Memories…part 2

Memories are funny things. They can lie dormant for years, but when you awaken one, it’s as though you sent an electric shock down the line and the others burst back to life, demanding your attention.

In my last post, I talked about some of my memories from my childhood years in England. I had no sooner hit “Publish” than I began to think of other memories I could have (should have?) included. So…here are some more!

I remember sitting in the living room of Uncle John and Aunt Ann’s home (above their bakery), watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on their small black and white television. It was a big deal! And I still have some of my souvenirs from then–both purchased and also given to all of us kids at school.1985-franklin-and-freda-schofield-nuneaton-england

I remember another wonderful couple–Franklin and Freda Schofield. I honestly don’t remember too much about where we knew them…just that they were always a part of our experience in England.

I remember the gypsy caravans (trailers to my American friends)…their colorful-ness as well as the fear that was far too common of their otherness.

I remember the tinker who would come around in his caravan, offering various pieces for sale–as well as offering to mend broken pieces and sharpen knives.

I remember my piano lessons with Mrs. Mee–and her frustration when I went to one of them having completely sight-read through a new book of pieces before my first lesson! Along with those lessons, I remember the “competitions” (don’t think that’s the exact name–more like a national examination) that involved scales, sight-reading, pieces you had worked on, ear training… I’ve always been gra1955-aug-helen-pam-don-dv-and-john-lents-at-edinburgh-castle-in-scotlandteful for those emphases.

I remember falling in love with bagpipes on one of our trips to Scotland…and watching people toss the caber and the Highland dancing at a Highland Games competition.

I remember visiting castle ruins…and trying to imagine what life must have been like for the folks who lived there.

I remember discovering that there really is a high road and a low road around Loch Lomond.

I remember being glad that we came back to the States before I was old enough to take the national exams that would determine whether I went on to college-prep education or to vocational training. Later I heard too much talk of the pressure that placed on young people my parents knew.

I remember the first time my mother shocked people around her–but was forgiven because she was an American. She and the mother of my best friend had gone to some movie–perhaps a war movie–and when they came out, my mother commented on what a bloody movie it had been. She would have been much better off to have called it a gory movie instead!

I remember the traveling groups of kids who would sing Christmas carols at our door for a penny or two. And I remember when family friends of ours spent the night, Karen and I quietly sang from my bedroom, trying to see if we could convince our parents that there was someone at the door. (We did!)

I remember when we hung a wreath on our front door for Christmas…and when my mother went to market, she began receiving condolences and q1952-sep-pam-and-don-lents-bourton-on-wateruestions about who had died.

I remember visiting the model village in the Cotswolds…an entire village built to 1/9 scale. It was the perfect size for kids to enjoy!

I remember riding the double-decker bus. I loved riding the upper level…what a fun experience!

I remember my father helping me fly kites in Wicksteed Park–and me getting a rope burn as he was pulling the kite in, because I didn’t want to go home, so I was trying to hold onto the string.

I remember making tapes to send back to my grandparents in the States…and I remember my mother encouraging my brother as he was sharing some of his speech therapy. He was going through his words–and my mother was trying to get him to pronounce them…but she was using the American pronunciation for “tomato” (with a long “a”), and I knew that just wasn’t right. So I corrected it for her (with a short “a”).

1953-jun-don-and-pam-lents-blackpool

I remember visiting the beach at Blackpool. I had a small bucket and shovel–and dug holes in the sand. As we were walking, my brother fell in one of the holes the tide had dug, but fortunately Dad was right there to pull him out.

I remember my father leading campfire at a church camp in Enfield. There wasn’t any place for a fire, so the event was taking place inside the church building…and I remember sitting on the hard bench (and eventually falling asleep there) as he was leading the singing.

There will undoubtedly be more memories resurrected now that I have opened the door…and I will thoroughly enjoy revisiting the past.

Memories…

I recently had a friend ask about some of my memories of my time in England when my dad served as a minister there. I’m not sure exactly what kinds of memories he was hoping for…maybe not some of these, but since I was 5 when we moved to England and 8-1/2 when we came back, they’re not going to be adult memories!

I remember some of our ship crossing on the HMS Franconia and our return on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Part of the crossing was stormy…and I remember my dad and me being two of the few in the dining room–where the table rims were up to keep the dishes from sliding off!

1952-aug-pam-and-don-lentsI remember loving our house. It was a typical English row house with a small front yard where my mother put my youngest brother (who was born in England) to sun on those days when the sun was out.

I remember going to the hospital to see my mother hold my youngest brother up to the window so we could see him. The hospital seemed so big, although it was only two stories high.

