MLK Day and Our Beloved Community

When I wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr. two years ago, I didn’t know that it’s the only federal holiday designated as a Day of Service. Last year I was on a national call with AmeriCorps, the government entity responsible for volunteer efforts throughout the year. This short article gives a summary of the holiday’s history. Perhaps you’ll hear the phrase “A Day ON, not a Day Off.”

This is another sentiment that Dr. King used, here in 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina: “There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.”

That is poetic and beautiful to imagine. If more of us would hush and do some good, the world would be a better place. We’d be better for doing whatever we do, too, even to the point of the relief of physical and psychic pain. I’ve seen it happen.

Below is the list of projects assembled for my church (and my community, as it happens). A few are local only but could be adapted anywhere. FreeRice is an app with multiple choice questions is a variety of calm but not easy topics. I’ve tried out the FindAGrave and found it easy and satisfying. I’ve done transcription for the Smithsonian. Let me know what you pick…

                                              Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

                                                              January 17, 2022

For 2022, we have a service opportunity that can be done outside and that can involve families. Many people use cemetery information in their family history research and are already familiar with FindAGrave.com. Volunteers take pictures of gravestones or memorials requested by individuals and upload them. Cemeteries all over the stake include requests. Register at https://findagrave.com. Go to the bottom of the page and hit “Contribute” or use the link here and choose “Photo Requests.” Place the pin over the area where you live and choose a radius. A list of names, cemetery locations, and requesters appears. Names can then be “claimed” meaning that they are now off the list and waiting for the photo to be uploaded. Requests at the DFW National Cemetery include specific location of the grave. At-home options are also available in the Contribute section: transcribing headstones and verifying transcriptions.

BillionGraves.com differs in that it offers specific GPS locations for every grave and every headstone listed has already been photographed. Adding photographs and transcribing are also available.

The weather and other conditions can affect plans for January 17. Below are service ideas that can be done either completely at home or mostly at home.

  • Additional information is available at the website for AmeriCorps, the government agency that oversees the national effort and collects responses. 
  • FreeRice.com donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer from many categories of general knowledge. Age 7 and up. Available online at https://freerice.com/ or as a device app.
  • Create birthday cards and holiday cards for local nursing home residents. Make a video for them: https://www.seniorswithskills.org/online-buddy-program
  • Donate pet food and unneeded pet supplies an animal shelter. Navarro and Ellis Counties have shelters but no direct links for donations. Tri-City, the animal shelter in the northern sector of the stake has this website: https://www.cedarhilltx.com/2408/Donate.
  • Donate food to a local food bank and include a “birthday box” with cake mix and a tub of frosting. 
  • Support a local “little library” by stocking it with children’s books. 
  • Charlton Methodist Hospital can use these items: recent magazines (within 6 months), easy crossword or word search puzzles; adult coloring books with crayons; new playing cards. Call Dana Alexander, volunteer coordinator at 214-947-7676, for sewing or crocheting patterns or to make an appointment to deliver items. 
  • Transcribe documents from multiple sources at the Smithsonian so they can be searched digitally; the link below directs to the Freedmen’s Bureau opportunities, but there are many more possibilities:

https://transcription.si.edu/browse?filter=owner%3A16

 

 

 

LifeSavers

Working title for this post was “Notes on Abandoning Genuineness.” That didn’t have much of a ring to it and was abandoned. I had listened to a podcast interview of Dr. Samuel Brown. He is not one of those Famous People but one of the Really Smart; he graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in linguistics with a minor in Russian and then went to medical school. He works as a trauma intensive care doctor, medical researcher, and a professor of pulmonary medicine. The interview opened with his report of the intensity from the last months of COVID treatment.

The purpose of the interview, however, was not medicine but his journey from atheism to belief which he chronicles in his latest book, Where the Soul Hungers. What caught my attention was not that story but his remarks about Harvard. It is, in fact, where lots of the Really Smart attend and teach, regardless of what some detractors may say. When our mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, we met with the surgeon, whom she began to interview. Her basic line of questioning was “Are you any good?” He said he was and pointed to his Harvard medical diploma. Satisfactory, though he later disappointed her when explaining she had a primitive tumor. Apparently, she had hoped for a sophisticated one.

In one exchange, Dr. Brown candidly admits that he expected himself to be “the smartest person in the room” when he moved to Utah and describes himself as detached and arrogant. Here came my revelatory moment: If he were to be “genuine,” those characteristics would define him. He would prefer, then, not to remain genuine but to be better.

Among my numerous soapboxes is one called “my truth.” This blog writer tells of a friend who confronted a woman who was “cruelly yelling” at her children in a grocery store. “Confronted” is probably not the right word because he asked her to treat her children with “kindness and love.” I guess he didn’t have his three toddlers in his own cart, but I digress. His approach was rejected. The writer has this section heading: Truth Is About How We Feel. To which I say, “No. It’s not.” If I am arrogant, I can choose to stay that way or work to be less so. Putting off the genuine, authentic me is not a bad thing.

Yesterday, someone told me she’d liked a talk I’d given on the topic “Why I Believe.” As far as I can remember, no one else has had that challenge, but I did and decided to describe my journey to belief as candidly as possible, “warts and all,” as they say. She offered that phrase that is always an unexpected delight: “I needed that.” Later in the day, another friend described herself as “disorganized”, “incomplete”, “unprepared”, “chaotic”, “inefficient”, “undisciplined.” And she assured us we all probably were too, at some point. Again, I could add lots of other negatives. She rather brilliantly added that with divine help, we can change all those “dis-, in-, and un-s” and move on. I don’t know how to punctuate that, but you get the point.

