29 November 2006

The Goose is Getting Fat

I am a Scrooge. Odd for a clergyman you might think, but not really when you ponder it. I’ll leave that for you to figure out. I only mention it because I need help being properly merry and bright.

Last year I did it by writing a December Diary which I shared with friends and members. Ironically, that helped me deal with my seasonal affective disorder (not winter but yuletide) quite well. That was a lot of work, though, and I dare not do it again and establish a pattern. Even if I wanted to, I would run out of things worth sharing.

That’s when I had a stroke of genius. At least I think it is.

Why don’t you tell me stuff? I’ll make it easy. Write me with a memory of Christmas seasons past, a paragraph or two or three at most. I’ll post them along with some of my own memories of holidays gone by.

Let’s have a month of telling each other stories – happy, sad, young, old, family or solo, touching or cold, and make our own advent calendar of stories we all can share.

Here’s how to do it. Post a comment to this post or a succeeding one. Instead of publishing them as part of that day’s conversation I’ll reject the comment as a comment so I can post it the next day or later. If we’re lucky we’ll get lots and lots of them, making a Stone Soup of a sort, worthy not just of a blog but a book.

I’ll try to publish one a day - if there is one to print. So the more you send the more you get. It’s sort of like Christmas itself, the more you give the more you receive. I’m feeling merrier already.

So help the pastor overcome his curmudgeonly soul and send your holiday memories of all kinds. Gather round the virtual fireplace and pull up a chair.

See you there!

24 November 2006

The Real Feast of Thanksgiving

Mileposts. That’s what holidays are. We measure our days by the feasts we keep, and the trail of changes that, like time lapse photography, take a snap shot of our lives annually as we gather round the bird.

I find it hard to remember specific Thanksgivings. Those from my childhood blend together not only with each other but with similar occasions – Christmas and others. Tue, the gigantic dead bird at the table is often a clue, but memory does not locate itself around the food as much as the company.

Reason and memory tell me that we hosted more than we guested, we being six and our various greats and grands being fewer. I can place all of my departed family around the table, often at my elbow.

The strongest is my maternal great grandmother who, having given birth quite young, was younger than my paternal grandfather by a generation. I think they met less than a handful of times and being as different as sodium and water this may have been planned by my parents. We often ate at her house, but I cannot recall Thanksgiving itself.

Her daughter, my grandmother, may have been there when I was young. I feel more certain when she was older and she was less capable. It is a cinch that her sister, my great aunt, who was the family eccentric, was there. Her swain for some years, Victor, was there at least once or twice. The house swarmed when she and Victor and her mother arrived, bringing in the aroma of lavender and soap and the memory of pill box hats with fashionably small black lace veils.

When we moved from the family compound (Maryland) Thanksgiving became a nuclear thing, one of which was almost as explosive as it came soon after my dad was severed from his position in a political shuffle that left him unemployed when he was in his early fifties, younger than I am now. Good heavens.

Mom was trying hard to remain positive but was a seething cauldron of anger at the injustice done to my father and at his calm acceptance of it. I am sure a cocktail, to which my mother was habituated, lubricated her tongue even more and there was a terrific moment when she could stand the polite silence no more and demanded to know why dad just took it. He replied that he saw no reason to rail when it would do no good. A frequent point of conflict in their long and vastly more happy life together.

When I got married, my wife being an only child and I the oldest of four, we spent the bulk of our holidays with my in-laws. Within five years my father-in-law died and the gravity of mother and daughter was even more potent. Thus for the second half of my life Thanksgiving was spent in her company and assorted parts of her clan. A family devoted to tradition, those years truly do blend together, the biggest change coming when my mother-in-law ceased to host the event and it fell now her nephew who lived closer than us.

Over all, it is the memory of crowded tables with to much of everything to take in – people, silver ware, serving dishes, food, conversation. Growing up where and when we did the one distinctive feature at our family tables was sauerkraut, the vestiges of German immigrants both to the area where we grew up (Maryland) and deep inside my own family (Gminders, Brubachs, Fowbles, and more perch on my family tree). Doing without the Teutonic version of kimchee would be unthinkable, as heretical as eating something other than turkey (which we did once when I was a teenager and my mother choose to roast a goose. Memorable but not delectable.)

I noticed recently the end of mince meat pie, a staple of my youth now gone. It did not likfe it when I was young but came to treasure it. Out here in the Midwest it was less common than on my east coast, and so they hear my memories of it as idiosyncratic as the presence of sauerkraut.

This morning, the day after Thanksgiving, I officiated at a memorial service. The family chose the date because they would all be here for the holiday. Among the speakers, the daughter stood out for describing her father as the imparter of family lore. She perceived that her dad wanted bestow the family history before dying and so she took on that role. Coming at Thanksgiving made it especially apt and touching, as these are the days we expect and even need to bring out the feast of memory. I hope you will forgive me sharing mine, but feel free to share yours as well. In the end, this is the banquet to which we are all invited and from which we call can be fed without ever taking too much or running out.