I remember the fog! We were still burning coal, and so during the winter there was lo1953-jul-whitsuntide-paradets of fog to walk through on my way to school.

I remember marching in the Whitsuntide parade as part of our church group…

I remember my baptism in our little church in Nuneaton. It was on my birthday–in March–and it was cold!! But it was such a special day.

I remember gathering rhubarb in the church yard…and the tangy taste of the pies.

I remember playing for church on an old reed organ. Someone else (I don’t remember who) had to pump the pedals for me because I couldn’t reach both keyboard and pedals. In some ways I’d like to have a time machine to watch myself playing…but in other ways I’m just as glad I can’t. But I am appreciative of the congregation allowing me to share in that way.

I especially remember Uncle John and Aunt Anne Coggan. He was the pastor of our congregation and ran a bakery in Nuneaton…a wonderful bakery.  In fact, the bakery was how the church got started. When kids would come for a sweet, Uncle John would ask if they went to church. If they did, that was fine; if they didn’t he invited them and their families to their house for Bible stories on Sunday morning.  (The bakery was still in business when I went back for a visit 25 years later–then run by Uncle John’s son.)

I remember bonfires on November 4, celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. I wasn’t aware of the violence behind the day…just the fun for us kids.

I remember visiting Stratford-upon-Avon…and attending one of Shakespeare’s comedies at the theatre there.

I remember traveling with my folks to Germany for a family camp…and learning just enough German to ask for a cold drink of water, please.

I re1953-coventry-cathedral-ruins2member being at Trafalgar Square and the pigeons swarming my brother’s white-blond hair as we fed them.

I remember visiting Coventry and enjoying two very different experiences. One was loving the statue and story of Lady Godiva while the other was much more somber. It was not all that long after the end of the war, and visiting Coventry Cathedral was a reminder of the damage and horrors of war–as well as the challenge to what it meant to Christians…

I remember being vaguely aware of the food rationing. We got one egg per person per week, and so there were often decisions about whether we were going to eat them or save them for a cake.

I remember feeling completely British–and being annoyed when an older classmate called me “a Yankee.” Dad suggested I call him “a limey”…and he was not happy about that! But I also remember thinking when we came back to the States that I was only going to stay here until I was old enough to go “back home.” All my friends and memories were there. By the time I was 18, though, I had come to feel more comfortable here–but it was not until I went back for a visit 25 years later that I really knew where my home was.

As I said in one of my poems in my book People, Places…and Other Musings

Each home has its problems;
each home has its joys.
My home is now the world–
that’s where my heart is.

 

Teenage intensity

One of my favorite comic strips currently is “Zits.” I think the writers must either have teenagers themselves…or else they really remember the intensity of the teenage years.

As we have dealt with teenagers at various times ourselves (and are currently dealing with one about the age of Zits), I keep wondering…was I ever that intense? And–if I’m honest with myself–I think the answer has to be “yes.”

I was the age of Zits during the 60s. While I didn’t get involved in all of the various kinds of activities–as a preacher’s kid, that wasn’t really an option…and I wasn’t really interested in a lot of them anyway–I do remember the intensity of the age.

I did not like the war in Vietnam…especially when a young friend of mine was killed there. His was the first death I had to deal with that wasn’t an “expected” one because of age. While I wasn’t able to fully articulate my feelings, I do remember thinking that war never really resolves any situations–and I was touched by the strength of the young people my age who willingly stood in protest.

I was also in awe of the young people my age who were part of the Civil Rights movement. I watched the news in horror as peaceful marchers were brutally attacked…and yet came back for more in order to stand with those who were oppressed. When three young men my age went missing–and were later found murdered–my heart sank. I sort of thought about joining the protest marches…but for various reasons that didn’t happen. And yet…

As I look back at that younger self, I find myself feeling somewhat sorry for my parents! My world was black and white; there weren’t shades of gray. Things were either right or they were wrong…and I didn’t really want to hear another perspective. I got angry…I cried…I knew the world wasn’t what it could be–or should be. But I wasn’t sure how to set it right. I just knew it should be.

Things change…sort of.

There are still significant issues that need to be resolved. The world still isn’t what it can be–or should be.

And we still have to deal with teenagers!

They can drive us nuts at times because their world so often has no shades of gray in it. Things are either right or wrong–and they know exactly what “the right” is. Sometimes I envy that certainty. Sometimes I feel sorry for them as they have to come to grips with a world that will challenge them in ways they often don’t expect.

And yet their intensity can challenge us as well…remind us of our better selves…encourage us to look again at what we can do to make the world what it can be–what it should be.