The image that all this gave me was “lifesaver.” I needed to hear Dr. Brown say he was arrogant. I also needed to say I had been a force for good in someone else’s life, if only for a second. I commended my disorganized friend for her remarks (even though she does seem any of that list to me.)

One sees actual life-saving lifesavers at pools, of course, typically hanging on the wall. That shape informs the iconic candy of our youth. Life Savers are an old brand, 1912. Those of a certain age will remember the “books” of candies exchanged at Christmas. The word for what happens when you crush the Wint-O-Green flavor in the dark is triboluminescence, which I didn’t know when I went into a closet some decades ago with some friend or young relative to try it out. No one knows how it works, but it does, and I’ll probably get some Wint-O-Greens later to try with other, younger relatives. A phenomenon I’d forgotten.

Actual lifesavers can be anything that floats. I once gave an inflatable raft to a scuba diver who emerged a few feet from me in Lake Travis, far from shore. His nose was bleeding, and he said he needed it. I was young, so only moderately startled. I doubt I saved his life, just probably made it a little bit easier.

This video lasts only 18 seconds, and a life is so literally saved that I watched it twice. Yes, there is blood. No, the quality isn’t great (police bodycam.) Yes, the Tweet warns you. But don’t watch if you’re squeamish. Even if we can’t do something dramatic, we can smile at someone. Maybe it will improve their day. If we see a woman screaming at her kids, maybe we can offer to help (offer a Life Saver, cherry flavor?) instead of giving “helpful” advice. Here’s an example with a mother not picking up her screaming child. Yes, a bit of candy is involved.

Working Title(s)

Year of the Tiger. As my friend from Taiwan reminded me, 2022 is a Tiger year, beginning in February. At last. Here are some of the attributes of someone born a Tiger: quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, kind. This site adds information like this: “The Tiger is known as the king of all beasts in China. The zodiac sign Tiger is a symbol of strengthexorcising evils, and braveness. Many Chinese kids wear hats or shoes with a tiger image of for good luck.” Sounds about right, but wouldn’t it be nice not to need courage, just once? For better or worse, that’s not how life on earth goes. Welcome, Tiger!

On to Genesis. For Sunday School in my church, we study the scriptures in cycles: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants (including church history). When I was first a member, I read D&C because it is shorter and more modern-sounding. As my English students would have chosen a story for the same reasons.

Podcasts now guide my learning. One doesn’t want to admit shallowness, but sometimes it’s just true. As I once taught in a class, I read scriptures every day; that’s not a good thing. Better words abound—study, search, ponder, memorize (!), highlight, apply. Yes, much better words. I envied people who either taught SS or Seminary, the early morning class for teens. I can’t remember how or why these podcasts came to my listen. Probably one was suggested by a person, but I didn’t much like it, and the Internet saw fit to show me 18 others. Only a slight exaggeration.

Three favorites: Teaching with Power is designed for those Seminary teachers because it includes classroom techniques, but the insights shared aren’t limited by age. It’s one teacher talking to other teachers, minimum personality with occasional personal history. Ponderfun is actually a YouTube channel but also available as a podcast. It uses whiteboard illustrations. One selling point is its length—very short, 10-15 minutes max—making for a perfect introduction. Current top of the three is Follow Him, hosted by Hank Smith and John Bytheway. Each week they invite scholars, most with PhDs, to discuss their areas of expertise. These women and men are enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable. All my decades of “reading” seem like a placeholder now. An advanced degree in Hebrew really can matter.

Don’t Start. Finish. As children we sat down New Year’s Eve and wrote out our resolutions. I wasn’t then and am not now much of a goal setter. Throwing resolutions over isn’t a personal failure, though. Recently I heard someone say she set herself a goal before the New Year instead of waiting (commendable), added a time limit (workable), and reported good results already (remarkable). But rather than start anything new, I hope to finish all the…ok, some…of the things I began in past years. I’ve noticed an inverse return on things I tell people I’m working on, so I won’t say what until the deed(s) are done.

Saying goodbyes. It was an obviously difficult year for many. More died of COVID in 2021 than in 2020. Here is as good a list as any, with pictures. On December 31, it was Betty White. She was 17 days shy of turning 100, but at church a young man said yesterday he had always wanted a date with her. Someone else said she was holding the world together. Most of us had been watching her for most of our lives. She was the queen of the one-liners which made her a natural for game shows, too. She was quite the scene stealer in The Proposal (2009) and remained friends with Ryan Reynolds. A new documentary will come out on January 17, as planned for her birthday. It was good to laugh with her.

So, the takeaway? Be brave. Learn some stuff. Finish some stuff. Laugh. As good a list as any…

The Multiverse and Baby Aspirin: A Review

First, the baby aspirin. I take one every day for prevention of heart attack and stroke. Should I? It’s complicated. So, no one recommended that I take those 81 mg of acetylsalicylic acid, but, frankly, it’s a habit I like because the orange babies are delicious.

Well, usually. Baby/low-dose brands vary in price—from $0.01 each to $0.77 each (“New! First and Only Liquid Filled Capsules! Vazalore). Regardless of price, I can’t taste any difference except one: HEB’s store brand tastes yucky. That’s an onomatopoeia, by the way, or so I just learned and will let you think about it.

I mix together the new set with the last. The problem arises when I forget that the HEB brand tastes terrible and when, each evening, I shake one out, I never know if I’m going to get yummy or yucky.

