(Puzzle Piece 5, Vol. 2)
It has been a busy summer for our family, starting with the Harvestal, and I apologize for the delay in getting back to the many people who I know are awaiting this little newsletter. Among great personal events was the actual purchase of our rental home, the Farmless House. We are now the owners of a 1920's house from which all but 3/4 of an acre has been shaved off. Our property is fairly private, though, and we discovered to our joy this June that we own 1/4 acre of delicious wild raspberries. All but five of the plants I started have died -- I have recently dubbed myself the Black Thumb of Death. But next year, my husband assures me he will begin to teach me farming. And we had a great raspberry harvest!
The Conversation continues to widen and broaden bit by bit. I just made friends with a new Catholic family in our area and introduced her to Caelum Et Terra. She told me she stayed up all night reading the handful of back issues I gave her. I welcome her, Leisa Johnson and her husband Mark and son Michel to the discussion.
John Cavanaugh O'Keefe recently found out about this little venture and wanted to know if we would continue the tradition of fine quality artwork. I told him we would start trying. Any of you artists who would like to send in pictures, please do.
The Name Has Emerged?
In the last issue of Puzzle Pieces, I mentioned the futility of trying to name things before their time. Well, I think the suitable name for this particular newsletter has emerged. "Puzzle Pieces," as I called my first attempts at a round robin letter, was never a particularly suitable name, and drew blanks from people whose letters had actually been published in it. The wake-up call for me came when Dru Hoyt said to me, "I gave my friend 'Puzzle Pieces'" and I said, "What?" When she reminded me that it was the name of "my" newsletter, I realized we probably needed a new name.
Well, it seems as though people have taken up calling it "The Conversation" on their own, referring to this newsletter as the organ for that multi-faceted Discussion of The Question, of which Caelum Et Terra was formerly the organ. They did this in an instinctual, intuitive manner and everyone to whom the Conversation matters immediately knew what they were talking about. Also, as I recall, this was Mr. Larry Lewis's suggestion for a name for this newsletter. So do you think that a name has emerged? On the off chance that it has, I've started this newsletter with the new name, to see if it captures the Spirit of the Thing.
So Just What is This Thing?
Someone wrote to me recently who had read these newsletters and asked, "P.S. What is the The Conversation?" If we wanted to form some type of Elitist Cult, at this point I would rhetorically laugh and say, "Can you imagine? Obviously she doesn't Know. She is not one of the Enlightened." But since we have no such pretensions to Elite status (heck, we hope to covert the whole world someday -- why settle for an aristocracy?) I think I will explain again, adding such flourishes as have occurred to me since the last time I gave this definition. (Some will groan, since last time I did this, it took about 12 pages, right?) The Conversation is basically the extended answer to the question, "How then shall we live?" How can we truly incarnate our Catholic Faith in our lives? Most of us have experienced a gradual awakening (sometimes a rude awakening) to the fact that some -- in fact, much -- of our modern culture is not seamlessly aligned with that Faith. And I don't merely mean the presence of abortion, pornography, immorality, euthanasia, etc. in our society. I mean the debasement of culture by mass production, the insidious pervasiveness of advertising, the legislated injustices of capitalism upon which most modern lifestyles are built. Oh, I'm not the writer that the original editors of the magazine C&T are, and if you really want an explication of what this newsletter is all about, get a set of the back issues from Daniel Nichols.
For many people involved in this Conversation, I suspect, this Question occurred to them not so much because they hated modern culture but because they love things that are ignored or opposed by modern culture -- such as small family farms, low-tech living, simplicity, beauty. This newsletter is hopefully taking such a positive spin on things. It won't spend time and space ranting about how horrible things are today but instead focus on how to work out the positive Solution. And, for those who are new to this newsletter, we're assuming an awful lot of common ground among the participants, which is why we seldom explain very much. Most of us have already asked the critical questions, even if we don't agree on the answers. One of the main purposes of this newsletter is to hash out some consensus, even though I'll admit I'll be happy if it merely keeps the discussion going.
(By the way, if I ever say "we" in the newsletter and you don't agree with being included in that "we" or if you see other flaws in my arguments or reasoning, please write in and let me know. I'm trying to synthesize the ideas of others (hardly any of the ideas spoken of in this newsletter are my original ideas) and I'm depending on you all to let me know if I'm actually doing this. Disagreement and responses ardently desired.)
