Some Thoughts On Peace and Peacemaking

I like planning ahead, especially when it comes to planning Sunday services and sermons. Last summer, and moving into fall, as all of the tension in the United States seemed to boil over, side-effects perhaps of necessary lockdowns due to COVID, affects on the economy, racial tensions spurred by the deaths of several persons of color at the hands of police, to name a few causes of unrest. Add into that mix a host of difficult to distinguish trouble makers and rabble rousers happy to make things worse, to say nothing or as little as possible about the viciousness of the rhetoric leading up to the Presidential election, and you have several problems crying out for peace. Because of all of those things, or each of them together, I began to think about doing a sermon series on peace for the weeks after Christmas.

Part of what I presented in that sermon series was a number of practical ways to live a peaceful life. I write from the perspective of a Christian pastor, rooted in stories from the Bible. My hope in sharing some of these points is that even if we do not share the same faith or approach to faith, we share the same humanity.

Throughout the years, when I have read the phrase, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God” (Matthew 5:9) I thought it was about professional peacemakers, diplomats and other power brokers at an international level. But as I began to consider this passage again, it struck me as much closer to home, more individually and with a sense of obligation. I think too about the song, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth” (See author info below) and the last line that is often sung with such passion and gusto in church, “…and let it begin with me!” Do we mean that? It is a little like the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us as we forgive…” Do we mean that too?

As those phrases and that question, “Do we mean it?” came to me several practical ideas began to weave together, and present themselves to me, so I offer them here for your consideration. Lofty ideals need to be tethered to practical applications.

Picture of a diverse group of young people sitting at a table, a young woman and man shaking hands.
Photo by fauxels from Pexels

1 – Everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) even those with whom you profoundly disagree. Look for the gifts that God has given them. This might take some work. Ask God to help you see their gifts. Take it a deeper step, and ask God to help you see individuals as God sees them (yes, even your annoying neighbor, in-law, or co-worker).

2 – It may be stated differently in other Christian denominations, but in the United Methodist Book of Worship and Hymnal as well, one of our Baptismal promises reads: “We promise to accept the freedom and power God gives us to reject evil and injustice in all its forms.” This is a solemn promise. I do my best to rely on that promise in my every day life. Some days I fail, but I believe that God will give me the grace and power to keep that promise. It does not happen by osmosis though, it is a promise that requires our willing participation.

3 – If you want to make peace with family, friends and neighbors, and if you want to teach peace by example, stop using labels for people. Labels belong on cans, people have names. Do not call a person “retard” or “retarded” or any other name. Do not use generalized political descriptions like “far left” or “radical right.” That has become a very accepted pattern of speech, but I tell you that it is name calling and dismissive. When you refer to a person like that, they become less a person in your eyes and more the enemy.

4 – Watch your words, not just cuss words. Words can inflame or inspire. What do you want your words to do? Think before you speak. My favorite image for this is that of a tube of toothpaste. Like toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube, once we have given voice to hurtful words, we cannot simply withdraw them. Like arrows that have left the bowstring, they can wound and cause irreparable harm.

5 –Humility is essential and sorely needed. Micah 6:8 says “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (New International Version of the Bible) or “Do justice love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (New Revised Standard Version). My ethics professor in seminary said it was always important to have the humility to know, and admit, that you might be wrong.” I think most of us would rather push our rightness than to exercise humility.

A note on a piece of paper that says "There is power in Kindness" pastel colors on the paper.
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

6. Respect! Treating all of humanity, including your family, pets, neighbors and people with whom you disagree with respect is crucial. In my work preparing couples for marriage, I stress respect as the most important thing. You might think it is love, but love that does not show itself in respect is empty. (As an aside, I am totally not sure how smashing wedding cake in your spouses’ face shows love, or how the tradition got started).

7. Practice gratitude, every day. Recognizing your blessings from God can put you in a much better frame of mind to deal with conflict and to make peace.

8. If you have wronged someone, admit it to them, do not make excuses. So, do not say, I am sorry, but…and ask their forgiveness. Accepting responsibility for your words and actions can be much more effective.

9. Exercise compassion. Everyone you meet is dealing with something, so be kind. The 2021 theme for the National Random Acts of Kindness Movement is “Make Kindness Your Norm.” http://www.randomactsofkindness.org

10. Suspend judgment. It is easy to judge another person’s actions, without knowing their background, or their story.

11. You don’t have to like someone, or agree with them to make peace. You need common ground and a willingness to agree to disagree.

Picture of two women having a conversation. One is listening to the other.
Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

12. Listen! Listen to what the other person is saying about how they feel, what they believe or want, and why. Have you ever been in a group of some kind, where instead of listening to the person who was talking, you got caught up in thinking about what you would say when you got a chance to jump in? That is not listening. Sometimes friends do that, classmates do that and couples do it too. Try to zero in on what the person who is speaking is saying and ask clarifying questions.

13. Look for common ground. You might assume there is no common ground, but if you can put some of these foundation stones in place you might be surprised.

I have had the nuts and bolts of this post on my computer and in reserve in my blog, but just procrastinated. I thought perhaps I had waited to long and these words would not be needed; but peace does not seem to be on any horizon, so I offer these thoughts in the hope that they can help.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

“Let There Be Peace on Earth” Words and music by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson; harmony by Charles h. Webb, 1987 Copyright 1955. Assigned to Jan=Lee Music renewed 1983.

Linking up with Esme Senior Salon, #Life This Week (Denyse Whelan) and #Weekend Coffee Share

#Stronger Than the Cookie: Baby Steps Forward

It is Mother’s Day in the United States, May 9, 2021. It has taken one month to lose the last two pounds. I have been hovering over my goal weight of 145, up and down the decimal points, for about a week and a half. One day 145.2, the next day 145.6, back down, back up, but I have stubbornly refused to call it goal until this morning; 145.0! Yipee! I know that water retention, metabolism and other things will keep that needle playing up and down as though it were a zither, but I have to declare it a goal achieved. With gratitude, relief and a tad bit of fear.

The fear may seem senseless, after working so long to achieve this goal, but sometimes it is there, looming like a monster in the dark. But checking under the bed, or behind clothes in the closet will not bring it out into the open. It has to be driven back by persistent, mindful eating and exorcised by talking back to the fear. Just because I failed to maintain a weight loss other times, does not mean I am doomed to gain the weight back this time. Achieving this goal is a cause for celebration, but not a cause for mindless eating.

I am moving ahead cautiously. The next few days I will stick between 1200 and 1300 calories. I know that I can eat anything I want. But I also know that one of the benefits of these last months of discovering a new palette is the subtle taste of sweetness that had been previously masked by the extra sugar of cookies, cake and large servings of rich ice cream.

Picture of cupcakes covered in white icing and coconut, meant to look like snowballs.
Snowballs, covered with frosting and coconut. Yum!

I love cake with frosting, lots of sugary frosting and my favorite moist chocolate cake that I have made for countless church suppers and funeral dinners is my all time favorite. Well, then there are those wonderful cakes with frosting flowers and a little bit of ice cream, give me a corner piece! But, no. I have decided to let them be a thing of the past and to treat them like an old boyfriend who never loved me as much as I loved him. The unrequited love of chocolate cake.

