Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Grandfather

I remember strange things.  I say strange, because there is no rhyme or reason to why I remember something.  I remember my childhood telephone number, but not the number Carol and I had in our first apartment.  I remember the names of my kindergarten and first grade teachers, but not those of my fourth and fifth grade teachers. I can remember what year all of my grandparents were born, but only one of their birth dates.

Today is the one of those that I remember.  My grandfather - James Worden McFarlane.  We called him Mac. He was born in 1902 (oh dear, I don't remember what year he died, but it was in the early 80s).  This man was nothing other than a character.  I feel so badly that I saw him through my mother's eyes rather than the eyes of his friends.  Mom was so weary of dealing with his craziness and complete dependence on her that I didn't get a chance to get to know him as an adult. By that time, he was just a needy old man.

He was absolutely brilliant.  His father was a professor at Columbia and co-wrote a series of geography textbooks used all across the country in the early part of the last century.  His mother decided that the easiest way for her to live her life was as an invalid.  It was a choice rather than a necessity.  (She was a little insane.)  They lived a life filled with excessive wealth; much of his youth was spent travelling through Europe.  When the stock market crashed, Mac was out on his own.  The family lost their money, but kept their stuff. He married one of his mother's nurses and that turned out to be the worst decision he'd ever made - she was a hag.  But, he took care of her all his life.  He refused to divorce her, but moved out in the early 60s.  They were both happier that way.  She still had access to his money, but not his philandering ways (one of his girlfriends taught mom how to drive - she knew them all).  He had his freedom and maintained contact with his daughter and grandkids.

He and his brother owned a newspaper in Syracuse, NY.  That wasn't enough for Grammy, so he got a job as head of the in-house printing shop for Harvard University and they moved to Boston.  They lived in the carriage house on the estate owned by the then treasurer of Harvard and Mac allowed Grammy to live a simulated life of wealth among the upper class.

Mac loved to visit us in small town Iowa.  That life was entertaining for him. One year he took a vacation to Hawaii and came back with slides for us to see.  In that little parsonage, the only large white space to show the slides was the shade covering the front window.  We all gathered for an evening of gorgeous pictures.  But, that wasn't exactly what Mac had planned.  Not only had he shot pictures of scenery, but relatively naked women in Hawaii.  All of a sudden Dad gasped and ran outside.  Oh yes ... there was mild pornography being shown through the windows of the parsonage.  Mac knew exactly what was he'd done.

I learned about the real Addams family from Mac.  Whenever I spent time with him, he pulled out Charles Addams' books.  They were filled with images drawn by Charles Addams for the New Yorker magazine.  Twisted and bizarre.  I loved them.

When I was ten, Mac was living in Iowa. Grammy wanted me to come to Boston for a visit, so Mac drove me in his VW bug.  We had a grand time.  Mom made him swear that he wouldn't drink while we were on the road, so if we stopped for the night at a hotel, he'd make me promise to tell mom that the drink he'd had was while we were stopped.  We stopped to see his brother David and they left me at his brother's apartment while they partied. I have absolutely no idea when they returned the next morning.  Those two men really enjoyed having a naive little girl with them.  They were hideous flirts and I was simply another offering to the waitresses.  We were surrounded by waitresses all evening long.  Two good looking older men, spending lots of money and a cute little girl who had NO idea what was happening.

One of my favorite stories was when we were driving through the mountains.  We kept seeing  signs that said "Watch for Running Deer."  Well, Mac decided to entertain himself and told me a story of how there were Indians in the mountains and they had lost one of their young braves.  He hadn't been seen for months and months and finally had begged the government to put up signs asking travelers to assist in looking for him.  I still didn't understand the joke when we came upon the sign that said, "Watch for Falling Rock." I kept a close eye out as we traveled for those poor lost Indian braves.

There are a lot of stories about Mac ... some I remember, some that others remember.  He was a character, though and I wish I'd known him differently than I did. But today I'm thankful for the things I do remember about him - both good and bad.  He's part of who I am and that's pretty cool.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Glorious Insignificance

We got new neighbors at our duplex and the first time I drove into the parking space, I was a little overwhelmed at the HUGE truck.  Driving around in my Jeep, I generally feel a little 'on top of the world.'  It's a nice sized vehicle and I rarely feel dwarfed unless I'm in the middle of a pack of semis on the interstate.  But, this guy's truck totally takes me down a few notches.  The thing is, the sensation occurs every time I park next to him.  Every time!  All of a sudden, I feel very small.