The Technology Question
Let me go on to a thoughtful response to some questions I asked of Lloyd and Penny Connour of the Wayfarers Community in Iowa. (On the Web, I will be summarizing their letter) The Connours are trying to limit their involvement in "harmful technology" -- that is, technology they see as destroying family and community. Hence they request that their letters and their Rule not be posted on the Web, a request I intend to honor.
The letter from the Connours raises an important question that I don't know was sufficiently resolved in the magazine Caelum Et Terra, and though I was initially hesitant to tackle it via newsletter, with Chris Ryland's encouragement, I think we will. The question involves the use of the Internet and other computer technology.
The Catholic Church calls computers and other communication technology "gifts of God" at the same time that it calls Catholics to "teach people how to use them properly." (Inter Mirifica, Communio & Progressio, Vatican II Documents, Flannery) This, I believe, would allow me to see these technologies as good while at the same time strongly disagreeing with the way they currently influence society. Hence I can agree with Berry's "healthy suspicion" towards new technology, since it may have detrimental affects on one's soul, family, and society. Our family has neither a television set nor a VCR, but we do have a computer, which I use for writing things like this newsletter, and I do use electronic mail (email) to send it to some Conversationalists. My husband owns a business designing web sites and multimedia presentations, in addition to his full-time job of fixing computers.
While I think both of us would rather lose a limb than own a television, we do depend on computers for our livelihood at this time. However, our aim is to become more self-sufficient, and possibly live without electricity. For us, this would be a.) a penance and b.) a tactic towards building a new culture of life. I would suspect that most of us in this discussion are struggling with some kind of dichotomy between our beliefs and our actual lifestyles. I might guess that none of us are fully consistent. But I would guess most of us have the hope that our beliefs and lifestyles will someday be reconciled in what I would call a unified culture.
So far, I have been "posting" these discussions on the Web. In this manner, a person who is viewing various bodies of information stored on these interconnected computers via a special program on his own computer (known in common jargon as "surfing the Web") could possibly come across this information and join the discussion. This has already happened at least once, because our site is connected to another site run by Conversationalist Catherine Fournier, Domestic-Church.com (the remains of the former Nazareth Magazine). A former C&T subscriber found our site via Domestic-Church and called me on the telephone to ask to join the mailing list.
The reason I have posted this material is not to "get exposure" to our cause, although, as I mentioned, this has happened. It's meant more as a resource for those already involved in the discussion -- it saves me some amounts of time sending people back issues since they can find them on the Web. Like Mr. and Mrs. Connours, I think this Conversation is best served by friendships, real human contacts, not disjointed messages via computer.
I admit doing the discussion partially by email and website is simply a tactic of convenience. Since for Andrew's business we already pay a service fee that covers all email transactions, it costs me nothing to send out twenty or thirty of these newsletters via the Net. It is considerably more work and money to print out, photocopy, and mail thirty newsletters. So, being a mom, wife, and writer, I admit I find it more convenient to carry on this discussion via both mail and Net as opposed to merely mail. I'm not saying this to defend myself -- it is more along the lines of a community confession. ("I admit I, too, am a worshipper at the shrine of convenience, occasionally!")
I am not looking to justify my position, nor to oppose the Connour's position. However, I do want to find out how the rest of the group feels on this issue. Should this discussion continue to go on, via Web and via mail? Or should we take the abstaining route and go merely by mail (another technological system we would probably lose if society goes under, by the way)? Please -- everyone -- write me even a brief note and let me know what you think on this issue.
Prayers for Judy Bratten
The legendary David and Judy Bratten have been practically founding members of this Conversation by initiating many Conversations themselves. Those who know them or have ever been to one of their famous parties in the Steubenville area appreciate them both. At a party at the Bratten farmhouse in Hopedale, Ohio, you can meet just about anyone - from Bruderhoff to Catholic intellectuals to hitchhikers whom David met on a trip to town and invited at the last minute. They've hosted medieval parties and harvest festivals, as well as C&T gatherings and Dan Nichol's wedding reception. The spirit of generous hospitality, festivity, practical poverty, evangelization, Judeo-Catholicism, home culture, and open debate so characteristic of the Brattens has definitely influenced both the journal Caelum Et Terra as well as the possible solutions discussed in this newsletter.
As of this writing, Judy Bratten has experienced a recurrence of the lymph node cancer she had many years ago. At this point, the doctor thinks the infection has been contained by an additional surgery to remove the tumor. Please pray for Judy and David, and their kids Rebecca, Joanna, and Jonathan. Also, the Brattens have no health insurance, so if any of you are able to help them pay for Judy's medical care, please give what you can. Their friends in Steubenville are organizing fund-raisers. St. Raphael, patron of healing, pray for our sister and friend Judy.