It is not that I will never eat cake again, but I hope I will continue to eat good foods and to make choices that make sense for me. There are some foods I am adding that might not make sense to others. I live in an area with a lot of maple syrup producers. Real maple syrup is more expensive than store brands or even national brands. It has more calories (200 calories vs 100+/- for a serving), but it also has lots more flavor, and no preservatives. Syrup is not a daily food but an occasional food. I chose the real thing, not the watered down version.

I have not sworn off chocolate, but the light flavor of a chocolate Dixie cup ice cream, every few weeks, or occasional homemade brownie bites are enough to satisfy my desire for chocolate. The same thing goes for my much loved cranberry scones. Occasional.

The almost daily foods I want to continue, I have not removed from my diet, only limited them. I love bagels, especially a certain brand and if a bagel and margarine put my breakfast calories at 300, I am fine with that. The same goes for my almost nightly treat of Colby jack cheese.

Picture of the author dressed in blue jeans blue and white striped shirt, standing a restaurant.
At goal, photo by Shane Hicks-Lee (55 pounds #strongerthanthe cookie).

Fresh fruits and vegetables continue to be a priority for me, and savoring food rather than inhaling it will continue to be important. In recent months in this process, I have limited, though not eliminated, highly processed foods, and foods that include sugar (like ice cream cups and brownies). I have also let go of condiments, shaving calories and choosing unadulterated taste over coverups.

All this might strike some as overthinking, yet I know it was mindless, emotional eating that got me to where I was, through much of my adult life.

I know that this side of my goal, I cannot figure out the whole path moving forward. These are baby steps. I plan to write once a month and fill in some details, and experiments, and to let you know how things are going. It is also a way of keeping myself honest and accountable.

Thank you to my family, but also my blogging connections and other close friends who have been so supportive of me in this journey.

With grace, I am #strongerthanthecookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up with Denyse Whelan #Life This Week, Esme’s Senior Salon and Natalie the Explorer’s #Weekend Coffee Share

Remembering Jim

It is September 1998 and we are traveling. We have come to the far end of Missouri, my husband, Roger, his father Jim and myself. We are odd traveling companions I suppose, but it has been a priceless journey. We drove for two days, stopping to stretch arthritic limbs on foreign mattresses. Pausing for rest and respite from the merciless drive.

Even in 1998 the scenery is desolate, empty and depressing. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of the flat lands are the overpasses and the trees. I think about the pioneers who made this trek before us, and am suddenly ashamed that I am grateful for the break in the scenery that the overpasses provide.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

We make a lame kind of game out of the names on the road signs, as though we had really gone astray from our intended route. We wonder how we got so near to Harrisburg, when we thought we were in Indiana; how we got to places like London and Lisbon, without crossing the ocean.

We crossed Licking Creek, Nameless Creek and the Blue River, which is really a creek, or creek sized. We crossed the Wabash, the Monongahela, and the Mississippi rivers. We have crossed the Missouri River three times while traveling I-70.

We crossed the Platte River that James Michener built his story Centennial around and I thought back to the story when I saw that sign. Maybe it is Michener’s fault that I cross rivers wanting to get closer, but on my own terms. His fault, too, that I think of people who have gone on before us, living off the great rivers and traveling them. I keep my thoughts to myself rather than give voice to my frustration that there is no time to do the exploring and sight seeing we would like. There is no time, so there is no point. We will make this journey again, my love and I and then we will take our time.

We make small talk with his father now and then. He will lean forward in his seat, stick his head between us, and ask questions or talk until his back can’t bear the position. Then he sits back in silence. He doesn’t offer to drive, and we assume he is glad to sit back and relax. I think to myself it is just as well. He is 70 and hasn’t mellowed much. I’ve heard stories about him out running state troopers in his younger days and I am just as glad that he doesn’t offer to drive now. He does not read, except to browse through hunting magazines. One good novel would make the ride more bearable. But he does not read, not on this drive anyway.

It is a long drive from North Central Pennsylvania to St. Joseph, Missouri. He has traveled out of state before, but probably not this far. We were not at the far reaches of Pennsylvania, into Ohio before he asked the age old question, “Are we there yet?” To this day, I am not sure if he was serious or joking, but we broke up the monotony of the drive by telling him every time we had gone another 100 miles. Not there yet Dad, but another hundred miles under our belts.

I took vacation from church to make the journey; but school was still in session and I had to bring homework with me, some of which I resented. Jim came to our room the first night in St. Joseph, and his visit was a welcome interruption. He stayed a long time and talked about his childhood. He talked about growing up in a large farming family on the edge of poverty, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I was glad that I was daring enough to ask some questions. I know about beaches, but I do not know anything about farming.

I’ve known Jim for twelve years, but not well. It is more realistic to say I have been acquainted with him and these days of traveling together, have revealed glimpses of the man. He is an old-fashioned “good old boy,” a hard worker, a mountain man and imperfect. But he is also honest, wise about many things, passionate, and very stubborn.

When he was thirteen years old, he could lead a team of horses to plow a field. Even when the snow was six inches deep they would plow, because his father said the snow helped keep the moisture in the ground. He was one of eleven children and they slept three children in one bed. No wonder they are close. Most of the siblings who are alive live within a few miles of each other.

Often they would plow or do other work in their bare feet, because they could not afford shoes. They’d plow, plant corn, go through and pull bugs off the corn to protect it. They would harvest the corn by hand with a corn knife, haul it back to the barn in a wagon and husk the corn in the winter. When they were done husking the corn, it was time to start over. They would do the haying all by hand. The boys would fork the hay into the wagons and put it into the barn. They milked the cows, let the milk set in the container util the cream rose and his mother would make butter.

They worked all day from sun up until sun down. in the winter, the children would go sledding down the long snowy hills until 11:00 p.m. In the summer the whole family would walk two miles to visit a neighbor and stay late. Then, they would walk back home in the dark. The older children would carry the young sleeping ones. They worked together, they played together, and they slept together.

When Jim was sixteen, his father developed a brain tumor. he had been kicked in the head by a horse when he was younger. The brothers took turns sitting with their dad at night and would often have to hold him down, because he would flail violently in bed.

Jim dropped out of school to work, after his freshman year, so his older brother John could finish high school. The family could not afford for both of them to go to school, so he made the sacrifice. I was going to ask him if he ever resented it or held it over John’s head. But fifty years later, Jim is as close to John as he is to his surviving siblings. He is a big tease, and I would not be surprised if he hadn’t teased his brother about it now and then. But there is no resentment or meanness in the teasing, or in him as he talks about it.

He came here with us to attend his granddaughter’s wedding. She is his first granddaughter to marry, and I do not think he would have missed it. It has been a tiring trip, 1200 miles, one way by car. It has been a hard trip because his wife, Roger’s step-mother, was not able to come with us. They are not joined at the hip, he leaves her several times each year for hunting trips. Yet, there is an emptiness beside him here in Missouri, because she is not.

