The History of Me: My Next Project Begins

At the end of my last reading project, I said that I had an idea for another project and would be telling you about it soon. Well, that was almost exactly one year ago… and I’m finally ready to embark on my next project. But first — a little context.

Where am I?

When I first began doing this reading-blogging-project thing, it was kind of a fluke. I accidentally stacked two books together, realized they happened concurrently, and decided to take it as an opportunity to continue my education on the true history of the Native peoples of this land and how this country came to be. I learned a lot about the stories we tell ourselves as a nation and why it’s important that we admit and honor the truth, even if it’s painful.

Then, I got curious about the land itself — while European invaders and settlers killed and stole their way to pushing the Native peoples out of their homes, what was happening in the eco-realm? The answer I found was that imperialism and destruction happened on both a human level and an environmental level, as settlers tried to literally recreate Europe in both culture and ecology.

These two reading projects answered questions I had about the historical, cultural, and ecological context in which I find myself today, as a Euro-American resident where the Plains and the forests meet. What I learned helped me to know my location — in time, in space, in culture.

But all of these questions and answers just led me to another question.

How did I get here?

Now that I know roughly my sociopolitical and geographical location — now that I’ve surveyed the landscape — what I most want to know is, how did I get here?

I’m just like the plants I read about in Changes in the Land — a European flower, growing here in space cleared by violence and colonization, but also brought here on a specific journey. How did I, Rebekah Schulz-Jackson, a German/Slovak Lutheran-raised woman, get all the way over here to Dakota/Ojibwe country at the start of the 21st century? Where do I come from? Who are my people? What have they weathered, what have they lost or gained, and what do they pass down to me — both good and bad?

I’ve learned a lot more about the story of this land and its people — and now I want to learn more about the story of the land my people came from before they planted themselves — and me — here.

The Plan

Over the past year, I’ve begun to dive into family history research, based mostly on the incredibly in-depth work of several other genealogically-inclined relatives in several of my family tree branches. As such, I’ve identified five places that (I think) are where my great-grandparents (or their parents) lived before they immigrated to the US.

Great-Grandparents Map v2

  1. Pellworm, Nordfriesland, Germany: Small island home of my mother’s mother’s mother (nee Clausen) and her ancestors going back as far as anyone knows. This is the closest thing I have to a home land place.
  2. Hannover (or Hanover), Lower Saxony, Germany: A fishing town that has been at the center of several kingdoms and was the home of both my mother’s father’s father’s family (Hillmer) and mother’s mother’s father’s family (Heldt), which is pretty funny, since my grandparents met and married in northwest Iowa.
  3. Lachen, Switzerland: A rural, mostly German-speaking town near Zurich at the base of a long lake (hence the name) that was the home to my mother’s father’s mother’s family. (My great-grandmother was only half Swiss, which makes me — if my math is right — 1/16 Swiss. So I won’t spend much reading time on Switzerland specifically.)
  4. Treten, Kreis Rummelsberg, Prussia (now Dretyn, Poland): A small farming town that’s traded political hands quite a few times, and is home to my father’s father’s mother’s family (Schwichtenberg) as well as my father’s father’s father’s family (Schulz).  It was part of Prussia when they left there — now it’s well within the borders of Poland.
  5. Brezno, Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia): Nestled in the Lower Tatra Mountains, Brezno and its neighboring towns were the home of both of my father’s mother’s parents, though they didn’t marry until they had both migrated to the US. My grandma was full Slovak — and I’m 1/4 — so I have sprinkled in a few specific resources about Slovakia and the Slavs throughout this project.

Since these places are scattered across mostly Western Europe — though focused in Germany — I’ll be reading a mix of books focused on both Germany and Europe at large throughout the centuries. Here’s my schedule:

HoM Reading Plan v2

Since I now have a full-time job (which I didn’t when I did my last two reading projects), I’ve spread the reading out to one group per month, rather than per week. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay on track.

As a fun bonus… if I stay on schedule, I will finish this reading project right before my family and I go on a family history trip to Germany/Europe to visit the cities I’ve marked on the map above!!! I’ve been researching and preparing for this project for over a year now, so I’m SUPER excited to get going and prep for our trip, which I’m sure will be very emotional for me, especially since two of my grandparents (my mom’s parents) just passed away last summer. Family history has become a lot more personal for me now.

