The freezing rain glazed the highway as we crept homeward. Unconsciously, I ran my fingers over the blue scarf. During another winter’s storm, my sister slid off the road. I’ve known those moments myself, the car sliding, out of control, everything happening all at once yet seeming to take forever, and then life forever changed. I felt my mother’s presence in the yarn.
I have no idea when she got the yarn. It was probably over twenty years ago, perhaps when one of my daughters was born. Throughout much of my life, my mother was always knitting, and the basement was full of yarn she had picked up for one project or another. Yet has her tremors got worse she couldn’t continue her knitting.
When we cleaned out her house, I agreed to talk the yarn and fabrics, and now I have a garage full of fiber projects waiting to be completed. My daughters have taken up where my mother left off.
The scarf is narrower than the scarves I made as a kid. The width is more like that of a priest’s stole. Did my daughter knit it out of yarn that had been intended for her baby blanket? Was the circle somehow completed when she knit the scarf and gave it to me? Were we somehow connected through this sacred scarf, my mother, my daughter, and I?
We passed cars that had slid off the road. Cars like those that held my sister and mother years ago. Unconsciously, I ran my over the blue scarf. I felt the warm of the cloth, of my mother’s love, my daughter’s love, and knew that we would make it safely home.
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;”
Kim and Fiona are still sleeping. The dog is pawing at the door, wanting to go roll in the thin layer of snow and slush that turn to ice overnight. It is Thanksgiving morning, yet there is no hustle and bustle in the kitchen or scent of pies or roasting turkey in the air. There are no mints, grapes, or pieces of celery stuffed with cream cheese or peanut butter on the table.
I grew up in New England. My ancestors were early European settlers in Massachusetts. We all have days that define our culture, and for me, that day is Thanksgiving.
Part of the lore of Thanksgiving is the story of five kernels of corn. As a kid at our big white Congregational church at the center of a small New England college town, we would receive five kernels of corn before Thanksgiving as a reminder of the hardship our ancestors had faced when five kernels of corn was the daily ration to make it through a hard winter as those around we’re dying.
We would be reminded of the days we were the strangers in someone else’s land and despite battles with the local inhabitants, they also helped us, provided us food and taught us how to survive in this difficult land.
I glance outside at the thin layer of frozen slush and think of how things have changed. We are now the local inhabitants. Are we helping those now coming to this land? The furnace kicks on as I finish my bowl of oatmeal. Life is much easier these days, but it can still be harsh. I think of the car accidents I saw on the drive home yesterday. I think of the storm and car accident that took my mother.
“Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,”
As the family sleeps, I read through messages on Facebook, friends wishing one another “Happy Thanksgiving”. Yet even in that, I see the grief behind the words, friends with cancer, friends who have lost loved ones. One friends posts pictures of pastries he is baking and I think of his grandson who died this year. Another friend ponders about driving to see her stepdad whose cancer has spread. She lost her son to cancer a few years ago and questions whether she will have the strength to be there.
“Over the river and through the woods”
Friends have made it through the snow to grandparents’ house where a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving awaits them. Others have to work this evening and tomorrow. Yesterday, my priest posted, “Do I have to get all ‘annoying preacher’ on y'all, and tell you that it's blasphemy against anything holy or good to go shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday?”
Fiona wants to go shopping tomorrow, in part to pick out presents for the eleven year old girl whose family can’t afford gifts. The girl’s wish list is on a gingerbread man that Fiona picked up at church. We will bring our gifts to church, and try to keep a healthy focus on the gift giving.
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,”
When I was a kid, we would gather around the old black and white seventeen inch television with rabbit ears antennas on top. We could only receive three channels and we’d switch between the three to see which gave us the best picture of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. As a kid from a small New England town who had never been to a city of more than probably fifty thousand people, New York, with its parade was a place of fantasy, no more real than the places I read about in books of dragons and unicorns.
The first television show I ever saw was Underdog when we got the TV one Christmas. The giant Underdog balloon seemed no more real than the cartoon character we had seen.
As I grew older, those five kernels of corn took root, and I would slip out to church on Thanksgiving morning, going to the small Congregational church a couple miles away. It was a small group, a remnant, that still worshiped on Thanksgiving Day. Later, even that fell away, and I hit the slopes, skiing in the morning and building up a big appetite for the large meal.