May be an image of 2 people, including Roger Somerville and people smiling
Father and son

It is that persistent sense of what family is, and does that draws him here in the first place, and that is something I know more fully, because he has shared the journey with us. He has shared some space, a few stories and a huge chunk of his time that is normally otherwise invested. Some of the stories, my husband tells me, he has never heard before. Roger was raised by his mother and step-father, and has other siblings on both sides of the family. I often joke that when his parents had him, they broke the mold. But one look at that picture shows the apple did not fall far from the tree. The six days of our journey are more time than father and son of have had in a lifetime. They were worth the drive.

Postscript 2021

I am brought up short to realize that at this writing, my husband and I are a little older now, than Jim was when we made this journey. I thought he was old! We lost Jim a few years back and my strongest memory is sons, daughters, spouses and grandchildren around his bed and of course his beloved Shirl. Strange as it sounds, we ate our lunch there, waiting for other grandchildren to arrive, and told and listened to stories.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

#Stronger Than the Cookie: Turning Point

This is my seventh entry in the saga of my cookie laden life. I began the journey to this turning point in mid-June 2020, and my first post about my journey to health (The Cookie Diary) July 21, 2020. I have written this series of posts for a couple of reasons. First, it has given me a way to combine honesty and humor, while at the same time scrutinizing my own history with food. It has also given me a way to hold myself accountable, publicly, in excruciating detail.

Second, my hope is that these posts offer encouragement and a sense of normalcy to others, who like myself have had a love affair with all the wrong foods. It is not, however to promote myself as an expert, or to promote a specific weight loss plan. Rather, I write to share my experience, and hope that it will give others hope, that if I can do this with my history, you can too.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

The Slow Plateau

My weight loss has been fairly gradual, sometimes losing as much as two pounds in one week, but I have definitely had a zig-zag pattern to my loss, up a few ounces, down a few ounces. It has gone like that back and forth for days, and then a good drop. As soon as I have gotten to a two or three pound drop, the zig zag goes back to work.

I haven’t suffered through long plateaus the way some of my compatriots have. I can see how discouraging that would be. It could be tempting to look for some trick to move the needle on the scale, or it could also be tempting to just give up.

I would be lying if I did not admit to entertaining both of those notions on occasion, but I came to some conclusions that helped me to dismiss them. If my goal is health, and a healthier weight, then, there are no applicable tricks. It is not about a number. And, if I could successfully apply a trick to move the needle to the magic number my heart desires, and then I bounce off and go back in the other direction, what will I have accomplished? Discouragement, for sure.

Likewise, giving up after a period of not making progress would mean throwing out all the hard work. I decided on a different rationale, that is to treat a slow plateau as if it were a period of maintenance. Part of my goal is to get to that “magic number” that is my goal, and then maintain it, or live into it, while enjoying the benefits of my hard work.

I got to try this theory out shortly after my last post in January. By January 25th, I had lost 45 pounds and was on my way to a goal of a 50 pound loss, with the possibility of re-setting my goal for an additional 5 pounds. That would put me at 145 pounds and a 55 pound loss. All through February that needle did not move. I began to wonder if my goal was doable or reasonable.

I have heard that the older one is, the more your body tries to maintain its metabolism, and the harder it is to lose weight. I had also heard that sometimes, when you only have a little bit to lose, it is harder. I had to wonder if my body was telling me, “This is it, we are done.” It was a possibility that I had to consider, but I decided to stick to my program and see what happened next. Little by little, the needle started to move again. When my weight got to 151, I was jubilant and reset my (final?) goal to 145. As of this writing, I have two pounds to go to 145. And the needle continues to zig-zag, up three ounces, down four, up four, down two.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I will get there, and then I am going to stop and focus on simply maintaining my loss and my health. I have been doing 1200 calories a day, since mid-July, with lots of good food and variety, but I am looking forward to adding some calories. When I hit my goal, the plan is to add 200 calories a day and see what that does. If I continue to lose weight at that level, I will add another 200 calories and day and monitor. All this in conversation with my physician. It seems like a good plan.

I have lost this weight before or a version of it, in equally large amounts. Living into a healthy maintenance is crucial. I want to be in a stable clothing size too. I have gone from a size 22 in jeans, to a size 12, from a 2X in tops and sweaters to a size medium. I can not begin to tell you how good that feels. Sometimes I look in the mirror a little too long, because I can hardly believe my eyes.

I have not done “diet” foods. I can eat anything I want, but spending calories is a lot like spending money. I track calories, and balance food types, weigh and measure food and get on the scale every day. I could eat delicious chocolate cake, moist chocolate cake with fudgy icing; I will always love that, but I choose to leave that in my past.

The Moravian Sugar Cake Battle

Through it all, with good support, learning, and careful planning, I have been able to do this fairly well. But something happened in mid-February that was a shock to my system. I had decided to make something very special, a Moravian Sugar Cake, for a Love Feast for church for Valentine’s Day. It was perfect, because we were still doing drive-in Church, so no mess in the sanctuary. But I had never made it before, so I had to do one batch of the recipe to try it out. I did not want to experiment on the congregation.

I made half the batch, so I would know how long it would take, (hours) and what it would look like and taste like. When the cake was done, I cut it and had a piece, not a taste, a piece. All well and good, I counted the calories and logged it. it wasn’t bad, so I reached for another piece. The next day I had a third piece. I wanted to cry. After months of work at healthy eating, just that quickly, my old habits came back. Mindless eating. I knew then that vigilance was going to be important going forward.

A New Palete?

Overall, I have cut way back on processed foods, and foods with high amounts of sugar. Cutting back, not eliminating them. I will share more about this in another post. One of the exciting things though, is by cutting back on my sugar intake, I have been amazed at the taste of foods and how much I enjoy them. Roasted vegetables, even things like string cheese, taste delicious to me. When I shared this with one of my program leaders, she commented that my palette was changing. I was polite, but not sure something like that was possible.

And yet, opening the refrigerator door and reaching in and grabbing a piece of fruit, is almost an out of body experience. It is like watching someone else do these things. I am still a picky eater, but I try to keep apples, oranges, sugar free apple sauce, and seedless green grapes, on hand. I have discovered new foods that I didn’t realize that I might like, and I am trying to acquire a taste for cooked oatmeal as an evening snack. It has to be sweet enough and I haven’t figured out the right proportion yet.

Numbers:

I’d like to share some numbers or statistics with you, the bad and the good. I have spent much of my adult life weighing in between 190 and 200. In 1988, or there about, my doctor offered me an extreme diet, coupled with medication (diet pills) and regular check ups. I lost 50 pounds, but did not learn anything. It did not stay off long.

In 2007 I met my goal and achieved Lifetime Status with Weight Watchers. It is a good program. At goal, I was 162 pounds and 5’6″. As soon as I hit Lifetime, it did not take me long to start going up. By 2010 I was 196 pounds. I had focused only on losing, but not learning.

In 2018 I was at 200, but I was always good at maintaining the higher numbers. In June of 2020, when I had my wake-up call, I weighed 200 pounds.

If you think this disclosure is less than embarrassing, you would be wrong. There is a reason I waited this long to disclose those numbers. So I hope you see in this series gratitude, and not bragging.

Here are the good numbers. I am still not sure how I got this far without being diabetic, but I am not diabetic. My cholesterol numbers though, have been high borderline for the last few years. My cholesterol went down from 204 to 155 and triglycerides from 272 to 96. There are other improvements as well, but that is plenty of information from a stranger. Still, it is a lot to celebrate.

