Thursday, July 31, 2014

Say That Again

Bon Jour from Quebec, the largest French speaking part of North America.  After spending two days near Montreal, we drove east along the St. Lawrence Seaway, passing through small villages and larger towns until getting on the freeway to make better time in getting to our destination, the Isle of Orleans, just east of Quebec City.  Quebec City is the capital of Quebec and, along with Montreal, is largely inhabited by French speakers.  The Isle of Orleans is east of Quebec City, linked to the mainland by a high bridge.  Once you reach the bridge and cross onto the island, there is one two lane road that encircles the island.  Traffic moves very slowly by Texas standards, only about 35-40 mph, so you have plenty of time to look at the countryside, see the small farms here and there, and stop at the farm stands to buy fraises (strawberries), framboises (raspberries) or bluets (blueberries), all of which are in season right now.  There is also fromage (cheese) of every imaginable type produced and sold in this Province.  Lots of vegetables, also, including Quebec sweet corn which we bought yesterday and plan to cook this evening.

We are staying in a house that is 250 years old.  It is owned by a nice lady who actually lives here but moves out of her house to allow visitors to stay here.  She goes to stay with her mother who lives in Quebec City when visitors rent her house.  She gave us the house tour yesterday and told us that the house dates back to the late 1750s when the British were driving the French out of Canada and after they got through with the Acadians in Nova Scotia they came after the French speakers in what is now Quebec.  The British burned their houses and the house where we are staying was partially burned by the British but not destroyed.  The house is two stories with two bedrooms downstairs and enough sleeping space upstairs for 10 more people.  She said that 14 people can easily sleep here but she allowed us to stay here, just Doris and me and Bo, our dog.  She left us on our own after the tour and we enjoyed the backyard breathing in the 60 degree air and looking across the St. Lawrence at the villages on the north shore, one of which is St. Anne de Beaupre, a famous church where many believe miracles happen.

We slept very well in this historic house and rose to have coffee outdoors enjoying the 55 degree air and the bright sunshine.  Then, because we had no bread, we decided to drive the 5 kilometers or so to the next little village to a bakery that opened at 8 am.  We parked the car and I walked to the place where the sign said "magasine" which means a small store and as I entered a young woman said, "Bon Jour" to me, which is what they always say to you when you enter a store in the day time.  I said "Bon Jour" back to her (one of my 5 or so words in French that I know) and then said, "Hello.  I came to buy some bread."  She looked at me with a puzzled look and paused.  I repeated what I said and she held up one finger and then went away.  She returned with a young man.  I said "Bon Jour" to him and told him I wanted to buy some bread.  He too looked puzzled and I motioned to the bread in bags and said it again.  He held up one finger and went away too.  Finally, a nice woman returned with the other two and said "Hello" in English.  I told her I wanted to buy bread and she asked me what kind and I told her and she asked if I wanted anything else and I said maybe something sweet and she pointed and said they had turnovers with strawberries and I said I would take them.  I finished my purchase and said "Merci" (one of my other words I know) and the young man said, "Have a nice day."  I said to him, "You too" and departed.

This interaction at the boulangerie (bread store) made me think about how often we take communication with others for granted.  It is not until we are placed in a situation where we are in the minority and others cannot understand what we want that we think about what it must feel like to others who live among us and cannot speak our language, either because they are immigrants from another land or they are hearing challenged or they are slow to understand us.  We may get impatient with such people and even think that they need to try harder to listen to us and speak to us.  We may even lose our patience with such people and avoid them rather than strive to communicate with them.

It is not just talking to others who speak a different language than ours that is difficult but perhaps speaking to others who do not share our views on certain topics or issues.  We may think that talking to them is difficult and we need to avoid those touchy topics lest we find ourselves angry or frustrated.  Communication is key to growing closer to others and we do not have to agree all the time in order to be friends with others.  Having an open mind and accepting them for who they are is more important than simply being in agreement always.

