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Posts Tagged ‘Amish Mafia’

photoJust Do It — But Not Just Yet

A couple of years ago I read a great piece on procrastination in The Week (14 January 2011, to be precise). It was a reprint of an article from The New Yorker; and, for whatever reason, the editors neglected to mention the name of the author. The reflection was fascinating, in part because I have the nagging suspicion that quite a lot of us contend with procrastination, myself included. So two years of mulling over the idea is about the right amount of time before putting pen to paper. And just because I’ve waited this long doesn’t mean I’ve been putting it off.

What stirred me to action was a fresh brush with the ill effects of procrastination in my own life. For upwards of five years and more I’ve complained about how cold my room can be in the winter, and the last few days have been particularly chilly. Now a reasonable person would ask if I had heat in my room, and if so, suggest that I turn it on. But a reasonable person wouldn’t know that my radiator has only two settings: “off” and “full-blast tropical.” I can choose between 62 degrees, which is just about right for sleeping, but my fingers turn blue at the desk. Or I can turn on the heat and know that it will shoot up to a sauna-like 85. I also know that it won’t go off until mid-August, no matter what I do to the thermostat. So to my mind it’s just easier to leave it off and complain about my lot in life. What could be better than to suffer, but not in silence?

Andries Pietersz van Souwen (1549/50-1624), Knight of Malta

Andries Pietersz van Souwen (1549/50-1624), Knight of Malta

Last week I drove with one of my confreres into Saint Cloud, to run some errands. It was a really really cold day (really), and I was going on about how cold my room was, and how I was thinking about getting a space heater. In fact, so serious was I, that I had been considering it for four years.

By now this litany had become a ritual for me, but my confrere showed neither interest nor sympathy. Actually, he must have questioned my sanity. He had just returned from graduate school two weeks earlier, and he too suffered in a frosty room. As we drove by one of those big-box stores, he stopped me in mid-sentence and suggested we go in and get heaters for our rooms. I was dumb-founded. “What? Now? But it’s way too cold today. Let me think about this some more.” Well, he would have none of that, and in we went.

photoIn the aftermath of his decisive action, all of my excuses for not getting a space heater melted away. There was, of course, a huge selection to choose from, and I mumbled that I wasn’t sure which one would be best for my room. “Here”, he said calmly yet firmly. “This is the one you want. Get it.” Then he grabbed the box from the shelf and tossed it into the cart.

My next fear was that they’d be expensive. They weren’t. I had also dreaded the instruction manual, and I feared having to master a forty-eight page booklet in Spanish, French, English and Mandarin. I have no patience for instructions.

If these were normal times, I would have hauled the crate home and set it aside for a week or two, just to get used to it. But these were not normal times. It really was cold, and I’d prepared myself for this day for four years — even if I never thought the day would actually come. Then I threw caution to the wind, ripped open the container, and gingerly eased the heater out of its nest of styrofoam and cardboard. Next, I ignored the instruction manual, plugged it in, and pressed the start button. It worked, and within an hour I had a pleasantly toasty room. It had all been so simple, simple enough for even someone like me.

Saint John the Baptist and the shield of Saint John.

Saint John the Baptist and the shield of Saint John.

This episode has caused me to rethink my tendency to procrastinate, because there are valuable lessons to be learned here. First off, we all pay a heavy price for this sort of behavior; because it often comes back to haunt us. Try and count up all the apologies we’ve had to issue for not doing things on time. Now consider for a minute how much fun it would be to finish everything ahead of schedule — all the time. Imagine the shock on people’s faces. That alone is worth a major change in behavior.