I think maintenance will take at least as much work and diligence as losing the weight, but I believe I can do it. My plan is to continue to share updates, every four or six weeks in the hope that my story can encourage others. If I can succeed in maintaining my loss, I may try for another five to eight pounds in the future. My loss has taken my BMI from obese to the low end of overweight. I would love to get it inside the normal weight range. But that will keep.

I am so grateful, and I am #Strongerthanthecookie, and not taking it for granted.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up With Esme Senior Salon and Natalie’s Weekend Coffee Share

Light, Leaven and Laughter

Dear Mom,

I hope that I haven’t disturbed you or caught you at an inconvenient time. When I call my friends, or even other family, I always start by asking, “Is this a good time to talk, or have I caught you at a bad time?” Come to think of it, I seldom make random phone calls any more, most are pre-arranged. I suppose it saves (me) the embarrassment of being told, no, I can’t talk right now.

I ask this question, because I have no idea what your schedule is like there, and I am supposed to be letting you Rest in Peace. But that is not how I think of you. I don’t think of you as Resting in Peace, rather, I think of you more as Light, Leaven and Laughter. I think of you that way, because of your personality, because of who you are. And I think of you that way because I picture heaven as a place of joy, music, worship, and stories, but also I picture it as a place of meaningful work, meaningful engagement of all sorts.

Picture of a woman and a teenager standing on a street.

And the truth is, you are such a presence in my life, and not in some ghostly or ethereal way, but in the way of love. Perhaps it is my fault, because when you died, I didn’t think I needed closure and I certainly did not think that I needed to say goodbye. How could I? The other truth is that I talk about you, tell stories about you, write about you, and let’s not get started on all the sermon illustrations where your name has come up. Well, let’s just say I have taken taken your name in vain on more than one occasion.

I am not sure if you have run into any of my former parishioners, but I have a theory that if they do meet you and know that you are my mother, well. Don’t be surprised if a stranger rushes up to you, points a finger at you, and says, “You’re the one!” But, it’s all good, as the kids say. And maybe, if I have done my job right, they will also say, “Thank you.”

While I am in a confessional frame of mind, I should tell you that in many of those stories, you get blamed. On more than one occasion, after having done or said something, I have added, “It’s my mother’s fault, and she is not here to defend herself!” Don’t be dismayed though, because it is really not blame, it is credit.

I remember something that Dad said, when he was sick. I was home from Florida for a visit, you had gone out to run some errands, and I stayed home with Dad. I sat in the chair by the front window and dad was on the couch. I was working on a small latch hook kit. He looked at me and said, “You are just like your mother.” Pretty sure I dismissed it at the time. He didn’t realize that I did not and do not have your ability for sewing, crocheting, or other needlework. I remember when you reupholstered the overstuffed chair in the living room, and then did the same thing for some of the chairs at the bar. Come to think of it, I am sitting on one of those bar chairs now.

Color picture of an hotel circa the 1890's.
The Union Villa Hotel, Onset, Massachusetts Photo Courtesy of Angela Dunham and Wareham Historical Society

I remember you laying linoleum in the hallways of the old hotel, on your hands and knees, without kneepads, no less. I remember, I remember the matching curtains and spreads you made for your bedroom in the apartment in Baltimore, and using leftover wool to make an afghan with the colors that matched the beautiful rug that you made.

I remember the sound of your laughter; when someone told a joke at the bar, the kind of joke that I wasn’t supposed to hear, and probably never understood. I remember a time in our house in Shrewsbury when you were doubled over laughing. Nicole, who was in sixth grade, was telling you jokes she had heard at school, and you were laughing, and writing them down in shorthand, so that when you got back to your senior citizens’ apartment you could tell them to your friends. Bear with me here mom, I am trying not to say in print what kind of jokes they were, but they were not ‘knock-knock’ jokes.

While I do not have your talent, or ability for working with threads and fabrics, I am pretty sure that I inherited your sense of humor, which is the chief thing I tend to blame on you. But the real credit is your teaching me to be able to laugh at myself, and not take myself too seriously. But not that alone, our shared love of cooking, of literature and music, though admittedly not the same taste in music. In addition our mutual penchant for storytelling and our shared faith in God.

You wrote a few stories, I still have them. I have your secretary’s notebook from your 1930’s sorority adventures too, in which you chronicle planning dances, card parties, making fudge, and carrying on. I wish you had been able to write more, that you had let yourself write more. You liked to play with words, as do I. You also set the example of never being more than a reach away from a good dictionary. Believe me, that was a practice that stood me well through college and seminary.

For the most part, you did not point your sense of humor at others, and that is something I try never to do. But gosh mom, when our school introduced mandatory sex education, did you have to tell the folks at the bar that I got an ‘A’ in technique but flunked birth-control? Not nice! I know that you were just going for the easy laugh.

Picture of a basket with yarns and knitting needles.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Something funny happened today. I was going through plastic totes, looking for things to give away, part of my downsizing efforts, and I came across some things that I had forgotten that I had. Things that you had made, with wool and fabric and embroidery thread, and it just about undid me. I was trying to decide what to do with the woolen hook rugs that you had made, that I am unable to use. Because they are wool, they are very heavy, I wondered if I could give them away, or donate them. But holding them in my hand, looking at your work, I got stuck. I picked up a wall hanging that you had made for Jason, needle point I think, but large needlepoint. I looked closely at your work and marveled a the care and the detail.

And then I found them, the embroidered placemats with the napkins, some of them; they were the things that made my eyes water. In that seamless moment, I remembered seeing them in the store on display and falling in love with them. I was sixteen. So, you bought it and started working right away. There are wonderful shades of blues and greens, simple flowers clustered in large groups in the bottom corners. And the seams on both the placemats and the napkins were not machine stitched, but hand cross-stitched.

I’ll never forget that day in the hospital when I sat next to you on your bed, and you leaned your head on my shoulder and cried. It was my saddest moment and my privilege. I leaned on you my whole life, so humbled that you could lean back.

You are missed and loved and remembered and oh, the stories I get to tell, and so I do, with all my love.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Sharing on Esme’s Senior Salon and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share and Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week

Help! I’m a dinosaur!

Picture of wooden toy dinosaurs on top of a stack of books.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Well, not me personally no, but my dearly departed, or departing cell phone apparently is a technical dinosaur. In this time of technical advances, it does not require the passage of much time to achieve that particular status. Isn’t that what they say about cell phones? You don’t even have to drive them off the lot before they…Oh. Okay, that is what they say about cars. But if your brand new amazing cell phone is in your car and you drive it off the lot, same thing.

I am not a fan of built in obsolesence. I cannot tell you how many coffee makers my husband and I have owned in almost thirty five years of marriage. But, I digress.

It all started earlier last week when my cell phone, my near constant companion for over two years, (close to three years) began a gradual but definite cascading systems failure. One or two apps at a time began to malfunction. Phone calls abruptly ending in mid sent….like that. The first few times it happened, I thought it was the other person’s phone. But it happened on another call, so maybe not.

