Thursday, May 28, 2020

What We Can Learn from Funfetti Cake

     I was never able to break my mom of the habit of buying food at discount dollar markets.  When you had to raise three kids on a small income, it taught her the thrill of the hunt — finding that one bargain others missed.  Now in her eighties, I mainly worried she would get expired food that would make her sick.

     Well, I was wrong; she never did. 
She has recently decided to stay in assisted living, so one chore we have started is going through her late-seventies olive green upright freezer out in the garage.  The door does not seal completely, so it is held closed by a worn red bungee cord looped around the handle and attached to metal shelving next to the freezer.  Sure enough, it was stuffed with bargain treasures like peppermint chocolate from some long-ago Christmas and meat frozen so long I was unsure of its cut.  But the shelf that captured my attention the most was filled with boxes of cake mix — white cake, Funfetti, chocolate, carrot.  She had mentioned these to me.

     “I’m sorry I have to leave my cake mixes behind,” she said on the phone as we talked about things that needed to be done.  There are not any ovens in her new digs.  “Be sure you take them if you want them.” She could not see me because we were on the phone, but I narrowed my eyes at this comment; I suspected she had hit the discount store.

     But, like the good son I am, I pulled them out one at a time to check them: Expiration date February 20, 2017; June 12, 2017, and a very faded expiration date of 04/06/16.  Not one of the many boxed cakes had expired less than three years ago.  Sigh… to be honest, given my weight, I was not so sure I needed a Funfetti cake anyway.

     The reality is life catches up to all of us at some point, and we have to leave things behind.  Sometimes it is because we age out of our homes and are forced to downsize; sometimes it is for more sudden reasons like a fire or a death.  In my case, if I had to suddenly leave things behind, my kids will probably find shocking amount of duplicate toiletries.  I always have an extra shaving cream waiting, and the minute I need it, I pick up the next one.  Sometimes it gets out of hand.  I get confused and end up buying stacks of extras.  I mean, does anyone really need four extra sticks of Gillette Arctic Ice Men's Deodorant or three spare 1.5-liter bottles of mouthwash?  (Yes, I just went into the bathroom and counted.)

     Part of this has made me want to do a little clearing out of my own house.  I have not cracked those German books from my college days in four decades, so it is a safe bet I could live without them.  I do not want my own kids to have to rummage through things and exclaim, “Why in the world did he keep this all those years?!”  Could I live with just one extra deodorant instead of four?  In my autumn years, I would like to walk a little more lightly on the earth.

     But there is another part of me that thinks about how my years have gone by quicker than I could ever have imagined.  Maybe the lesson is we should not wait so long to make that Funfetti cake.

Friday, May 1, 2020

It’s the End of the World (of course)

“… the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. “  — Mark 13
     So, with the very justified fear of the Covid-19 virus, the disruption in our lives, the loss of jobs, and the over 200,000 deaths worldwide, it is beginning to feel a little bit like the end of the world.  And of course, it is… just not quite in the way modern doomsday prophets tend to think of it.  

     Did you know there have been 173 formal public predictions of the end of the world since Jesus left?  On average, the end has been predicted every eleven or twelve years since the first century.  More religious leaders than you can count have predicted the date of the end, including Martin Luther, the Shakers, Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church), the Millerites (they predicted it four different times), the Jehovah's Witnesses (twice), Pat Robertson (twice), and Jerry Falwell (twice.)

     One of my personal favorites has to be Mary Bateman who lived in Leeds, England.  In 1806, a hen of hers began laying eggs on which the phrase "Christ is coming" was written.  Eventually, it was discovered Mary had written on the eggs in a corrosive ink so as to etch the eggs, and then reinserted the eggs back into the hen's oviduct.  Yikes!

     Of course, the all-time winner of this bizarre competition has to be the late Harold Camping.  He predicted the end of the world on six different dates: Three times in 1984, once in 1985, and in both May and October of 2011.

     Despite all these predictions, this old world, and the little spiral galaxy we call home, and the universe itself continues on its course.  Spring follows winter; the autumn harvest is brought in.

     The Jews knew what it was like to have their entire world changed overnight, destroyed.  Their nation was destroyed and they were taken captive into Babylon around 423 BCE.  That is why the apocalyptic language Jesus used in Mark 13 was so well known.  It had been used by their greatest prophet Isaiah and by those prophets they knew well: Ezekiel, Daniel, and Joel.  When you lose everything; when your entire world is destroyed, it can feel like the sun and moon have been darkened, stars are falling from the sky, and earthquakes are shaking the whole world.  That is how it feels for so many right now.

     But if we stop and think for a moment, this is not the first time the world has ended for many of us.  Most of us have lived through the end of the world as we knew it at least once; some of us have lived through it a number of times.  Maybe it was because you lost a job or lost a relationship.  Maybe the end of the world came when you lost your home in a fire.  Maybe your world ended when you lost the dearest person on earth to you.  Suddenly, the world you had to go into was nothing like anything you knew, and you found yourself wandering as a stranger in a strange land with no familiar landmarks.  You were lost.  In my case, it has happened three times: The first time was at age eighteen; The second when I was thirty-two; and the latest time was when I was forty-nine.
So, how do you keep walking?  How do you keep hoping when it feels like the world is coming down around your ears?

     Oscar Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop in El Salvador who was martyred for his stand for the poor and for peace in that violent and corrupt country once said,
"It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision…  We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete...  No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the Church’s mission… This is what we are about: we plant seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development… We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.  We may never see the end results...  We are prophets of a future not our own."
     How do you keep going?  How do you keep hoping when it feels like the world is ending?  For people of faith, and for people of no faith, I think the answer is the same:  We accept not everything is about us.  Like Oscar Romero, we accept that we are limited… our time on this earth is limited.  So, we do what we can today, and recognize much of the meaning and joy in life is found in serving others in our own day, and those in the distant future we will never meet. 

     If right now, it is feeling to you like the stars are falling from the sky and the earth underneath you is shifting, that is ok.  You are just human.  So as a limited human being, we do what we can in our time.  We can do our dishes; we can take care of ourselves and others; and maybe, just maybe, we can plant seeds of hope and kindness and justice.  Some of those seeds may grow quickly, but many will lie dormant, ready to bloom in some far-off better world.