Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

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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.

 

Why not music?

I grew up in a generation that seemed to be surrounded by music…classical music. It was in concert halls, churches, movies…and cartoons.

Yes, cartoons.

There are some pieces of music that even now I can’t listen to without seeing the characters…

I didn’t know what the music was at the time, but I recognized it when I heard it in its musical context in concerts or on our FM radio station. And I think that surrounding of us with these pieces gave us an appreciation for music without it being forced on us.

Then things began to change.

I don’t remember what the name of the cartoon was (perhaps a Batman cartoon?), but I remember that there was no music…or at least, none that  I was aware of. Instead, there were word clouds: “Bang!” “Pow!”

It didn’t take long before that became the norm, and music was shoved aside. Not just in cartoons, but also in school as well.

And we’ve become poorer for it.

Music has become an “extra” far too often in schools…something that is first on the chopping block when budgets need to be cut.

And, at least in my own denomination, music–at least classical music–is often seen as something that might be nice but that doesn’t relate well with the “average” person (whoever that might be!). To sponsor a fine arts program? well, if there’s money in the budget, we might be able to do that…but what’s the purpose? Where’s the value?

There have been lots of studies that show that music (and the other arts) help children learn. They help us connect to other people…to the world around us…to the creative parts of who we are.

Music is a language…a language that helps us express emotions and feelings that we have no words for. It helps us connect to the Divine. It is a universal language, even if it is expressed in different forms.

And so…why not music? Why not…in our schools, our homes, our churches?

Music is the voice of the soul

Train up a child…

Normally I think I would have written a couple of posts by now, but nothing in particular has come to mind–until yesterday.

For more than 20 years, my faith tradition has held a daily prayer for peace. It’s a short (but heartfelt) service–but held 365 days a year in one of the buildings of our headquarters–Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri. It’s open to anyone who wishes to come and prayer for peace with us. Each day a different country of the world is held up in prayer.

I’ve participated in that several different ways…led it, contributed prayers for it, but probably most often, played for it (either on piano or organ).

Yesterday I was scheduled to play. As I was getting ready to leave, I told my granddaughter “good-bye” only to have her respond (rather vehemently), “Gwamma, you can’t go!” Her grandpa told her I was going to play for the prayer, and her response was “Okay, let’s go!” She has been to the Temple before, including to the prayer, but I had not planned on taking her this time. However, we bundled her up and took off.

As is my custom, I went on up to the organ to finish making sure my registrations for the ministry of music were what I wanted and to run through the hymn again. As I was finishing that–and before anyone had arrived for the service–my granddaughter, with help from Poppa (grandfather), came up the steps and over to the organ. He planted her on the seat beside me, and her eyes just lit up.

Ladybug loves music! She has played on my piano and organ at home in a way that I think is unusual for a child as young as she is. She does not bang but tries to intentionally make music. She has also sat on this organ bench with me before, but it’s been a while, so she was delighted to have this opportunity.

Poppa took several pictures–and they remind me that what we do with our children can have a lifelong impact. She loves music…she loves the prayer for peace…and she has watched me and knows what she needs to do when she sits on the organ bench.

"I think we need more stops!"

“I think we need more stops!”

"Four keyboards is a lot more fun than just one!"

“Four keyboards is a lot more fun than just one!”

Helping Grandma play the Daily Prayer for Peace

Helping Grandma play the Daily Prayer for Peace

Advent musings…

I started to write this post a few days ago but got sidetracked with other things that needed to get done. Since then there have been a number of situations that have changed what I was thinking…

So here are some Advent musings–not in any particular order.

At this time when we are looking back in time to the birth of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem…and forward to a time when we will have learned how to accept each other and to live in a way that honors the birth of that child…I am grateful. Grateful for a safe place…for shelter and food…for family and friends. But along with that gratefulness, I find myself being challenged–challenged to live in a way that provides those same opportunities for others. It’s easy for me to “cocoon” myself–to not look too far outside my own connections…and to not see the great need.

