Monday, September 30, 2013

Hand Me Downs

My mother is one of the most frugal people in the world.  You and I may call her "cheap", and she is, but she looks at it as being frugal and taking care of what she has so that she will have it longer and it will carry her through the days ahead.  She is constantly aware that there may not be anything in the future so you have to use what you have for the greatest good and spend as little as you can on daily life needs.  My mom has always looked for bargains and usually will not buy something unless it is on sale.  She loves to shop at garage sales and will try to bargain with an owner of an item that is already nearly marked down to nothing.

When I was growing up, my mother would buy groceries at the supermarket by looking at what was on sale.  Every item she prepared had to be on sale and what was on sale determined what we had for dinner usually.  She also bought "day old bread" at the bread surplus store and shopped the "bent can buggy" at the supermarket to buy dented cans and those without labels (for mystery dinner...we never knew what may be opened so we never knew what would be on the table on those days.)

My mother clothed all of us kids with clothes she found at garage sales and sales at stores too.  I remember one year that I needed a new coat for the winter.  She looked at the sale ads in the paper and we found  store that had coats on sale and we went to look at them.  Only after finding a coat that she thought was marked down enough, was I allowed to get a new coat.  Luckily, growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, a coat was not required on too many days so I could coast along without a coat until the right one could be found.

I had an older brother too and received many of his shirts and coats as "hand me downs" to wear now and then if they weren't in too bad condition.  I usually had to have "husky" pants and he did not so I rarely got his pants to wear but did get many shirts and a coat or two.  Having an older sibling is usually a good thing for many kids because they have a selection of clothes to choose from once the other sibling decides the item is not good enough for them.

A man named Timothy received hand me downs from his mother and grandmother.  No, he was not a cross-dresser, this Timothy is the one whose name is on two books of the New Testament and those books are actually letters that St. Paul wrote to him.  In the second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds him of the faith he received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.  That faith, Paul said, lived in Timothy too and Paul urged him to "rekindle" the gift of God he had received or inherited in his faith journey.

Receiving gifts from our family members can be a good thing, especially if what we receive has great value.  The faith traditions we have received from our family of origin can be valued or forsaken.  Sometimes those traditions have spoken to us through the past years and still enrich and enable us in our way of life.  Sometimes we are not even aware of the effect they have on us until suddenly we are reminded by a song, a verse, an aroma, or something else in our world that speaks to us.  We have received those things from our past and now they are part of who we are.

My mother is still with me (she and I are all that remain of my family of origin) and she still shops the garage sales and looks for the ads with coupons in them.  I inherited the frugal trait from her too, I have to admit.  I always look for a sale and hate to pay full price for anything.  Maybe that is not so bad.  It helps what you have to go farther.  Perhaps there are lessons in life that we have inherited from others that help our lives to be ordered in a way that is helpful to us, even if we hate to admit it.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Snapshots of Life

Another PBS mini-series has captured my attention.  This time it is called "Last Tango in Halifax."  No, it is not Canadian, it is from the UK.  I have watched three episodes of the program and find it interesting and funny and a bit weird, all traits that make for good watching and thought provoking entertainment.  The program is about an older man and woman who loved each other 50 years before but married other people.   They had children by the others and now are widow and widower.  They each live with their grown married children and grandchildren, one in a town and the other out in the country in Yorkshire.  They meet again thanks to Facebook and trade many messages and finally decide to meet in person.  After their initial meeting, they discover that they are still in love and decide to get married.  Their grown children balk at the idea at first but soon realize that they are serious so gradually accept the idea.  Both grown daughters are involved in dysfunctional relationships of their own, one with a husband who is having a fling and the other with a much younger man than she is.  Grandchildren are involved in the mix and gradually the viewer learns there are many family dynamics at work in the social setting.

Last night the older couple decided they would drive into the city (Halifax I assume) in their new Lexus convertible they decided to buy together rather than get an engagement ring to visit the vicar in the local church because they thought they wanted a church wedding.  They sat in the choir area talking quietly about their lives and religion and politics.  Their views on many issues were very opposite but they decided they could live together and not agree on everything.  They discussed church music and she liked the traditional kind and he said he was open to what she called the "happy clappy" music.  The church wedding was far more important to her than him.  He said he was not sure he believed in God any longer.  She said she would come down the aisle to the song, "Entrance of the Queen of Sheba" and he remarked that would be very appropriate.  They had a good laugh; they discussed politics and disagreed on most of it.  They they went in to see the vicar.

The vicar (a woman, much to their distress) asked when they had last been in church and the older man said, "Christmas.....about 1977".  The woman said that was about the last time for her too.  Then, the vicar looked at them both and asked, "Why do you want to be married in the church and have the blessings of God on your marriage when you have not been attending church?"  The viewers did not hear their reply because the next scene showed them in their Lexus driving away after calling the vicar a name with the word "bloody" attached to it.

My reaction to this portion of the program was mixed.  I have asked that question of persons who came to me wanting a wedding in the church but tried to discuss it with the couple until we could find common ground and have the wedding they wanted in the church.  I found the vicar to be a bit judgmental and cold, the caretaker of the church, but not as interested in caring for the souls of those who came to her for assistance.  Of course, since England does not have separation of church and state as we do in the US, then going to an Anglican Church to have a wedding is just as much a civil matter as it is a religious one.  Persons who are citizens of the UK pay taxes to support the church and deserve services from the church for the taxes they pay.  Weddings and funerals are part of the package, along with baptisms---all part of what it means to be Anglican or British.