So, whether you say "Good Morning" or "Bon Jour" you can find something to share with others whom you meet.  And if someone does not speak your langauge, either literally or on topics close to your heart, we can all learn from one another and accept one another if we simply continue to try to listen more and talk less.  We can all share what is important to us if we just continue to strive to communicate well with others.

I love visiting foreign lands and hearing others speak their language, even if I cannot understand all they say.  I love to try to figure out what the signs say and to eat new foods I have never tried (such as "poutine"--french fries covered with gravy and then you add whatever else you want that the place offers; we have not had that but definitely think we will have some before we return home.)  It adds a lot to life to experience it from another point of view.  You may be puzzled or confused at times but eventually you find that it enriched your life just because you experienced it.

Until later, I bid you adieu and say Au revoir.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Now, Where's That Spare Tire?

Do you hate flat tires as much as I do?  I hate having a flat tire or even a tire that is losing air and requires constant monitoring.  I hate having a flat tire so much that I replace my tires when they have about as much mileage on them as they are said to provide.  Part of the reason that I hate having flat tires, besides the inconvenience of it, of course, is that I hate using the scissor jack that is provided in cars nowadays rather than the good ole fashioned pump jack that used to be in all cars.  The scissor jack requires you to find just the right place to put it in order to use it.  If you put it elsewhere you will damage something under the car that is needed to drive so you will have a bigger problem than a flat tire if you don't put it in just the right place.

I had a flat tire on my present car a few years ago.  I was driving along in the country trying to get home from going to the grocery store.  I noticed the low pressure light (which I hate almost as much as having a flat tire) and knew one of my tires was low but since I was in the country far from a source of air I had to keep driving.  Suddenly, I knew the tire was going flat and began to steer to the right and seeing a driveway to the left decided to go there instead.  The driveway belonged to one of my church members and I thought he may help me with the tire.  It turned out that no one was at home so there I was with a flat tire in his driveway.  So, I hauled out the scissor jack and the spare tire (which is one of those new "donut" tires designed to go a short distance) and began to try to find the place where the jack fit underneath the car.  I reached my hand around here and there trying to feel a pocket designed to hold the jack and could not find just the right place so I opted for one that I thought would hold the jack and not damage the car.  So far, so good---I turned the jack handle again and again trying to get it high enough for me to take off the flat tire when suddenly the jack fell and the tire and rim hit the ground.  Then I was stuck for sure.

I called a few church members and finally one came to my rescue with his old fashioned pump jack and we got the tire changed.  The only thing worse would have been if my spare had been flat but the little guy was all aired up and ready to go and carried me home.  The next day I went to the local car dealership where we get our tires and replaced that tire and soon replaced the others in the set.  I just got a new set of tires a couple weeks ago in preparation for an upcoming trip and I am counting on them taking me where I need to go with no problems.

Spare tires are like a lot of things in life.  We do not think about them until we need them.  They are a lot like some people in our lives.  We do not think much about them until we have a need for them.  The policeman, the fireman, the dentist, the doctor, the lawyer, the tax accountant, maybe the minister...all fit into that category.  We rock along in life and do not even think about calling on one of them until we need one of them.  When there is a break-in, a fire, a tooth that hurts, a letter from the IRS in the mail, a death in our family, then we call the person that we think knows a lot about what is bothering us.  We want an expert opinion about that area of concern in our life at the present moment and we know who to call to get the help.
Some people even see God as a spare time, not giving much thought about God or the importance of knowing a bit about God or even having a relationship with God until a problem appears in their lives and suddenly they wonder where God was when the issue popped up in life.  The doctor calls with the feared diagnosis or the funeral director calls and says to meet with him or the letter comes in the mail telling us to get ready for the audit...then some people decide they may need a source outside of themselves to deal with life's problems.

If I see God as a spare tire, then I only need God when that flat tire of life happens, when things go flat for me.  If I see God as a part of my life, a part with whom I interact regularly, then God is part of a relationship that I have.  If God is important to me and to my daily living, then I will want to be with others who also are part of the family of God for they are part of my life and living also.

