We Need Each Other

Monday, August 30, 2010

I grew up in the United Presbyterian Church, but I've belonged to an LCMS (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod) congregation since I got married, and I've been married longer than I was single. That's the same LCMS congregation my husband has belonged to his entire life.

So when we heard that LCMS began near where our daughter now lives, we added it to our vacation itinerary.

Our first Lutheran heritage stop was at Altenburg, Missouri, in the southeastern part of the state. Altenburg is one of several settlements founded in 1839 by a group of Lutherans from Saxony. Altenburg has a Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum, and the grounds include the first permanent church building in Altenburg. That's it in the picture, although it is now part of the museum. It was replaced in 1867 by a larger church building still in use.

The grounds at the Lutheran Heritage Center also include the Log Cabin College, which trained new pastors for 10 years before its functions were transferred to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in 1849.

The Lutherans' first two years were tough ones. Most of the settlers had been tradesmen in Saxony, but upon arrival in America they became farmers, learning as they went. They also faced disease and discouragement.

A group of Presbyterians had settled in the area twenty years earlier, and now they proved their Christian kinship with the Lutherans by helping them through those tough times. (I particularly appreciate this connection between my childhood denomination and my current one.)

Back in the present, after leaving Altenburg, Roland and I drove about five miles to Frohna, Missouri, which is another of the settlements from the same immigration. There we visited the Saxon Lutheran Memorial: a farm once owned by two brothers who came over with the other Saxons in 1839. The brothers bought it as a working farm from one of the Presbyterian families already established in the area.

Which gets me to the point of this post. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics: we are all part of the same Christian family and should help each other the way healthy biological families do. Nor should it stop there. We are all connected in the "family of man." To quote someone from my family tree: "No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." (John Donne, 1623)

So let's follow the example the Presbyterians set at Altenburg.

Lest We Forget

Monday, August 23, 2010

Here's another idyllic sight that isn't as idyllic when you know the story.

The year was 1830, and the place was Georgia. The Cherokees lived in log houses and farmed their land. Many Cherokees spoke both English and Cherokee, and they even had their own alphabet and newspaper. And they wanted to live in peace with their white neighbors.

But some of their white neighbors didn't see it that way. As more settlers poured into Georgia, they wanted the prime farmland that belonged to the Cherokees. The white man's greed increased when gold was discovered on Cherokee land.

The State of Georgia tried to force the Cherokees out, but these Native Americans didn't put on their war paint. Instead, they took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court--and won.

An illusory victory. White men wanted the Cherokees off that land, and the white man in the White House held the power. As President Jackson is reported to have said, "Marshall made his decision, now let him enforce it."

When the U.S. government offered to relocate the Cherokees to Oklahoma, some thought it better to give in and move out peacefully, while others wanted to stay and resist. So the first group left "voluntarily," if not happily, and the second group stayed until 1938, when soldiers came and forced out the more than 16,000 who remained. Most of these Native Americans were interred in a stockade for the winter, where approximately 500 died from illness. Then the soldiers forced the survivors to march 800 miles under harsh conditions, losing another 4,000 people before reaching Oklahoma.

I took the picture at Missouri's Trail of Tears State Park, which is located where most of the Cherokees crossed the Mississippi River on their forced march from Georgia to Oklahoma. Majestic and peaceful as the site is now, it nonetheless reminds us that white Americans are no better than anyone else. The number of deaths from the Trail of Tears may not come anywhere near the number from the Holocaust, but the prejudice and greed that caused them are the same.

And it could happen again, especially if we forget and grow complacent.

As George Santayana said over 100 years ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I shudder at the thought.

The Good Old Days

Monday, August 16, 2010

Idyllic, isn't it.

Our vacation included a stop at Bollinger Mill State Historic Site in Burfordville, Missouri. The picture shows Bollinger Mill and Burfordville Covered Bridge, which provided access to the mill for people coming from the east.

The setting is idyllic, but the life wasn't.

When we were there in early August, the temperature was in the upper 90s and the heat index was over 100. It was even hotter inside the mill, which has too many cracks and openings for air conditioning even today. And, of course, air conditioning as we know it didn't exist in the 1800s, when mill employees worked from dawn to dusk.

But it was a party for the farmers who brought their grain to be ground into meal and flour. Farm families camped near the mill and used the occasion as a social gathering. A much needed social gathering, because the farmers and their families worked from dawn to dusk when they were back on the farm.

They also lived in houses without indoor plumbing. Imagine the smell and the flies in the outhouse. Then think about getting up in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm and having to go to the bathroom! Some people used chamber pots in bad weather, but imagine the smell in the room until they had a chance to empty and wash them out. (I'd be just my luck to be assigned that chore.)

Okay, you say, so maybe the living conditions weren't that great in the old days, but there were fewer divorces and a stronger values system.

I'll give you the fewer divorces. The conditions probably encouraged more couples to work out their differences. But there were also many dysfunctional marriages.

And crime, and wars, and envy, and greed, and hatred. Those things don't change with the times.

So who's longing for the good old days?

Not I.

Following the Call

Monday, August 9, 2010

A week ago I watched my son-in-law become an ordained minister. The service included many reminders that God's call is the beginning rather than the end of the process. Although Pete has completed his four years of seminary, he will grown in his faith and continue learning to follow Christ until he dies. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work (and how I pray it will actually work for Pete).

But this life-long learning is not just for ministers.

All Christians are called to grow in faith and to continue learning to follow Christ. That's true in our personal lives as well as in our vocations.

Even if you aren't a Christian, you never stop learning. You either learn to be a better lawyer or writer or teacher or secretary or janitor or spouse or parent, or you learn to become a second or third-rate one. You either learn to enjoy your life, or you learn to curl up and die inside. But you don't stop learning.

Learning isn't a choice, but what you learn is. So choose wisely.

Yellow Kitchens and Pink Bathrooms

Monday, August 2, 2010

I admit it. I'm an HGTV junkie. "Househunters" and "Househunters International" are among my favorite shows.

But while I love to look at the houses on TV and decide which I like best, I'm often puzzled by the things that matter to other people. Granite counter tops look nice, but laminate is more cost-effective and durable.

Then there are those stainless steel appliances. White ones are just as functional and cheaper.

And why would you want a cathedral ceiling in your entryway or a bathroom you can waltz in? Lowering the ceiling would create another usable room on the second floor, and who dances in their bathroom? To me, that's just wasted space.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm all about function, although comfort is important, too. Yes, I want my house to look nice, but I'd rather live in a box that works than a palace that doesn't.

When Roland and I bought our house, it had a hot-pink bathroom. Not my style, and definitely not his. But we were looking for a place where I could have an attached law office while the children were small, and this was it. So we lived with the pink bathroom for six or seven years until we could afford to redo it.

The "need" for top-of-the-line, expensive things in a home is one thing that fueled the recession. People bought what they couldn't afford and then complained when they couldn't make the mortgage payments. It's one thing to buy nice things if you can afford them, but they are luxuries. When they become necessities, they are just another symptom of our materialistic society.

I'm proud of my daughter and son-in-law. When they went house-hunting in May, they put function first. They enjoy cooking, so they wanted lots of cupboards and counter space and were willing to put up with ugly to get size. (That's their "new" kitchen in the picture. Actually, "ugly" is their word. It isn't my style, but I don't hate it. And the yellow probably wouldn't stand out so much if it weren't for the dark cabinets and brick backsplash.) They bought the house even though they knew that only cosmetic changes were in their budget.

Because yellow kitchens and pink bathrooms are still functional.