Against this snapshot of an older couple who has renewed their love and want to begin again are the awful vignettes of their grown children's lives falling apart around them.  Each is striving for something they cannot have and doing things they have regretted.  Their own children suffer because of their wrong direction in life.  With each episode, we are drawn in a bit closer and closer into their daily lives and struggles and we wonder if and when they will ever get their acts together.  The older couple seems to have found renewal in the new life they are planning together while their grown children's lives are gradually coming loose at the seams.

It has been said that life is like a stream that takes all of us along with it in its course.  We move with it and in it and our struggles bring grief and pain into our lives.  It is only when we yield to a power higher than ourselves that we begin to give up the struggle and go with the flow.

What does it mean to be truly happy?  How do we achieve happiness in our lives?  Perhaps it is in finding something beyond ourselves that we locate the meaning of life.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Good ole Jonathan Edwards, Puritan preacher from back in the 1700s, one of the most influential persons of the Great Awakening in American religious history---preached his most famous sermon that had the title of today's blog entry.  Historians say that as he preached, people would moan and cry out, asking how they could be saved.  His sermon, and it was a long can read the entire text in Wikipedia if you desire...depicted God as being angry at sinners, and especially wicked sinners, and having great desire to cast sinners into Hell for all eternity.  Edwards preached with great fervor and his listeners could just see themselves being dangled over the flames of Hell as God contemplated dropping them at any moment.  He concluded by urging people to "get right with God" (as more modern theologians of a conservative bent have been willing to say.)

I felt the flames of hell surrounding me when I was a mere lad of eight or so.  My mother decided that our family needed to attend a very conservative fundamentalist church in the area where we lived, a church of pentecostal-charismatic fervor with plenty of Gospel music and action.  The church suited my mom's personality so we were dragged to this church and subjected to their style of religion for all of my formative years, until I could drive and take myself elsewhere, and that happened when I reached college age.  Anyway, back to hell fire and damnation---so, one Sunday evening the church we attended decided to put on a play.  Now, this was not a Christmas play with angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill to men, no this was a scare the living bejabbers play that depicted the doom of humankind.  It started out fairly harmless....a mom and her kids are dressed to go to church...she asks her husband to go with her but he does not want to go; he would rather stay home and watch television (a exceedingly terrible sin in the 1960s in ultraconservative circles--our pastor's name for television was "the hell box"---I still call it that today to be funny now and then when nothing good is on it to watch.)  So, the mom and kids go off to church and the dad stays home to watch tv and read the paper.  So far, so good....but suddenly Jesus returns to take all the righteous people to heaven and the dad does not go because he did not go to church.  Instead, the devil (or an actor in a devil suit, but I was an 8 year old, how did I know that?) comes to the house of the dad and picks him up and throws him literally into the hell they prepared behind the altar rail with one of those Christmas spinning lights we had in the 1960s that would shine on aluminum Christmas trees. It was covered with red cellophane paper to make it more red than other colors.  The dad being thrown into hell yelled out in pain and cried for mercy but no one would come to his aide, all because he chose to stay home and watch tv rather than go to church.  How wicked he was!

So, I remember as the play ended and the pastor pleaded for people to come forward to be saved that I had to go.  Everyone thought I was going forward because I loved Jesus and wanted him to save me from my sings.  The fact was that I was scared out of my socks and traumatized for years by that experience.  I was like the Puritan audience who had to sit through Jonathan Edwards' long sermon, hearing him talk about how God would find great delight in dropping each of them into the fires of hell because of their great sin.  I remember being so scared when I went home that I pulled the covers over my head and prayed repeatedly for God to spare me from the fires of hell.

To this day, if I see a church advertising such an event (and there are churches who have them--a popular name is "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" in case you see it on a sign), I cringe and want to charge the church with abusive tactics.  Mostly, this form of evangelism is popular in the deep South and in very conservative and literal congregations.

I wrestled with the terms "sinner" and "wicked" for many years.  I figured I was pretty wicked because I always wanted to do all the things that our church told us we should not do.  We were taught not to drink, smoke, curse, dance, watch television, go to movies, go to plays, go bowling, play board games that included dice, play cards,  or associate with sinners.  So, as a teenager there was little that I could do that was not forbidden by someone.  By the time I was 16 and wanted to do all the things that I could not do, I was convinced that I was about as wicked as they came and gave up trying.  I sneaked out with my friends and went to movies, lying to my parents about what I had gone.  I danced at school dances until I got caught.  I said bad words (at least bad for our day).  I played cards and games with dice when I stayed over at the homes of friends and my cousins.  I did not drink or smoke though because I figured I would have been thrown out of the house if I got caught doing that and had no where else to go.  So, I became a wicked teenager, at least in my mind.

Having been away from that church now for many decades, my view of the terms "sinner" and "wicked" has changed.  Being a sinner does not have to do with not doing things that a church or pastor forbids.  It has more to do with not desiring a better way of life when one knows one exists.  A wicked person is far worse then simply one being a "sinner" if one is one.  To be truly wicked implies a total disregard for whatever is good or right or noble in life.  There are wicked people in the human family and we may ever hear about them on the news now and then.  Most of us would not fit in that category though.  We know the way to live a good life and we aim at it but we just miss the mark now and then.  When we do, we are sorry and try to start over.  That is not being wicked....that is being human.    

Our world and society is much different from Puritan society of the 1700s.  It is ever much different from society of the 1960s.  In today's world, individuals decide what is right and appropriate for their lives and the Church and organized religion have little authority in the lives of most people.  Some people grant the church some authority in their lives in certain instances but most people, especially in America, want to decide for themselves how to live and what to believe and they are not nearly as liable to have someone scare the hell out of them...or into them as I was at 8 years old.

"Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked; or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night."  (Psalm 1:1-2)