Next we should total up the amount of inconvenience and needless suffering we’ve endured because we push things off. Sure, for a while we can convince ourselves that prudence is the way to go. But more often than not we’re simply avoiding the difficult or the inevitable. Given that, sitting in a cold room seems rather pointless, especially if I could solve the problem in an instant. For such suffering there is no glory, and there’s no one to blame but me.

photoThe last take-away is that it’s never too cold to go out and buy a space heater. In fact, the coldest day is the best day to do it. Who wants to be seen carrying a big heater out of the store in July? People assume you’re too late for last winter, or mindlessly paranoid about next winter. No, by toting it out to the car on the coldest day of the year, I have crafted a new public image. In the face of terrific adversity, I was the one who took action. It was I who was undaunted by the cold, and I did the right — and the sensible — thing.  And I will be forever grateful that my confrere made me do it.

Hendrik van der Veere, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. 1551.

Hendrik van der Veere, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. 1551.

Various notes

+Last August I had the opportunity to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, The Netherlands; and the pictures in today’s post come from there. The museum houses sacred art gathered from regional churches, but the buildings themselves are the star attraction for me. In the 16th and 17th centuries Saint Catharine’s served as a monastery/regional headquarters for the Order of Saint John, aka the Knights of Malta. The complex remains largely intact, and the galleries occupy spaces that once served as the dormitory, dining room, and administrative offices of the Order of Malta in Holland. The church remains a parish church today, and all the buildings are in an excellent state of preservation. It is well worth the visit to this lovely oasis, and it is only a short train-ride out of Amsterdam.

+Amish Mafia revisted: I received some wonderful email on my post on the Amish Mafia, and many readers who had seen snippets of the show were equally appalled. One reader mentioned a colony of Amish snow-birds in southwest Florida, which was a real surprise to me. A few brought to my attention several other freak shows, including one on the Hutterites. Frankly, I had not realized that communities of Hutterites still existed. Many of the founders of the Anabaptist groups came out of the Benedictine monasteries, which explains the communal/monastic organization of these groups.

photo+On January 25-27 I gave a three-day retreat to members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta. The retreat took place in Jacksonville, FL, and the weather was “not so bad”, as we might say in the dialect of Minnesota.

+On the afternoon of January 23rd the power on campus at Saint John’s went off, exactly twenty-two hours after I had plugged in my new space heater. There’s nothing more useless than an electrical appliance during a power outage. I still can’t believe I let myself get rushed into buying that thing.

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Saint Anthony Abbot, 16th century.  Museo Ciocesano, Venice.

Saint Anthony Abbot, 16th century. Museo Diocesano, Venice.

Is Faith a Freak Show?

For anyone who’s seen Amish Mafia, the January 5th review in The Washington Post summed it up succinctly. “Discovery Channel’s new reality show is really so awful that it doesn’t deserve to be on television.” It went on to claim that the program “turns faith into a freak show,” which it certainly seems to do. The viewing of even one episode is enough to upend your impressions of this peace-loving agrarian folk.

If the series is indeed “reality,” as it purports, then the Amish seem not so pure and innocent after all. The show implies that, left to their own devices, the Amish would quickly slide into a spiral of hard-partying, hard-drinking, hard-fighting mayhem. Compounding this natural tendency to go feral is a governing structure that confers on the church elders a rather benign spiritual authority, but no coercive power. To the community’s relief, then, the Amish Mafia has stepped in to fill the void. And so, while the elders wink and look the other way, the hoodlums use their muscle and intimidation to keep the latent barbarians from going over the edge.

photoBut is this portrait a true reflection of the character of the Amish? I think not, and I’m guessing that most Amish would agree. In any society there are rotten apples, and the Amish are not exempt. But the exceptions, no matter how many, never prove the rule; and I would bet the bank that a few naughty Amish do not represent the entire community.

The fact that the producers of Amish Mafia wagered that there was a market for this sort of drivel says a lot about us. We’re all curious about groups that live apart, and that is doubly so for groups that are religious. We’re especially curious about communities that set high-minded standards for themselves; and truth be told, we take secret delight when they fall from grace. In short, the producers, and their sponsors, knew there would be a ready audience for this kind of junk, and their job is to deliver what we deserve to see.

Museo Diocesano, formerly convent of Sant' Apollonia, Venice.