A Disclaimer, and a Hope

Before I really get into this project, I want to be clear: I’m not really a German person. Or a Slovak person. Or a European person. I don’t speak German, I have a single “ethnic” recipe from my Slovak grandma, and even the most recent of immigrants in my family died before I was even born. Digging back into the roots of my ethnos (people group) will not suddenly make me understand the land, or turn me into an indigenous person, or bring my grandparents back, or answer all the questions I have about who I am and where I come from. As a friend reminded me when I was wrestling with some of these questions, “Germany” is a set of lines on a map, not an actual place, and reading about it won’t restore the stories of my particular ancestors. Europe is a big place, political boundaries change, and for all I know I could be genetically part Italian or Asian or Russian. There is a strong temptation for me (and, I think, for many white folks) to use rediscovering my heritage as an escape. But I can’t turn back time and flee my complicity in American whiteness and become “German” again. (And, especially because what I’d be fleeing to is Germanness, I’m particularly aware that all identities come with their own complicities and responsibilities.)

The purpose of my reading quest is NOT to nail down all the answers, or to return to some idyllic vision of “the way it was.” I know even before I begin to read that my family’s past in Europe was not idyllic, and what has been lost to the sands of the time is comprised as much of pain as of joy.

My goal is simply what it has been the last two reading projects: to emotionally engage with and attempt to understand and walk alongside the stories of a place. In this case, the place where the known stories of my family begin.

I’ve learned from both the Bible (which is full of powerful and complex stories) and the example of Native leaders in my life the immense, immeasurable power of storytelling. So now, I will read stories of Europe and of the place sometimes called Germany — because stories, like rivers, lay down layers of sediment on a place. I hope that digging my toes into each fertile layer will help me understand more about where my family once was rooted, why they chose to leave, and how I can grow my own roots here in another land.


P.S. Here are links to the books I’ll be reading, in case you want to follow along.

Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 16, Life & Death on the Plains

In the sixteenth week of Little House / Wounded Knee, Laura, Almanzo, and Omakayas tough out life on the Plains, and we finally arrive at Wounded Knee. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Family

first four yearsThe First Four Years is the only book in the Little House series that was published posthumously. In fact, it was even published after the death of Rose, Laura’s daughter, whose birth takes place in this book and who served as Laura’s editor. As such, this short book is much less polished and feels much more like Laura’s unedited thoughts looking back — which is what it is.

The title of the book comes from a conversation that begins the book: we re-see the story of Almanzo and Laura’s engagement, but this time we hear Laura tell Almanzo that she doesn’t want to be a farmer’s wife:

A farm is such a hard place for a woman. There are so many chores for her to do, and harvest help and threshers to cook for. Besides a farmer never has any money. (p.3-4)

In essence, Laura is asking why she should sign on for a life of dawn-to-dusk toil when Almanzo could easily do something else, live in town, and have a more stable source of income. Almanzo takes the same line as his father did back in Farmer Boy: “But you’ve got it all wrong. Farmers are the only ones who are independent” (p.5). After considering this, Laura agrees to try farming for three years, and Almanzo agrees he will make their living some other way if their farm is unsuccessful at that point.

I found this whole premise really interesting — it presents a much more nuanced partnership between Laura and Almanzo than anything we saw in the last book, which spent most of its time with Laura confused about whether she liked Almanzo or not. Out here in a brand new town, they really are partners. Later in the book, when Laura is pregnant and needs fresh air, she even lets the housework go and joins Manly (as she calls him) out in the fields. We get the sense that they really love each other, and that Manly is truly concerned with Laura’s happiness rather than her wifely submission and/or servitude (which would have been not uncommon at this time).

The main theme of this book, however, is not romance, or even marital partnership. The main theme is the “great American dream” struggle for individual success and against debt. As year after year the little Wilder farm encounters challenges, the debt mounts higher and higher, and Laura’s worry and tension are palpable. There are entire pages devoted to counting their hundreds of dollars of outstanding loans. As Laura struggles to keep up with all the farm chores, especially when she is ill during her pregnancy, she starts to see the farm as a burden rather than a dream like Manly does: “There was so much to be done and only herself to do it. She hated the farm and the stock and the smelly lambs, the cooking of food and the dirty dishes. Oh, she hated it all, and especially the debts that must be paid whether she could work or not” (p.119).

