Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Reflection

What does Thanksgiving mean to me?

I called my sister Thanksgiving morning to see how she was doing. She didn't answer so I called my parents. My dad answered. We chatted for a while about where I would eat lunch, to whose house I had been invited for the holidays, where he and Emily were in the decorating process, the usual. Then he said, "I'm going to tell you I love you, but don't cry - okay?"


Thanksgiving means family, and Amy, the middle sister, is spending her first holiday really alone, away from family. So when my father had his morning chat with her and told her he loved her, she burst into tears. Now she was on the phone with my mom who was trying to pick up the pieces. That's why she hadn't answered. She was talking to my parents.

I remember my first time really being away from home. Moving to Texas and being a poor seminary student didn't allow for the luxury of returning home for such pithy holidays as Thanksgiving and Easter. Only the really big ones like... Christmas and Summer. Since 2001 I've been learning what it means to be away from family, to be away from home, to re-create love in new places, places it perhaps needs to be nurtured, places perhaps where it just needs to be recognized. This love becomes the substitute for love Amy and I experienced as children and adults growing up in our family.

So, friends. Thanksgiving means friends. It means re-evaluating what family means and creating family out of friends. Thanksgiving helps me remember that community keeps us alive. We were designed for it and without it, we will perish. (Has anyone seen Into the Wild?) Community is not only who we "live" with, but also how we live. How we relate to people, how we treat one another, how we care for the downtrodden, how the encourage the excited - all this is community. Community is why I go to church, why I have people over for dinner parties, why I have a roommate, a boyfriend, a best friend. Community is why I tithe, why I pay my taxes, why I donate money to charity.

Thanksgiving means charity too. It means flipping through the World Vision catalogue and wondering which of my gift recipients would rather have 2 chickens given to a family in Uganda for Christmas instead of receiving a new sweater or CD. It means commitment Sunday at church. It means cutting back on consumerism and cutting checks for Compassion children. It means that even as I bask in the love of people in my community and in my family, I must remember there are many who do not have that luxury. There are lonely people in America who may have everything but no one to share it with, and there are family people in Laos who have no means to provide for those they love. Thanksgiving means sharing hope and sharing resources with those who will die without either. Thanksgiving means being mindful of my neighbor. It means sharing.

Thanksgiving means transitioning. It's the time we put away the leaves and pumpkins and scarecrows and pull out the lights and ornaments and light-up-Santas. It's a time that reminds us we are moving, moving from fall to winter, from pumpkins to evergreens, from thanksgiving to rejoicing. It means preparation (which always means transition): getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for winter, getting ready for the coming of the Christ and giving thanks. And transition always means remembering. As we move from one season to another, from one phase in our lives to new realizations and realities, transition teaches us to remember and to look forward. Thanksgiving means remembering to be thankful, being reminded to give thanks. It means remembering our neighbor and our God. It means looking back and looking forward, all at once.

This is what Thanksgiving means to me and so much more...

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Part I

Yea! Thanksgiving begins! Janie put on her very cute sweater (although very small!) because guests were coming over.

Chris and Michelle, Gabe and Bethany, Ginny, Frank and Alysa (and Chris and Michelle's dog Brandy) joined me for dinner tonight in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bethany and Michelle made pies, salad, and homemade fig dressing. All day they cooked in my kitchen. I'm sure the kitchen was happy to be used :)

Even Zorba had a Thanksgiving feast. We saw him out the back door window capturing a mouse, playing with it for a while, and then settling down to eat his meal. I've never actually seen him (or any of the cats) do this before. It was almost fascinating seeing him gnaw on the bone, pulling off the last few pieces of meat. Just like the men do at Thanksgiving and Christmas. One of the many reasons I just might someday be a full fledged vegetarian.

I made "Crazy Carol's Speghetti" as requested. Everyone else brought wine, bread and ice cream. It was a great evening with "old" friends. It really made the day feel special - like the holiday it is - to have Chris and Michelle here. Tomorrow is Frank's birthday. 30. Half of us had been there and half of us are "looking forward" to the glorious year. What a fun time we had. Yea for Thanksgiving! Yea for friends! Yea for dogs! Yea for food!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It Has Begun

This morning I woke up to my neighbor Frank outside. He already had the reindeer and was starting in on the lights.