Church attendance is not a required activity in life.  It is a voluntary act, something that people want to do or be part of.  Going to church has to give a person some intrinsic satisfaction in order for it to continue.  Being with others who also see church attendance as satisfying builds relationships that provide sources of help during the times in life when things seem to go flat.  Don't wait until the tire goes flat to look for the spare...have one in reserve at all times, so that you have something to fall back on when times get rough.  God is always present, a very present help in times of trouble, the psalmist said.  God provides neighbors to help one another and to be God's hands in action when we need to find a human to call upon.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Your Dreams

I usually enjoy dreaming.  I have some really great dreams, interesting dreams.  I dream just about every night.  I know people who say they do not dream but I have dreams every time I go to sleep.  It may be the decongestant I take nightly before I go to sleep that helps me dream more since it helps me sleep more soundly but I rarely have "bad dreams".  Most of my dreams are really great ones and usually involve me solving a problem for myself or for others in my dreams.

Dr. Carl Jung studied dreams for many years.  He was a psychologist and was very interested in dreams and what they meant.  He wrote several books on dreams and dream interpretation.  I have tried to read some of his books and have referred to one in which he tries to interpret the meaning of objects in dreams we have.  I remember that he said that whatever you dream is about you and even people in your dreams say something about you, not about them.  Usually my dreams are very involved and full of many things and people and if all those things are about me then I would have a lot of interpreting to do if I were to try to figure out what they mean.

This Sunday we will read and reflect upon the ancient story from Genesis about Jacob having his dream in the wilderness.  I am sure you remember the story of how Jacob had to run away from his home because his brother Esau had threatened to kill him.  Jacob tricked their father Isaac into giving the blessing to him that was intended for the older brother (according to their tradition) so Jacob received the blessing of land and children and prosperity that was intended for Esau to receive.  When Esau asked their father for the blessing, Isaac realized what had happened and told Esau there was nothing left for him to receive.  Esau was enraged and said he would kill his brother if he saw him again so Rebekah told Jacob to run away to their relatives who lived about 500 miles away.  Jacob began his long, lonely walk, looking back over his shoulder constantly to check to see if Esau was following him.

When he was about 50 miles from home, and it was getting dark, Jacob stopped to rest for the night and lay down in a clearing, using a large stone for his pillow.  He went to sleep and had a fantastic dream about angels going up and down a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven.  God spoke to him in the dream and promised that he would bless him and all the nations of the earth through him and that the promise given to his grandfather, Abraham, would be fulfilled through him.  Jacob awoke and was very moved by the dream and promised God that if God would lead him and protect him and eventually bring him home safely in peace, then God would be Jacob's God and he would give 10 percent of all he had to God in thanks.  Jacob took a vial of oil and anointed the stone that was his pillow and said the place was called Beth-El, or the House of God because it was a holy place.  Then, he continued his journey.

Jacob's dream of a ladder reaching to heaven is part of our culture and nomenclature today.  We sing a children's song about climbing Jacob's ladder and we use the term in our speech now and then.  There is a art site in the northeast US called "Jacob's Pillow" where creative dance is taught and performed.  The dream Jacob had was not just about a ladder but it was about heavenly beings going up and down the ladder between heaven and earth.  The rabbis debated what the scripture meant and many felt like the meaning had to do with the lives humans live and how good deeds cause one to go up the ladder but bad deeds sent one down the ladder again.  So, our lives are constantly in motion, up and down the ladder of our deeds.  That is not a bad way of looking at it.

This story, though, says far more than just about a heavenly ladder being in place.  The story is also about redemption for a fugitive on the run.  Jacob was not a good man.  He was a trickster, a deceiver, a scam artist.  Jacob used his exceptionally wisdom and cunning to trick his brother and father into giving up something that was very valuable in their day, the blessing that only a father could give to an older son.  The younger son got nothing from the father and the mother knew that and she helped him to trick his father into giving him the blessing which could not be taken back once it was given.  That put Jacob at odds with his hot tempered brother and off he went to be a fugitive for the rest of his life.  What a price to pay for receiving something that was not his to enjoy.