By the end of the book, the Wilder family has added a daughter — Rose — and weathered many storms. Their financial situation is uncertain, but they decide to continue farming because “It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely [Laura] felt her spirit rising for the struggle” (p.133). In fact, the prospect has Laura waxing poetic about the Spirit of the American Farmer:

The incurable optimism of the farmer who throws his seed on the ground every spring, betting it and his time against the elements, seemed inextricably to blend with the creed of her pioneer forefathers that “it is farther on” — only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the west. She was still the pioneer girl and she could understand Manly’s love of the land through its appeal to herself. “Oh well,” Laura sighed, summing up her idea of the situation in a saying of her Ma’s, “We’ll always be farmers, for what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.” (p.134)

And so, what starts as doubt about the viability of farming ends as an ode to the Spirit of Individualistic Farmer Optimism — the American Spirit. And our series concludes. The tiny “Half-Pint” who was such a sassafras back in the Big Woods has now grown up to be a strong farmer woman who fully espouses the American Optimism of both her father and her husband and his father.

Laura Ingalls Wilder… What happened after?

laura and almanzoThe little homestead farm did not succeed, and after a brief few years of rest and recooperating with family the Wilders moved to a farm plot in Mansfield, Missouri in 1894. They named it “Rocky Ridge” and this was their home for the rest of their days. There, Laura began to write a column on pioneer life, which began her professional writing career. Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, also became an accomplished writer. When the stock market crashed in 1929, finances got tough again. Laura asked Rose what she thought about an autobiographical story she had written, and after much expansion and editing with Rose’s help this story was published in 1932 as Little House in the Big Woods. The rest of the books were published thereafter, and Laura gained her fame as an author as well as financial security for their family for the first time.

Laura and Almanzo lived on their farm at Rocky Ridge until Almanzo’s death in 1949, at age 92. Laura lived on at the farm until her death in 1957 at age 90. You can read more about Laura’s life here.

The Omakayas and Animikiins Family

chickadee - erdrichChickadee, the fourth book in the Birchbark House series, jumps forward about ten years to Omakayas’s young family. All our favorite characters are still present — including Nokomis, who is still my favorite! — but the narration shifts to primarily focus on Omakayas’s son, Chickadee. I don’t want to spoil too many of the plot twists in this book, so I’ll just sum it up by saying that the story involves Chickadee taking a journey around Minnesota and the rest of the family relocating to the Plains (which is weird for them, as they’re from the North Woods).

One of my favorite things about this book is the loving care with which it shows how the strong familial relationships of the previous three books have expanded, but not weakened in the slightest, with the addition of another generation. Probably the most touching scene in the whole book comes when Chickadee has gone off alone into the forest after being harassed about his “weak” name, and Nokomis comes looking for him:

Although she was ancient, his great-grandmother always saw into his heart. Because she always listened to him, Chickadee always told her the truth. (p.27)

Not only that, but after she finds out that Chickadee is being teased, the next time she hears crap out of the teaser she literally whaps him on the head with her walking stick and squashes his hat. I LOVE NOKOMIS FOREVER!

As Omakayas’s family travels and expands, we start to see a lot more points of interaction between Anishinabe culture and white/Anglo/American/settler culture. A few examples:

  • Chickadee meets a group of nuns who take him in. One is kind, but one is overtly racist and cruel: “He is a filthy savage… He could kill us in our sleep” (p.87). Upon learning that his name is Chickadee, the cruel nun remarks, “He’ll be baptized and given a proper name, a saint’s name. How typically pagan, to be named after a bird!” (p.89)… which got me wondering, what do the saints’ names originally mean?
  • We learn that Quill is MARRIED! His wife is Metis, a people who blended Anishinabe and French culture. When Omakayas and family first arrive, she welcomes them, but “her face said, I wish you’d go away” (p.98).
  • Quill has a job driving an ox cart loaded with furs to trade them in St. Paul. We get to see quite a picture of Minnesota’s capital in 1866. As Chickadee views a big city for the first time, he has this to say: “The ones who built and lived in those houses were making an outsize world. … Everything that the Anishinabeg counted on in life, and loved, was going into this hungry city mouth. This mouth, this city, was wide and insatiable. It would never be satisfied, thought Chickadee dizzily, until everything was gone” (p.155).

