Good conversation is a hallmark of Hutchmoot.
We eat our meals together. At my first Hutchmoot, we ate in the basement of The Church of the Redeemer at long tables lined with metal folding chairs.
I actually wrote a cheesy poem about my experience that year.
In a metal folding chair
At the end of table two
I met some friendly people —
Could one of them be you?
For every single meal
My chair was there for me
Always just the same
At table two, not table three.
’cause a moot of hungry rabbits
Can be a daunting sight
For one who’s always awkward
And never fits quite right.
For a timid little bunny —
Oh dear! What will I say? —
My chair at table two
Gave me comfort every day.
So if I didn’t meet you —
And there were quite a few —
It may be that you never sat
And dined at table two.
As hungry as I am for good conversation, I’m also terrified of saying something stupid that reveals the fool that I am. That first year, I chose to sit at the same chair for every meal. It gave me comfort. It was a decision I didn’t have to make again. I just got my food and headed to “my” chair.
The food was amazing. I should write a post on that. Maybe I will.
But what I loved most about the meal times was the conversation. Even when I wasn’t engaged in conversation, I was listening to the buzz of fascinating talk going on around me.
Sometimes friendships begin with a commonality of something that both people love, and sometimes they begin with a common dislike or pet peeve. CS Lewis’ quote — “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!'” — is oft repeated at Hutchmoot. When conversations — really respectful conversations — occur between people with different viewpoints, each person leaves better and wiser. Sometimes friendship is born of that, too.
That first year, I didn’t know it was what I was looking for, but I found the conversations to be a highlight. It’s been that way every year since. The conversation is substantive. It feeds me. While the food is nourishing my body, those words are filling my soul.
I think it was at Hutchmoot that I learned to be a true lover of good conversation.
Malcolm Gladwell did a fascinating two-part episode on memory in Season 3 of his Revisionist History podcast. He began with memories of 9/11 and how, if you ask someone today where they were and what they were doing, they can recount precise details of that morning. However, sometimes those memories are incorrect. When shown written evidence — a journal entry or an email that they wrote that day — saying that they were actually in a different place or with different people when the planes hit the towers, people will say, “I don’t know why I wrote that. I remember that morning so clearly.”
I had one of those moments this morning when I was getting ready to write this. I have a few crystal clear memories from that first Hutchmoot, one of them involves a session Ben Shive gave called “How to Smile: the Fine Art of Loving Brian Wilson.” Brian Wilson, the creative genius behind the Beach Boys, struggled with mental illness. As soon as I saw the write-up about the session, I knew it was one I wanted to attend.
When I opened my notebook to read what I had written during the session, I thought, That’s not right.
There on the page, in my scrawly handwriting, it said, “- walked with one hand covering his soul.”
For nearly ten years now, I’ve thought of it as one hand covering his heart. I thought he was afraid his heart would fall out.
In fact, when I’ve been near the bottom, my hand finds its way there, over my heart, feeling its rhythm, reminding me that I’m still alive. I first remember doing it after that session.
Because there were times over that weekend when I thought my heart was falling out.
If it fell out, and I fell apart, everyone would know.
And that couldn’t happen because it wasn’t my story.
It turns out, though, that it wasn’t my heart after all. Or rather, it wasn’t Brian Wilson’s heart. It really was his soul that he held in — confirmed by my notes and by the handout Ben Shive had given us. Ben had been doing some serious research on Brian Wilson.
I probably changed it in my head because I was less worried about my soul — I knew it was in safe hands — and more worried about my heart that weekend.
On another page of notes, I had written short summaries of each of the sessions I attended. For How to Smile, I wrote three words — “Grace, grace, grace.”
Grace for those with mental health struggles.
Grace for myself.
Grace for all.
Hutchmoot planners don’t come up with a theme and tell their presenters to focus on it. The theme comes on its own, and may be different for each attendee. Grace was my theme that year. It began with Ben Shive talking about Brian Wilson.
Then, either Russ Ramsey or Justin Gerard, in a session called “Interview with a Dragon Maker,” said, “I called you to your story. I didn’t call you to perfection in your story. My grace is sufficient for you.”
And finally, Thomas McKenzie, in morning chapel, said, “Grace flows from the hard places.”
I really shouldn’t be here.
That thought ran through my head over and over during my first Hutchmoot in 2011. It was a two-pronged accusation:
My first fear was quickly laid to rest. Hutchmoot is put together and attracts a very warm, friendly, accepting group of people. I felt encouraged. I felt challenged (in a good way). I felt like my cup was filled just by virtue of being there, hearing the music, sitting in the sessions, eating delicious meals in a church basement on a metal folding chair, being surrounded for a whole weekend by loving people who longed for substantive conversation the same way that I did.
My second apprehension was a little harder to allay. Mental health issues are tough. They are private. They are scary. They are misunderstood. They carry a stigma. They hit too close to home sometimes.
But I think that I’m getting ahead of myself. Some of you are probably wondering what a Hutchmoot is. The short answer is that it’s a conference.
From my notes from that first Hutchmoot: “Hutchmoot is the intersection of faith and folks.” And that’s about as good a definition as any of them, but go ahead and google it. Hutchmoot is famously hard to explain. That’s partly why I decided to do my A-to-Z Challenge on it. Maybe enough little stories will help someone understand it in a bigger way.
So, back to September 2011. Early in the month, I had gotten one of those phone calls that parents dread. I had a child in crisis. It upended my life. Most of that story isn’t my story so I won’t tell it, but about two weeks before my flights to Nashville, I was sitting in a counselor’s office and had this conversation:
Counselor: What do you have going on for the next few weeks?