Jacob was loved by God, though, and even his deception did not cause God to love him less.  God could use this man with the skills that got him his reward to bring about the promise that God had made to Abraham many years before.  God changed Jacob into Israel and Jacob became the father to the 12 sons who were the heads of the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Their names are the biblical names attached to the tribes and Israel is their father's name attached to the people whom God called to belong to God.

How often we think that God cannot use us or love us because we are less than perfect?  We may even be a bit like Jacob and deceive others or trick others into doing what we want them to do.  God loves and uses all of us who are willing to be used by God regardless of how flawed we think we may be.  God wants willing people to serve God, not perfect people.  If God needed perfect people, there would be an extreme shortage of workers because no one could apply for the job.

Join us this Sunday when we will reflect more on this story.  Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mom Always Liked You Best

That is what Tommy Smothers used to tell his brother on their comedy show, The Smothers Brothers.  Tommy would respond to something his brother said and would get the laugh while his brother looked at the camera in a deadpan serious way.

There are many siblings who agree with Tommy, though.  They grew up thinking that a parent preferred one of their siblings over the others.  Perhaps it was the oldest who they thought was the most responsible.  Maybe it was the youngest whom the parents eased up on the restrictions with them because they felt they had said all they could and this one should have learned from the other children.  Occasionally, it could have even been the dreaded middle child (although that is not the case with me).

Psychologists have studied birth order for many years and there seems to be some evidence that what they say about the order or our birth does have something to do with our personalities.  It is not set in concrete, however, because parental interaction with their children or a lack of it may have even more to do with the kind of adults that they become.

This is true with the story from the Old Testament for this next Sunday.  Isaac married Rebekah and for 20 years they tried to have a child and it did not seem to happen.  Infertility is a major theme in the Bible.  It threatens the promise that God made to Abraham and plagues many women in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Isaac prayed and asked God for a child, however, and God answered his prayers so that Rebekah soon was expecting a child but perhaps God gave her too much of a good thing because she was expecting twins.  The two boys, even in their prenatal state, were in constant competition and Rebekah was in such pain that she wished she could die.  Finally, they were delivered and Esau was covered with red hair so his name became "Red" which is Esau in Hebrew.  Jacob was delivered holding onto Esau's foot so his name became "Grasper" or Jacob in Hebrew.  From the start, they were in competition and conflict with one another.

Esau became an outdoorsman, hunting wild game and Jacob learned to cook so when Esau came back from a hunting trip famished and Jacob was cooking some mighty tasty beans, Esau decided he needed food more than anything else in life, even more than the birthright that was rightfully his as the older twin.  So, Jacob made him swear that he would give him the birthright (which entitled him to security, prosperity, fertility, and land) and Jacob gave him a bowl of beans.  Esau ate greedily as if he had never eaten before in his life and Jacob just smiled with satisfaction at knowing that he had claim on all that belonged to Esau.

This was the first step of the process to give to Jacob what rightfully belonged to Esau.  Their mother, Rebekah, became involved in tricking their father, Isaac, into giving to Jacob what should have belonged to Esau, causing much heartache and trouble to come.

Mom always did like Jacob best.  At least Rebekah liked Jacob best.  The Scriptures do not say why this is so.  It just was the case.  Why do some parents prefer some children over their others?  Why do some show that preference in ways that become clear to their children as they grow up?  What happens between the children as they become adults and have children of their own?  Do the patterns repeat themselves or do people make conscious decisions not to do as their parents have done?  What happens in families where preferences emerge if it is not stopped?

We will think about these and other ideas this Sunday during worship at Weimar UCC at 9:30.  Join us as we read and discuss Genesis 25:19-34.