One malfunction was just an annoyance, but when it hit my texting app, I knew I was in trouble. I could live without the weather app, I could just look out the window at the sky, or open the door and step out onto the porch, but receiving or responding to a text without a messaging app, much trickier.

Since I am somewhat limited in the area of technical expertise (I have technical experience, it is the expertise that I lack), I took my myself and my phone to the closest box store, to the young, enthusiastic, helpful, though not necessarily trained, clerks at the electronics counter. They have saved my bacon before with phone issues.

There, not one, but two, kind and facile young men did their best to figure out the problem. They asked questions, they tried maneuvers, they they put their heads together with their combined understanding of all things electronic and finally said, “We don’t know what the problem is; you should probably take it to Best Buy and ask them to run an analysis.”

Picture of a hand holding a smart phone loaded with icons for apps
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

It was not what I wanted to do, I had lofty plans of baking or writing or reading for that afternoon, but no, that was not to be. I had a brief conversation with a friendly, understanding person, a tech rep, who was able to schedule an appointment for me for that afternoon. We are talking a one-hour drive, plus time to take Sheba for a quick walk, to ensure her water-tight integrity during her unexpected confinement, grab a snack for the road and any essentials.

Roger dropped me off at Best Buy, and went to run an errand. I got to the right counter, verified my appointment and explained the problem to the technician, handing my phone to him. He looked, made a few quick moves on the phone, looked up and said. “I’m not seeing it. It’s not doing it now.”

You know that feeling when you are having car problems, get it to the mechanic and the vehicle in question fails to demonstrate its failures? Yup. An hour drive, an approaching weekend, one open time slot for the appointment. I looked at the young man and said, “Well, could you text my phone and see what happens?” I had deleted all the previous text messages and a few other things, trying to lighten the load of data on my phone since it kept crashing.

The tech guy obliged and finally saw that it was not working. He had also checked the weather app. He allowed as how it was likely the age of the phone, and that at a certain point companies stop supporting their products with updates. This, probably around the two year mark.

Reader, be you male or female, if you are of a certain age, go to the doctor with an issue and are told “It is probably your age!” Don’t you just love it? No, me neither. Less so when the problem is a piece of technology that is under three years old.

Fortunately, for me and my sanity, my phone did, under his expert care, demonstrate that something was indeed wrong. He was able to offer me a temporary fix, by force stopping a few programs, which he said you shouldn’t have to do. He also implied, that my phone’s days were probably numbered.

I left the store, not happy to have a problem with my phone, but happy enough to be taken seriously. And, happy to be going into the weekend with a phone that was working. I drive alone a lot. Even if I am less than an hour away I generally, though not always, phone my husband to let him know I am on my way. I like that he has a time-line and also a sense of what roads I am on, in case there is a problem. Sometimes I employ a line from a much loved Boston DJ from the 1960’s, who ended every radio show by saying, “Put on the coffee honey, I’m coming home!”

Two days later, I was leaving church to come home. I called to check in and barely got 4 words out when my call dropped. It wasn’t a cell tower problem. It had been happening over the last week, one of many cascading defects. But this time when my call disappeared, I wasn’t sitting at my desk at home in fluffy slippers with my dog by my side and my hubby nearby. This time I was behind the wheel of my car, on a two-lane curvy, hilly, country road and I felt vulnerable.

arial view of a hilly curvy country road
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

You can be someplace where there are not enough bars to make a call, but this was not that place. My phone, my constant companion had let me down for the last time. So for a second time in less than forty-eight hours, I found myself at the box store, shopping for a new phone.

So, here’s the thing. A lot has changed up since I bought my last cell phone. I am an Android kind of girl, which I have previously described as a ‘Sort of’ smart phone. This model has so many bells and whistles that there was not any obvious place for the phone icon to show up. I spent about ten minutes, ten slightly panicked minutes trying to figure out how to find it and wondering if I had bought a phone at all or just a highly sophisticated jumble of parts and plastic that might also be used to make a phone call. There is a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate some of the features of my phone. While my husband is fond of describing his cell phone by pointing out, “This is a phone, it makes phone calls. That is all I need.” He has every right to feel that way; it works for him, but I want more. And, although my phone does have fun features, I consider it a necessity to be able to connect with parishioners and colleauges. But, while I struggled to figure out how to use this new phone, I was close to agreeing with him. I was close to throwing the %&#!! thing.

I am a pretty smart cookie, all things considered, but I have described myself as a-technical for years. While I am happy about the amazing improvements that modern technology offers us, some days it feels like too much of a good thing, or too much of a new thing.

Some senior citizens are absolute tech wonders. But not all of us are; I have several parishioners now and even more in the past who do not own a computer, have no interest in being online, but in today’s world not everyone recognizes that fact.

When we got a new television last year, after our old one had given up the ghost, we were both frustrated when it turned out that we had to do the set up and start up online. If technology is not your middle name, that can be a challenge. When you go to an icon that says HELP, because you desperately need help, but are led to articles to read instead, not helpful; just saying.

In general, I wish there was a happy medium, between the latest, newest, high-tech phone and a low tech flip phone that requires great concentration and tenacity to tap out a text because you have to tap the keys the correct number of times to equal a specific letter.

Or, if you wish, a happy medium between the high tech “get’em while they’re hot” phone and a Life Alert System. I wish, that our demographic was important enough to provide something that is more user-friendly. We have money to spend too!

Picture of a toy dinosaur on a white floor
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I had a Pollyanna overdose as a kid, and I try to be a positive influence in a cranky world. But somedays, I fall short. Maybe I am a dinosaur.

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Sharing on Esme’s Senior Salon and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share

I am Downsizing, Again

First, let me say that it is a good thing. I was fortunate in that I had time to prepare for my retirement and move from the parsonage to our retirement home. I was very intentional about the things I gave away, sold, donated or even trashed. When push comes to shove, sometimes things just have to go.

However, I have a piece of unasked for advice, for anyone in the same position. Maybe, keep track of the things that go out the door in a notebook. Not because you would want to take back what you gave, sold or donated.

But the reality is you may, on more than one occasion drive yourself and your spouse crazy looking for that one thing you know you had somewhere. The problem is that somewhere is now residing in someone else’s home, a shop, or even, possibly the landfill.

Depending on your circumstances, said downsizing can be painful, especially if you have a history of holding onto things. And there can be ironic circumstances. I held onto my high school yearbook for 50 years, and not just holding onto it in one location. No, from too many domiciles to count; or to list. Let me just abbreviate by saying, three states, four counties and several homes.

Old picture of a young girl in a white cap and gown for high school graduation.
June 1968

Then, shortly before my retirement in 2018, I asked myself why I was holding onto it when I had no contact with anyone from my graduating class? I threw it out! That was in May. In September of 2018 I reconnected with a high school classmate, who put me in touch with others. In October of 2019 I had dinner with 11 of my classmates. Thankful, no one asked if I had brought my yearbook!

In another instance, I had purchased a book written by a colleauge, about his experience in leading a church through a growth phase. Buying the book seemed like a good, collegial, supportive thing to do. I carried it only to three different homes, but never read it. (So many books, so little time!) So, again, in preparation for retirement, I gave the book away, around March or April of 2018. Can you guess what happened in May of 2018? I was appointed to serve that church! With everything in me, I wanted to put that in caps, but my daughter tells me that is the equivalent of yelling in print.