I loved the way Erdrich uses the characters’ travels around Minnesota to give us a really diverse picture of what Minnesota was like for both white/Anglo/American/settlers and Anishinabe and other Indigenous peoples. And, of course, it’s extra delightful to explore all these different types of life with characters that I’ve already grown to know and love in the previous three books.

The Anishinabe: Where are they now?

turtle mountain chippewa reservationSince the Birchbark House books are loosely based on author Louise Erdrich’s ancestors, I’ll focus on the history of her band, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa IndiansChickadee takes place in 1866. In 1863, a treaty was signed by several Ojibwe bands ceding land to the United States. In 1882, the Turtle Mountain Reservation was established in North Dakota. Today, the Turtle Mountain Band has 30,000 enrolled members, nearly 6,000 of which live on the reservation itself. You can read more about the various branches of Anishinabe people here.

The Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek

The last two chapters of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee follow Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas and the rest of the Lakota people as they surrender onto the Great Sioux Reservation, are swindled out of much of their remaining land, have a last movement of hope, and then endure the slaughter of innocent people at Wounded Knee Creek.

As I read these final two chapters of the Lakota story (in this book anyway), what struck me was how twisted and convoluted it was.

  • Chief Sitting Bull was still safe in Canada with his people, but then the Long Winter of 1880-81 caused many to surrender rather than starve or freeze — eventually including Sitting Bull himself.
  • Originally all the Sioux had a pretty substantial “Great Sioux” reservation… but then it was carved up and swindled from them even further to the four smaller Sioux reservations we have today.
  • The agent at Standing Rock Reservation and other government officials weirdly made it their mission in life to de-leaderify Sitting Bull: “You are not a great chief of this country… you have no following, no power, no control, and no right to any control. You are on an Indian reservation merely at the sufferance of the government. You are fed by the government, clothed by the government, your children are educated by the government, and all you have and are today is because of the government. If it were not for the government you would be freezing and starving today in the mountains. …The government feeds and clothes and educates your children now, and desires to teach you to become farmers, and to civilize you, and make you as white men.” (p.425-6) They fail to mention, of course, that the only reason the Lakota were ever starving and freezing in the mountains is… because of the US government!
  • A “Paiute Messiah”, Wovoka, began to preach Jesus-like messages of hope and deliverance from the oppression of the whites, and to teach the Ghost Dance. Unsurprisingly, many wanted to cling to this hope and joined the dance. Also unsurprisingly at this point, large groups of Native people gathering and doing something that whites didn’t recognize as being basically a Christian revival freaked a lot of white people out.
  • Because Sitting Bull was so respected, the powers that be decided he was the source of the “rebellion” that was the Ghost Dances. They decided to stop it by arresting Sitting Bull. They sent a huge force to do it, and Sitting Bull was shot twice and killed.

As all this craziness got people scared, many fled to Ghost Dance camps for protection, and one group started toward Pine Ridge for safety. They were intercepted by a large Army group who told them they had orders to disarm them and bring them in. They camped overnight at Wounded Knee Creek — 120 men and 230 women and children. In the morning, everyone assembled to be disarmed. Then the Army searched people’s tents. Then the Army searched the people. One Minneconjou man, who was reported to be deaf and who had just purchased a brand new rifle, tried to say that he didn’t want to give it up and waved it around a bit.wounded knee massacre chief spotted elk Shots were fired, at which point the Army immediately began mowing people down. After the first volley, they brought out their huge artillery and fired on this group of innocent civilians, who tried to flee through the snow. As the killing ended, a blizzard began. The bodies were left overnight. When crews and photographers came the next day to clean up the bodies, many were frozen in grotesque shapes.

It seems to me that the Wounded Knee Massacre was a summary — a tipping point — a microcosm — of everything that had happened before. All the theft, all the domination, all the murder and the hatred and the fear and the religious hypocrisy that was planted earlier bore its poisonous fruit at Wounded Knee. And that, I think, is part of why it’s so infamous and remembered — because it contains all the pain that came before it, and it gave birth to all the pain that came after it. It’s like a funnel, or the narrow point on an hourglass.

