsewhere in the world, as directed by their pacifist church mission leadership. These voluntary service men were known by the acronym, VSers. In the book’s Forward, Don provides a context about “registering for the draft.” Every 18 year-old male, at the time, had this heavy bureaucratic appointment hanging over their heads. 

    Don’s story begins with a description of sharing in a Mennonite missionary family meal, in Honduras, who specially prepared a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. However, outside the house window, a “pair of large brown eyes” appeared; a young, hungry Honduran girl watching them eat their American feast.  Don writes: 

God will never let me forget those eyes. Whenever I am ungrateful, whenever I become jealous of someone else’s material “blessings;” whenever I see someone waste or complain about food; I think of those eyes.

    This is just one theme of Don’s stories, wrestling with poverty and faith, yet it is one subject of several that carry through all of Don’s stories. Other prominent themes in the book, include faith and youthful sexuality, working amidst an unfamiliar business culture, protecting his identity from American stereotypes (hippies, soldiers, etc.), Mennonite cultural distinctions in choice of music, expressive language, drinking alcohol, dancing, relaxing, and other activities. The author doesn’t just tell, he shows the reader how vulnerable and unprepared he was for his Honduras experience. 

    Moreover, Don provides an inside look at VSer inter-relationships and church life, along with and such fascinating side trips as “vacations,” “pranks,” and “softball.” Furthermore, we read of Don’s observations on differences between island life, and life on the mainland of Honduras. Each of these diverse themes and stories are told with candor, humorous chagrin, even honest, transparent perplexity. Don does not pretend to master all that he absorbs in the two plus years of his Honduras service—this is no sociological treatise. Rather, Coming of Age, engagingly tells the stories, as if, in the present tense, we, the readers, are coming of age with Don, as we turn the page . . . by page.   

HONDURAS IS A HANDS-ON COUNTRY

     As Don tells it, because the VSers, in general, were from rural farming areas of the USA, they were well-equipped for Honduras’ limited technology and engineering. Electricity was not always available; outhouses were still common. Maintenance, or logistics, in Honduras, is a full time, 24/7 job. So, despite being thrust into a 3rd world country with foreign language and customs, most of the VSers knew how to fix things, work with their hands, and problem solve with whatever was to hand. The VSers engaged in agricultural projects, including construction, carpentry, painting, plumbing, electrical work, mechanical repair, and, of course, many of them knew how to play softball. This hands-on service ability and mentality endeared the VSers to many Hondurans—they weren’t academics or bosses telling them what to do—but actively doing and showing how things can be done in a way that benefitted many. 

    By contrast, due to Don having been exposed to Spanish in high school classes, and being adept at numbers, he got involved in service projects dealing with accounting, assisting with keeping track of how funds were being used and tabulated. Hence, out of the all the VSers, Don had the unique experience of working with Hondurans in an office setting. Don’s accounting/Credit Union work took place on the mainland, mostly in La Ceiba, on the coast, and on the three bay islands, some 30-40 miles off the mainland. Island settings were more rustic, but the islanders spoke English, enabling relationships to quickly form.

    After a full year on the isolated, English-speaking island of Guanaja, Don spent the rest of his time working in La Ceiba, a larger coastal city, which also housed the VS housing unit and office. It is here where “rubber meets the road,” where Don learns to adjust to Honduras culture and people. Other VSers often traveled to La Ceiba for training, retreats, and for short vacations. Hence Don got to meet many of the other VSers scattered throughout the country. 

    Don also writes of church life, and interactions with Standard Fruit Corporation headquarter employees. One office in which Don worked, was the Vicente D’Antoni Hospital credit union office. Here, Don engaged in conversations with employees regarding what was happening in the United States, and some negative Honduran feelings about the USA. Being a Mennonite, set Don apart from what others thought Americans were supposed to be like. Later, at an out-of-hand office party, Don had to deal with an inebriated married woman who wished to have sex with him (announced aloud to the party guests). Don chose, like Joseph with Potiphar, to flee the scene on his bicycle. 

