Thursday, September 27, 2007

Grandpa Stan

Today on NPR someone was talking about telegraph operators. My grandfather was a depot agent for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. He lived and worked in towns in western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. Among the interesting things in my grandparents' basement was an old telegraph key and a number of strange looking glass jars. They were actually telegraph insulators and apparently are a collectable nowadays.

Because Grandpa was used to typing out telegrams, his letters to us were always in all caps. ALL CAPS. It wasn't screaming in those days, just a way to expedite getting the message through. The letters frequently came on railroad note paper used to relay the messages sent to the depot. I still have a few in my old jewelry box of treasures.

Grandpa was also a banjo player. He almost missed the birth of his second child because he was out playing a gig. It was a way to make some extra money and he loved entertaining. At the wedding of his youngest daughter (a 25 year span from eldest to youngest) I remember he played a number of his own creation, "The Lutefisk Rag." Old time jazz with a distinctly Norwegian sense of humor.

As a little girl I always wanted to play with the telegraph key, but somehow felt it was too special for me to use as a toy. I wonder now if I had asked for lessons, if Grandpa wouldn't have taught me the tapping magic of the Morse code.

I also used to wait and wait for him to play the banjo. When we would come for our annual visit, we were almost guaranteed a small concert. And if he came to see us, the banjo usually made the cross country trip. As much as I wanted to hear my grandfather play and sing, I would rarely ask him to play. I though it was an imposition. How silly! The man was born to entertain! I imagine he was just waiting to be asked.

The songs were always fun. "Five foot two, eyes of blue.... has anybody seen my gal?" Stuff from the 1920s or things that he sang with the Glee Club. He had a wonderful tenor voice.

My grandfather died when I was in college. It was 29 years ago this September. My grandmother, a spritely young thing of 97 continues to amaze us all with her energy and vitality. Ah, but we miss that banjo player.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A 6 year old sermon... for next Sunday...

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a little kid? Did you want to be a fire fighter and slide down the pole in the firehouse? Did you imagine yourself riding on the hook and ladder truck? Did you want to be the one who rode up front, a Dalmatian at your side as you sounded the siren and raced to help people in need?

Did you want to be teacher? Surrounding yourself with invisible students or stuffed animals or younger siblings - giving them assignments and reading to them in that upside book way that only teachers have?

Did you picture yourself as a famous athlete? Did you practice your swing? Did you practice your autograph? What would it say on your baseball card?
Or were you a famous singer? Crooning into your hairbrush and practicing your moves in front of a full length mirror?
What did you want to be when you were a kid?

My guess is that whatever you imagined yourself to be, you weren’t too worried about the paycheck. Your dreams were based on adventure... or fun... or modeling what mom and dad were doing. Your ideas of what you wanted to be when you grew up had more to do with joy than they did with money. You wanted to do something that made you happy. It’s only as we get older that we begin to concern ourselves with thoughts of career and salary. When you’re a little kid, your dreams are about fun and excitement. You race inside from a day of discovery to announce to all who would listen, “Look what I can do.”
And a weary grown up voice asks, “And how much an hour do you think they’ll pay you to do that?”
If you’re young enough, the answer is, “Who cares! A hundred dollars! A million dollars! Does it matter? Look what I can do!” But if you’re older, you begin to think- hmmm…. "How much money can I make?"
All too often we measure the worth of an accomplishment by what it can earn us. We forget that there are other standards that can give our lives value and merit.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul calls his young friend to see what is really important in life. Remember, he says, “we brought nothing into this world and we take nothing out... And the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
Instead of worrying about paychecks and investments, Paul directs Timothy to pursue righteousness and godliness. Faith and love. Endurance and gentleness. Paul calls Timothy to measure the success of his life not in monetary terms but by how well he has served the gospel and our Lord Jesus Christ. Because that is where his true joy can be found.
Paul ends his letter by saying, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus is sending home the same message. He tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to the Pharisees, whom Luke describes as “lovers of money.” And Jesus want all of us to understand how wealth should be used. It’s a lesson not on the evil of money, but on priorities.

In today’s readings we are confronted with an important question, and it is not “Are you rich or are you poor?” as if one or the other would make us a morally better than the other.
The question is not “How much do you have?” but “How much do you care?” And the Lord is very clear in saying, that the message he is bringing is the same one that God has been promoting since the days of Moses and the prophets.