My current quest for downsizing involves moving my small first floor office, to an upstairs room so that I can make room for a first floor bathroom. Recent past experience, prudence and practicality suggests if we are going to stay in this house for the rest of our lives, having access to a full bathroom on the first floor would be beneficial.

That means, although the two rooms involved are very close in terms of square feet, everything in the down stairs office, will not fit in the upstairs office/craft room. So I am proceeding judiciously. My computer and printer and office supplies are already upstairs in their new cozy digs. I like it.

There is even less “display” space here, and so I am also looking through those three dimensional resources to give to friends and trust that they won’t think that I am severely depressed. That was my big worry when I offered a friend a small oil lamp from The Holy Land. I still have a stuffed frog that I have had for over twenty years.

The frog does not have a name, but he has come in handy when talking about the story of Moses and the Plagues. Wall hangings and framed prints, ceramic plaques, they just have to go; quietly out the door, to the nearest second hand shop without delay.

The books and the book cases that are in my downstairs office will not fit, nor will the four drawer file cabinet. And there is the rub. I have given myself until the middle of April to clean out and off the old oak desk downstairs in the hopes of possibly selling it. It has taken a bit of a beating in less than three years.

A picture of a wall of book cases and books. Stacks of books on a brown table and a woman sitting on a couch reading a book.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The books are a weightier problem. I am a pastor; I write, teach and preach. I have kept those print resources that I consider essential to the work of sermon writing and books that have the potential to be used in the writing I hope to do someday. Books that are great resources for the non-religious writing I would like to do. I have several books about prayer, Bible Study resources, theology, books about the life and thought of John Wesley, to name only a few. And did I say, or only hint broadly, that I love research?

Do you see a theme here? There are very few books in my office that would interest anyone but a pastor or prospective pastor. I also have about 100 plus books on Kindle, but they are easy to carry around.

The books I have loved, I have highlighted, underlined, and written in. In other words, they are not the sort or condition that book concerns buy back. I would be hard pressed to sell them online as anything other than what they are; none of them are dog-eared, does that count?

Retired pastors often give away their books to new pastors. It takes a while to accumulate a personal library. The problem is that our books are old. Not as old as we are, but I have been in school, college and seminary enough to know that most professors like to change up either the edition, or the books they put on the class syllabus. It is a rare professor who will resist this temptation.

I would love to “accidently” leave some books behind on the bookshelves in the parsonage office that I get to use in retirement. The problem is, I can’t say, “Oh, those books? They were already here when I got here!” When I moved my things into the parsonage the bookshelves were bare, I have an honesty clause in my invisible contract, and pretty sure all the books have my name in them. I would be quickly “outed!”

What’s a girl, okay a 70 year old woman who should know better, to do? I am going to try to trim my books to what will fit in two book cases, but that will take some time. I will keep looking for unsuspecting, er, I mean grateful newer pastors who would be glad to receive books to help supplement their own resources.

The new bathroom, if it happens at all, cannot happen until I have done the needed work of sorting, culling and hoeing out.

Does this mean I won’t buy any new books? Don’t be silly!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Words Become Flesh: On Reading, Writing and Sermon Writing ~ Part I

I think the first book I remember reading, where I felt I had a movie camera in my head so that I could picture the characters, the scenery or the action, was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I was about 11. It may be that I had seen the movie, but whether or not I had, I could also pick up the drama in the dialogue and loved reading it aloud. It was like being there. Through the years, I have wondered if other people had that ability too, to picture the story as though they were watching a movie.

Picture of a woman writing in a notebook. On the table in front are a laptop, cell phone, coffee cup and salt and pepper
Photo by Judit Peter from Pexels

It is possible that all writers wish for that phenomena to be connected with our writing. Even if the writing is not fiction, even if there are no pictures. We hope our readers will feel as though they are seeing in real time the thing you are describing. That pondering seascapes, or recipes, that we almost imagine getting our feet dirty on the wet, squishy sand where the waves just retreated to the sea. We can imagine aromas of buttery cinnamon rolls while reading the recipe. Words and names that reel us in seem to take on a life of their own. Characters described in devastating detail, flaws, failures and successes, to say nothing of wardrobe, make seem them real to us. Words becoming flesh.

That is how John, the Gospel writer, whoever he was, described Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”(John 1:14) So in Christian churches, we use words like “Word;” we say “Jesus is the Word of God.” It is what we mean when using the word “incarnation” Jesus, who we believe is God, took on our humanity, became fully human.

Raised on my mother’s stories, of growing up in poverty, hiding from the men who came to turn off the utilities, of being a young working adult during the Depression, and the stories that she read to me, I have always loved words. It must have been from a young age because my father said when I was born, I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle.

I flirted with forms of writing; poetry, greeting cards, writing one-liners, or puns. In school, college and beyond, I preferred writing papers to objective tests. Before I ever thought of writing stories of any type, or essays, I loved to play with words. Like dice (die) in a Parchisi cup that you roll around in the cup and shake it carefully covered, back and forth, before spilling the die onto the game board, I like to savor words like that. To play with the combinations, to roll them around in my mouth, or in my mind, before letting them spill out onto the paper to take on a life of their own.

Looking back, I realize that approached the stories in the Bible in a similar way. Savoring the stories, taking the time to read, reflect and wrestle with them. Seeking understanding, inspiration. and connection. I did not walk around with an open Bible in my hands, but after closing the cover of my Bible, and walking away, continued to wonder about what it all meant. It was a way to allow the story to germinate, and eventually flower.

While there were many people and events that influenced my faith development as a young Christian, there were two in particular who helped me to connect with the Bible in a way that was both introductory and transformative: one of them was my Aunt Millie.

Picture of an open Bible with colored pencils in the background.
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

I was raised Roman Catholic in a time when Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible. It was believed we might interpret it incorrectly, so it was best left to the experts. But my Aunt Millie, was a Bible Reading Catholic, and when I visited her at a particularly difficult time in my life, in my early 20’s, she would read to me. She read a lot of different things, but the one thing that stood out was Isaiah 43:1, “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you…I have called you by your name (and) you are mine.” She would read that and say, ‘Listen to this, Michele. Isn’t it wonderful?

She had a large banner in the upstairs hallway with those words on it, (I Have Called You by Your Name…). When my then husband and I moved to Florida, she gave us a box of Christmas Decorations, that included two white styrofoam balls with gold trim (Chrismons) with the words from Isaiah 43:1b, and our names. So it read, “I have called you by your name, Michele and you are mine.”

Looking back now, I wonder if her creative connection with the text had a subtle influence on my relationship with the Bible, and my faith as a Christian. It certainly was the start of any real engagement the Bible on my part, that led to a pattern of reading, reflecting, wrestling, wondering as well as a deep longing to share the fruit of all that reflection with anyone who was willing to hear. I would write these ideas down and sometimes tentatively share them with a friend. These were the seeds of my own call to preach.

As I write, I realize that my experience with the Bible and the Christian faith is not everyone’s experience. Sadly, I have friends, and probably family whose only experience of the Bible is one that has been weaponized and used against them. Sorrow over this misuse of the Bible does not begin to cover it. But I also write as a Christian pastor, committed to studying, gleaning and sharing the stories in the Bible for insight, not for weaponry.