The First Harvestal
As many of you know, this past June, we had our first proposed harvest festival -- or Harvestal, as Sia Hoyt called it. It was hosted by the Schmiedicke family (my in-laws) in Michigan, and took place over the course of a week. The idea behind it was to help out a Catholic farming family with their harvest and particularly to give Catholic youth from homesteading and other families a chance to meet each other and form friendships.
So, how was it? I would like to hear from participants as well, but all the youth I talked to had a simply fantastic time. I think we older folks were a little burned out, though. I would guess that having more Catholic parents there to support each other would help us better channel the enormous energy of the youth. While not as organized as it could have been, we did manage a few sessions singing Latin chant, and a talk/discussion on courtship and dating. We also held at least two formal discussions among the adults on community and Catholic culture. The girls learned crayon batik and tie-dying one day. We had a Narnia costume party and treasure hunt on another day that went pretty well (the treasure was hidden a little too well). Thanks to the Chirdon family, we had Irish dancing and learned about the culture behind Irish music. (We wish they could have stayed longer!) And while the water at Lake Michigan was cold, the cookouts were wonderful, as usual. And it seems as though we did manage to do some work in between everything. God bless Tom and Candy for their generosity and willingness to be the first ones to jump in with this experiment! All in all, it seems like a hopeful start for one year. If we do it next year, we hope more of you will be able to come!
I'd also like to encourage other Catholic homesteaders who are off in the middle of nowhere doing farming to consider hosting a harvest festival to better foster friendships and forward the Conversation. Building community, I believe, starts with helping each other out.
Visits with the Bethlehem Community
Andrew and I were blessed by hosting two young men from the Bethlehem Community in North Dakota this past month. Davin and Asa were down in Virginia to sell books at the National Association of Catholic Homeschoolers Conference in Manassas, and stayed with us almost an entire week -- Thursday through Monday. It was wonderful to see Davin again and to meet his brother Asa. Characteristic of the entire week was discussions on community.
The Bethlehem Community -- for those of you who don't know them -- started out as a Baptist youth group back in the 70's. They gradually formed into a group of singles and young families who lived in shared living quarters with a common purse. After being kicked out of the Baptist Church, they went on a long period of seeking that ended with their coming into the Catholic Church around 1992. Now they are Benedictine oblates under the jurisdiction of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, and run a publishing business, Bethlehem Books, in the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, with the blessing of Bishop Sullivan. Today they live in several diocesan buildings clustered around the Cathedral of the Prairies where they share their lives and publish books.
The Bethlehem Community started wearing common dress shortly after they became Catholic. Until that time, as I understand it, they weren't ready for it. Common poverty was necessary before common dress could be adopted. They still work off of a very tight budget, and are effectively poor. Their dress is (as I recall) a type of calico dress with a blue cloth vest and kerchief for the women and black suspenders for the men. Sunday dress for the men is blue shirts and black suspenders, while the women have more elaborate vests and kerchiefs.
They will be the first to admit that their community's story hasn't been a romantic idyll. They're quick to speak about the many mistakes made along the way, but I've been impressed by the fact that they've kept their second generation -- the kids raised in community have largely chosen to stay in the community. Davin and Asa, both young adults, are clearly actively involved in the community. I spent a lot of time gleaning wisdom from them. We also spent a lot of time laughing.
Notable quotes I remember: "Our rule is we always do whatever the weakest member of the community can handle." For example, they used to chant grace before meals. But the man who led the chant was also the community cook. As a young father, he was getting stressed out by the dual roles, so they decided that for now, they won't chant their grace. It strikes me that this is a good rule for any type of family community. I think so often we lay people try to build community based on the religious life model, which stresses at times a kind of heroic adherence to the community rule. It would make sense in a family to put people before the rule.
Regarding television, Davin observed, "In our community we discovered we could either have television or we could have community. We couldn't have both." They use computers in their publishing work and have recently established a connection to the Internet for their business work, which they are viewing with healthy suspicion.
If someone in the community needs time apart from the group, the community sends them to another community for discernment time -- for example, they sent one person to Madonna House for a year and another man spent time away in one of Jean Vanier's L'Arche communities. They've found out that for a disgruntled community member, immediately leaving community for the outside world is generally spiritually unproductive. I believe that almost all the young people in the community have had a time of discernment before they joined the community for good.
