Monday, November 30, 2009

Hamantaschen - Let's Eat!

(This has appeared other places but thought I'd post it here too).

Recently I did a paper for school. I am always doing a paper for school. This topic was to be a time I gave pastoral care to someone. Why is it that you never can remember something when called upon to do so? It was like what? Me? Did I ever minister? At last, I thought of Rose. Rose was in her 80’s, Jewish, suffering from a dementia, confined to a wheel chair and living in a dementia unit at a relatively posh assisted living facility. I would see Rose once a week as part of my job. She rarely made sense. Sometimes she would scream for her husband. Nevertheless, I liked Rose. She was loud and Jewish. I think she reminded me of where I grew up, Brooklyn. It was March and Purim was nearing. Purim is the Jewish celebration built on the Biblical story of Esther. I had asked Rose about her spirituality. She would sometimes light up when I mentioned something about faith. I decided to purchase a children’s book on the story of Esther, some Hamantaschen (a pastry known as Haman’s ears), a few noisemakers and help Rose celebrate Purim. I was going to make the dementia unit into a synagogue for a few hours. It always was dark in the dementia unit. I never quite understood that even though I understood about dementia well. Rose and four of her fellow residents were sitting around a table. Everyone had that blank dementia stare. No one was interacting. I sat down next to Rose and told everyone we were going to celebrate Purim. Rose did not respond. Rose was the only Jew in that unit. I told everyone that in the synagogue on Purim the scroll containing the story of Esther would be read. Rose nodded. I asked Rose what do we do when we hear the name Haman? No response. I said we are going make noise with these noisemakers or say boo. They practiced unenthusiastically. I started to read. I read from a children’s picture book about Esther. We heard the name Haman the first time. With great coaching, they booed or made noise. I could tell Rose was beginning to listen. It was as something started to be switched on in her soul: the soul, that part of a person with dementia that stays intact and reachable, if we try. We read another page or two and the boos and noise got louder. I got to the fourth page of the book. Rose stopped me. She started talking about Heiman, her husband. In the mind of a person with dementia, it is not a far leap from Haman to Heiman. I let her continue. She shared with increasing lucidity about the trip she and her beloved Heiman took to Europe. I tried to get back to the story, to my program, but fortunately, I did not succeed. Rose continued. On the trip, they were too afraid to go to Germany. Much to my amazement, she said, “we were too afraid to go to Germany because Hitler was like Haman, he wanted to kill all the Jews.” I nodded. She further shared how they met a German woman in France who asked her to forgive her country for what they had done. I realized something more important than reading the book might be going on at this point. While some of what she said wasn’t clear, it was clear that she was remembering a wonderful trip. She was also connecting Hitler and Haman. She began to weep. She asked “Why? Why did he want to kill us?” At that point, another resident, equally suffering from dementia looked at Rose. She said I am “German, my family is German, will you forgive us Rose for all the terrible things that were done?” Rose nodded through her tears. The woman was also weeping. Two women, who minutes before were in the foggy land of dementia came out for a few minutes to forgive each other. It was a holy moment. It was a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation. I will never forget that day. It was ministry at its best in the most unusual of places. Ministry that I never expected would happen. As I saw the residents begin to slip back into the surreal land of dementia, I thought it time for Hamantaschen. I poured a glass of juice for all the residents and we ate our Hamantaschen together. Before I left, Rose had to show me the picture of her precious deceased husband Heiman. She did this every time I saw her. While on the surface nothing had changed, I believe her soul was more at peace when I left that day.

It's Not Just a Thrift Store

Christmas isn’t Christmas without Salvation Army bell-ringers and red kettles. When I was a child in Brooklyn, those bell-ringers were usually Salvation Army (SA) officers in full uniform. Sometimes there was a small brass ensemble playing Christmas carols rather than a simple bell. They were usually outside of the Woolworths on Fifth Avenue BROOKLYN (not Manhattan).

I knew the Captain of the local Salvation Army Corps. Like most everything we associated with in the neighborhood, she was Norwegian. My first memory of the leader of the local corps was walking with my father and coming across a street meeting in progress. Street meetings had a little music, a short sermon, an invitation to receive Christ right there or to the local church.

When I was five or six, I first met Captain Johnson. It might have been Lieutenant Johnson then but mostly I remember her as Captain. While we were not Salvationists, my father loved to go to different churches when there was a service in Norwegian. My father was an immigrant from Norway. So with my hand tightly in my father’s we walked the 3 ½ blocks to the SA Corps once afternoon. I was to become a Sunbeam.