Use Your Words

I have a good friend who was a kindergarten teacher for several years. long after that, when dealing with her dog she would say to him, “Use Your Words” Not unlike a parent, dealing with a toddler who would rather scream or point instead of speaking plainly.

What draws me to stories of any kind, regardless of genre, is character, and whether or not I can care about the character, and if the author shows some type of character transformation. But what draws me to reading stories, has more to do with how an author uses their words. I do not aspire to doing book reviews, but let me just say that I find some authors captivating, because of the way they choose and use their words. Perhaps it is because they instinctively know that books were meant to be read aloud.

One book that comes to mind is “Giver of Stars” by Jo Jo Moyes. While this book has a lot to recommend it, it is the phrasing, the delicious concoction of words that kept me wanting more. Forgive me for not providing examples, but that would turn into a literary analysis, and a very different piece of writing. While what I felt was the beauty of her writing did not distract me from the story, there are times I find myself listening just for the words themselves.

My husband has teased me for years, saying that he can see my lips move when I read. But books were meant to be read aloud. If that is not so, then the first books that were written, were only the private treasure of the very few people who could read and afford a book. Try to wrap your mind around the number of books that were written prior to the invention of the printing press that made books plentiful. I doubt that many writers exercise their craft in the hopes that only one or two people will read their work.

The stories in the Bible, when they were finally written down, were likewise meant to be read aloud and for similar reasons. Few people could read, fewer still could afford to own the books or scrolls on which the stories were written.

When we read silently, no matter what the book, or article, we tend to skim. And in skimming, we miss the poetry and music of the words on the printed page.

I doubt that most people read books or articles aloud, but I listen to more books than I read. I got hooked on audiobooks when I was driving three hours one-way to seminary. I had three library cards to support my audio book habit, through my four years of seminary. I still use audio books on short and long trips, when I am by myself, and they have given me an appreciation for the sounds of the written words.

What about you? If you are a blogger, what is your writing process? Do you write the same time every day, at the same place? And, whether you are a writer or not, what draws you to a certain author or genre?

There is more to come,

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Things that Bring Me Joy

Since JOY is my Word of the Year (WOTY) and such an important decision in my life, I want to pay attention to sharing joyful moments in the coming months. But, I admit I stalled writing this for one reason. While I try to keep my family out of my blog as much as possible, my children, grandchildren and (mostly my husband) it feels awkward to plunge into lists of things that bring me joy, without first starting with my family. I would like to say “it goes without saying, that my family is part of my joy, one of the most important things in my life..” But it is precisely that ” ..not saying.’ that can lead family to feel unappreciated, taken for granted, missed or worse.

Picture of a painted sign that says "Chose JOY, with eh letters painted in Green, blue and red.
Photo by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

I did not have to write a resume to become a pastor, but once I had been licensed to serve, I had to provide a resume. I came into ministry as a secretary and insurance clerk. I only had to write an application for those positions, and knew next to nothing about resume writing. I was appointed to work with a group of pastors and when they read my resume, they did not let me live it down for a long time. You see, I did not realize I was expected to list my husband’s name. But in the course of describing our dog, Sammy, I did name him (the dog). I had thought it was enough to say that I was married, and that my husband and I lived with our dog, Sammy. (sigh!) Pastors are supposed to be a compassionate lot, but not, apparently, with each other!

Every day when I pray, I thank God for my husband, my family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. Please let me stipulate that my husband, family, and friends bring me joy. In addition, I have a special category of “cousins and classmates” who only recently came into my life, or in the case of classmates and friends from home, recently reconnected. They too, are treasures of my heart.

Bourne Photography

I don’t know if folks who are reading this will jump there to check it out, but Bourne Photography is a Facebook group of Photographers from my home area. They are amazing and every day, because of their passion for getting pictures and posting them, i get to travel home, if only virtually. Every day, I see pictures of the Cape Cod Canal, the Bourne Bridge, the Sagamore Bridge, the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay, all kinds of flora and fauna and so much more. It stirs my heart. Seeing their pictures does more than bring back memories, their pictures give me a sense of pride of place, of identity, and belonging.

A picture of the Cape Cod Canal taken by the author.
The Cape Cod Canal, looking towards Buzzards Bay, October 2018, my picture.

I went for several years without seeing anything of home, and now thanks to Bourne Photography, I can almost smell the heady scent of the salt water, hear the cry of the gulls and see the subtle eddies in the water. I have posted some pictures of my own here. This is partly laziness, on my part, rather than take the time to get permission to post someone else’s photos.

Sheba

Sheba continues to keep life interesting. She started something new around the time I was celebrating her “gotcha day.” I wish she would let me get a picture, but she is camera shy. When she sees me with my phone in my hand set to take a picture, or a video, she walks away or turns her head. Here is her latest trick though. she will sit net to me and lean against my knee, and tilt her head back and look up at me, as if to say, “Aren’t I adorable?”

Not sure my interpretation is correct or if it is some dog behavior that means something else, but it is cute and sweet as the dickens. My husband and I have both teased her that one of these days, she is going to fall over backwards and one night last week she did. She looked so shocked as she lay there looking up at us from the floor. Maybe she was playing a dog’s version of “Courage Camille,” a trust fall game that I obviously did not know do correctly. I thought I was just supposed to soak up her adoration; didn’t know I was supposed to catch her.

Picture of a black and tan dog standing on a green carpet.
Camera Shy

I am a fairly patient person, but this year winter in Pennsylvania has tried my patience. What I mean by that is I try to accept every day as a gift. I do not want to wish my life away, wishing it was another time, like saying, “I can’t wait until Spring, or Summer, or fill in the blanks. But this winter has brought much more snow than we have seen in years. I have heard my husband and others say that our winter of 2021 harkens back tot he winters of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Not exaggerating here; we got a heavy snow in mid-December, and several more after that. The snow is just now going away in March, and I am sure that some of the snow out in the yard is from the original snow from December. .

You can see a lot of grass, but there is still a good bit of snow. Our front yard is covered with snow. I would post a picture to show you, but pictures of grey-edged dirty snow, or yellow snow just are not pretty. All of this to say, the signs of spring give me joy. Taking each day as it comes, and

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Fun Food, and Faith

You might be thinking, ‘Michele, aren’t you missing a comma? Don’t you mean “Fun, Food, and Faith?” But no, I really mean “fun food” and faith. Perhaps the quotes will make it clearer. But first a little history.

You may not know this but, in the beginning of Christianity, worship gatherings included food, dinner to be precise. Have you heard the old joke about the teacher who invited students to bring symbols of their faith to school for “Show and Tell” and the Methodist child brought a casserole dish? There are probably many different versions of that joke, and in truth probably each denomination credits itself with single handedly bringing the “pot luck meal” to Christianity. Truth is, though, so called “pot luck dinners pre-date Christianity, but that is another story.

Jesus, it seems, often enjoyed a good meal and a dinner party. Scour the Gospels for stories of Jesus “at Table” with friends, Pharisees, and all sorts of sinners. You may be surprised at how many meal stories you find.