Museo Diocesano, formerly convent of Sant’ Apollonia, Venice.

There are lots of reasons why we savor the fall of the mighty. For one, it builds up our sagging self-esteem when we discover that others are no better than we. It also takes us off the hook from following through on our own lofty ideals. After all, if others can’t or won’t do the right thing, then why should we? And it eases our own guilt when we can point out that others are far worse than we. Adam was on to something when he blamed Eve, and no doubt he felt a lot better for having done so. And Eve was a quick study when she passed the blame on to the serpent. Surprisingly, the serpent seemed more than willing to take the credit, because he had just seen Adam and Eve make a mockery of their integrity.

Sant' Apollonia, arcade.

Sant’ Apollonia, arcade.

But sin is always more complicated than we like to think, and the miscreants in Amish Mafia are an exceptionally good case in point. We like to think that most sin is victimless, but rarely is it so. In this case, there is the hurt visited upon the friends and family of the do-badders. They have to be absolutely mortified. Then there is the impact on the larger community. All seem tarnished by the antics of a few, whether they should be or not. And finally there is the disillusion that grips those who look to the Amish for a glimmer of hope in a world gone wild. What of them?

I have to take serious issue with the Post‘s contention that Amish Mafia makes a freak show of faith. Ironically, it does quite the opposite, because it demonstrates what can happen when we check our faith at the door. To my way of thinking Amish Mafia is not about faith and how it ruins your life. It’s more precisely about what happens when you abandon a faith-filled life and throw caution to the wind. With little or nothing to anchor you, you had better come up with something equally good. Absent that, you run the risk of slipping below the animals on the nobility scale.

photoThere’s one other minor quibble that I have with the Post‘s review, and it has to do with its allegation that the show is “so awful that it doesn’t deserve to be on television.” Really? Is there such a show? That one I have a very difficult time believing.

Right now you can find pretty much any and everything on television, and each show claims that this is what “reality” is all about. Like the demon who whispers from his perch on our shoulders, the screen arrays the alternatives in glory before us. So far, most of what I’ve seen on television makes a mockery of the alternatives to faith. So far, there’s little that I’ve seen that would entice me to throw off my faith and trade it in to embrace “reality.”

photoVarious Notes

+During the past week I spent several days in Palm Springs, CA, visiting alumni and friends of Saint John’s. That was the easy part. On my return I discovered that the weather had turned decidedly chilly in Minnesota, and to my dismay the windows on my car were frozen shut at the airport parking lot. The day before I had left I had made the fateful choice of a clean car over a filthy car. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the cardinal rule that Minnesota drivers ignore at their peril: never run your car through the car wash late in the afternoon with an impending cold front on the way. Everything will freeze up on you. Happily, the parking attendant smiled knowingly when I had to open the door to pay the fee. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen that.

+On January 18th Fr. Luke Steiner, OSB, passed away peacefully in his sleep, at the age of 82. I recall Fr. Luke best as a teacher of New Testament, and while in seminary I took his course on the Gospel of John. Through the years he taught courses both at Saint John’s and in Jerusalem, and in later years he served as a chaplain to the Poor Claires in Sauk Rapids, MN.

photo+On January 17th we celebrated the feast of Saint Anthony Abbot (ca. 251-356). Variously known as Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, and Anthony of the Desert, he left behind his family’s wealth at the age of eighteen to become a hermit, and still later he ministered to the sick and imprisoned in Alexandria. Shortly after Anthony’s death, Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wrote his Life of Anthony, which became highly influential in sparking the monastic movement in the West. Today, in Italy especially, he is revered as the patron and protector of animals; and on his feast day farmers bring their animals to Saint Peter’s Square for a blessing. What a mess.

+I am currently reading Bernini: His Life and His Rome, by Franco Mormando (University of Chicago Press, 2011). This is geared for the general reader, and I’ve found the book extremely interesting. It is a must-read for anyone who intends to do a tour of Baroque Rome, as well as for anyone who is the least bit interested in life in Rome in the 17th century.

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