Saturday, January 17, 2015

How I Tricked the Town Gossip

I grew up in a small town of about 250 people. There were two main gathering places for people of my town. The hardware store and the grocery store. Both were within a block of where I lived.

Since there were no bars or restaurants in our town for communal interaction, to catch up on gossip we headed either to the grocery store or the hardware store. Along with the daily gossip the grocery store supplied nearly all the town’s food needs and the hardware store supplied basic needs for nails and screws along with a few other items.

At the town’s hardware store, the old men would gather around the pot-bellied stove on cold winter nights to smoke cigars and play dominoes. We kids would enter to warm up our hands between sledding forays on the street between the two stores.

If you really wanted to know what was going on in town, however, you had to stop into Oberholtzer’s grocery store. The proprietor and his son would carry on a conversation with everyone who entered. The son was the butcher and stood behind the meat counter at the back of the store ready to engage you in chit chat while slicing your luncheon meats. The father ran the cash register at the front of the store and kept an eagle-eye watch on anyone who entered and exited. In between he would strike up conversations with anyone who lent a willing ear. If he couldn’t elicit town news from normal conversation, he would pry and probe until he got what he wanted. He was the town’s news bearer.

From my eleventh year of life until my senior year in high school, I served as the town’s official news bearer. I was the newspaper boy. I delivered both the morning and evening papers. They were both published by the same company, but supposedly the morning paper had a Democrat bent while the evening paper was more Republican. If newspapers had voted, the Republicans would have won 45-25.

Faithfully every morning I got up at 5:30 am to fold the 25-some newspapers I was to deliver. The house of the grocery store owner was right across from the store. He was one of my first customers and I usually arrived to toss his paper on his porch at 6:45 am. He was always waiting for me.

“Why do you call this news?” he would ask nearly every day. “This all happened yesterday. It’s all old news.” He burst out in laughter every time he said it. He thought he was so clever, and he never tired of saying it. As you can imagine, it sort of got on my nerves. Some days he varied the routine by saying, “I guess you got up before breakfast this morning.” I got tired of both these queries, but the “old news” one especially irked me.

One December morning I unexpectedly received an extra paper in my bundle. For some reason I tucked it away in the back of my top dresser drawer. It wasn’t a special edition like the ones that I saved during Kennedy’s assassination and funeral, or the year the Phillies almost won the pennant. It was just a regular daily newspaper—with “old news” in it.

One day after being especially irked by the town gossip’s “old news” badgering, I developed a plan. I don’t remember how I thought of the old newspaper in the back of my dresser drawer, but I decided I would save it for a whole year and deliver it to him on the correct date but exactly a year late. I anticipated that day with great eagerness. “I’ll show him what ‘old news’ really is,” I thought.

It’s hard to imagine a boy of 12 or 13 having such patience. But I was a boy on a mission. The day finally arrived. I delivered that newspaper with great joy. I wondered what his reaction would be, and how long it would take him to realize that he’d been had.

The grocery store didn’t open until after I had to leave for school, so I had to wait until I delivered my evening papers after school to find out the results of my little prank. I usually stopped by the store for a snack when I was finished delivering; either a candy bar or a soft drink. Since there were about 45 papers on my evening route, it took me a bit longer to deliver them. I probably pedaled my bike faster than ever as I anticipated entering the store at the end of my route.

When I entered the grocery store, Mr. Oberholtzer greeted me warmly. I didn’t know if he understood the meaning behind the year-old newspaper or not. He couldn’t wait to tell me that he had gone through the whole newspaper without realizing it was a year old.

“I thought it was a little funny when I saw someone in the obituaries who I thought had already died,” he said. “But I didn’t think too much about it.” He continued going through the paper until several other items seemed funny to him. “I checked the date,” he said laughing. “It was the right date, but I didn’t think to check the day of the week or the year!” He kept on reading with his curiosity building. “Finally I checked the day of the week and realized it was the wrong day,” he said. “It still took awhile for me to realize that it was a year old.”

