Author: Don Clymer
(Originally published in Purpose Magazine, July 2015 edition)
I was driving home from a quick visit to Pennsylvania trying to make it in time for an evening concert at Eastern Mennonite University. A number of my students were performing and I wanted to be there for them. The traffic was heavy. I had to drive a bit above the speed limit, hoping not to be stopped for speeding.
In order to keep up my speed, I had to weave frantically in and out of traffic, something I normally wouldn’t do. My shoulders tensed up and I found myself gripping the steering wheel harder. I was a bundle of nerves by the time I finally arrived home. I made it in time to enjoy the concert.
Did I say “enjoy” the concert? Eventually I did, but I continually felt my body tensing up as I tried to relax and savor the beauty of Handel’s Messiah featured at the concert. The wild and furious ride from Souderton to Harrisonburg had left me physically and emotionally exhausted.
During the concert, in spite of the glorious sounds I was hearing, I had to remind myself to breathe in deeply, then breathe out slowly, and let my shoulders droop. It was like I was present physically but my soul was still somewhere on the interstate trying to catch up with the rest of me.
This is a perfect picture of the hectic lives that most of us lead. We run frantically from one activity to another, whether church, work, or play; seldom allowing time for our souls to catch up with the rest of us. We are human doings rather than human beings.
“Be still and know that I am God,” declares Psalm 46:10, reassuring us that God is in charge in spite much that causes fear. “Stand still,” Moses tells the fearful Children of Israel as the Red Sea stood between them and the pursuing Egyptian army according to Exodus 14:13. During a hectic time in his ministry, Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” Mark 6: 31.
Jesus modeled for us the need to be still. He withdrew numerous times to pray and to let his soul catch up with the rest of him (Matt. 14:13, Mk. 3:7, Lk. 15:6, Jn. 6:15). How do we follow his example?
First we need to be intentional. It has to become part of our daily routine. I try to spend 20-30 minutes on our back porch every day. Then we need a spiritual practice. Centering Prayer is the practice I frequently use (see: http://www.centeringprayer.com/for a more comprehensive discussion on the subject).
I like to begin by breathing intentionally. I call it “sacred breathing.” I breathe in deeply saying the word “grace.” Then I breathe out slowly saying the word “gratitude.” Eventually, as my mind settles, the breathing becomes automatic and I can let go of the words. When my mind strays, I return to my word(s). My pulse slows, I can feel my blood pressure lowering, my body relaxes. I am at peace with the world and with myself. I feel a deep sense of God’s presence. My soul is open for a word from God.
When I first began this daily practice, I dreaded it. I had to force myself to do it. But as I continued the practice, and continued to experience a deep peace, I looked forward to this daily routine. I find that reserving those few minutes a day, instead of robbing me of precious time, actually make me more productive. Instead of the frantic feeling at the concert after my hectic drive home, I feel a peace and a calm. People experience me more as a non-anxious presence than a bitter, stressed-out bundle of nerves.
There are many other spiritual practices we could use. The book The Spacious Heart: Room forSpiritual Awakening, written by my sister and me, deals exclusively with this subject.
Instead of frantically driving down the highway of life without time to catch our breath, we need to deliberately find times to be still and let our souls catch up with the rest of us.Read More
We were invited by Swiss friends to eat in an exclusive restaurant during our last weekend in Switzerland. As we got settled around the table, my friend asked me: “Are you comfortable with speaking Swiss German, or should we speak English?”
There were four of us at the table and I was the only native speaker of English. All the others were native speakers of Swiss German. Even though the others could speak English, we were in Switzerland. Why would I force three others to struggle to accommodate me?
|Being present during a table conversation in Swiss German|
Truth be told, the lazy side of me wanted to speak English. Each speaker at the table had a slightly different dialect of Swiss German, and one of them spoke so rapidly I had to strain to catch every nuance.
Two days later, I was at a church service. The worship leader spoke in High German, the music director in the dialect of Bern, and the sermon was given in a mixture of High German and the dialect of Zürich. The Bible was read or quoted in High German, some of the songs were sung in High German and some in the Swiss dialect. I had to concentrate very carefully to worship and to understand.
Many years ago, in a seminary class, Lawrence Yoder remarked offhandedly, “Learning another language is a spiritual discipline.” He didn’t explain what he meant; he just let it hang in the air for us to try to make sense of it. As a teacher of languages for more than 35 years, that statement resonated with me, even if I couldn’t explain why.