God is on the side of the poor, the outcasts, the prostitutes and tax collectors, widows, orphans, lepers, those whose bodies are twisted and those who cannot see. God cares about them and wants to gather them in to ease their pain and sorrow. And Jesus is calling us to care about them as well.

We are invited to be concerned with issues of justice and righteousness. We are to be sharing what we have with those who are in need. We are to care for the Lazarus at our gate. His welfare is to be our concern. And in caring for those who are in need, we are teaching Christian behavior to those who witness our deeds of kindness.

One of my favorite church songs from childhood says, “God loves a cheerful giver, give it all you’ve got. He loves you when you’re happy, and he loves you when you’re not.”
But I have never found that giving does anything but make you cheerful.

When we were kids, we dreamed of a happy grown up life. A life of adventures and new discoveries.

We weren’t worried about the market. Or our IRA’s. We weren’t too concerned about what kind of salary we’d make. Or what the boss might think of us. We just wanted to do something that made us happy.

Having made it to the grown up world, I have found that what makes me happy, what gives me joy, is serving God. And being in community with his people. Each of us, in our daily lives, have the chance to find our happiness in living the love of Christ. Each of us meets people every day who are yearning to find the life that really is life. Each of us has the chance to cheerfully give and share.

It’s not what you earn that brings you joy, it’s what you do with it.

Remember, it’s not how much you have, it’s how much you care.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Birds!

This afternoon as I was sitting outside wondering just where, oh where the cat had gotten to, a flock of crows was circling and landing in the cemetary. I suspected that this was a sign that Timothy was not around. Although those big birds could probably have done him a heap of harm.

I have never liked crows. When I was about four we lived in a house at the top of Strawberry Hill Road. Ours was the only yard on that part of the street and it was the logical place for birds to land. My mother had sent me outside to play. At the time she had three children, I was the oldest. I am sure she just needed SOMEBODY to go do something else while she was dealing with diapers and breastfeeding and all the rest.

But those birds SCARED me. To a little girl, they looked huge! And to a little girl it seemed that the birds were not looking for seeds or bugs, they were looking for little girls to attack! I can remember standing at the front door unable to get in. I am quite sure that my mother had not locked me out, she's not that kind of person. But I couldn't get the door open and I was being attacked by malicious, evil, big black birds! Eventually she let me in. I'm guessing she was in another part of the house or running the vacuum or something, but I was being attacked!

Even now I am not inclined to watch showings of Hitchcock's "The Birds." It gives me the willies! In its article on Tippi Hedren, Wikipedia says,

For the harrowing final attack scene in a second-floor bedroom, filmed on a closed set at Universal-International Studios, Hedren had been assured by Hitchcock that mechanical birds would be used. Instead, Hedren endured five solid days of prop men, protected by thick leather gloves, flinging dozens of live gulls, ravens and crows at her (their beaks clamped shut with elastic bands). Cary Grant visited the set and told Hedren, "I think you're the bravest lady I've ever met." In a state of exhaustion, when one of the birds gouged her cheek and narrowly missed her eye, Hedren sat down on the set and began crying. A physician ordered a week's rest, which Hedren said at the time was riddled with "nightmares filled with flapping wings".
I hear you Tippi! And that's my silliness for the day. The cat's at home. The birds have gone to roost. Bug Man is watching football and calling his mom. Soda Chicky is home from church choir practice and has plugged back into her Ipod. All is right with the world.

The kitty came back!

Well, it took him about 22 hours, but Timothy found his way back home. Bug Man said, "I let him slip out and locked the door, but he found his way back!" Such cynicism! The man would have been much sadder than he lets on if the cat hadn't come home. Currently Timothy is wandering around the house crying. He's a goofy old man but we do love him.

Where are you, Timothy?

Our cat has gone for a walk-about and I'm not happy about it. Timothy is a house cat and not completely suited for neighborhood wandering. Somehow he got out last night and he was sneaky about it. It's probably my fault. I was grilling dinner. It was dark and I must not have pulled the screen door shut on one of my comings and goings.

We have had Timothy for ten years now and we've gotten used to him. He's gone on wanders before but not in this neighborhood. We live on a busy street and as I've said before, our backyard is a cemetary. He could be hiding just about anywhere. I am hoping he will come home soon, wagging his tail behind him. But he's an older gentleman and he might not find his way back. Will he remember which house is his? Plus there's that whole big metal car versus little gray cat thing that worries me.

When he has gone missing before, he's come home within 24 hours or so. It's about hour 20 now, I'm hoping he's remembering that this is where the easy food comes from. Sigh....