“You always told me that what I delivered was ‘old news,’” I explained. “I thought I should show you what old news really is.” He roared even louder when he realized he had been had by his own joke.

He was a wonderful sport about the prank sprung on him. He told every customer who came into the store how he had been tricked. The story took on epic proportions and I was hailed as a town hero for putting the town gossip in his place.

“I’ll never tease you about ‘old news’ again,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “You showed me what ‘old news’ really is, and it took me half the day to realize how old it was.” 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alterna Community: Pointing to God’s Kingdom

After nearly 30 years of teaching at a private college, I am seldom blown away by a chapel service. You could say I am jaded; I have seen it all. Today was an exception. Anton Flores-Maisonet from the Alterna Community in Lumpkin, Georgia, was the speaker. While explaining the ministry of their community, he told stories of “Glimpses of Conversion: The Immigrants’ Rights Movement in Georgia.” 

I was impressed that Anton lives with his family in a community, that the community owes several houses on the same street where members live. I was moved by how the community worships together and works for justice among the marginalized immigrant population. I was captivated by how the community is made up of both marginalized and mainstream people. I also couldn’t believe that Anton had given up a tenured professorship to work in this community without remuneration. I was convinced that this community shows how God’s kingdom can be lived on earth, and as such is a sign of what could be to the world and the powerful.

What fascinated me about the brief encounter I had with their ministry, was how closely they lined up with Ronald Rolheiser’s definition of a balanced spirituality in his book The Holy Longing. Rolheiser’s categories were for individuals, but they could easily be applied to groups as well.

The first essential for a healthy spirituality for Rolheiser is private prayer. This prayer elicits a deeper relationship with God. It is more than a quick prayer before a meal, or a long list of demands for God’s intervention in your life. This relationship involves contemplative prayers, silence, retreats and spiritual direction. Anton talked about his own practices in these disciplines, and that without them he wouldn’t be able to sustain his life of activism. Most churches advocate some levels of this essential.

Anton Flores-Maisonet leading a prayer vigil
The second essential is social justice. Their whole raison d’etre is to work for the marginalized; particularly the undocumented immigrants in their community. Their work includes leading vigils and marches, visiting immigrants held in detention centers, legal advocacy, and visits to Central America to connect families who have been estranged for years because of their “illegal” status in the US. Far too few churches advocate for social justice as an essential.

The third essential is belonging to a community of faith. Not only do they belong to a community of faith, they live in one. They worship together several times a week, have meals together, and invite their neighbors to eat with them once a week. Most churches advocate worshiping together, but few emphasize living together as a community.

Rolheiser’s final essential is mellowness of heart. Although not specifically mentioned in Anton’s chapel address, I could tell by his countenance that he didn’t take himself too seriously. When you are involved in social justice, it is far too easy to wear the burden of the injustice you see all around on your shoulders. In addition, the community lists celebration as one of their ways to balance their spirituality. Most churches add rules and regulations that mitigate against mellowness of heart.

I would add that this community not only embodies Rolheiser’s four essentials for a healthy spirituality, but also that it embodies the principles of Anabaptism. They list their values as “generous simplicity, hospitality, reconciliation, community, environmental stewardship, nonviolence and a balanced spirituality.” It can’t get any more Anabaptist than this.

God’s kingdom is breaking out in many ways and in many forms as we move from a Christendom model of religion to a post-modern multiplicity of religious expressions. The Alterna Community is a fresh Christian approach to a movement that is as old as the early church, revisited by Waldensians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Franciscans and many other groups since. They are a sign pointing to God’s kingdom on earth. They are a witness to what could be if we, the church, took Jesus’ message seriously.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Brother Son, Sister Moon

It was a Saturday evening with nothing to do. I found myself alone in La Ceiba, Honduras, during my two-plus years of voluntary service in that locality. For some reason, there was no youth group meeting, our usual Saturday night entertainment. All my friends were gone somewhere and I was left alone.