The Bethlehem Community welcomes visitors, particularly singles or young couples who might be interested in joining them. They've had young people come and do publishing internships for a few months as well. So far, they've found that older families, being communities in and of themselves, don't seem to be able to join. (In addition, their community is pretty small, and, Davin admits, a family of six or eight people joining would overwhelm them and probably exhaust personalities on both sides) Also, they are hoping to host a retreat for young adults sometime this summer or fall.
A note on other ministries of interest ... my husband Andrew's friend Gordon Dozier has been helping start a retreat ministry in Minnesota called Emmaus Road Ministries (not to be confused with a similarly-named publishing venture by CUF). ROMA 2000 weekends combine the music heritages of both Eastern and Western Catholicism in a retreat setting for adults and young adults. Gordon is a Steubenville alumnus with a strong interest in Eastern Catholicism -- he's in the process of switching rites himself.
A Flight of Fancy
As I write today, it is the Feast of the Transfiguration, that climactic meeting between the Old and New Covenants, the feast of Moses and Elijah and Christ. I decided today to dress as the Church and am wearing a white silk dress with my grey Sunday medieval kirtle over it, tied with a lilac sash. I'll put on my apron to do housework, but my grey kirtle does pretty well for everyday spills. At this period in my life, I'm very happy with the way I dress. And this has prompted me to write a sketch of what my own Personal Community would look like. I'd like to encourage the description of Our Own Private Vision of Community, after David Bratten's remark that everyone he's met who's interested in Community is really interested in getting people to join THEIR version of community.
So since we're probably mostly ignorant of each other's Personal Vision of Community, I think I will start out with a tongue-in-cheek description of the Ideal Catholic Community would be -- the Community According to Regina.
As those who know me know, I have a peculiar fixation on what Larry Lewis kindly calls Archetypal Dress, and I've devised wardrobes that I feel most perfectly reflect my version of the Catholic vision. Thus, in my community, the women would all dress in comfortably long flowing linen or cotton dresses mostly inspired by medieval dresses, with matching cotton aprons appropriate for doing farm work. Women would cover their heads with embroidered kerchiefs or attractive hair nets. Dress would reflect the liturgical seasons of the Church, with each woman and girl dressing in the shade or tone of color that best suited her features. For example, women with blue skin undertones would dress in a dark, rich spruce green for winter in Ordinary time and a cool almost minty green in summer, whereas those with golden undertones to their skin would dress in a warm forest green in winter and a soft apple green in summer.
Of course this would be an agrarian community of Catholic families living on adjoining privately-owned farms operated with little (if any) high technology. We would work and celebrate in common. Men would dress in cotton Amish or peasant type shirts in either blue or tan, according to their preference and coloring, and black suspenders. On feasts, the women would wear gowns of brightly colored linen and silk, with embroidery and trains for the highest feasts. On high feasts, men would wear vests embroidered by their wives and dark pants.
In the community, we would forbid immodest clothing, clothing that didn't match, ugly bag-like dresses, polyester, and neckties (although cravats might be tolerated). Color training and theory would be taught from birth. We would specialize in the fiber arts such as embroidery, and maybe even make our own linen. Our young people would never leave the community, because they'd find the way they were expected to dress on the outside uncomfortable and boring. We would constantly attract converts who would wonder what it was that we believed that made us dress so wonderfully.
Now, the impracticalities of these ideas strike me as they probably strike you. But all the same, it's my dream. What kind of ideas do you have about how an ideal community would look (or dress?)?
From Brad Payson
Thanks very much for talking with me last Friday and for being willing to include me on your mailing list. Since I can't access "Puzzle Pieces, Part 2" on the Web, could you please send me a copy? I'm enclosing some stamps -- please don't hesitate to let me know if you need more.
Thank you again!
RDS: Yes, technology carries with it problems of its own...
Another "Local" Troubadour!
From Larry Lewis, Ontario, Canada:
May the Grace and Peace and Life of the Blessed Trinity be in you and your loved ones this day and always.
I have to write this note quickly. Please bear with my haste. I apologize for not responding before today. I have moved to the below address. The Distributists would be pleased -- I live and work in the same place. Divine Providence gave me this job: sacristan of St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica. I have completed my first month and pray I will continue to be worthy of this job.
Congratulations to you on organizing the Caelum Et Terra Strawberry Harvestal. I love everything about it and be assured I'll have arms outstretched (I'll be praying) for it.