All of which brings me to Schrödinger’s cat and oversimplification of anything that begins “In quantum physics…” This thought experiment has nothing to do with opening a box with a cat dead-or-alive but everything to do with quantum superpositioning. The scientist in question wanted to show the absurdity of the theory, not confirm it. So, of course, scientists now believe© that the theory is correct. If we think we understood any of the possibilities either way, we were probably wrong. Radioactive material (a tiny amount and therefore unpredictable), a rigged hammer that the radiation will (or will not) trigger, and a flask of poison (he was specific—hydrocyanic acid). Complicated for a thought problem.

Another theory no one agrees might be possible? The multiverse. It’s not a new concept. The ancient Greeks 5th century BC thought all matter was made up of—guess what?—atoms which created parallel universes when they collided. Scientists are still divided about this, of course. Marvel and Sony don’t seem to be, however. They are on it. An excellent example is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) which, though animated, was thoughtful and interesting. But this list has many, many more. Narnia, but also Space Jam and Monsters, Inc.; The Golden Compass and Pacific Rim. By now, it’s a trope and we know the rules (or do we? Spock meets Spock and neither universe ends).

In Spider Man: No Way Home (2021), we learn quickly that Peter Parker’s wish to be forgotten by all except a few chosen ones results in chaos and mayhem. Granting wishes is another trope; think of “The Monkey’s Paw” AKA Pet Sematary. Yes, another trope—wishes. This is an official trailer, so no spoilers. Reviews are positive, an understatement. These from CNET contain MANY spoilers. Here’s an interview with the producers. It’s also making tons of money.

All well and good. But why does the audience applaud at the end? I have several theories.

We’ve wept. We’ve laughed. We’ve sighed. Not really a spoiler—the sighing is for a real kiss shared at the end; that superheroes never can be happy is a personal concern. The powers that be have finally agreed with me and changed storylines for Captain America, for example. Hawkeye endured pain but is fine now, mostly. Long story. So the emotions are real for an audience hungry for entertainment that is genuine, not derivative; intelligent, not condescending.

Themes are not my favorite approach to art. But one set of principles I do like and used in teaching were Boulton’s 4 Rs: recreation, recognition, revelation, and redemption. (Here is a short passage on the topic from my friend Joyce’s book, Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.) No Way Home hits all the marks: 1) It’s fun to watch. Not too much fighting (looking at you, new Matrix). 2) We will recognize lots of things I can’t talk about here. 3) We will see in Peter Parker traits we didn’t know he had. 4) The redeeming power of love is common, but here that doesn’t happen. The kiss has another meaning. Here there is much redemption, all around, even to the point of incredible bravery that has nothing to do with leaping and slugging against impossible odds etc.

When they started remaking another saga with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), there was also applause. This Spider Man feels different, however. It’s much more personal and not as world changing. We don’t understand the physics or whatever science is used. It doesn’t seem to matter. Yes, tears. There is also a special kind of hope for the future. And, obviously, the joy of expectation for a sequel. Though like baby aspirin, you never know…

Have Yourself a Merry Little…

The Smile

It was that feeling of being late when you want to get somewhere. Really want to—not like work where they’ll sigh and lower their eyes to their keyboards. “Late again?” someone would ask. “Traffic,” Hank would lie.

No, this was the Event. Hank’s sister’s friend’s cousin’s ex worked security for the Texas Theater. He’d scored tickets for the premiere of year. More accurately, the first premiere of 2022. Hank couldn’t believe it. The star, Olivia Sloan, was coming, in person, to the red carpet. Punctuality mattered

Hank was ready. Cool shirt, nice jacket, pressed pants, cool shoes. And sitting in traffic in the canyon when his mother called.

“Henry?”
“Yes, Mom.”

“You need to come get your brother.”

“What?! I’m on my way to the premiere. Olivia will be there.”

“You need to come get your brother. He can go too.”

You didn’t say no to Henry—to Hank’s mother. You didn’t ask why. You just said fine.

“Fine. But we can’t be late. Have him ready.”

“Thank you, Henry. The app says you’re two miles away but 20 minutes out. He’s waiting for you.”

Hank’s little brother Jeremy, twenty years younger, was Hank’s cousin, adopted when his mother lost her battle with cancer not long after his father had been killed in a car accident. Henry—Hank—had been the youngest until he became an older brother.

The traffic cleared quickly—onlooker slowdown for an upside-down semi that had spilled its milk load—and Hank made it to his mother’s house in 10 minutes. Jeremy was ready all right, but ready for what? He wore a bright orange Christmas sweater, the kind usually reserved for ugly day. It had flashing lights, not a few, on a just-cut fir tree hauled in a red pickup. Hank’s heart sank. It was too late to wrangle a change.

“Y’all pick up Whataburger for supper.”

“Sure, Mom.” Hank knew there was no point in telling her that’s what he’d had for lunch. Jeremy beamed and slid into the front seat, peppering Hank with questions. “What’s the movie about? When is it over? Can we get popcorn? How close can we sit? Wanna share a drink?”

Hank drove with determination but replied: “Zombies. 8:30. Yes if Mom sent money. Not very. No.”

Jeremy didn’t care what the answers were, particularly, just smiled, and started singing “Feliz Navidad.” Hank couldn’t help himself and hummed along. In another 10 minutes they were at the Texas. Parking karma is a real thing and Hank didn’t have it. But somehow, there it was—a spot just around the corner.