20 November 2006

How I Became Vanna White

Speaking of life getting in the way, I got a letter from the historian of my last church. Actually it came a month ago, asking for me to correct and add to her on going history of the church. She is a very meticulous scholar, bless her, and there were but a few typos or missteps to mention. What makes it worth mentioning is that looking back conjured up lots of memories. And in those memories a pattern arose. Not the only pattern I am sure, but the one I am noticing is how often I am watching someone else. As I told a therapist some years ago, I am often not the main character in my own life.

Just to be clear, I have no need or desire to be at the center of your life. In one’s own life, though, you ought to be at the center, the main actor and actee as it were. “Who’s life is it anyway,” to quote a play of that name some years ago. Yet there in my reminiscences was a wild fact that others have been more central than me.

For example: Over ten years ago I officiated at a memorial for someone sort of famous, a poet who inspired Pete Seeger to write a song. Pete, being a New Yorker and available, sang at the service I conducted. A few years later the same thing happened when a church member who composed a hit show years before died. It had recently been revived and a young actress who made her Broadway break out in that show, Kristen Chenoweth, sang at the service. Not only would people remember their music more than my words, I remember their music more than my words.

I looked back and saw that often the dominant presence in my life at a given moment is someone else – parent, sibling, friend, teacher, sweetheart, and so on. They are the ones whom memory tells me shaped the course of my life almost as though I had delegated the task to them.

A psychologist I know observed that the Buddhist principle of extinguishing the self requires that there be a self to extinguish. Or to put it psychologically, even if we need to overcome ego centrism, the ego must first be at the center. Somewhere early in life I got the message that being self centered is bad, so I took myself out of the center, going too far I guess by deciding that it was best to let others define me. My path for the last thirty five years has been to create an ego that stands on its own rather than in response to others.

I am a slow learner it turns out.

There is a clich├ęd idea is that everything in life is a lesson, and we only move on to the next one once we learn the one in front of us. For lots of folks, including me, some lessons take a very long time. Here’s hoping I get to one more before class lets out.

19 November 2006

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Well it has been another long time. Gee, I used to be real regular with this posting stuff but lately have had something get in the way – life. Right after the trip north came the election, and with that some comment on the outcome on my other site. Then we had some home improvement to do - repainting a room and then (red faced embarrassment here) installing a large screen HD TV. I hasten to say I am not a football fan, or much of a TV watcher in general. My family, though (two out of three wear glasses you see) wanted one.

Was that excuse as lame as it looked writing it?

Anyway, stuff piled up, and Thanksgiving is on the way. That reminds me that I got into all this blog stuff as a result of broadcasting a "December Diary" last year. Has it really been a year? And now I wonder if I dare do something like that again. Opinions?

Well, today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving and our church annual meeting. Time to inpsire the people to do their democratic (small case!) duty. Trouble is, I really believe in all that. As I told someone at a potluck over the weekend, I never stopped being a Boy Scout. All that "trustworthy loyal helpful" stuff still makes sense to me. And yet I would never consider myself the pollyanna - babbitt - shirley temple - orphan annie sort at all. I have a good healthy dose of irony and cynicism in me.

I guess being consistent is not my fate. Hey, it would be boring at the least. But it does not make for a great leaderly personality where consistency is power.

"You say I contraidct myself. Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes." - Whitman (as recollected)

Stirring no?

He went to his death hawking his book from a box while sitting on the streets of Camden New Jersey.

Gotta rethink this one.

06 November 2006

Without Apology

Sorry to have been away for so long.  

My happy duty was to focus on a milestone in the family.  Our eldest son graduated college this past weekend.  Objectively it was run of the mill, save that we all had to travel there and spend two nights so it was costly.  The ceremony was long - tedious in many respects – for the one 30 second occasion when our eldest marched across.  Going there involved driving through snow to one airport, taking two flights, crossing a national border with all the formalities of passports and customs and such.  It was colder and darker.  By itself it would not have been very grand or worth the time and money.

And yet, it was a great moment and a great weekend.  We paused in our life to notice where we were and relish that.  While my son visited with college friends and Profs the rest of us set up in a posh hotel that I have long dreamed of enjoying.  We were in one of our favorite cities and savoring the gentle difference from the US and the treat of being swells for a day or two.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely for no other reason than to enjoy ourselves.  It was an occasion to splurge because we had reached this place in our lives.  I commend self reward.  Especially when it comes in response to genuine effort and accomplishment.  

Now, we are back to regular life.  Tomorrow is Election Day.  My son is now merely unemployed.  The trees are almost entirely denuded of their leaves. My younger son faced two tests today.  A dear old church member died and needs the blessing or a memorial service.  And of course the frenzy of the holidays is rumbling on the horizon.  

“I’m so glad we had this time together,” as the Carol Burnett told us long ago.  Would that every week could in fact be like this.  In theory it can.  What makes this moment different from another in meaning or worth?  Nothing really, save that we say so.  Any day or hour can bring something majestic if we are prepared to see it.  So I wish to believe, at least.  Pray help me remember that any moment has embedded in it all the satisfaction and gratitude of those we easily recognize for such.