 

Unity in Diversity…

One of the principles expressed by my faith community is expressed in the phrase “Unity in Diversity.” I like–and believe in–this ideal, but I am becoming more and more aware how difficult it is to live it.

There are short statements that help clarify the principles; these are three of them related to this one:

  • The church embraces diversity and unity through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • We seek agreement or common consent in important matters. If we cannot achieve agreement, we commit to ongoing dialogue and lovingly uphold our common faith in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church.
  • We confess that our lack of agreement on certain matters is hurtful to some of God’s beloved children and creation.

While this particular statement is related to my faith community, I believe it is also important to the country–and the world…and right now I see that as a huge challenge.

We often seem to live in alternate universes. We may see the same events…hear the same words…but our perception of them is very different. When we see the world around us so differently, how can we find unity?

I believe that Ronald Rolheiser may help us here. I’ve often wondered about the statement in the Bible often translated as “Be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” Who of us can be perfect? But another understanding of “perfect” in this context has to do with being compassionate. In his book Sacred Fire Rolheiser says this:

This kind of embrace, which radiates God’s compassion and understanding even as it holds its own moral ground, is asked of us not just in families and friendships, but in every area of life. Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, Evangelical or Unitarian, Christian or Jew, Jew or Muslim, Christian or Muslim, prolife or prochoice, liberal or conservative, we all must find the compassion and empathy to be able to embrace in a way that expresses love and understanding even as that embrace does not say that differences are of no importance.

There is a time to stand up for what we believe in, a time to be prophetic, a time to draw a line in the sand, a time to point out differences and the consequences of that, and a time to stand in strong opposition to values and forces that threaten what we hold dear. But there is also a time to embrace across differences, to recognize that we can love and respect each other even when we do not hold the same values, when what is common eclipses our differences. There is a time to be compassionate as God is compassionate, to let our sun shine indiscriminately on both the vegetables and the weeds without denying which is which.

If we can’t learn to embrace our differences…if we continue to demonize those we disagree with…if we can’t figure out how to be compassionate towards each other while still holding to our core beliefs, then our world will die–and us with it.

But I have hope. I believe that we can–and will–find ways to reach across those painful divides…to share our perspectives with each other…to continue to work towards wholeness in our families, our faith communities, our cities and states, our world. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require us to let go of some feelings that have dug themselves deep into our psyche.

Again, Rolheiser says this:

Love, understood properly, is never a reward for being good. Goodness, rather, is always a consequence of having been loved. We are not loved because we are good, but hopefully we become good as we experience love.”

Love…an easy word to say, but a difficult concept to live out. But I believe it’s the only way into the world we really want to live in.

 

 

A place at the table…

I spent Labor Day weekend with a wonderful group of people at the GALA annual retreat…and the theme was “A Place at the Table.”

I was also responsible for our closing Communion/sending forth service…and one of the hymns we sang was one by Shirley Erena Murray that has become a theme song for this group of people who have so often been marginalized by those who claim to follow Jesus.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight
when we are creators of justice
and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

It’s a wonderful song to sing–but also a challenging one! In fact, right after I got back from the retreat, I saw a discussion about some of these words that became difficult because of some of those challenges.

It’s fairly easy to welcome men, women, and children to our table. It’s not so easy to be willing to give up some of what we have so that others can have enough to live–clean water, bread, shelter…

It’s especially difficult when we talk about those who deal justly and unjustly…when there are both abusers and abused ones asking for a place at our table. How do we give folks a chance for redemption while being sensitive to those who have been deeply hurt, whether that hurt is caused by physical, sexual, emotional or mental abuse? How do we create a table of justice and joy, compassion and peace?

The first time we sang this song in our congregation, I was aware that there was an individual who had been abused for whom this might be difficult, so I went to talk to the individual. The response was one of appreciation for the heads up…and now that has become a favorite song for this person.

However, as I have listened to other discussions, I have become aware that there are other individuals dealing with similar situations. I cannot always go to them because sometimes that means letting them know that someone else is aware of their past when they may not be ready to share it. And sometimes I may not know who in the congregation is dealing with these issues, but I want to be sensitive to them.

Yet there are also abusers who need to know that there is a place for them as well.

How can we be sensitive to the needs of all of them?

I think that sometimes it’s simply acknowledging that this is difficult…and that it’s okay. It’s important to have folks who are willing to be present with those who need someone to stand with them…to walk with them. We need to get to know each other better so that we create safe places where we can share our deep needs and fears.

Is any of this going to be easy? No.

Are we going to make mistakes? Yes…

But we have to keep trying.

Everyone deserves a place at God’s table…everyone deserves a safe place…and as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be uncomfortable…to work with others to create a place of justice, joy, compassion, peace…and safety.