“Come on, Jer. It’s a miracle. We’re going to be on time.”
Sure enough, the crowd had formed around the red carpet, lots of photogs with their big lenses and black bags over their shoulders. This wasn’t Hollywood, so there weren’t but four, but the crowd was young and enthusiastic. “Here they come!” someone shouted.

Sure enough, three limos were turning on to Jefferson. Not limos, really. SUVs. This was Dallas, after all. They pulled up to the curb. Olivia was the first one out. She was in a sky-blue sequined gown. Stunningly beautiful. Even for Hollywood. The crowd went wild. “Liv-vy, Liv-vy, Liv-vy!”

A boy’s voice rang out: “Olivia, Hank and I are over here!”

She turned toward the sound and saw a frantically waving boy, lighted shirt flashing. “Hey, you! Hi, Hank! Merry Christmas!”

And she smiled. Beauty. Smiling at Hank and Jeremy. “Merry Christmas!” Hank shouted. Olivia smiled ever more brightly and waved back.

 

How It Happened

A beach for Christmas had sounded lovely—warm not snowy, bright not dull. Jilly had lived in Bethel, Alaska for 30 years, teaching grade school math. She hadn’t expected Paris on the Kuskokwim; the recruiting brochures cleared that romanticism. Coming from deep East Texas with its piney woods, she knew the winters would be long and dark, but she hadn’t realized what it would be like to go for months without the sun. an exaggeration, of course, but the idea of heat on her face in December felt ecstatic.

Luckily, Jilly brought her own husband. Jake was a writer and made a good living in the greeting card and paint naming worlds, when he wasn’t working on the Great American novel. One Christmas, though, he went on a trip to research glaciers since obviously the GAN needed an Alaskan perspective by a Texas. He never came back. Park rangers found his gear close to a moulin, the opening to an underground ice river. You fall in, you’re gone. They said it would’ve been quick.

Jilly sighed and cried. Nothing to do otherwise, but she imagined his horror not so much at his impending death as at the realization she’d never know. She’d have no goodbyes, nothing to bury. Jilly imagined him slipping, falling, hollering “Jillian, I love you…sorry!”

Five years later, she was a young 65, independent and capable and suddenly retired. Going back to Texas was an option but just seemed like too much trouble. “Let me get through one more winter,” she thought. “Maybe then.”

Among the comforts in the years past had been regular calls from Jake’s friend Liam. Every few months, he’d called and asked after her health, the weather, her plans for Christmas. So when he told her he was going to a friend’s condo in Cabo San Lucas and wondered if she’d like to meet him there, she wasn’t really too surprised. They’d laughed and joked during those five years, after all. The friend had plenty of room, the price was right, and the thought of 85 degree days and a 75 degree ocean appealed. Getting there, well, not so easy, but doable.

The two weeks flew by. Conversation at dinners, snorkeling lessons, new friends and friends of friends. A tan, of sorts. Jilly thought she could bear the months until summer and floated a realistic plan for moving back to Texas. Liam was silent, oddly for him, and looked out into the gulf.

For the last party of the trip, Jilly chose her favorite blue dress. She knew Liam liked it—it matched her eyes, he’d said. It wasn’t flirty, exactly, she reasoned. They walked along a rocky path near the water. Suddenly a gull flew over and behind her head, startling her. Jilly turned quickly, lost her balance, and fell into the ditch, just a foot deep but enough to startle them both. Embarrassed but determined not to complain, Jilly apologized. She was going to need help getting up and out.

Liam took Jilly by the hand and pulled her up. One sandal had slipped off, so she kept his hand while she bent over to slip it back on.

“There,” she said.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

Off they went to the inn. Liam did not let go of Jilly’s hand, and that is how it happened.

White Elephant

Lovely dinner, she thought, but how had she missed the white elephant part of the invitation? the most fun and laugh-y time each year, after memories shared of other parties with sometimes-scandalous and therefore memorable gifts and she only had two grapefruit in a Christmas bag for the hostess so slipped them under the tree—thank goodness the bag was cute even if recycled and she was way down on the numbers so might not get to pick herself and didn’t have to tell she brought it anyway, right? and when someone opened a candle, jam selection, and bodywash package—she thought she might like to steal it and people would get suspicious if she actually took the grapefruit although she felt bad about them, who wouldn’t? and someone remembered to bring the Real White Elephant, a little ceramic number trimmed in gold when someone else opened another, even nicer one so there had to be discussion about whether to have a double-elephant tradition or what since finding a place for it was always a hassle since you had to remember where it was since no one would steal it, but was that an actual rule? no one knew and other gifts were stolen if they were pretty good like the Texas Roadhouse gift, as if who wouldn’t but the nice smelling stuff still seemed fine and getting the gift certificate wasn’t likely anyway and even if it was would make her feel really guilty but luckily someone had brought a bug zapper which, in spite of all odds, got stolen too but after she did score the candle etc. people, well, the women, felt sorry for her and no one stole it which made her feel only medium guilty and, when it was all over, someone proclaimed, “Only two people understood the white elephant concept—the ones who brought the zapper and the grapefruit,” so she was vindicated if a little bit guilty

 

As the Bridegroom to His Chosen

Audience is an essential element of planning. But how to approach that today? Those who are members of the Church on hearing that I was sealed to my husband last Friday will be so pleased to hear it. They might send congratulations. Surely there would be smiles, or a tear or two.