“O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,”
So here we are in 2014. The riots driven by racial tensions further exposed by the lack of an indictment in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri have subsided, although there are reports of planned disruptions of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“We are here. We are here for all of us.”
The words of Alicia Keys comes to mind as I try to tie it all together, as I think of discussions that are bound to come up over Thanksgiving tables.
“Cause right now it don't make sense”
After my mother-in-law's mother died on Labor Day weekend, no one really had the energy for putting together a big Thanksgiving Dinner at Kim’s parent’s house. So we will drive to a restaurant and have Thanksgiving dinner there. I figure Thanksgiving will be rough for a lot of people this year.
“Let's talk about our part. My heart touch your heart”
What is our part? I ran for State Representative this year. It was a lot of work. I didn’t get elected, but I did get a chance to talk with a lot of people about important issues. I spoke about health disparities, a topic people don’t seem to talk about. I talked about how a black woman in New Haven is two to three times more likely to lose her child in infancy that a white woman in New Haven.
“let's talk about living. Had enough of dying”
I quoted Alica Key’s on the campaign trail.
“Let's do more giving Do more forgiving”
Yet I always come back to my roots, to the pilgrim’s way and the struggles of my ancestors in New England. The rush of Christmas seems so far removed. I’ve become an Episcopalian since my early Congregationalist upbringing. I think more about Liturgy and the flow of the seasons. It is Thanksgiving. We are still in the season of Pentecost and will be until Sunday when Advent starts. I’m not ready for Christmas carols, but I will jump ahead just a little bit with an Advent Hymn.
“Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free;”
This is what I want to be hearing this weekend, not advertisements for the biggest sales of the year. Yet there is still turkey to be eaten, there are still hymns of Thanksgiving to be sung. God has provided, in the wilderness, during the Thirty Years’ War (when Martin Rinkart wrote “Nun danket alle Gott”), at the first New England Thanksgiving, and today, as friends mourn the death of loved ones and our nation struggles with racial tension.
“For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore."
It is the middle of the night and I cannot sleep, again. In the morning, I am off to another funeral. When we learned of this funeral, my wife Kim asked if we had been to a funeral every year that we’ve known each other. The thought stuck with me, and I searched online for the average number of funerals that adults in the United States go to each year. The online answer was best summarized as, adult Americans typically know about 50 people whose funeral they would go to. They typically don’t go to funerals before they are eighteen, so it averages out to around a funeral a year. Others suggested the number is between one funeral every two years and two funerals a year.
Fiona, who is almost thirteen, has been to her share of funerals already. So much so, that when she was about four and we told her we were going to a family reunion, she asked, “Who died?” In her mind, at that early age, that is what family reunions were, funerals.
So, as I tossed and turned and tried to get back to sleep, Harold and Maude met the ancient sleep aid. Instead of counting sheep, I tried counting funerals I’ve been to since I met Kim. Initially, I randomly thought of different people’s funerals. It seemed like a pretty long list, so I tried to organize it in my mind. Before I knew it, I had thought of around thirty funerals, or an average of two funerals a year since Kim and I met, and as I write this, I remember more.
There are family members, both close and more distant; mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, in-laws, and beyond. There are friends from church, work, and politics. There are cancers, car accidents, suicides, old age, and friends who have died way too young.
It is tempting to wonder when we will get a break, to talk about meeting less frequently at funerals, about trying to find time to celebrate people’s lives while they are still living. Yet as I think about it, a little bit of Harold and Maude rubs off on me.
I am blessed to get to go to so many funerals.
Yes, I am blessed to get to go to so many funerals. It sounds odd, but it is true, and something we should all think about.
When I write about funerals, I often quote John Donne,
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
It is easy to think about how death diminishes us, but it is more important to think about how blessed we are to be involved in mankind. A bunch of funerals we would not have gone to if we weren’t involved in politics. Yet we’ve met many great people through our political involvement and I urge all my friends to become more politically involved. Many funerals we’ve attended were of friends we’ve made at churches we’ve attended. I urge my friends to find communities that share their beliefs. Our lives have been so much richer because these people were in our lives.