THE SEXUAL NEXUS OF FAITH AND FORBEARANCE

  Don had several unbidden, and some awkward encounters with women. Some of the women were up for a momentary adventure, others for friendship, and a couple for romance, or just plain, sex. These encounters took place in Costa Rica (2 months of language training, and vacations), on the islands, and the Honduras mainland. Don writes these stories the way they happened, in surprise, shock, confusion, desiring, rejection, and fleeing. Don’s storytelling here, is superbly clear and specific with details, and perhaps highlights the book’s theme of coming of age. 

      Sojourning from Mennonite teenager to adulthood in your own country can be daunting, much more so, in Honduras, away from your home church, youth group, family and spiritual peers. In Honduras, Don was given sufficient freedom to deal with the awful, but wondrous continuum of dating, being friends with, getting close to local women, while at the same time, having to follow VS rules: “no dating, no kissing, no messing around.” I was not surprised that much of the time, Don was lonely, bereft of understanding confidants, having to press on, without knowing quite what to do, how to be; in other words, persevering, while living with a kind of existential home-lovesickness. 

    This was the nexus of trust and temptation, faith and forbearance, where Don’s disciplined Mennonite upbringing served him well. Mennonites, like other Evangelicals of that time, put up natural sexual hedges around their youth, so that if one were to break thru and have a sexual relationship, out of bounds, you would feel “the fearful breaking through” of that fence-hedge. To that end, Don writes with what I call, epistemological humility; He knew his limitations, both in what he knew, and how to embody who he was as a Mennonite. As much as faith can inspire, or aspire to greater things, faith can also restrain, and wait for a more fortuitous time . . .

MENNONITE SELF-DISCIPLINE AVOIDS FOOLISH ENTANGLEMENTS

    Mennonites, during those years of the 20th century, were particularly disciplined in all aspects of life: work, play, romance, sex, church life. Each area had discipline and purpose. Wasting time, fooling around, lying, stealing, etc., were all forbidden. Now, to most of us, this kind of fenced–in living feels privative, even demeaning. Yet for the VSers, in the 60s and early 70s, this learned and ingrained discipline kept them from many foolish, temporary attractions and distractions. Mennonites are already set apart by custom and spiritual practices. In Honduras, Don writes about the many times that this sense of ‘difference” was relationally efficacious. Nevertheless, the charm of the book is that Don reveals that though his Mennonite instincts served him well, they did not always satisfy the emotional upheaval, and confusing situations in which he found himself. We forget how fragile this coming of age is, the tremendous energy there to try out, to explore, or how easily the natural passions are subverted and compromised. Don’s Honduras experiences were a life-changing testing ground, which he tells, later in the book, transformed the arc of his life. 

OTHER SIGNIFICANT ANECDOTES

    In Honduras, Don was exposed to the tragedy of warfare, playing competitive softball in a foreign country, leading singing and Sunday school classes, interpreting for English speakers, and what it’s like to vacation in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica. He also tells a harrowing tale of almost crashing, facing death, in a small airplane. And much more besides . . . The author squeezes a lifetime of stories into two years, 124 pages. Don has a startling rest of the story, of what happened to him, since Honduras, acknowledging that the trajectory of his life was formed by what he lived through in Honduras. Going south for two years, changed everything for him, for what resulted up north for the next 50 years. You will need to read his book to find what happened . . .  

For the sake of limiting my review, then, in conclusion, Don acknowledges that most Americans think they are the center of the universe. He writes:

It was not only potential girlfriends who didn’t understand . . . Unfortunately, few people were interested in my story. They would ask me enthusiastically, “How was your time in Honduras?” And after I got beyond “It was great,” their eyes would glaze over, making it clear that they really weren’t interested. This was tough to swallow. It wasn’t until many years and many heartaches later, that I was able to use my writing as a means to tell my story adequately.

       Indeed, in the fullness of time, Don Clymer has overcome glazed eyes, and written a forthright, even fearful, but enlightening account of his formative adult years. I wish the book had gone on another hundred pages. But that very desire, “for those who can’t see the end from the beginning” is a good token of life here on earth, wanting more of a good story than can only be had, momentarily. Thanks, Don, for giving us such a sensate experience, for letting us see and feel how Honduras helped form you, and give you a destiny in Christ, in whom all our stories begin, and move onward, without end. 