Sunbeams are a scouting type program connected with the SA. I met Captain Johnson. She knew my dad and this was pre-arranged. She smiled at me and welcomed me with her strong Norwegian accent. I remembered her from the images of her in uniform, standing on the curb, Bible in hand, preaching.  Captain Johnson was a single woman who was Pastor and leader of that Norwegian SA Corps in “Norwegian” Brooklyn NY.
I got my drab grey Sunbeam uniform with the complementary beanie. Soon my sash was filled with badges for my mother to sew on my uniform. When I was seven, Captain took me to Manhattan with her. I do not recall how we got there, probably the subway. As every true New Yorker knows, you do not drive in Manhattan.

We walked into a big auditorium with a full brass band playing the songs of spiritual war.  My uniform was freshly pressed and every badge straight. Soon an impressing SA officer announced that they were giving the Commissioners medal to me. He further explained that normally you had to be 8 years old to receive this medal but that I had completed all the requirements. They were making an exception for me. I walked to the front of the auditorium and saluted the officer. He returned the salute and pinned the metal on my uniform. I was the only Sunbeam from our Corps to receive this medal.

Captain took me to summer camp in the van, drove me back. She took me to rallies of various sorts. I went to VBS all through my childhood there and later was a helper. My reward for helping was a SA flag and American flag on a small stand. She took me to the officer training school. I wonder, did she see the call of God in me? Did she think I should be an officer? It was never spoken, but I think she did.

Later when I was old enough to be a Girl Guard (GG), the scouting program for older girls, I was asked at times to lead the meeting. Captain didn’t lead the Girl Guard’s. Kari, her young assistant, fresh from Norway, led it.  She was amazing with the tambourine with streamers. She tried to teach me but I never excelled.

One GG meeting I decided we had become too “worldly.” I took it upon myself to preach a short sermon from John 3, Ye Must Be Born-Again. I must have been 11 years old. I even gave an invitation. At the end, Kari smiled at me and prayed. She thanked God for the reminder of God’s love for us. That was my first sermon.

I have so many wonderful memories of Captain (and later Major) Gurli Johnson. I imagine she has been promoted to glory as they say in the Salvation Army. When asked what ever gave me the notion that a woman could serve in ministry I think of Captain Johnson.

Captain Johnson was a single woman who gave her life to ministry through the Salvation Army. I have no idea how many people came to the Lord during those street-meetings. Nor do I have any idea how many people received the charitable ministries of her local Corps. I know she preached faithful on the street as well as every Sunday morning at the Corps. She was the sole Pastor of that Corps.  I know she worked tirelessly for the Kingdom. I know she was a spiritual giant in that Norwegian community in Brooklyn.  I know she forever imprinted and influenced my life. She gives me courage to minister.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sounds You Crave

Have you ever noticed that your ears are a bit like your mouth? Just like your mouth waters for grandma’s special cookies, pie or stew, there are times you just get a craving to hear something that brings you pleasure. Just like the delight on your tongue, your ears tingle and feel satisfied just at a sound.
I feel that way when I go back to Nashville. When we first moved to Tennessee, we would hear:
I’m fixin to go to the store
I carried my mother to the store
ya’all want a buggy?

It sounded so strange and we would laugh. And that accent!? So tinny and high pitched. Children and even adults always called me Miss Joyce. I feared that my children would be viewed as rude since they had never been taught to use the polite Miss in front of a name. As a family, we purposed to NEVER pick up the Southern accent nor ever use fixin in a sentence. We haven’t.