Through the centuries, Christian Worship became much more formal, so that it would be difficult for many of us who have grown up in mainline denominations to picture dinner as Worship. No room for tables and chairs in most sanctuaries, just pews in rows that do not lend themselves to mealtime conversation, or much conversation at all. So we end up with a view of Christian Worship that is very formal.

That is not all bad, it depends on what you are used to I suppose. I love liturgy, that blend of readings, responses, prayers, songs or hymns. As much as I appreciate liturgy, I have long considered myself “semi-liturgical”. For twenty four years, including retirement, I have served churches that were either in a rural setting or town and country. Small churches often wish they were bigger, but there is a richness and a flexibility in a small congregation that is not possible in a large church.

My personal adventure with food in worship began with the experience of a Love Feast. A Love Feast is a special service of worship that includes food; it is usually held in the sanctuary, but not always. One of the guidelines in the United Methodist Book of Worship is that whatever bread and drink is used for a Love Feast should not be the same as the bread and drink used for Communion. So, once I figured out the logistics of getting napkins, mini-muffins and drinks handed out in worship, I served mini-corn muffins and Kool Aid.

The refreshments sat on the Lord’s Table (Altar) until it was time to serve them. I remember the two rowdiest boys in the church were transfixed, starting at the bounty on the table and eager to partake. I was hooked.

Although I have been an instigator and sometimes the chief cook in those events and the ones following, let me be clear that I could not have made them happen without the approval and assistance of some wonderful church members. When I moved to the next church I figured out that I could get 100 mini-muffins out of my mother-in-law’s pumpkin bread recipe. We generally served water as the drink, because it was simpler.

Photo by Caio from Pexels

When I got braver or bolder, I decided to use candy for a sermon. The sermon title was “m&m’s” and I got small packs of m&m’s to be handed out before the sermon, but asked that folks take them home and not open them in worship. My sermon was about the Mission and Ministry focus of the Church, and my hope was that the flock would consider the candy a “mental hitching post” to their mission.

I think that it did; but something struck another cord for me, as deep as the Mission of the Church when one of the parents said to me, “Pastor Michele, Thanks for breakfast!” I remember what it was like to try to get three little kids dressed, fed and out the door for church. Another thing that connected with the statement about breakfast was the young adults who brought travel mugs of coffee to worship. I didn’t mind, and no one complained to me, at least. It seemed to be an essential thing for them.

Fast forward a few years to a new church. I mentioned this story in a Bible Study and the class really took it to heart. It was not long before the Church ladies were organizing refreshments to be available in worship EVERY WEEK! They set a spread, including juice boxes for the kids, served in a bowl of ice, Goldfish crackers in small cups, and on the “Coffee Bar” in the back of the sanctuary, there was ice water, hot coffee, brewed tea (not hot water and tea bags) and a variety of breads, muffins, or cookies and brownies. Not healthy to be sure, but readily available carbs.

People were invited to take their refreshments to their seats and help themselves at anytime. I would joke that their moving around during the service would not distract me, but I also begged them not to make that a life goal.

I realize this seems unorthodox. I also know that many churches have a regular coffee hour at the end of the service. But our facilities were somewhat limited. There was a small entry way and it was an upstairs sanctuary. If we had said, please join us down stairs after worship for a time of fellowship, we knew most people would not stay and they would lose the opportunity to visit with each other. This unique gift of the church contributed to the spirit of Joy in worship and did much to form community. It was radical hospitality.

The Creation Cake Service

One thing that we have learned over the years, is the need to appeal to different learning styles. Not only in terms of verbal sermon illustrations, but also in the use of visuals. Some concepts need to be seen to be understood.

I remembered reading in a Bible Study manual, that the Early Hebrews’ idea of creation was that the earth rested on pillars that were embedded in “The Deep.” Taking some liberties with an illustration in the book, I thought, cake pedestals would be helpful. So working with a friend and parishioner who actually did cake decorating, we each made the needed cake layers. Then my sermon talking about the wonders of Creation was part preaching, part cake construction.

Boy, I wish we had taken pictures, but no, I ask you to settle for this description. The base of the cake, symbolizing “the deep” was an oblong layer covered in blue/green frosting. I set the cake pedestals into that layer, which supported a regular round 8″ single layer, covered in frosting. I think we might have put some plastic animals or other things on it to show that was the earth. There may have been a yellow frosting covered cupcake to symbolize the sun. One more set of pillars supported the dome (the sky) which was baked in an oven proof bowl.

There had to be 2 separate cakes, because it would have been rude to say, “Look at this, do you get it? Okay, taking this to the next church!” So, at the end of each service, folks were invited to the fellowship hall for coffee, tea and cake.

The Wedding Feast at Cana

By the time we got to the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2) I was working with an amazing creative team. There is more here than I could have made happen. We had the idea to have a real wedding cake and reception following worship. The table had space underneath to set up a display, which you see below, with a real wedding veil, a silk bouquet, a ring bearer’s pillow and a bulletin from a wedding. The celebration was made that much richer because it was a Communion Sunday. I loved the picture showing the combination of Elements for Communion on top of the table, and the wedding decorations under the table.

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Celebrating the Wedding Feast at Cana (Blossburg UMC February 2016)

This time, the cake was not in the sanctuary, but the main meal was on the Table. After the service, folks were invited downstairs for cake and coffee. See the picture(s) below.

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Wedding Cake by Kathi Hemenway

One of the things that made this extra special was the use of memorabilia lent by parishioners from their weddings. Peeping out from behind the cake are some delicately crafted white wooden roses. People gave and celebrated from their hearts.

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The Pie-Chart Sermon/Service

Pie charts are certainly visual and used to explain a variety of things, so why not use real pie for a teachable, taste-able moment? I could not find a “free to use” picture of a slice of lemon meringue pie, but the pie I saw in a local restaurant was the inspiration for this sermon and service.

Briefly, my premise was that all the stories in the Bible contain three important layers: what was happening at the time of the story, what was happening years later when the story was written down, and what it means to us when we read or hear the story.

Not to belabor the point, but the stories were traditioned to us years after the occurrences described. Just as artists who paint cannot help but put something of themselves in the paintings, so life at the time of the actual writing was going to be influenced by what was happening in the church when the writing took place.

My experience as a pastor/teacher is that most people want to know what the story has to do with them, “life application.” But there is more to the stories in the Bible than that. So, planning ahead, each parishioner was able to choose what they wanted for pie, lemon meringue, coconut cream pie or chocolate cream. This sermon had to be served up in the dining room. Napkins and forks were on the table.

I was a tyrant, they had to wade into the sermon, before they could wade into the pie. Few people, I reasoned, would order lemon meringue pie, and just eat the meringue. All three layers are meant to be tasted and savored.

In this instance, the crust was “What was happening at the time of the event.” The filling was “What was happening at the time the story was actually written down,.” and the Meringue or whipped topping was the “Life application layer.”

I remember a special education teacher many years ago who commented on the number of different ways he knew to teach a concept. I appreciate that. As a Pastor/Teacher, I want to use every tool in my belt to help people connect with God, even if they seem a bit unconventional. Taking the Psalmist’s words to heart, “Taste and See that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8 NRSV)

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Shared with Esme Senior Salon #151 and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share