Of course, I highly recommend this book, for all the reasons stated above.

--Danny Blue 



Monday, May 10, 2021

Malinda in Mexico


Here is an exchange between a mother, Amy Ledyard (a former student of mine), and her daughter on my book about my daughter's experiences living in Mexico, "Malinda in Mexico: The Magic of Mexico Through the Eyes of a Young Girl": 

"Mommy, did you know that at the end of Malinda in Mexico, they moved to the United States of America?!?" Afton just asked me. "Yes, I did know that Afton. That family actually currently lives in Virginia."

"WHAT?!? In Virginia?? How do you know that?"

"Because the man that wrote Malinda in Mexico was my college Spanish teacher."

"MOM!!! YOU KNOW THE MAN WHO WROTE MALINDA IN MEXICO???? WHY DON'T I KNOW HIM??"

Then Amy wrote a review of my book for Masthof Press, the current publisher:

We first read Malinda in Mexico as a read-aloud with my 4 and 5 year-olds. We loved reading the book together and living these beautiful stories of life in Mexico from the perspective of a little girl. My oldest has now re-read the book independently, and she picked up even more. It sparked wonderful conversations about living abroad and different cultures around the world. I even got to share some of my own stories from spending time in Mexico. This was such a wonderful story, full of relatable young-child emotions, fascinating experiences, and a culture that's warm and rich. We highly, highly recommend Malinda in Mexico!

Thank you Amy! 

Pick up your own copy at Masthof Press and learn about the magic of Mexico!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Am I really who I think I am?

While teaching at Hesston College, Kansas, a group of us formed a small group that met weekly. Most in the group spoke Spanish except for one friend. Once at a meeting we were jovially interacting in Spanish while my friend was a passive observer. After the meeting he told me: “you are a different person when you speak Spanish.” This was my first realization that this was probably true and it has made me think about how learning other languages has affected me as well. Am I really who I think I am? How am I different when I speak Spanish, or Swiss German? When a walk in and out of these language-induced personalities (personas?) which is the real me?

I became friends with a couple who were children of missionaries in Italy. He was from the USA and her heritage was Swiss. When I saw their wedding pictures, I viewed her as a sophisticated model and when she spoke Italian it in no way took away the image I had of her. When she spoke Bärndütsch (Bernese Swiss German) with us, she was suddenly transformed into a common, ordinary country girl. Who is she? A beautiful and sophisticated Italian model, or a simple country girl? Perhaps she is both. Perhaps it depends on which language she is speaking at the time.

Psycholinguistics is a field which looks at how language affects behavior and culture and how culture affects language. One can say that it is like the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I have reflected a lot on certain usages in languages that influence how one behaves. When I learn and use these usages, have I changed who I am?

For example, in Spanish, whose speakers notably belong to a face-saving culture, they have a linguistic construction which reflects this reality. Instead of saying, “I dropped the ball,” they say, “The ball dropped itself on me.” In the English version, the subject, “I” takes full responsibility for dropping the ball. However, in Spanish, the subject is the ball, as if the ball was to be blamed for having been dropped. I am only indirectly involved, as an indirect object. Couldn’t one surmise that that is a face saving mechanism? When I use this expression which is grammatically called the “accidental reflexive” and many others like it, have I become part of the face-saving culture? 

In another example, in Swiss German, there is no simple past tense, normally called the preterite. To express time in the past, they use either the present perfect or the pluperfect. For example, we would say, “I took three pills.” They would say, “I have taken three pills.” The preterite tells us in English, that the action is over and done. The present perfect, on the other hand, tells us that the action in the past continues to influence the present moment. Our sentence in English isn’t complete until it tells us how it affects us in the present. “I have taken three pills” implies as of yet, up to now. I might take more. 

How might the use of the present perfect for reporting events in the past influence how speakers view past events? Does it mean that for them, things that happened in the past always continue to influence the present? That nothing is ever over and done? 