Monday was Labor Day and a great quote from the movie Norma Rae comes to mind.
On October 4, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshowsky, aged eighty-seven, died in his sleep in New York City. On the following Friday morning, his funeral was held. My mother and father attended, my two uncles from Brooklyn attended, my Aunt Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were eight hundred and sixty-two members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers' Union. Also members of his family. In death as in life, they stood at his side. They had fought battles with him, bound the wounds of battle with him, had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke in one voice, and they were heard. They were black, they were white, they were Irish, they were Polish, they were Catholic, they were Jews, they were one. That's what a union is: one
We are one, as co-workers, as Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Atheists, as neighbors and as relatives; as Americans. It is something that we have lost in our political discourse that we need to rediscover.
Today, I will celebrate my wife’s birthday. I remember her mother on the anniversary of her mother’s death. I will attend the funeral of her grandmother.
And I will weep and hug those around me. I will remember wonderful moments of people’s lives. I will kiss my wife and tell her I love her. I will celebrate the lives of those living, those dead, and those yet to be born. If I am lucky, my words will bring comfort and joy to some of those around me and perhaps, if I am really lucky, help some of those around me rediscover the value of what we have in common.
It is 4 AM, the writing hour. This is often my best writing time, but these days, I’m usually asleep at 4 AM. Today is different. Yesterday, while out doing yard work, I got stung by yellow jackets. I took some Benadryl last night to try and keep the itching down, and it mostly worked. I slept pretty soundly until a little while ago. I woke up, put some more anti-itch cream on the stings and tried, unsuccessfully to get back to sleep.
Work has been very busy for me, these past few weeks, as has my campaign for State Representative. On the home front, I’ve been swimming, kayaking, playing Ingress, and researching various topics. We’re getting ready for Falcon Ridge, and beyond that, for Cape Cod. Much of this is fodder for several blog posts, that most of the time, I’m too tired or busy to get written. I will try to write some of these and line them up to be posted over the next several days
Saturday, The Rev. Amanda Katherine Gott posted on her Facebook page a comment about doing online research on garden weeds for Sunday’s sermon. The lesson appointed for Sunday was the Parable of the Weeds
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, `Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, `An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
It seems like I’ve always heard this parable preached about in terms of fire and brimstone. Indeed, the following verses include, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” While it is good news that the causes of sin will be destroyed in the end times, for those of us focused on God’s forgiveness and loving kindness, it doesn’t sound so much like good news.
My relationship with weeds has always been a bit different from that of the sower in the parable. I commented, “’One man's weed is another man's wildflower’. I grew up on Euell Gibbons and we often ate many forms of weeds from Oxalis to lambsquarters”. Although I didn’t really see how it related to the Gospel.
Another person posted a link to a great article, Why We Must Learn to Love Weeds. It contained many thoughts along the same line as I was thinking. It quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson saying a weed is “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”.
This was in line with the direction Rev. Amanda took in her sermon. She talked about the weeds in her garden, which turned out to be Oxalis, the same weed I grew up eating. It is not for us to judge who the weeds are, we should leave that to God. Those people in our lives that we think of as weeds are people whom we have not yet discovered their virtues.
As she explored these sort of ideas in more depth, she said something else that particularly stuck with me. I love mixed metaphors and she mashed up the cup running over from Psalm 23 with the cup which is either half empty or half full, depending on one’s perspective. What matters, she went on to say, was not trying to pin blame on others for why the cup is only half full, but finding those whose cups are empty and sharing what we have with them. I thought about my current foray into electoral politics. I thought about friends who are going through tough times right now, through spiritual crises, people who can’t do church on Sunday morning because for them it is too cliché.
The cover of our church bulletin lists ten reasons you might like it at our church. Several of these reasons were well illustrated on Sunday
You’ll hear sermons that you can actually remember the next day.
You don’t think that religion should be based on fear and driven by rules.
You are seeking acceptance and affirmation of who you are as God’s own beloved.
You want God to be relevant to your life and you want your life to be relevant to God.
You’re looking for a community where there is diversity in the way people look, the way people talk and in what people believe.
I pray for my friends on spiritual journeys that they might find God’s love for them and how to share that love with others.