Those who don’t share my faith tradition would have no idea what I mean, much less why it matters. Most have been to weddings in not just other Christian denominations but perhaps in Jewish or Hindu or Baha’i communities. We’ve seen the pageantry of royal weddings in Westminster Abbey. If not in person at least on film, we’ve seen marriages in Las Vegas neon spots. Mountain tops, beaches, bottom of the ocean, top of the sky in parachutes. Living rooms, judges’ offices, backyards, malls, caves. Anywhere, really, that you can imagine.

Most things associated with weddings do not happen in sealings. People sometimes think it is just a wedding with only church members present, but that is not correct. There are no flowers, no attendants, no processions, no music, no candles, no rings, no speeches. No crowds, no applause, no money payment, no personalization of vows.

What, then, is there? All temples are beautiful, regardless of their size. The sealing rooms also vary in size, but they have several things in common: an altar at which the couple kneels, mirrors on two sides of the room which give a hint of limitless, continuation, light and white from crystal chandeliers and most of the décor, and the clothing. Simplicity that does not detract; understated elegance that elevates.

Three elements make up the sealing: the place, the words, the authority.

A temple is a dedicated structure. Only members with a valid, current recommendation from their ecclesiastical leaders can enter. That may sound exclusionary, but it’s not. Being a member of the Church is obviously a choice, but so is temple attendance. It is more like being on a path than confronting an obstacle. People who want to go can do so, realizing that the “want to” involves not only desire but agreement to leave behind certain behaviors and to accept certain conditions. A temple is not a place of casual commitments or curiosity but of serious, thoughtful decisions and preparations.

The words spoken in temple ceremonies are sacred. They are not repeated outside the temple. A distinction exists between secret and sacred. One simply means “hidden,” while the other means “set apart, consecrated, holy.” Out in the world, however, we are most likely to hear that “Nothing is sacred.” That perspective is exactly why the words, precious and astonishing as they are, should not be out in the world. The separation allows their specialness a place where they will not be trampled or demeaned. It would not be exaggerating, however, to say that the promises made are breathtaking in their hope, their beauty, and their power.

The authority vested in anyone who performs a marriage ceremony flows from a source. A sealing is also a civil union, meaning that either immediately before or at some time in the past, the relevant civic unit issues a license. The officiator of a ceremony validates, or puts into effect, that license. In temples, the sealer holds that authority, but its source is not from a school or a government or even from the Internet. When Christ tells Peter that what he seals on earth will be sealed in Heaven, this is the authority that is meant.

One final word: My husband died in July 2020. In July 2021, after a year, this sealing could be offered to him by proxy. He can accept it or not. The tears shed quietly on Friday were of joy and expectation of the hope that he will. There is no more “until death do us part.” The lighted ball at Reunion Tower (and yes, you can be married there) was covered in red hearts Friday evening. A coincidence? Of course. A sign from Heaven? Perhaps. Eternity and infinity are terms human minds cannot grasp. We can see their symbols all around. We can love, forever, and most of us believe it does last into whatever comes next. How sweet and good that feels on a Monday.

(I didn’t want to distract with links. That doesn’t mean you can’t look at some. Here a young woman summarizes what a temple marriage is like. Here is a picture of a sealing room in a temple in Chile. The relevant scripture references. “As the Bridegroom to His Chosen” is the song on my mind recently and hence the title.)

 

 

 

Light(in)g Christmas

We are light. You’ve heard that we’re made of stardust, which is true in that we are made of atoms formed in stars. This article has a nice chart for our parts and explains the concept. But that is just what we’ve made of, not what we are or what we do which is to—emit or emanate—light. We hear the first idea—that we are light—all the time, but we don’t take it seriously. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine…” and we should take that admonition literally.

What is light? Going to the dictionary, as one does, I found an amazing list. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve seen its like. Merriam-Webster offers 54 definitions, plus all the a’s and b’s; Webster’s 1828 offers 58. A favorite, the Online Etymological Dictionary at first looked disappointing, with only 5…until I read the top of the page: 623 entries and the bottom: 63 pages. Ah. No, I haven’t read them all, but I was glad to see it.

By “We are light” I don’t mean we’re like the beings in Cocoon (1985). The Antareans are in human skins, more or less, but shed them for various reasons. Here is a clip in which humans see this happen for the first time. No, when you scratch us, we bleed.

The easiest explanation is that we are warm. Heat emits radiation, which is a form of light. Thermal energy makes night vision goggles work. Think of Tom Cruise in the ice water bath, Minority Report (2002). The police can see every resident even through walls because of their heat signatures. There is much more to us than just warmth, though.

A 2018 post called “Happy Hallowthankmas” discusses the phenomenon of holiday blending. (It also contains a poem called “A Farewell.” This time of year is hard for many—either newly, lately or long-time-feeling (there must be a single word for that in German, but I just mean “grieving.”) In general, there is some griping about the decorations going up for Christmas before Halloween. Sometimes more than griping. I have reconsidered the complaint because I now believe that it is the light of Christmas that people are seeking, that the seeking is a good thing, and that this is no accident.

One of Christ’s names is “Light of the World.” However, the same is applied to His disciples. In many religions, knowledge is referred to as light, as opposed to darkness. These two short pages explain how that works. That is not to say that people are consciously seeking to learn about the Savior. I’d expect many would reject that out of hand. Regardless of intent, it is the resulting action: Light responding to light.

That seeking is an activity is heard this time of year as “Let’s go see the lights.” Here and here are two guides for our area. Millions of lights are on view, in our town and throughout the world. In contrast, we also love fireworks, but these spectacular events don’t last for weeks, just a night. (Disney has the exception.) Going out to see the lights offers a great way to be in a car with the family; no devices allowed. And the seeking might also be determined as following. We think of heliotropic plants such as sunflowers, but animals also seek light, per the definition.