The other morning as I was driving, I had the same sensation, but from a different source.  The wind had blown leaves off the tree and those beautifully colored leaves had carpeted the lane and were also floating downstream on the river.  The trees on the hillside were changing colors, the cornfields were empty except for what the farmers left in them; in one field cows were munching away.  It was too much and my emotions just exploded.  I hadn't traveled a mile and had to pull over and just let the tears flow.

Several years ago Louie Giglio spoke at a Passion event on how small we really were.  Behind him, slide after slide of incredible pictures from NASA filled the wall.  God created those enormous galaxies.  This vast universe was created by our God.  In the big picture, we're pretty insignificant.

But ... this same creator knows every hair on our heads, every sparrow that falls. He created the intricacies of our bodies and each leaf on every tree.  From the vastness of the galaxy to the minutiae of the molecules that make it ... He is aware and He has a plan.

Sometimes people drive big trucks and I feel insignificant.  Sometimes I find myself surrounded by glorious beauty and I feel insignificant.

But then I realize that where it really matters, I am unique and a specific part of the plan God has for this world.  It might not be a big part, but it is still a part and I am called to do it with everything I am.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

What's up?

I love the idea of taking pictures of Yoda in different venues, but I only remember to take him with me some of the times and when I do toss him into the car, he seems to faceplant more often than not.  Poor stuffed Yoda.  I didn't take him to the laundromat with me or to the grocery store and both of those places could probably use a little bit of fun with Yoda.  I haven't yet figured out how I would explain him sitting in the children's seat of my grocery cart.  I'm sure I'd get a lot of funny looks and very few questions.  That means that most of the people would simply think I was nuts. (stop it)

This semester I ended up taking only 3 classes.  After the intensity of last semester with four classes, two of which were languages, I figured this would be a nice, easy term.  I was wrong in so many ways!  In fact, I was so wrong that one evening I threw a complete and utter tantrum all over my poor sister.  I was just angry.  It took me about an hour or so to calm down and realized that I actually HAD signed up for all of this, I just didn't like the way they were presenting it.  And ... it was my problem.  I calmed down.

I am taking an Introduction to the Old Testament course, which isn't exactly what I expected it to be.  But, really ... how in the world do you quickly look at 39 books of the Bible in one semester?  I have four fairly intense textbooks and we are moving through them quickly.  Is there any particular reason academic writing has to be so darned difficult to read? One of the authors insists on interspersing multiple subordinate clauses in his sentences.  By the time I've reached the fifth or sixth comma, I've forgotten the original intent of the sentence, much less the paragraph or chapter.  For someone who can finish a novel in a few hours, reading this slowly is frustrating.  I can promise you that I'm not actually retaining any more information at this pace than at my regular reading pace!

But the class is introducing me to things that I hadn't seen before and any time I can learn something new, I am happy.

My Christian Formation course is ... well ... hmmm.  Interesting will work, I suppose.  It really is difficult to be 52 years old, have a lifetime of walking with God, living within the church, acting on God's call in my life and then be treated like a 21 year old who has no idea what is coming in his or her life.  God and I have been forming my Christianity for a lot more years than you have been alive, Mr. Teacher.

This week has been a real struggle for me as we have looked at racial divisiveness and I have read posts by white men who refuse to even consider that they might stereotype others or have prejudices.  In the same posts, they disdain 'white male privilege' because they've had to work for everything.  As soon as that type of intense defensive behavior shows up, they don't understand that they are showing their true belief systems.  They are the ones who have been put down by the world ... a world in which someone from another race or culture is given opportunities. It actually broke my heart to read some of that underlying racism and the justification they have for it.  These are going to be our future pastors.

The last class I'm taking is Hebrews: Exegesis.  For an entire semester we will look at the book of Hebrews in the New Testament.  Now, ideally, we would all be well-versed in Biblical Greek, but the truth of the matter is ... we're not.  It's a struggle for most of us (me included, and I have had two strong semesters) to move past our English translations of the Bible to looking at the Greek.  But the depth of understanding is so profound when it actually happens.  There is a lot of work, but I love it.

I can get lost for a long time in reading and trying to comprehend all that the Greek is telling me.  I am forced to slowly move through the words - back and forth between translations - to try and understand why an English word was used when it feels as if another would be a better choice. I'm having fun with this class.

At the end of a day of this stuff, I usually feel like Yoda ... I faceplant into my pillow and try to turn it all off.

And now ... I think I've probably avoided my Greek long enough.  It's time to go back to work!