Ooh that means Clarence is going to be out soon. Sure enough, there he was, trying to get motivated by putting up the red lights. He's been frustrated cause he found a box full of real rats in his shed (which he promptly killed) and is still discovering the damage they'd done (especially to his christmas decorations). Nevertheless, alwasy a trooper (and never wanting to be outdone by a neighbor), he was putting up what lights he had left.

The competition has begun...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eyes Wide Open

I would like to live with my eyes wide open. I would like to live aware of my surroundings, aware of God working, aware of the world’s evolving. I would like to live to see: see people around me, hear what they are really saying, experience how they are really loving… and hating… and see clearly enough to forgive them. And I would like to have my eyes open wide enough to see when they have to forgive me. I would like to live with my eyes wide open so I don’t miss a minute. Not a minute of the sunshine or the storms, the sand or the waves that break upon it. I want to see to love, see to discern, see to be humbled by my place in the world and the grace God gives me every single day. I would like to live with eyes wide open.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Goo Goo Dolls Might Save Your Life

This is why sometimes it's helpful to listen to pop radio.

I always feel guilty when people talk about listening to NPR or books on tape or when they talk about learning how to speak a new language just by driving home from work.

But today I didn't.

Because today while listening to Fergie or someone finishing up her song I heard my dj say, "If your heading towards the eastside, stay off of 12th in between springdale and webberville... there's a man who's blockaded himself into a building and police have the area blocked off."

Um... did I mention I was driving home? Cause to get home, I take 12th street east, pass springdale and turn left onto webberville to get to my home just a few blocks down.

I'm just sayin.

When I got home (via MLK), I went to Clarence and Tommie's to tell them not to head that direction if they were planning on driving anywhere. And I called church to warn Willard who lives a block closer to 12th than I do. While Clarence and I were talking, we heard voices calling out through megaphones. And two gunshots.


So that's why sometimes it's beneficial to do nothing constructive in the car besides listen to your local pop radio station. Gulp. I said it. So there. Criticize all you want, I'm at home alive, safe and sound.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bump On the Knee: A Child's Thoughts.

When my sister shared the following story with me, I told her I just had to put in on my blog. She responded, "glad your bloggin my life now as well as your own." But despite her sarcasm, I just couldn't let this 2nd grade story go untold...

From "Miss Pittman's" perspective (i.e. my sister...)

"Christopher comes up to me this morning asking to see the nurse. I immediately see he is walking holding up one pant leg while pointing to his knee. He had a tiny bump on his right knee. ( My thoughts... bug bite) Anyway, Christopher could not let this small bump go. About 20 minutes later I see precious little Christopher raising his hand and continuing to tell me that there was a bump on his knee, I decided to send him to the nurse knowing that she would put some sort of antibacterial cream on it which cures every ache and pain in the childs mind.

"I write out the pass, while he stands at my desk and says 'Miss Pittman what if it's, ya know, puberty?' I simply cannot hold it in so I look up and smile while I continue filling out the pass (while there was not a place to check 'tiny bump on the knee' I checked 'other'). Then Christopher continues on, and I can see his mind turning. 'What if I have puberty you know, like when you start to get chest hair?'

"I couldn't help but laugh"

Neither can I.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day Service Beresheth

Tuesday was the two year anniversary of my friend Kyle’s death. He was thirty-three when he unexpectedly died. For those of you who think that’s “old,” consider this – that’s only three years older than me, you college minister and seven years younger than Kevin, your youth minister. And he died; he was electrocuted when he went to baptize a friend. He died in front of 800 people. He died in front of his wife, his parents, and his friends. I tell you this, not to elicit sympathy or to manipulate your emotional perceptions, I tell you this simply so that you know that I understand. On some small level, I understand death.

Well, I understand it insofar as I have experienced it – second hand. I have been affected by death. I have felt the surprise, the grief, the confusion, the denial, the acceptance and the remembering.

The remembering.