Yesterday I went to the bank in Nashville. A simple activity. I pushed the button for the pneumatic tube to go inside the bank. I waited. A few minutes later, I heard the tinny high-pitched sound of a southern woman. She said: “What else can I hep you with today?”
Huh? What? I just put the deposit in the tube. I didn’t ring the bell for more service. I looked around thinking that maybe someone else’s speaker was loud. No, it was mine. I said No, thank you. Again, that sweet tinny high-pitched sound came through the speaker saying: “Thannnk you, have a wonderful day.” I thanked her and said “you too.”
I chuckled but it was a chuckle of satisfaction and joy. Hearing that southern accent and its politeness was soothing and comforting as much as grandma’s special dish.
I remember the first time I returned to the New York area after living in Missouri for many years. We were crossing the Outer Bridge Crossing from New Jersey into Staten Island. My husband pulled up to the tollbooth and asked for directions. He didn’t understand a word she said. I did. I understood every word and like yesterday, it soothed and delighted my ears. It reminded me of home just like the smell of cookies baking or bread in the oven. My own language changes when I return to Brooklyn. I ask for cawfee rather than coffee. I talk faster. I am energized. I’ve lost my Brooklyn tongue but I find it when I return. My ears are so happy to hear it. If my ears could dance, they would dance to the sound of the city and coarser sounds of the Brooklyn tongue.
However, right now, the most soothing sound is the sound of southern. What I laughed at now satisfies. I like it when I am called Miss Joyce now. I rather miss it. We met a young cowboy in Rapid City. He was full of confidence and macho-ness of the west. At nine, he behaved as if all the adults were his equals. Nothing wrong with it I suppose, but I miss the smile and the thank you ma’am or no sir.
Now I live in the upper-mid-west. They have an accent. Watch New in Town or Fargo and you’ll hear it. When we first moved there, we would chuckle at the “you bet” or the “ya’sure ya’betcha.” We purposed again to not make it part of our own language choices. However, I no longer startle when I hear it. I doubt I’ll ever crave the long “o” or have my ears tingle when I hear “you bet.” Nevertheless, I suppose this means I have adjusted, at least a little, to hearing a new sound.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Rich Woman and Tapir the Barber

Someone asked me recently about an unusual ministry opportunity. I have had them. There was the time I was asked to go to an African American Seventh Day Adventist church. I was one of two white people out of about 300 African American’s. They were such warm lovely people. I loved all the Happy Sabbath greetings. Now before we get into a discussion on theology, let me just share with you what happened.
My husband worked with a woman from the island’s name Marcia. She asked my husband one day if we had any saris. She knew my husband was from “somewhere over there.” He said no but we had salwar and kameez, the traditional dress of Pakistan. She was supposed to give a mission talk at her church. He quickly volunteered his wife and daughters to help her.
I asked him many questions. Since he has a tendency to only half listen to anyone, he wasn’t much help. He had a date and it was a church. Then he said I think it is during their regular worship service. In my mind, of course I thought Sunday. I didn’t know they were Seventh-day Adventists. My husband didn’t even know there was such a things as a Seventh-day Adventist.
A few days before, he brought home a paper that gave the mission story. A barber named Tapir, in a small town in Indian, was witnessing to people and people were coming to the Lord. I looked on the paper to get a clue as to the type of church to which we were going. No clue!
Then he said the date. I looked at the calendar and said “that is a Saturday?” He tried to call the woman. No luck! All of a sudden, what was supposed to be a family outing was not looking too promising. Our two younger daughters who were supposed to be part of this mission show-and-tell were scheduled to go on a trip to the ice show that morning. They had to catch a bus at 10:30 a.m.
Lighari’s are known for this type of confusion. We got up, got our Pakistani clothes on. Now my husband, the true Pakistani NEVER puts on these clothes. The non-Pakistani wife always becomes the demonstration model. We drove to the north end of Hartford. The north end is predominantly African-American. After much circling, we found the large old synagogue, now a Seventh - day Adventist church.
We walk in and find Marcia. She is flitting around like the proverbial chicken. Latif explains to her that we have a conflict but that Joyce will stay with you. Sabbath school begins and we sing and listen to some scripture. It is now time for my husband and girls to leave me alone.
Marcia whispers to me that when it is our turn, she’ll go up with me so I can tell the mission story. I thought WHAT???? I thought I was just the demo. Our time came quickly. My thoughts raced. I was dressed in a rather fancy Pakistani outfit, black with gold trim. The barber was poor. It was a poor village. Up to this point I had a coat over my clothes.
We walked to the front of this congregation of several hundred African-American Adventists. I thought what am I doing here. I smiled. I said good morning. They replied good morning. I told them I was a wealthy woman who lived in a small village in India. Even though I was wealthy, I had no peace. Something was missing in my life. I heard that Tapir, a barber in my village was talking about Jesus. Even though it was unacceptable for a woman of my standing in the community to go to this barbershop I went. I went because I needed peace. I went because I wanted to know who this Jesus was. I went and Tapir told me about Jesus. I received Jesus and now I have peace. I thank God for Tapir.
I wonder what they thought. I wonder if anyone thought I really was from India. Nevertheless, they seemed quite pleased. They went into their smaller groups scattered around the sanctuary. I joined one. We studied a passage from the gospels. As I left to wait for my husband to come back for me smiling faces thanked me and said “Happy Sabbath!”