Congratulations also to you for your very wise remarks concerning meetings. You are absolutely right not to underestimate the Devil's ways. Most of us have been so far removed from a real community on a day to day basis that we are innocent of the Devil's desire and ability to throw us off track almost before we get started. The advice from the Beatitudes Community is also full of grace and knowledge. Your exhortation is indeed needed and will have held the Devil at bay during a very important time.
I will be praying for both gatherings and especially for growth in unity of mind, body, and spirit for the families and individuals who come together.
Yes, indeed, I will be happy to be a "troubadour" for the Northwest, including Canada and the Northwestern States. Please send me the names and addresses and I will be happy to send out to these people whatever you send to me.
Thank you again for your good work. May the Holy Spirit take us and mold us into the Body of Christ so that we will be icons, both individually and corporately, of and for Christ.Give my best to all at the gatherings,
In the same Christ Jesus,
From the Faheys:
Thanks for your note and the newsletter. Spring came early this year. Besides our usual plowing/planting /birthing, I had many nut trees to graft this year... big acorns that you can eat raw, northern pecans, hickories, and some amazing crossbreeds. I'm late with this literature. I hope you can use it. People can register late for the Basic Week at a $25 late fee. As the literature says, we are all real enthusiastic about what is happening to Catholics, and you are part of it. Thanks for your graceful way of writing and passing on others' wisdom. Your ending was great!
In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
The Christian Homesteading Movement
RDS: Thank you, sir! Sorry I'm late in sending this out!
From Sophie Cayless
RDS note: Sophie contributed artwork to the Caelum Et Terra Art Calendar in 1995. Maybe we can do another one sometime if this discussion continues ...
It was nice to hear from you -- glad to hear you're doing well. Thanks for the invitation to the Michigan gathering. It sounds fun -- unfortunately, it didn't work out for me to go. Hopefully one of these days (years?!) I'll get to meet some of these interesting people! I appreciated the newsletter and would love to keep getting it. The Carey Assumption festival sounds good -- I may be able to make that one. If you have any more information, I would love to hear about it. Still I'm working as a naturalist for the Metroparks here and am currently working on a mural painting for a park in Hawaii. Keep in touch and God bless,
From the Kennedy Family:
Got Puzzle Pieces. Don't know what it is that you have in mind ...neither are you, it sure sounds like. Nonetheless, it could be interesting... (RDS: It should be interesting, at any rate!)
We moved about 18 month ago from SE Pa to Scottsville, KY to what I thought then was an attempt at an agri-community. The Brendes, the other family, moved to Missouri about four months after we got here.
Catholic culture locally? Nary a trace. I feel a bit like Chesty Puller (RDS: not sure of spelling) felt at the Chosin Reservoir. Surrounded by the Chinese, he reported over the radio that his situation was excellent. "We can engage the enemy in any direction." A tremendous opportunity for apologetics and evangelization is South Central Ky.
We are all by our lonesome here and would welcome visitors with an interest in small scale, horse-powered farming.
This area really does have good potential. The Fathers of Mercy seminary is near Bowling Green and offers a reverential, no ad-libbing type Mass. The Dominicans of St. Cecilia are in Nashville, one hour away, and we got there after Mass once a month. There are good Christian in this area, not to mention the Old Order Mennonite Community.
Please send Puzzle Pieces to us. I hope we can manage to re-create or restore an Christian (Catholic) culture, a place where our music, art, work, and fellowship is a reflection of and support to the Faith.
Martin and Nancy Kennedy
Welcome to all new Conversationalists, and please, please do send feedback, disagreements, and insights!
In particular, I'd like to hear your insights on the Rule of the Wayfarers (available only to our mail correspondents), which I have finally managed to include in this newsletter. Part III of their Rule included their extensive, excellent booklist, which was printed in the newsletter two issues ago, I believe. I find it a good summing up in many ways of what I might like to do (refer to my Personal Dream Community for guesses as to where I might disagree). I'd like to discuss it more in the next issue, probably due out in the Fall or whenever I receive more of your scintillating insights.
I wish all of you a very happy and festive feast of our Lady's assumption, the Feast of the Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Our family will hopefully be spending it with a small group of other families in Front Royal.
I hope that sfeast of particular interest to our fellowship. May the Marriage increase among us!
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for us!
Come Lord Jesus!
"Puzzle Pieces" is an informal discussion among friends, Catholics interested in low-tech, agrarian culture and the apostolate of beauty. To add your comments to the discussion, email Christopher Zehnder.