So the language we use and the connection we seek concerning light seem to form an essential link to something more, to something higher. Aaron D Franklin, a professor of chemical and electrical engineering and chemistry at Duke University, wrote The Spiritual Physics of Light: How We See, Feel, and Know Truth to explain the connections between the things we understand and those we only sense. He begins with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico where he experienced complete darkness for the first time. Eyes never adjust because there is nothing to adjust to; a minute is about as long as anyone feels comfortable, he reports. I’ve also been in caves. We once visited McDonald Observatory in far west Texas. They have a room that can be completely dark, an odd feeling, almost tangible nothingness.

It’s difficult to summarize a book I don’t completely understand. Dr. Franklin has a website with colored illustrations and links to interviews. Any details have faded in the weeks since I finished reading it. Regardless, I can say the thin volume was life-affirming in a way that I don’t remember any other book being. Ever. Yes, I know and have experienced that faith is stronger than knowledge. This is not about either. Rather, it felt like a confirmation of both—that what I believe is not based on fairy tales but on science. None of us knows how prayer “works,” for example, but that it might be as easily explained as Bluetooth makes it no less a wonder. It is no accident, then, that for this particular holiday, for Christmas, it’s not the colors, the parties, the gifts, even the love that reminds us of another world. As the world grows darker, we seek more and more light. It’s only natural, only our natures, to do so.

We are light. So is everything else. It is symbol as well as science. What could be more wonderful than a gift of that truth?

 

 

 

Talking JOY

Reminiscent of the meme “Find joy in the ordinary,” William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence” begins with these famous lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

After that, it gets very dark, contrasting innocence with images that are anything but. One line reads, “He who shall hurt the little Wren/Shall never be belovd by Men.” And that’s a mild example. But yes, finding joy in the ordinary is a gift, a key, a blessing.

On Thanksgiving eve, I found myself sitting on a couch between two of my three sons. All nine grandchildren were in the room as well. And I thought, “This is Joy.”

The evening before, the eldest (17 years, 8 months) and I discussed film. Favorite directors, great scenes. The fact that no remakes or sequels are that great. We did see Ghostbusters: Afterlife  Thanksgiving night in the smallest theater ever—four rows of seats—and the line “Who you gonna call?” is perfectly done. A bad jump scare sent the two youngest of one family scurrying to the exit. (The world is saved, we told the dad when next we saw him.) The two next-to-youngest in the other family went to sleep, one on the way back from a restroom trip. I noticed he was missing when we were in the parking lot. He comes down the stairs every visit with, “(Insert name) hit me FOR NO REASON!” Conversations ensue.

The youngest of all at 3 months now smiles and coos and charms with ease the older eight. She is kissed and cuddled. The youngest of the other four suggests she needs attention. Probably not. Just the warmth of a mother or an uncle, even a grandmother. Her fragility is stark. I’m not sure it’s possible to know true fear and worry unless a parent.

The older eight took a road trip to Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom, Oklahoma. (Be careful on the drive! Do you have a jacket? Caves are cold. Shoes? Snacks? Don’t let anyone fall in!) The baby does not go, perhaps obviously, nor to the movie, ditto. No stalagmites (G) or stalactites (H) because, well, it’s an alabaster cave, not a lime-based one. Just bats, thousands of bats, five species. They say it’s worth the trip when they arrive home safely.

And then it’s over. We come the 266 miles home, arriving safely. A full salt shaker shatters on the floor but—to the breaker’s credit—is swept up and confessed to before the grandmother investigates the hollers. Someone uses all the hot water on Sunday morning, as had happened the day before in Oklahoma. A brief lecture ensues: “Think of others.” We run out of milk and juice, ice cream and salad. A car battery prevents a quick grocery trip for said items, plus cilantro for salsa. It can all wait until Monday. Still, a joy to be with these people.

How does one store joy? I have my mother’s words “See you, hon” engraved on my heart. I felt it happen, as sure as can be, when I was leaving her after a serious surgery. But that has to be rare: Can hearts bear much carving? Why is it so much easier to mire in one’s own flaws? It doesn’t Google, this “storing joy.” Maybe it’s an art, or a skill. Maybe it keeps to itself in the heart, waiting for a time of need to burnish pain. Yesterday we sang “For the Beauty of the Earth” that has the verse:

For the joy of human love

Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth and friends above

For all gentle thoughts and mild.

The traditional version is here, perfect but not a favorite. Here is a Korean choir singing John Rutter’s setting. The joy on all their faces, beginning to end, does itself bring joy. And finally, an Indonesian children’s choir at a choral festival in Hungary. The best part of this one is that the page turner sings as well. Now it seems clear: Joy is not something to store or to have. It’s something to do.

 

 

A Day of Fasting

Some years ago, I had a student from Nepal who had worked with the United Nations rescuing child soldiers. One day he made a challenging comment: “If Americans would only give one percent of their income, poverty could end in the world.” That would require compelling, which we don’t like. Americans are generous, however, with many billions of dollars donated each year. This gives a good breakdown of the recipients.

Thanksgiving comes this week. It has a long history, summarized here and including the controversies. Originally, it was also a day of prayer. Fasting was included with both. This proclamation highlights differences between our time and 1779, for example. We’ve heard the food will be 14% higher this year. But after the last months of hesitancies, at least we’re having a Thanksgiving. Travel will be up 80% over 2020, according to AAA. I’m thankful I won’t be on a plane.