The Swiss German dialect also does not have a future tense. Adverbs of time are used with the present tense to show that something will take place in the future. In contrast, English has two forms for the present: "I will go to church tomorrow" and "I am going to church tomorrow." Spanish uses both futute forms and in addition, like Swiss German, frequently uses the present tense to speak about something in the future. For example,  both Swiss German and Spanish can say "I eat in a restaurant tomorrow" while that sounds very strange to an English speaker.

For the most part, English is very precise with its tense usage, but lacks the nuance and ambiguity of the subjunctive moods where Spanish excels. 

I have only given a few examples of how different languages influence thought, and by extension the cultures within which they are spoken. Since people have observed me  being different when I speak with Swiss German speakers and Spanish speakers compared to when I speak English, has my mode of thinking changed as well? Am I three separate personalities? Am I who I really think I am? 

I don't think I have split personalities. I believe I have been able to integrate the various modes of thought into one personality and that allows me more flexibility and openness in my thought processes. So it is with others who have learned to speak more than one language. 

 Other posts on language learning:

 Learning Language a Spiritual Discipline

 Technically Speaking . . . Motivation

 Confessions of a Polyglot 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Just Another Day in Washington, DC


No, this is not a post on politics. It's about a day showing our nephew from Switzerland, Andreas Moser, the usual turist sites to be found in that historical city, and especially the famous cherry blossoms during this time of the year. 

It started off fairly normally. We drove I-66 to Vienna, VA, to the first metro stop available on the way to downtown DC so that we didn't have to deal with parking and traffic in the metro area. We got off at the Smithsonian exit and headed by foot to the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin which is surrounded by cherry trees. The blossoms were a bit past their peak, but still beautiful.

After taking an inordinate number of pictures dodging mostly Asian tourists, we headed back to the Washington Memorial and then on to the White House. Because of added security since the BLM demonstration and the Capitol riot, we walked forever to find a place for Andreas to get a shot of the famous house housing our President.


We were exhausted and not only exhausted, but desperately needed to use a bathroom before continuing our adventures. We found a restaurant near the White House and settled down to a meal that cost $61.02 for a hamburger with fries and a salad. At least we got to use the bathroom. The toilets were not golden.

We tried to get back on the metro, but were surprised to find that the station was closed. We were told by an kind African-American man where the next closest station could be found. He asked us if we were tourists, and after responding that we were showing our nephew from Switzerland around the city, he smiled brightly he said that he was glad that tourists were returning to his city for visits. I observed that we had seen quite a few tourists thus far on our tour.

We found the station and headed for the Capitol. We arrived there at around 2pm, not knowing that just a few minutes before our arrival, a man had driven his car into a barricade, jumped out of it and threatened the police with a machete. He was killed by the police but before doing so had injured two of them, one fatally. The Capitol was put on lockdown, even though Congress was in recess, and few people were inside. We really didn't see anything that we thought was out of the ordinary while there, and were totally unaware of what happened until we saw a newsflash on our phones after we had departed the area. We then remembered that we had seen a helicopter flying overhead. It was reported that a helicopter had landed at the Capitol earlier. We jokingly thought it was carrying President Biden somewhere.

Our next stop was the Lincoln Memorial, which was completely on the other end of the National Mall. We had walked a great deal already, so we decided to get back on the metro to go to the closest stop to the Memorial. 

When we emerged from the Foggy Bottom station, there were hundreds of police cars and motorcycles surrounding the George Washington University Hospital. There was a cadre of media across the street from the hospital entrance. All the streets in the area were blocked by police. 


Being curious, we went to investigate. I approached a soldier: "Am I allowed to ask you what is going on?" I quiered. He gave me a friendly smile, and answered, "I can't tell you, but you will see it on the news.

As we walking down 23rd St. NW, the police cars and motorcycles came down the street. In the middle of the escort there was a black van which we decided was probably carrying the mystery patient from the hospital. 

We scoured our news websites, and found nothing. We didn't find out anything until the next day. Apparently it was the police victim of the Capitol incident, who had been at the hospital for forensic examination. 