The two recent experiences that I describe above may begin to give an indication of what he meant. In the first instance, my attention was completely focused on what my friends were saying. My mind was not wondering off to other places nor was I trying to form an answer before they finished speaking. I was fully present to them. It was “deep listening,” a practice so infrequently used in our everyday conversations that seminars and books have arisen to teach this practice. Being fully present to the other recognizes their worth as someone made in the “image and likeness of God.” It is a spiritual discipline.
In the second example, my attention was wholly focused on every part of the worship service. So often when I am in an English service, my mind wonders in and out of what’s going on. When I’m listening in English, I take my ability to understand everything for granted. In contrast, when I’m listening to a worship service in a language other than my native tongue, I need to be much more attentive. I can’t take my understanding everything for granted. This attentiveness brings me closer to the essence of the service and to hearing God’s message. Much writing on spirituality focuses on attentiveness and awareness. Learning another language facilitates this need to be attentive and present. They are spiritual disciplines.
Our culture is one of much distraction by so many different media and personal obsessions. Because of these distractions, it is difficult to be totally preset and totally aware. They clog our ears and blind our eyes. Yet these are spiritual qualities that even secular writers affirm. Jesus recognizes our need to be attentive and present to when he explains why he teaches in parables: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand’” (Matt. 13:13).
While we should develop awareness and presence in whatever our cultural or linguistic circumstances, learning another language helps us to expedite developing such qualities. Learning another language is a spiritual discipline.
Some twenty odd years ago, while working as the director of communications for Virginia Mennonite Conference and Missions, I began our monthly newsletter with a short devotional titled “Klymer Klatsch.” It was a takeoff on the German word/phrase “Kaffeeklatsch” which means a conversation over coffee. I simply changed the first letter of my name to form an alliteration.
|The old city hall in Affoltern am Albis, Switzerland|
When I began to write a blog a few years later, it was only natural for me to resurrect the name Klymer Klatsch for the title. I’ve had numerous conversations about this title; most people are bemused by my choice.
While here in Switzerland, I’ve enjoyed doing some work on my ancestry, particularly looking into the origins of my father’s name Clymer, and my mother’s, Horst.
The immigrant from whom I descend arrived in Philadelphia with the name Henrich Clemmer. He had been Klemmer in Germany before he made the cross-oceanic voyage. My great-grandfather changed our name from Clemmer to Clymer.
Through email exchanges with Mennonite historian John Ruth, I discovered that the Klemmer name originated in Affoltern am Albis, a region southeast of Zürich. He also told me that there were variants of the name in the same region: Klimer, Klimmer, and Kleiner. So I searched websites related to the region and found another interesting variation of the name: KLYMER. Yes, the same name as I use in my alliterative blog title!
But it gets even more interesting. I kept finding all sorts twists and turns on the Clemmers’ migration to the USA with genealogical experts presenting contrasting views. So when I discovered a website MennoSearch.com, I was lured by the statement, “Research your Swiss, German, or Mennonite Ancestry,” including information on the Clemmers, I sprung for it.
I excitedly opened the PDF file on the Clemmer genealogy and the very first entry at the top of
|The region Am Albis, near Zürich, where Klymer comes from|
I planned an excursion to Affoltern, the area of my ancestors. Since there was no graveyard near the train station, I started out on foot, looking for variations of my name on the mailboxes of apartment complexes. I must have looked at some 100 mailboxes without any success. Instead I found all sorts of other Swiss-Mennonite surnames: Huber, Good, Eberly, Lichty, Noll, Siegrist, Gautsche, Bergey, Mischler, Hess, Eby and Baer. I even found the name of some Honduran Anabaptists multiple times: Machado!
Not to be deterred, I began asking people on the street if they had a schoolmate or acquaintance named, Klemmer, Klimmer, Klymer or Kleiner. After enduring a number of puzzled looks, I finally found someone who knew of several Kleiners who were classmates of hers. I didn’t have time to schedule a visit with them, but I felt like I had made a connection.
What’s in a name? For me searching for my ancestry through my surname was a process of finding roots, a home. I now know where I’ve come since at least 1554. That’s over 450 years.
What’s in a name? A name that has been passed down for so many years and in different places, gives me a sense of knowing who I am. That name ties me to a human history of both time and place. But I also have another name. I have been stamped with the “image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:27), like every other human being. While my Klymer name links me to an earthly heritage, my God identity links me to an eternal heritage. “I have called you by name, you are mine, (Isa. 43:1)” says my creator. God has been calling me “Klymer” since before I was born, and since before I discovered where I’m from.Read More
An eastern philosopher when describing western society said that we are human doings rather than human beings. What did he mean?