On Tuesday I read 36 blogs trying to find someone who would give me one little snip-it of a memory of Kyle or a good story or anything that would make him seem alive – or at least keep his memory fresh. Because I live in a city where no one knew Kyle, it helps me feel connected to hear from other people about my friend. And of course, it helps Kyle stay alive.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories of people dealing with grief, who, in an effort to keep the person around, never change anything in the bedroom of the deceased person, the closet, the desk – everything remains the same. It’s their way of dealing with loss – and perhaps it helps them feel less lost themselves.

There’s something to our inherent desire to keep around those who have passed on. Often we keep a trinket, a photo, a letter, a tee-shirt to remind ourselves of them.

Other times, we fear the thought of it. To quote the Witch on Into the Woods, “When you’re dead, you’re dead,” she says callously, trying to cope with the death of her daughter, Rapunzel. That’s how I felt when my father’s parents, my grandparents died one week to the day of each other. For months, I dreamt they were still around: still sitting at the table at Thanksgiving. Still hovering over the hor d’oerves, still lingering in the kitchen, near the front door, in our house. “Can’t you see them?” I’d incredulously yell at my mother in my dream. But it was like she couldn’t hear me. Finally to my grandparents, to the ghosts/yet-not-ghosts still showing up in my dreams I tentatively asked, and then begged them to leave, to die already, for good – to not come back.

It seems cruel, but it was what I needed. I needed relief from the pressure of losing my grandparents, from the pressure their death put on me emotionally, I needed them gone.

But Kyle, Kyle I need back. He was the first person to let me preach in a church – and not just once, over and over I filled in for Kyle when he was gone, and sometimes when he was there. He helped me develop my preaching voice simply by giving me the opportunity to preach when others would not. And although our relationship was not perfect, I miss Kyle.

Perhaps that’s why Paul or the author of Hebrews says, “take heart my beloved children, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…” Be it Kyle or my grandparents, the witnesses of God’s glory are with us, “with us on our journey” as Burt Burleson asserts in the quote on the wall. They are here. Their stories are our stories! They are part of the great meta-narrative of God’s story in the world. It begins with Adam, or with Heidelberg man or Lucy or with whatever being first evolved and recognized God as her creator. From there we get Abraham and Hagar and Sarah and Joseph and Tamar and Moses and Rahab and David and Jesus and Paul and Augustine and Francis and Julian and Luther and Schleiermacher and John Paul II and Kyle and you and me…

Our stories are all connected and they are all wrapped into the story of God, the story of God ushering in the Kingdom through his Saints, through us. Truly we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. They have passed their strength on to us. Their stories are re-told with our own. Their faith and un-faith have helped created the world we live in today. They are with us! They are the fog that we attempt to see through, to plot out our own story, unable to see past our noses, to set ourselves into the world with the seal of God upon our hearts.

Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice. Blessed are you who mourn because you know what it is to have tasted something good – and you are better equipped to create something more delightful yourself. Blessed are you who love God and love others for you have caught a glimpse of what it means to be children of God. I will weep when you weep for I know what it means to grieve and I will rejoice with you at the chance you had to glimpse a bit of God imaged in another person.

We touch each other – we touch each other’s lives. What we do and what we say and who we are makes a difference. Despite what the world tells us – we matter, we matter to each other. Even when we’re gone, our legacy, who we are in God is not insignificant, rather it may be the most important thing we do – love one other so that we may share the love of God.

And when you feel inadequate, when you feel like no one likes you or your job sucks or your life feels meaningless, put that behind you and look to the great cloud of witnesses who have helped you, loved you along the well – some of which are gone, but most of which are still here with you; vow to be that for someone else. You are a witness to someone else. You help their light shine in the darkness by sharing just a bit of yours.

And so this All Saints Day, we remember the saints, and ultimately the sinners who have gone before us; who have helped light the path only to merge eventually with the Great Light themselves. For them, we give thanks, for the exotically great and for the painfully normal; we give thanks for their souls. We light candles and declare that we remember. We light candles and shun the darkness’s desire to stifle our joy. We give thanks for our great cloud of witnesses.