When I first learned about the Wounded Knee Massacre in history class, I remember thinking, “How could they do that? Why would they ever?” But now that I’ve read about 50 years of US-Native relations, honestly, the circumstances of this massacre don’t really surprise me. It’s the same thing that happened at Sand Creek. It’s the same thing that happened at Camp Grant. The whites had so much fear of and hatred towards Indians in their hearts that the slightest excuse — even made up ones! — set them off and then they just kept firing.

How sad is it that after reading even a short segment of the history of US-Native relations, the senseless massacre of 150-300 women and children doesn’t surprise me?

There is so much brokenness and pain in our collective past here on this land. And because we have never dealt with it — because our government and all of us immigrant settlers continue to benefit from this pain without ever looking it squarely in the eye — there is still so much brokenness and pain in our collective present. We need healing. Individually, corporately, as a nation, as a family of humans surviving together in the same place. I don’t know yet what that looks like. I don’t know if anybody does. But I’m going to keep trying and muddling and praying and failing and trying again, because we are all still broken.

The Lakota: Where are they now?

By 1890, all the various tribes of the “Great Sioux Nation” had been defeated and relegated to a variety of reservations around the US. The Oglala, the tribe of Red Cloud, are today federally recognized as the Oglala Lakota nation. They primarily reside on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota. You can read more about the Oglala here. The Hunkpapa, the tribe of Sitting Bull, today have a large population at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the border between North and South Dakota. You can read more about the Hunkpapa here. In 1973, a group of Lakota associated with the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over and occupied the Wounded Knee site for several months. You can read more about that incident here, and more about the American Indian Movement here.

We’ve reached the end of my reading list for this project. 

A brief announcement: Next week I will be traveling to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with a group from my church on a NON-mission trip. Our purpose is somewhat nebulous, but generally our goals are to learn, be present, discuss, and grieve in a place which has become such a lightning rod for American Indian issues. We will also be visiting the massacre site at Wounded Knee, which I’m sure will be an emotional day. I’m looking forward to a powerful trip, and I will likely write about it after I return.

In the meantime, thank you for reading along with me throughout this journey. I hope you will continue to ponder these issues — I know I will!

[Edit: Here’s my post about my trip… and here’s the first post in my next reading project about colonizing the land…]

In which I keep crying…

I’ve been crying a lot more recently.

I never used to cry. I sort of hate it. I get all wobbly-mouthed and my throat seizes up and I can hardly speak. And then, my nose runs. Yuck.

I don’t know what has brought this change about, but more and more often I find myself tearing up at unexpected times. Like in the middle of a super logical sermon, after a not particularly emotional but rhetorically powerful statement. Or like when I re-read for the umpteenth time Walk Two Moons, a favorite book from childhood — even though I already knew what was going to happen.

Today I teared up bigtime — but this time I think I know why.

Today I had the privilege and honor of interviewing someone about his life story. I went to this man’s house, met him and his family, sat down at his kitchen table, and listened. And I was literally overwhelmed. With words that seemed to just spill out of him, for starters. Then by a tingly feeling of awe.

To make a long-ish story short, this man had previously been, as he put it, “Full of pride, and all about living for myself. I didn’t care about anything. And I did some bad stuff.” Then, he survived an accident and, as he also put it, “God was sending me a message.” He turned his life around. I could plainly see the fervor with which he talked about his love for his children, his devotion and respect for his wife. “Not every man would say this,” he said, “but even though I work hard, my wife works way harder than I do. 24/7. She is the pillar of our family, and I’m not afraid to say it. She has always been there for me, even when all my friends left me. She’s the reason I want to have a home for our family, because she deserves it.”

This, my friends, is a redemption story. When one who is selfish and lost (as we all are) can be so deeply transformed into selfless Christ-like-ness (as we all hope for). And this is why I tear up all the time. Because in the midst of the struggles and the bad stuff and the confusion and the brokenness and the pain — especially there — there is Jesus. And there is redemption. The kind of redemption that makes your heart squeeze and your eyes burn and your face flush because it just doesn’t make sense, but all the same it is so beautiful.

I don’t much like crying. But for this, for beautiful Jesus-redemption in the midst of the dry deserts of life, I will cry every time.