Our culture is constantly on the go. We define ourselves more by what we do than by who we are. We become fixated on action, activity, doing. We become obsessed on our role in life, whether it’s being a teacher, a preacher, a farmer, or “only a housewife.” We become so focused on outward activity, that we forget who we are in the very core of our beings. We try to be something other than who or what we really are in order to fit into the mold that our culture tells us to be. Our inner selves get out of whack from our outer demands. We become fragmented, fractured, and sometimes to the extreme, schizophrenic.
|Sit in silence along the lake and contemplate nature|
The only way to bring balance back is to pay attention to the inner self, the Spirit of God in us, our souls, if you please, the image of God in which we have been made. And the only way we can come in touch with this inner self is to spend time in rest and solitude. “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
Our culture has an aversion to silence and rest. It provides us with many distractions.
How we become human doings:
1. Busyness. Many of us avoid facing our true selves by becoming busy. We think that we can avoid facing what we don’t want to know about ourselves by staying busy. We think that by doing more things we will become more important in the eyes of others. But will we become more important in the eyes of God?
2. Noise. Noise comes in all forms. Too many of us turn on the radio or TV, or some other noise as soon as we get into a car, enter our office or our homes? We can’t stand the silence. We are afraid of what the silence might show us. Or excuse for rest is to “Veg out” and to plop in front of the TV or computer and be distracted by the mindless babble that flows out of the programming. It is constant noise, and it is the noise of our culture’s values, not the voice of God.
3. Boredom. When our children are bored, we rent them a movie, turn on the TV or electronic device, and they turn into immediate automatons, and they are out of our hair. What if we would let them wallow in their boredom? More often than not, out of the boredom comes an idea, and a spark of the imagination, and they are off into their own little world. It is no coincidence that image and imagination are related. By using our imagination we discover the image of God in which we are made. Even as adults, we should let our “vegging out” time take our minds into the world of our imagination instead of letting the purveyors of sleaze control our imaginations.
4. Experiences. We tend to live on the surface, going from one new experience to another, much like we surf the channels on TV, never getting into the show completely, but always looking for a more exciting, more engaging show or experience that may just be on the next channel. This “experience surfing” is a reality for most post moderns. Too often we are more interested in listing the countries or states we’ve visited than learning anything about the culture and people who are in the area. Our exciting experiences are recorded on social media punctuated with our spectacular pictures. Many tend to experience church and religious life the same way. You hear people who leave a certain church say that they “just weren’t being fed.” This generally is more a commentary on the eater rather than on the feeder. What they mean is that they want a “better,” or a “newer” experience. The church, too often in trying to meet this consumer demand thinks that it needs to make its worship more contemporary with louder music, dancing down the aisles, high-tech PowerPoint presentations. But there will always be a church down the road that will have a newer charismatic leader, a jazzier praise band and offer a better worship experience. Se we channel surf to the next place of worship.
5. Drugs. A way that our culture deals with the fragmentation that we feel between our inner selves and the demands of our “human doing” culture, is to turn to mind and body altering drugs. I find it easy to understand why so many young people turn to drugs. They see no difference between the new experience of altering their mood with drugs and their parents taking drugs to induce sleep, to have sex, to suppress their appetites, and to control every malfunctioning body part. Drug advertising is everywhere—drugs will fix everything, even the huge void in our souls?? Food is also a big drug in our society. Do we live to eat, or do we eat to live? I think it is no coincidence that our “human doing” culture has an epidemic of obesity while the “human being” cultures of the East do not. If not with drugs, we turn to food for the comfort we need to fill that fragmentation we feel between our outer and inner selves.
How to become human beings:
1. Spiritual Disciplines. Because of the hunger for balance between the inner self and the demands of our superficial “human doing” culture, many people are turning to eastern religions. Many of us forget that Christianity is an Eastern religion as well. Before the Enlightenment and the crowning of science as more important than religion, Christians practiced most of the spiritual disciplines that Eastern religions offer. These disciplines help to keep the balance between the demands of the inner and the outer worlds. They help us to become human beings rather than human doings. In our book The Spacious Heart, my sister and I outline many of the spiritual disciplines that have been practiced over the centuries by Christians, in this space I will mention a few that will help us bring some balance to our lives.
2. Solitude. I already quoted the Isaiah passage, “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” By letting our minds run in solitude and rest we can get in touch with our inner self.
3. Prayer and Meditation. You might take a favorite Bible verse along with you on a walk, or a favorite song. Or using your imagination, you might walk along the banks of the sea with Jesus and have a conversation with him.
4. Fasting. Takes the focus away from food and on to more important matters.
5. Retreats. What we call retreats are often filled with activity— “doing.” How many of us plan a retreat to just be!? Alone in the woods with our thoughts, our imaginations, our journals?
