Thanksgiving: Charlie Brown Style

Screen shot of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD menu

I was 22 years old and away from home on Thanksgiving.

It was during graduate school and I was studying in Mainz, West Germany.

On the actual day of Thanksgiving I was traveling with a group of international students to Berlin.

The German university employee who was leading our group knew it was Thanksgiving and knew that – for the Americans in the group – it was a special holiday.

She arranged for some snacks to help us mark the occasion.

To be clear, it wasn’t turkey and stuffing and cranberries and pumpkin pie.

It was more along the lines of pretzels and nuts.

But she tried.

This evening, as my family and I watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, that scene came flooding back to my mind.

Poor Charlie Brown, strong-armed into inviting several friends to his house for Thanksgiving, was doing the best he could.

He wasn’t even going to be home for Thanksgiving dinner. He and his family were going to his grandmother’s.

So he, with the trusty assistance of Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock, prepared what he could – pretzels, popcorn, and toast.

It wasn’t what was expected.

At first, it wasn’t even appreciated.

But then, reason won out.

It wasn’t about the food after all.

It was about friends showing hospitality.

It was about gracious acceptance of honest efforts to show that hospitality.

As I prepare to share this year’s meal with my family, I am reminded of those pretzel sticks and nuts, laid out on a table in a hotel hallway in Berlin nearly thirty years ago.

Tomorrow we will partake of a more traditional fare.

But it won’t really be the food that makes the day.

It will be the gracious hospitality and fellowship offered and received.

For that, I am truly thankful.

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Where Were You When…?

Me with Mom and Dad

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has captured our attention this week.

“Where were you when you heard JFK was shot?”

I was alive, but I had just celebrated my first birthday.

I have no first-hand memory of hearing the news. My memory comes from the collective memory of documentaries and the stories of others who remember where they were.

But through that collective memory, I can still be moved by the news.

This week’s coverage has brought me to tears on more than one occasion.

I’ve been fascinated by the CBS News live stream of original coverage of the events surrounding JFK’s assassination.

It is elegant in its simplicity, its straightforward fact-telling, its respectfulness.

There is no flashy “Breaking News” theme music, no slick graphics, no ticker of factoids running across the bottom of the screen.

Just basic information that calmly informs us about what has happened, what is happening, and what we know.

No commercial cut-aways. No regular programming. No heated debates and finger-pointing.

In the first hours of coverage, anchors would switch out just by standing up, moving to the side and allowing the person relieving them to take the seat with the microphone.  Live. On camera.

No theatre.

Just the facts.

Facts are powerful.

Especially those delivered by eyewitnesses.

On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, during my devotional time, I read the report of some other eyewitnesses.

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19

As I read this, a variation of the “where were you when…” question came to mind.

“Were you there, when…?”

No. I was not.

In answer to the hymn, I was not “there, when they crucified my Lord…”

But through the collective memory of scripture and eyewitness accounts, I can still be moved by the Good News.

And I don’t need flashy “Jesus Saves” theme music, slick graphics, or a ticker of factoids running across the bottom of the screen.

Just basic information that calmly informs me about what has happened, what is happening, and what is known.

No heated debates and finger-pointing.

The story itself is elegant in its simplicity, its straightforward fact-telling, its respectfulness.

It challenges me to tell my own eyewitness accounts.

It reminds me that I am an eyewitness to God’s unending goodness and his continued creative and redemptive work in this world.

My witness can communicate an elegant, simple truth to others, even if they were not there and did not see or experience first-hand what I have seen and experienced.

They can still be moved by the news.

And that experience can become their story to tell.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” John 20:29

Freedom From Want

Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Want - hanging on the wall in our hall

I have worked my share of holidays over the years.

So I “get” that some people have to work holidays.

In my case, it was during my years as a public radio journalist.

My colleagues and I would barter and trade those holiday board shifts (“I’ll work Thanksgiving if you work Christmas Eve…”)  – making sure the music and news continued to flow across the airwaves and our FCC-required tower power and light checks were done according to the law.

For the most part, the programming was pre-recorded and the news stories were “evergreen” – written and produced in advance.

There was updated weather and the occasional “breaking news” story to share. We stood ready to implement the emergency broadcasting system.

I generally volunteered to work the morning news drive on New Year’s Day. I don’t drink alcohol, so it really didn’t cramp my style to be up and ready to go early on January 1st.

We don’t have to look far to see people working on holidays.

When you turn on your TV to watch the Macy’s Day parade or a college football bowl game or a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, somebody, somewhere, is working the holiday shift.

Of course lots of people work in areas of health and safety – nursing homes, hospitals, police, fire protection and utilities.

Given all that, why am I so appalled at the trend towards retail stores opening on Thanksgiving Day?

And – let me be up front- I am appalled.

I think it has to do with the type of activity and what it represents.

It represents a crass move to individual “convenience” over a sense of family and community.