That said, I want to discuss the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in honor of my student. I’d like to see a National Day of Fasting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The “national” part, of course, won’t happen this year. And with its religious overtones, it might never. In my faith, we fast once a month and donate the money we would have spent on two meals for the sustaining of those in need. It works. The Bishops’ Storehouse works like a grocery store in every way but payment. Food—fresh, frozen, boxed, dairy-cased, canned—is available, as well as hygiene and cleaning items.

The government program is called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) but is only for food. Recipients must use cash for everything else. Food banks take up some of the slack, especially after the allotted amount runs out, but there is no provision for things like soap and shampoo. All great ideas of items to donate…

Today, let’s make it simple. Half the world eats rice as their staple. Beans and rice together make a complete protein. The dish can be flavored in so many ways. What if on November 24th we eat that and donate the price of a burger to a food bank?

In Brazil one year at Thanksgiving, we ate feijoada and though ours had pork, this year we could do with a recipe like this. Or Louisiana style red beans and rice. Or a Mexican version. Personally, these look like work, so I plan a plain pinto bean-white rice combo.

There are so many things this made me think of—the realization that so much hunger is caused by human beings, for example—but this year, this tradition begins: A small bit of food that reflects poverty as I prepare a feast of plenty.

A Festival of Thanksgivings

The week was filled with discussions of gratitude. On Wednesday, a group of teens met with me to practice the script below. It had taken many many calls to get participants so I was thankful they could do it. After they rehearsed, I was amazed how quickly they caught the vision and the rhythm of the piece. Not every word was perfect. Not every unfamiliar name was pronounced like it probably should be. But those kids left me speechless, for which they were probably thankful.

The Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square presents a festival each year. When we started in 2019, we planned something much different than what we shared in November 2020. It was postponed from March to May with consideration of August (COVID can’t possibly last that long!) with plans for a virtual event that was, in my opinion, better than it might have been in person. Artists submitted their works via video which allowed them time and space to discuss their backgrounds, their inspiration, and their art specifically. Virtual was 100 times more work, but I was thankful to have been involved.

We thought 2021 would be a breeze. It wasn’t. Obstacles are boring to others, so you will be spared. Working with 5 of the best, most dedicated, best, persistent, (all other positive adjectives)best women, I learned much about how to be better, though I am not the best I should be. It’s not just synergy; I don’t yet know its name. We were and are all looking in the same direction, though: upward. To say that I’m thankful to know them is a deep understatement

One of my church leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a talk over 7 years ago about gratitude. In fact, this was another connection during the week when someone discussed it at an activity on Thursday. He draws an important distinction between being grateful for and being grateful in. “Count Your Blessings” is not just a peppy song (don’t panic seeing thousands of unmasked people singing); it’s also one of those unwritten commandments when things are going badly. In the talk, we are urged to remember that gratitude is not just for the pretty times but “In Any Circumstances.” (That’s part of the talk’s title, if you didn’t look, and for the reading below, I used “All” instead. This was before I read the talk.)

The Festival of Thanksgivings featured the art of 6th-8th graders in the Dallas ISD. The artists also submitted in a few words what they were thankful for. Often the responses were moving, thoughtful, poignant. Read some below at the end of the piece. The dramatic reading itself is fashioned from statements of 8 high school students. They take us into their hearts, into their homes. All in all, the words of these sets of children moved us, and, I think, humbled us. In the grown-up world, we consider children oblivious to the goings-on around them. They’re on devices, in their rooms, at their activities. That is not the truth, though. They are dealing with emotions and challenges we rarely glimpse. Our festival gave them a place to share their feelings as well as their talents. We were and are all enriched.

As wonderful as that is, for me personally, something else happened that I’ll not forget. One of the groups who performed involved the Comanche Children and Youth of the Dallas Indian and Lovers Lane Deaf Choir. Their ministry is based at Lovers Lane UMC. Sadly, several members of the Deaf Choir leadership were ill, so that group sent only an ASL interpreter for the Comanche children. After they sang and danced (we got to join in), a small group came in at the back of the hall. I greeted the man who brought the children and asked if he had come for the ASL group. Delayed at a piano recital, he wasn’t aware that the Deaf Choir had not been able to come. It was sad to share the news, but we were thankful this group came.

While I was explaining the cancellation to him, one of the people with him took my hand. I hesitate to describe him because I might offend. Describing disabilities is not intuitive. The Deaf do not like to be called “hearing impaired,” for example. There are times when sensitivity is more important. His hands, though, need a bit. They were small and the knuckles were prominent, almost knobby. This is all he did: he took my hand in his and squeezed it. Twice . The man—with whom he had been signing—did not say anything to me about this action. Because he continued signing, I don’t know what he was communicating, but it didn’t seem to be about the hand holding. Perhaps the action was as it seemed: natural and unremarkable. At least to them. I felt a connection with a human for which I was deeply thankful.

Now, back to the talk. If I were only counting my blessings, I could name that chance encounter. Usually, we remember to be thankful for good health or a strong body. Here, however, the difference between “grateful for” and “grateful in” became obvious. What if we had neither? What if we knew nothing of either? In that circumstance, could we be thankful to be in the state we found ourselves? Psalm 118 contains this line: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Read it in its entirety, too. There are many “ins.”

Read dramatically, the piece below shares much about gratitude. Quickly, alternating,  and repeating, the lines complete a thought. Four readers, or two. It works. One thing about giving thanks is that it suggests a debt is owed, and I do feel that for the six readers, their parents, and their teachers. How often can one say “Thank you!”? I will be looking into its doing, next.