The spiritual disciplines have traditionally been the way Christians have come closer to God and closer to themselves--until the twentieth Century. They are a means to turn our tendency to be “human doings,” stressed and burned out, into “human beings.”
If we are really interested in meeting the needs of our church, and others around us, we need to address this spiritual gap between the inner and outer worlds to make a difference. This is what people are hungry for. The rest is just part of the larger noise of our culture.Read More
With few exceptions, everyone wants to know where they come from, i.e., their heritage. This is especially true of those of us who are children of immigrants in the United States. During this past year in Switzerland, I have been steeped in discovering my own ancestral roots. From the Alpine foothills near Schwartzenburg and the Gürbetal Valley near Wattenwil, the Wengers, the Hersheys and the Horsts were pushed into the deep crevices of the Emmental Valley. Constantly pursued by Bernese Authorities, they moved on to the Palatinate in Germany, and finally settled in the USA after years of uncertainty. The Clemmers (Clymer, Kleiner, Klymer) came from the region of Zürich.
|The Hohgant Ridge near where the Emme River begins.|
I travelled the Emmental (Emme River Valley) both literally and in my readings from the beginnings of the Emme River near Kemmeriboden-Bad under the majestic Hohgant Ridge, to Burgdorf with its majestic fortress on a hill overlooking the Emme River. The whole area at one time was riddled with Anabaptists. Our travels included the castle in Trachselwald were my forbearers were held in prison, and the Anabaptist Hideout where the Frankhauser family concealed Anabaptists in a hidden chamber in their barn while Bernese “Anabaptist hunters” pursued them.
I discovered that one part of my family had been Anabaptist since 1591, making me a tenth generation Anabaptist. That same family came to the USA in 1731, and eight generations of that family still live in the original house in Lancaster County. My Clemmer relative supposedly arrived in the USA in 1730 in the same wave of Anabaptist immigrants, making me an eighth generation Anabaptist in the USA.
All of this family history has made me feel rooted, understanding where I’ve come from, and some of the idiosyncrasies of my cultural make up. There are times here in Switzerland when I meet someone, walk a certain road, or hear a piece of music that makes me feel an uncannily nostalgic bred-in-the-bone affinity to Switzerland.
In the middle of this journey to find my roots, I received a message from the director of the Latino Student Alliance at Eastern Mennonite University. They wanted to invite me to be the keynote speaker for the kickoff of their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. I was delighted to accept, while protesting that I am not Latino. “You are an honorary Latino,” was the response from the planning committee.
|Lago Atitlán in Guatemala|
Indeed, I have lived, worked, studied and related to Latinos more than eight years in the countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. I taught Spanish full- and part-time for over 30 years at two institutions in the USA. I served on Mennonite Central Committee’s East Coast board of directors for six years. During that stint with MCC, I caucused with the Latino representatives, sometimes translating, often serving as a liaison. We shared our stories with each other, laughed and worked together for a cause that transcended our heritages. They fully accepted me into their circle as one of them.
To say that I was not affected or influenced by my exposure to the Latino cultural heritage is to ignore reality. Once while attending a party of mostly Latinos, a non-Spanish speaking participant friend of mine remarked after the party: “You seem to have a different personality when you speak Spanish.” This was a totally new and intriguing thought to me.
Do I have two distinct personalities that weave in and out of the cultural situations in which I find myself? One Latino and one Swiss-American? If this is so, am I schizophrenic?
I would rather believe that I have learned to meld the two heritages together into a hybrid personality that functions in whatever particular culture I am in. This melding does not make me two-faced, or a doppelganger, but rather an example of what has potential to be an emerging culture in the USA.
As evidenced by many posts on the recent MCUSA Convention in Orlando, there are still numerous cultural divides that separate rather than meld together. An example of this comes from a Latina friend of mine who is the most acculturated Latina Mennonite I know. She wrote on Facebook while on her way to the Convention: “The white people in this shuttle have identified each other as Mennonite, and have left me out of this conversation. So therefore, I think they think I'm here on some other business.” The Swiss, German, Dutch, Russian-American heritage white card left my Latina friend excluded. I have heard many similar stories.
Our church has much to learn about the melding of heritages, and our racially divided country even more. My hope is that my church can become an example, a witness, to the power of the Gospel to meld cultural heritages. Even though Paul was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) he became the apostle to the Gentiles, crossing and melding cultural heritages “becom[ing] all things to all people in order to save some” (1. Cor. 9:22). There has been some progress, but we have a long way to go.
The Latino Student Alliance accepted me as an “honorary Latino.” I felt that the Latino Caucus at MCC did the same. How soon will we be ready to invite non-European heritage people into our midst as not just “honorary Mennonite/Christians,” but fully accepted as equals?Read More