It represents a “what-I-want-when-I want-it” worldview or an “I-am-bored-hanging-out-with-you” outlook over a worldview that values “let’s-stop-a-moment-and-reflect-on-what-matters” and a worldview of “you-are-worth-spending-time-with.”

We’ve gone from “Freedom From Want” to “Freedom To Want.”

And I don’t like it.

I understand. It’s not about me and what I “like”.

But I can’t help but symbolically weep for the person who has to work for no good reason – who has to be away from family and tradition – not in order to stand ready to alert the public about a pending weather system or breaking news or to put out a fire or to care for a surgery patient or to rescue a stranded motorist or to fill a prescription – but to sell somebody a discounted DVD player or pair of pants.

Where we had a sense of shared community – family gathering for a meal and to visit, friends hunting together, an entire nation watching together as high school bands from around the country marched through the streets of New York – we now have an individual forced to stand behind a cash register to sell another individual something they could have bought the day before or the day after.

It’s a shame.

Shame on the stores who will be open Thanksgiving Day.

And shame on anyone who goes there to buy nonessential items.

Turns out YOU are the Thanksgiving turkey.

Deep Pockets

Did you ever get a winter coat out in the fall and discover stuff in the pockets? Stuff you forgot you ever put there?

Yeah.

Me, too.

In fact, it happened to me just this week.

I went to the hall closet and got out a coat. It was the first time anybody had worn this coat since last winter.

I reached my hand into the pocket and pulled out a forgotten, folded up, abandoned five dollar bill.

I took it as a sign.

A sign that each of us has deep pockets of resources we don’t know about or have forgotten we have.

The neat part of this sign was its timing.

It came less than twenty-four hours after I learned that, due to budget cuts, my employer was eliminating my part-time position effective January 3rd.

I am soon to be among the down-sized but not the dispirited.

It was a sign.

It was a sign that I’ve got deep pockets.

There are not five dollar bills in all my deep pockets.

Some of them contain supportive family and friends.

Others contain my faith, my curiosity about the world, new perspectives, adaptability, and my willingness to see what’s next along the journey

I gave that five dollar bill to our son (it was his coat), got in my car, and headed north about an hour and a half.

The day’s journey reminded me of another deep pocket – my deep pocket of family connection.

My kid sister was having surgery on her shoulder and I was headed to the hospital waiting room.

My brother-in-law, my niece, my parents and I circled up some chairs in a corner. We waited and visited. Their pastor stopped by and kept us company.  We offered and received encouragement from total strangers who were also waiting for word about loved ones.

As they wheeled my sister out to get into the van for the ride home, my brother-in-law and parents made an actual, physical wall with their bodies to block the wind from hitting her as she came outside.

Deep pockets of amazing and tangible love and care.

As I reflect on my pending “joblessness,” I actually feel a spiritual sense of peace and possibility.

Deep pockets of calm and reassurance.

It seems like the next logical step in my journey.

Last summer I intentionally “down-sized” my job from full to part-time with an eye to carving out more time for family and to pursue my writing. I took that step in response to a “nudge” I felt – a sense of calling.

Well, this week that nudge became a shove!

This actually feels better than OK.

It feels right.

Even though winter is just around the corner…and we are getting out the coats (not all of which contain forgotten cash)…

…I am moving on with a spring in my step…

…and deep pockets of excitement for what is next.

Strength Training

Three of us gathered in the fellowship hall at our church, unrolled our yoga mats, and prepared to pursue improved fitness.

Basic stretching and some crunch-squat-pushup-style strength training were on the agenda.

In our pre-workout devotional, we talked about how we respond to stressful situations and about learning to “trust our gut.”

As we crunched away and I felt the burn in my gut, it occurred to me that before I can trust my gut, I need to train it.

I confess that my physical gut is not very strong.

For the past two years, I have (with rare exception) been walking two+ miles every day. I have managed to implement the discipline to get up before dawn cracks and get my walk in. So the aerobic thing, I’ve got going on. On that front, I feel healthier than I have in decades.

But “strength”?

Not so much.

This new group at church has given me some discipline to work on that physical strength.

But what about my spiritual “gut”?

I have always tried to strengthen my spiritual fitness through small group studies, worship, prayer, giving and service. I like to think I have been pretty consistent in pursuing those habits.

But this past year I added a new spiritual exercise that has helped me feel stronger and more focused.

In January, I started one of those “read the Bible in one year” reading plans.

I confess that I have at times fallen behind the “plan”, but I do appear to be on track to actually finish in the one year timeframe.

And I feel stronger spiritually.

Physical strength.

Spiritual strength.

Strength for the journey.

What we pack into our day matters.

Having the discipline to set aside some time for these strength training efforts can make a difference.

The strength, when we need it, will be there.

We’ll be able to trust our gut.

Hebrews 12:11-13   “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”