With no further incident, we continued on to the Lincoln Memorial, then returned to our metro stop to return to where our car was parked. With two stops before station, they announced that train service was suspended, that we had to get off the train and go the rest of the way by bus. We waited for what seemed like an eternity until the bus finally arrived. We packed into the standing room only bus and headed out. Seemed like a super spreader incident since there was no way to social distance. 

Another eternity passed till we arrived at the next-to-last stop. There we were told that the train was now functioning again, and we were to get back on the metro to go to our final destination. We arrived without any further problems. Exhausted, we jumped in our car to return to Harrisonburg--another two hours.

Indeed, it was just another day in Washington, DC for many of its residents. For us, it was an extraordinary day in DC. I'm sure our Swiss nephew will never forget that trip. 







Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Powerful, Defining Experience

 

Fellow borders (student, Peace Corps volunteer) 
with my host sister and son in Costa Rica

Coming of Age in Honduras is a fascinating memoir.  Persons who have lived abroad for a time in a culture different from their own, particularly in a developing country, are likely to find points of connection and much to identify with in Clymer's story of his two years living, learning, and serving in Honduras.  Even for persons who have not lived abroad, it offers important and interesting observations and insights written in an engaging, entertaining style with a transparency and honesty that at times can surprise.


The author's sojourn in Honduras affected him so profoundly that it became the defining experience of his life.  It captured his heart and soul and permeated his life; expanding his worldview, awakening him to poverty and injustice, informing his future life choices, and propelling him forward in his quest for God and his commitment to living out his faith with humility, empathy, integrity, and courage.


In the introduction, the author states, "My hope is that others who struggle with poverty and justice may find new insights for their journey with faith within this book.  I also hope that my story will be inspiring and entertaining." For this reader, it was that and more!  I'm sure that many readers will find it so.  

-Rosemary Hershberger

The VS house with library underneath

Town of Guanaja located on a Cay


The VS dory--our transportation
My best friend Marco Tulio

Prophecy conference at the Church of God in Guanaja

The pristine beach we enjoyed with friends on the island of Guanaja

Where to buy the book:

Thursday, February 11, 2021

God is Waiting in the Silence: A Review of my Book


Guest post by Dwight Roth, Wichita, Kansas

Donald Clymer’s Coming of Age in Honduras is a memoir about his experience as a volunteer-conscientious objector to fulfill his Selective Service obligation in the years 1968-1970.  He parted from his provincial Mennonite  home to travel to Honduras at age nineteen and returned shortly before turning twenty-two. 

This narrative provides a unique look at the  intersection of Clymer’s sheltered Mennonite background and the cultural diversity during the rapid social change that was the nineteen sixties and early seventies. His gifts of anthropological insight and communication skills; especially his ability to speak Spanish, contribute to the narrative’s uniqueness.   

This distinctness is multifaceted in at least two ways. One, is the story itself.  A story about a young man, seemingly unprepared for difficult cross-cultural experiences.   Amidst his work in credit unions he knows the pathos of being tested by sexual desire and sees the pain of poverty and warfare. Clymer’s entrance on the Honduran stage is as an unknown. His exit is that of a folk hero, a Jesus man.

The other way this book is unique is largely implicit. The reader needs to look carefully and closely at what Clymer doesn’t say. The critical part of what is unspoken, is based in the best of his Anabaptist – Mennonite heritage. Too many words, the wrong words can negate narration. 

As with many people, Clymer is inspired by the Sermon on the Mount with its emphasis on peace and non-resistance. But Clymer’s life as a young adult and now as an elder and grandparent is distinguished by his Christian intuition in concert with his other gifts.

This is evidenced by his seeing God in everyone no matter their position. When the younger or older Clymer sees the face of a beggar, a woman of the night or others defined as marginal people, he sees the many faces of Jesus. 


Indeed, Clymer’s Coming of Age In Honduras is insightfully well written. Again, for me, the best part of his story is unwritten. Words are necessary - occasionally beautiful, but always limited. Without trying, Clymer connects with the collective soul. 

God is waiting in unlimited infinity. Clymer’s story given our linguistic necessity is an excellent way to hear the unhearable – to see the  unseen. Therefore, I highly recommend this insightful yet entertaining memoir. 

Link to purchase book at Masthof Press