Many times I loved to get away by myself when my fellow volunteers sat up until late at night playing cards. They would get so involved and excited that they couldn’t sleep when they finally climbed into bed. I had participated in many of these games until I decided that we were not immersing ourselves in the  culture we had come to serve by playing card games with ourselves. So I would venture out on my own, sit in the park and talk to whomever walked by. Often my conversation partners were shoe shine boys. But I was learning Spanish and culture.

On this particular night, however, I wanted some ex-patriot company, and there was none around. What should I do? There were times when we sneaked into the movie theater to catch a movie, even though attendance at such venues was frowned on by our church. The usual fare on Saturday night was spaghetti westerns, usually a double feature, but not one of my favorite ways of spending time. But I was bored, and probably even a little homesick. I decided to go to the movies.

The feature film was called “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” Since I was not very well versed on movies, I had no idea what it was about. I figured it was a western, and planned to  pass the time with some mindless entertainment.

Like a blossoming rose, slowly the movie unfolded in front of my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was a movie about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, something I knew nothing about, but which held me spellbound for its entirety. Nearly everything about his life reminded me of my own Anabaptist heritage; conversion from a frivolous wealthy merchant’s son to taking a vow of poverty; from reforming the church to service to the poor; remaining true to his conversion in spite of threats from his family, friends and the established church.

Perhaps it was because I was expecting nothing while attending the movie. Perhaps it was the similarities between how Francis lived and my idealized theological perspectives. Perhaps it was a well-directed and photographed movie. Whatever the reason, I was mesmerized by this event. I walked out of the theater with my feet barely touching the ground. What started out as a lonely, boring evening turned into a transcendent moment.

I was reminded of this event recently while reading Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s chapter in the recently released book
A LivingAlternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World from Ettelloc Publishing, titled “What Anabaptists Can Learn from St. Francis of Assisi.” There are lots of parallels, a few of which I mentioned above. I have found deep resonance with the writings of Franciscan Richard Rohr as well.

What points of convergence and divergence do you see between Franciscan and Anabaptist theology and practice?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Clymer Family News 2014

A dance between the alps and the clouds.
This year held several interesting events for Esther and me. We are grateful that we are both gainfully employed and enjoy relatively good health. I say relatively, because on May 5, I had both of my knees replaced. After trying every alternative, I decided to do the surgery (see picture below). I am nearly back to normal with very little pain.

Esther on the other hand, fell and cracked her wrist and has been wearing a brace for nearly a month. Not as major as the knee surgery, but with its own level of pain and disruption of normal routine. She didn’t have to take off work, but it did present her with a few extra challenges. She generally loves her work, but has been working nearly 60 hours a week these past number of months.

Esther also had a monumental birthday in July. She was determined to celebrate it with her family in Switzerland, so in spite of uncertainty of how I would travel so soon after surgery, we went. We are glad we did. We were regaled by gifts of travel into the Alps and invitations by many family and friends for meals. We were also delighted to make a number of new friends. 

New friends Anne-Marie Senn
 and the Martinez family

On the children front, Marisa and Adam bought a house very close to us in Harrisonburg and moved into it a few weeks after my surgery. Marisa continues to work on her Masters of Library Science while working part time at an elementary school being a tutor for English language learners. Adam works as a liaison between Latino families and the public school system. The job has expanded to the point that instead of working at two schools, he now is located at a single school.

Esther surprised by her siblings 
with a party and many unexpected gifts.
Mattias and Erica continue to work for a social service agency. Mattias works as a “qualified mental health provider” at Harrisonburg High School. You’ll have to ask him what that means. Erica works for the same agency as the “Program coordinator/clinical supervisor.” She is sorta Mattias’ boss. They both are in the midst of bigger plans. Mattias earned his real estate license and is building up clientele to do this full time. Erica became a licensed professional counselor and is building up her clientele as well.

Don and Esther on an alpine hike.
September saw the release of a new book that I co-authored with my sister Sharon Clymer Landis. That has caused a spate of activities including book signings, sermons, Sunday school and Bible study appearances.  
My sister Sharon and I at a book signing for
our new book The Spacious Heart.
We wish for all of you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Don for the rest

Don out of bed the day after surgery
with his new bionic knees.