Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reading Mother Teresa--Guilt or whatever

The very first Dutchman I ever met—I mean, someone from the Netherlands—told me that my people, Dutch Calvinist Americans, were the kind of uptight people Holland “got rid of,” the kind, he said, who couldn’t ride bikes on Sunday. 

I couldn’t ride my bike on Sunday.

My people were Sabittarians, big-time Sabittarians, a word my spell checker doesn’t recognize. What I mean is, I had a list as long as my arm of things I couldn’t do on the Sabbath. We were orthodox Jews in wooden shoes, although we nailed down the first day of the week, not the last.

I don’t regret my powerfully religious childhood. It may well have been well, strenuously spiritual, but that’s okay. Besides, most people my age—Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Church of Christ—had their own firmly established principles of right and wrong, a code—often only understood—by which they, as believers, defined themselves.  Once upon a time, fences were built by just about everybody.

Many reasons exist to explain why my people were strict on Sunday (my mother-in-law couldn’t use a scissors), piety being just one of them; but another, I think, was identity. Maintaining Sabbath purity separated us even from other Christians and allowed a good heavy dose of assurance about who we were in a polyglot world where you couldn’t count on your neighbor having a pocket full of peppermints.

Pious codes sustain identity—I know who you are if I understand how you spend your Sundays. But to know thyself, as honorable as that is (saith Socrates) also implies knowing who isn’t you—and knowing (tsk, tsk) what isn’t, well, proper. Impropriety creates guilt.

Guilt, Garrison Keillor says, is the gift that goes on giving, and I’m as much an unhappy recipient as anyone. Up until this summer, I was the only member of my family who went to two Sunday services, even though we were all raised that way. I’ve now decided, sort of, that enough is enough. Sound impressive?—come six, Sunday night, I’ll be hiding somewhere, not from others, but from some thorny guilt.

More confession: I feel guilty when I read what Mother Teresa told the Archbishop in a letter, begging him to allow her to create the mission that Christ himself, she told him, had commanded her to do. “I have been longing to be all for Jesus and to make other souls—especially Indian, come and love Him fervently,” she wrote, “—to identify myself with Indian girls completely, and so love Him as He has never been loved before (emphasis mine).”

Isn’t that something? “So love Him as He has never been loved before.”  Talk about mission impossible. If I honestly didn’t believe her a saint, I’d think that line sinful posturing, wouldn’t you? Rhetoric. Talk, talk, talk. How can anyone really believe that he or she will attain a level of love for Jesus that no one—NO ONE!—in the history of God's green earth has ever reached?

I don’t envy her. I don’t think I’d ever, ever say anything like that, and yet I believe that in life and in death, in body and soul I belong to Jesus. Okay, I feel a species of guilt scratching at my throat when I read that line because it’s something I’d simply never ever considered—that my love for Jesus might possibly be the greatest of all time. I’ve never aspired to become the Champion of the World in love for Christ.

But she did, and, I believe, she did so purely.

Here and there her writings suggest what she was made of, and how what she was made of nurtured her into what she became. Right here is one such moment. The pledge she sets for herself is just far beyond reason: to so love Him “as He has never been loved before.”

Yet, I don’t doubt her. Okay, I doubt myself most everyday, maybe especially on Sunday nights; but I don’t doubt her.



Anonymous said...

Growing up in that culture and now moving beyond that period of my life. I look at it as a mockery of what Christ did for us on that cross. Trying in some way to meet GOD's standards in some Sunday penacne, what a travesty. When that 90 ft. vale was split in 2 on that Easter morning, it said it all. GRACE alone, FAITH alone, CHRIST alone.

Daniel Boerman said...

If you or your readers are interested in more stories about our CRC Dutch culture, I invite you to consider my boyhood memoir The Flying Farm Boy: A Michigan Memoir. It tells about my growing up on a Michigan farm in a tiny Dutch Reformed community. I share your awe for Mother Teresa's love for God. Also, as an English professor, I'm surprised you don't know the correct spelling for "Sabbatarian!" There was a countrywide controversy in the early 19th century called the Sabbatarian controversy about whether US post offices should be open on Sundays.

Anonymous said...

IS IT REALLY ALL ABOUT ME? i thought it was about what jesus did and is doing for the poor and me, NOT JUST THE RICH.

Mary Culbertson said...

Jim I have enjoyed your blog for years and this particular post really resonated with me because, like you, I grew up in the CRC. When I describe Sundays of my childhood, my friends believe I was deprived. I tell them, however, there was something really wonderful about making that day special. They're hard to convince. Like other posts, this was inspired by reading Mother Teresa. What book or books of hers do you recommend? Thanks for the wonderful pictures, too, and for writing a thoughtful meditation every day. I've appreciated so many of them.

J. C. Schaap said...

THE book on Mother Teresa is "Come Be My Light." It's just wonderful. What a testimony, but what a story too. And, just so you know, I hope soon to have a book meditations on Mother Teresa--sounds heretical, I know. But there's so much about her life that's saintly and yet--definitively so--totally human.

Anonymous said...

Plain Truth

Anonymous said...

Wow! Guilt... those same CRC self-righteous Christians could be seen shopping at 6 Corners Grocery, St. George"s church picnic and McDonalds in Sheboygan on a Sunday night.

The list of Oostburg CRC Dutch do's and dont's regarding Sunday observance was astounding. We could not roller skate, ride bikes, play catch, watch the Packers or Lassie, swim, or grill burgers on Sunday. Bondage. You had to sort out what was necessary work and unnecessary work. What a confusing legalistic nightmare!!!

The Sunday observance rituals practiced by the Oostburg CRC created a Pharisee class [who appointed themselves the judge and jury regarding what was acceptable and appropriate Sabbath behavior] and various other sub-classes of Christians that didn't see Sunday observance the way the self-righteous did. They knew were experts in distributing guilt... which is now understood to be overt spititual malpractice.

Presbyterians and Reformed Church attenders were viewed as pagans or members of a sub-class of Christians [maybe].

We were no longer divided into two classes, believer and unbeliever, we were now touchables and timers and two timers... was Christ divided?

Sister Thersa would have had a field day in Oostburg sorting all this legalism out!