E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Today I was listening to my “audio cathedral” playlist on iTunes (yes, I’m a total church choir nerd!) and was struck yet again by the simple beauty of the Paul Manz song, “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come”.

If you have never heard this song before, I suggest you listen to it right now — or at least read the words below.

(I prefer the men’s choir TTBB arrangement, but the SATB version is pretty too!)


Peace be to you and grace from Him Who freed us from our sin
Who loved us all, and shed his blood , that we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord , the Lord almighty God
Who was and is, and is to come, sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein! Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon, for Christ is coming soon.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more.
They need no light, no lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their All!

Hauntingly beautiful.

Anyway. It’s written by Paul Manz, who is sort of like THE Lutheran organist. (True story: I grew up listening to Paul Manz hymn festivals and organ pieces on roadtrips.)

I found out that “E’en So” was my mom’s favorite choir piece when I started looking at colleges because apparently it’s the signature piece of the Concordia Choir (St. Paul). Once the band (which she was in) went on tour with the choir and I think they got to sing the final piece together, which is pretty cool. So I’d heard a lot about it, but I’d never heard the song performed until the Cantus concert we attended right after we got married in 2011. They sang the men’s chorus arrangement, and it felt like a full minute before anyone dared clap afterward. I was hooked.

Listening to the words today —  “Lord Jesus, quickly come”, longing for the perfection of heaven — it struck me how perfectly this song represents the core of Lutheran theology. To me, having been raised up in both the music and theology of the LCMS, “E’en So” encapsulates the Christ-focused, crucifixion-based, heavenward-bound spirit of the Lutheran Church. The hopeful-yet-minor melodics, the yearning simplicity, the open fifths at the end that sound heavenly but not too “major”… to me, “E’en So” captures both the depth and the transparency, the grit and the release, the Good Friday and the light of Easter morning that appears in the Gospels.

And, while there are some things I disagree with about the LCMS, to me “E’en So” and the messages it represents will always remind me of my Lutheran roots.

So I’m curious — what other hymns or choral songs do you think would be the “anthem” for other denominations? (I would take a stab, but I don’t feel like I know other denominations well enough just yet!) I want to know what you think!

 

The REAL cure for affluence-related depression (maybe).

Rebekah recently ghost-wrote a post on the Connected Families blog.  The main thrust was this: in America, kids from families of wealth/luxury/affluence are three times as likely as the average child to experience anxiety or depression. That’s even more than families in poverty!

My best interpretation of this:

  • We’re miserable because:
    • We lack mission, vision, or a sense of purpose because our suburban bubble-world is already thoroughly comfortable and safe, so all we have to do is “enjoy”.
    • When our primary earthly mission is to “enjoy life”, then any time we’re unhappy, we think:
      • our unhappiness is a violation of our highest purpose and birthright,
      • it can only be explained as a failure by us, our family, or God,
      • and we should try to feel happy again by any means we feel necessary.

My sense is that ultimately, the best way for wealthy people to make their lives better is for them to stop focusing on making their lives better, and to look instead (or predominately) to the needs of the world.

  • We’d be happier/better off that way because:
    • Looking compassionately and fairly at our hurting, unjust, and jeopardized world is a limitless source of mission and purpose, of things to do that really, really matter.
    • When our primary earthly mission is “to live out (God’s) compassion and justice in a (beloved,) broken and beautiful world”, then any time we’re unhappy, we can recognize that:
      • our unhappiness is a natural occurrence in a broken world,
      • it connects us to hurting people everywhere,
      • and it reminds us to continue to live in ways that address human sorrow in general.

In the face of the anxiety, depression, and self-harm issues plaguing wealthy children and families, we might say “see, we’re just as needy as anyone in the world”, and invest more resources into meeting our own needs — say, through counseling or more after-school activities.

  • But this misses the point, because it follows the assumption that:
    • Money and service follow pity and misfortune. When I pity a poor person, I send them some money. But when I pity me, I spend more money on me. Whoever “has it good” should help whoever “has it bad”.
  • A truer assumption is:
    • We all live together in a world that has every kind of need and resource, pain and beauty, scattered everywhere and in diverse ways. We can work together across lines of difference to make our world better, and it will make each of us better in the process.