 

A Festival of Thanksgivings Choral Reading

[Unison passages are in BOLD BLACK CAPS]

1 Thanks

2 Giving

3 Giving

4 Thanks!

1 Who?

2 You?

3 I can

4 Me

3 Too.

[unison]

GIVE THANKS!

[individuals]

1 No matter what

2 No matter who

3 There is always something…

4 Something to be grateful for.

1 In all circumstances.

 

2 Corrie Ten Boom said,

3 “I am thankful for fleas.”

[unison]

FLEAS?!

[individuals]

3 Yes. Fleas.

4 The prison guards

1 Would not inspect their room

2 Yes, their room

3 Because of

[Unison]

THE FLEAS!!

 

[individuals]

4 In all circumstances

1 Be grateful!

2 For what you can. Devin added more!

4 “Be grateful for what you have.

1 Be grateful for the people who support you even at your lowest points.

2 Be grateful for the future, and that your mistakes can be forgotten.

3 Be grateful that you are capable of loving others.

[unison]

BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU CAN EVEN BE GRATEFUL AT ALL!”

[individuals]

4 Thank YOU, Devin.

 

1 Rumi—the great Persian poet

2 Rumi—the Islamic scholar, too

3 Born in 1207

2 TWELVE 0 7?

1 That’s right. Rumi said—

2 “Wear gratitude like a cloak,

3 and it will feed every corner of your life.”      –

4 That’s what Rumi said.

1 Long ago.

 

2 Last month,

3 Just last month, Gabriela said,

4 “I think when you feel joy you will feel thankful for that moment and everything around you. It’s not something you have to say for anyone to recognize or hear, you can just feel it.

1  Feel how appreciative and thankful for everything you have and everything that brought you to that point in your life.”

2 “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

3 Karl Barth said that.

[unison]

JOY!

 

[individuals]

4 Larissa Gomez thought,

1Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence,

2 we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.”

[unison]

TRAINING FOR THE HEART.

 

[individuals]

3 Let’s hear what Denise said:

4 “Gratitude means to be thankful and most of the time means returning the favor. There have been many times when I have felt gratitude.

1 When my mom bought me the iPhone 11, I was so thankful and returned the favor by cooking dinner that day.

2 When you return the favor, it feels really good because you’re ultimately giving back to the person or thing that helped you out.”

3 Return the favor.

[unison]

RETURN THE FAVOR!

 

[individuals]

4 From Jaiydin—

1 “One often does not find their purpose near the end of their road nor the beginning of it

2 They find their purpose while walking their road,

3 When we help one another on the road, we get loads of gratitude from their smiles,

4  not their words.

1 They may not show gratitude but deep down they are more thankful

[unison]

THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE.”

 

[individuals]

2 Imagine! Like anime!

3 What’s that?

4 Anime is a Japanese form of animation

1 Not just for kids!

2 No, not just for kids. Thank goodness!

3 Sofiaenid is thankful for anime.

4 She says,

1 “I am most grateful to anime for helping me get through my darkest times

2 And helping me improve my reading, writing skills, self-confidence, mannerisms,

3  and it even helps improve my mindset.

4 Some people might think that anime are just silly animated books or shows,

1 but anime to me is very special and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

2 My favorite genre is Shonen because it has themes that teach you life lessons.”

[unison]

Arigato!

 

3 Jordan adds this:

4 “Gratitude is the capacity for appreciating the positive benefits we receive in life.

1 Gratitude is the capstone of the seven capacities of positive leadership.

2 Gratitude charges one’s advocacy because its effects are contagious.”

[unison]

AND GRATITUDE

THE CAPSTONE—THE HIGH POINT.

[individuals]

 

4 Now, hear from Deontae:

1 “Gratitude is like trust

2   you gotta know the person before you give them your gratitude.

3 Gratitude also is like a mega thank you from someone for doing something like changing their life

4 It also can make their day.

1 It also means giving thanks, especially on Thanksgiving.”

[unison]

YES! THANKSGIVING!

[individuals]

2 This year

3 That’s November 25th

4 Twenty-five?

1 Yes, November 25th

[unison]

THANK YOU!

 

[individuals]

2 DeAmber sent a poem:

3 “As the sun hits the horizon, and the announcer on the tv’s voice rises

while our team wins the football game,

4   I watch as my family comes around a single table within the kitchen.

1   Our table is decorated with food and the main attraction, the turkey.

The table has handmade decorations and centerpieces.

2   Lively conversations between family members fill the table as my little cousins run around before my mother says, “Ahem!”

3   I hear the individual voices of each of my family members saying what they are grateful for.

4   Now it is my turn:

1   Living!

2   Living!

3   Living

4   Living!”

[unison]

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

GIVE THANKS

THANKS

GIVING.

[individuals]

1 Thank you for coming!

2 Thank you for giving

3 Thanks!

4 Our artists are also grateful.

1   Let’s see them!

2  Let’s hear them!

3 Melanie is thankful for her grandmother, Rosalba—the reason she’s still here, her shoulder to cry on.

4  Chanaya is thankful she has a place to stay with her hardworking parents.

1  Jose is thankful for anime!

2  Alejandro is thankful for his hands because he is able to create art, music, literature…

3   Amy is thankful for friends now, because she didn’t have any growing up.

4   Penelope is thankful for her piano.

1 See them all, and see the others.

2  Hear the others.

3 Beautiful!

4 Thank you!

[unison]

WE ARE FULL OF THANKS… FOR YOU!