I am grateful for the continuing survival of a young loved one who has had many issues to deal with in a short life. Some of those issues are not because of anything that child has done–but because of decisions others have made. Some of them are because of that one’s own unwise decisions…and have impacted future choices the child has. There have been times when I have wondered if that young person is going to make it to adulthood without landing in jail–or dying…and I have agonized over what the future holds. And yet I am aware that this young one–and others in my family–are supported not only by family of birth but also by a church family who cares deeply for many young people who are struggling with so many difficult decisions. In this time of Advent, I am reminded of the importance of community in helping all children become who they can be.

I’ve been enjoying watching an active 2-year-old play with her nativity creche. Her favorite figures have been the shepherd who is holding what she calls “momma sheep”…and the single “baby sheep.” They have wandered all over the house, and I am never sure where I am going to find them! The three kings have also traveled…and the angel has sometimes been with them, sometimes with the shepherd, and sometimes with the family. It’s been important to her that Mommy and Daddy and the baby are together–and that there are hugs and kisses between them. At times they have been scattered–and yet somehow they all find a way to get back together.

I have watched healing occur in part of my family that was deeply wounded by an unexpected death 11 years ago…a death that has, in many ways, made it difficult to rejoice in the Advent and Christmas seasons. While we lost one grandchild far too early then, we have been able to rejoice in the birth of a new little one on that same birthday…new life rising out of the ashes of sorrow and regret.

I went to an Advent concert the other night. It was a quiet and reflective concert–different from much of the music we hear this time of year, and yet such a beautiful reflection on all the aspects of this season. The words at first blush don’t seem to fit this season of Advent…and yet they are so appropriate during this time of waiting–waiting for healing…for wholeness…for getting together…

The words were found written on the wall of a concentration camp…a place where hope may have seemed useless. And yet…someone had hope for a better world–just as we are called to…and to work toward.

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when he is silent.

 

Making the “right” decision

Sometimes I think it would be wonderful if life could be lived with only “right” or “wrong” decisions…if there were only two choices. But life isn’t like that–most of the time.

Sometimes there isn’t a “right” choice. There may instead be several right choices–and you have to decide which one is more appealing or works best for you.

That’s where I am right now.

I am retired from a job I held for 15 years. I hadn’t planned on retiring when I did, but because of the way my job was defined, I was faced with mandatory retirement.

However…there have definitely been upsides to it. For the last two years I’ve been privileged to be the primary caregiver for our granddaughter. Not the only one, because her other grandparents also take care of her when they are able to. But because they are both working, she’s been at our house much of the time…and we’ve developed a close and special relationship.

But now…

A job opportunity has become available that really intrigues me. It ties in with much of what I did prior to my retirement, and it deals with music, one of my passions. There are some aspects of it that aren’t quite as appealing, but that’s true of any situation.

At the moment it’s a part-time job…and that’s appealing…although it’s expected to grow. The timing of it seems to work well, too. My granddaughter’s parents are looking at putting her into half-day preschool this fall so that she can have more socialization with children, something she is wanting.

But do I really want to apply? One day my answer is “absolutely!” The next day I’m more ambivalent. I would be okay with either getting it or not; it’s just deciding whether or not I want to apply.

I find myself wondering if it’s my fears holding me back. The other day I wrote this as I was mulling over this possibility:

What if our fears
are merely a ploy
to keep us from doing
what we’re capable of?
What if we really are stronger
than the world has allowed us to know?
What if we have a voice
with words that need to be shared
but a voice that we’ve given others
the power to silence?

What if…what if?

The world then dies
slowly–and softly,
one unheard voice at a time.

I don’t know yet what my decision is going to be. I have to decide by the end of this month. But what I do know is that I don’t want my decision to be made out of fear…and I want to be willing to realize that sometimes there isn’t one right decision. There may be several–and the choice is mine.