Buying therapies for the symptoms of idyllic luxury might work somewhat, but this is surely less effective than taking the sorts of actions that more powerfully undermine our (and our children’s) sense that everything should be perfect for us. To be more deeply healed, we must bring our bubble-dwelling families, churches, and communities to be involved in the messiness, pain, beauty, and need of the world — the REAL cure for affluence-related depression.

Creative Writing: Portrait of a Grandpa

Thick, squarish glasses perched on a hawkish nose; five white hairs, bravely alone atop his head; age-thinned plaid shirts partnered by the gray cardigan that went with everything; the easy-flashing smile, revealing antique fillings — and wrinkled face never far from that hearty, oh-so-desirable laugh.

In fact, when I think of Grandpa, the first thing that comes to mind is his mischievous laugh, leaping out of him but still reserving that little hint of a prank well-concealed — or one about to be born.

The second thing that comes to mind when I think about Grandpa is how much he loved (and still loves) Grandma. I cannot remember when I first heard the story of how they met — Minnesota German and Pennsylvania Slovak, brought together by a World War and some scheming Lutheran church ladies — but now I have heard it told so many times that it seems I have always known.

When I think of how blessed I am, he says, that a beautiful lady from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, would come all the way across the country just for me–. He still tears up every time he tells their story, worn smooth and warm and familiar by countless repetitions, familiar like the fthppp of the playing cards as he shuffles them to deal another hand of Cribbage.

He cries a little more, now she is gone. Talks a little more of death and heaven, as if those are now his reality, which, in a way, they are.

Someday soon, he says, I won’t be around anymore–, and this repeated phrase, more than anything, betrays the creeping of his heart towards eternity.

The thick, work-weathered hands still shuffle the cards, but now the fthppp is accompanied by a wince.

Can you shuffle those for me once? My arthritis is giving me trouble.

I take the cards, begin to shuffle as he taught me. Split, shuffle, bridge. I smile, crack a joke about my impending victory, and am rewarded by that laugh, that infectious laugh. I wonder if that laugh is what brought my grandmother to Minnesota.

Ding, ding, ding. The grandfather clock begins to strike the hour. I straighten out the cards, and deal.

Foundations

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you said that you were okay with me leaving the “strawberry patch” for another denomination — and I know you still love me anyway — but today I wanted to take the time to say “thank you” for raising me in the Lutheran church.

As I started to “wake up” in college and pay attention to my beliefs and my surroundings, some of the first things I noticed about the LCMS were the hard things that I couldn’t quite swallow and needed to wrestle with, like closed communion and women in the church. (I still wrestle with those things, by the way.) But now that I’ve gotten a little older and have the benefit of a little more hindsight, I’ve started to realize some of the less hard, more awesome things that have been planted in me through you.

For example, in looking back at the LCMS I’ve realized the huge emphasis that it places on education and knowledge, which has definitely been passed on to me. The impulse to study and dig into something before I make a conclusion might just be a personality thing… but I think it’s more likely that this was cultivated in me by you and by a church that values knowledge of scripture to the point of memorization. (I still remember parts of the catechism — this is most certainly true!)

I also appreciate that from a young age I was taught the importance of knowing my church doctrine — that doctrine matters, and is something to be pondered and not treated lightly. Some of this came in the form of jibes about some “Christianity lite” churches we visited… but in the end, I think I got the point, which is to make sure that my faith isn’t just about “Ten Steps to a Better Life” but is always rooted and based in the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, even in the midst of the gentle teasing of other denominations, I still learned the importance of respecting the folks across the theological aisle, so to speak. I remember attending different sorts of services with you several times, whether due to vacations or volleyball tournaments, and I always felt like it was an important part of my education to understand how our faith and traditions fit into a larger picture of Christendom.

Speaking of traditions, I’m also really glad that I grew up in a church that has a strong sense of church tradition. I think I really came to appreciate and understand the layers of meaning behind the traditions, especially since as a pastor’s family we were so immersed in them from year to year. Now, I also appreciate the value of more spontaneous worship, but I will always have a special spot in my heart for the color-coded observance of the church year and the liturgy that I still have memorized.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I’ve “left the fold”, I still respect and appreciate my roots. And I’m thankful to both of you for working so hard to plant and raise me in the “strawberry patch”.

Happy Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day too)!

Love,
Rebekah