Me: When I get home, I need to cancel some flights for a trip I was planning.
Counselor: What was the trip?
Me: I was supposed to go to this thing in Nashville, but I don’t feel like I can go now. [I think I fumbled around with words trying to explain Hutchmoot.]
Counselor: Why aren’t you going?
Me: Ummm. I can’t. I need to be here.
Counselor: No. You need to go. You need [child’s name] to see that life still goes on.
And, with that, the decision was made.
Sometimes, what looks like a selfish decision — going off to a conference — is actually a selfless decision. Honestly, I didn’t really want to be there. At the counselor’s insistence, and against my own heart, I went.
It was the best thing ever.
More on that tomorrow, when B is for the Beach Boys. Aren’t you curious how they play into Hutchmoot?
A few weeks ago, when Texas had their devastating freeze, I listened to a news story about all the people impacted by the loss of crops. The farmers suffered the most obvious loss. The consumers would feel it, without their leafy greens in the grocery store or on their dinner table. I hadn’t thought about the migrant workers who now had no crop to harvest, or the people who work in the processing plants where the produce would have been cleaned and packaged, and the truckers who would have transported it.
Unseen does not mean insignificant.
My Lenten reading brought me to Luke 22 — the story of the disciples getting the room ready for that last Passover meal.
So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room…’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.”Luke 22:8-12
I followed Peter and John into the city where they met the man carrying a jar of water. I found myself wondering about that man. Why was he there? Was he sent there specifically to watch for Jesus’ followers? Or, was this one of his daily tasks, fetching water, and Jesus knew he would be there? Was he waiting? Or, as always, was God’s timing just so very perfect?
The master of the house had the room ready. What did he know? Did he always have that room ready for guests? Had God impressed something specific on his heart that morning? Or that week? Or, was it years before, so that he always had his guest room ready because, who knows, perhaps God would have need of it? Had he graciously let the room out to others who asked or had need? Had he grown weary of hospitality?Or was it his calling and he found it fulfilling even if he didn’t always receive the gratitude he may have been due?
Did Peter and John have to go to the market to purchase the bread and the wine that we know they had that night? Did the market vendors know the great purpose of the items they were selling?
Did the one who baked the bread know about the breaking of his bread by the One who was the Bread of Life? Could the vintner have possibly imagined that his wine would represent the blood of a New Covenant?
I mentally followed the people-trail in that story trying to see the unnamed and unseen people. They’re everywhere.
During this time of mask-wearing and isolation, I think many may feel unseen and insignificant. May I encourage you today to keep carrying your water. Keep your guest room ready. Keep baking bread and growing grapes.
And if your job has been taken from you because of weather or a pandemic or some other unforeseen circumstance, be faithful with whatever is put before you.
Keep doing those daily tasks that no one sees.
Because “no one” is a misnomer.
There is One who sees and values what you do. You may be serving Him in ways you cannot imagine.
[the class of persons who had been imported as slaves] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…Chief Justive Roger Taney in his majority decision on Scott vs Sandford, aka the Dred Scott case
A few years ago I started researching the history of Cooperstown. This meant spending delightful hours at a research library, reading book after book on the area, noticing all the historical plaques on buildings and around town, and, of course, googling and following subsequent rabbit trails.
One of the surprising things I learned was that a Supreme Court justice considered Cooperstown his home. To me, this was bigger than baseball. Bigger than the wealthy people who vacationed here. Bigger than James Fenimore Cooper’s awful books.
A Supreme Court justice! Holy crow, right?!
We named a street for him in the village.
His tiny lawyer’s office is now on display at the Farmers’ Museum.
Why, then, had I never heard about this man?
It took all of one Google search and I had my answer. At the end of the first paragraph of Samuel Nelson’s Wikipedia write-up, it says, “He concurred on the 1857 Dred Scott decision…”
Dred Scott is arguably one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made. The majority decision held, basically, that slaves had no rights. While Justice Nelson concurred with the majority, he based his decision on the fact that he believed that the question of slavery was one that each state needed to decide for itself.
Regardless of his reasoning, Justice Nelson was on the wrong side of history. A few years later, the country was in a civil war, and some 620,000 lives later, the majority ruling in that case was irrelevant.
I thought a lot about Justice Nelson during the most recent impeachment trial.
I was reading a story about senators being censured for their votes in that impeachment and ran across this regarding Pat Toomey, senator from Pennsylvania:
“We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing,” Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball told KDKA. “We sent him there to represent us.”Fox News
People can be caught up in what feels like a righteous movement and still be dead wrong. Think about the Roman Catholic church and Galileo.
I wanted to write Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball and ask him, “Did you really mean that? Is that how you feel about all trials? Don’t you want people to have consciences and make rational decisions based on the evidence they hear? Are you going to regret those words?”
I imagine that Samuel Nelson may have rued his decision. At least I like to think he would have.
I love the way The Farmers’ Museum handled it. Inside Samuel Nelson’s lawyer’s office is a display explaining Dred Scott because it was probably the most important case he heard — and his worst decision.
I think baking is very rewarding, and if you follow a good recipe, you will get success.Mary Berry, judge on The Great British Bake Off
One of the nicest things to happen to me recently was when I came downstairs to find the kitchen clean.
Not only clean, the coffee maker was ready to go, with a note taped to it to just push start (or play, as one of my other children used to say).
Not only clean and coffee-ready, I found whoopie pies baked and ready to be assembled.
If you aren’t familiar, a whoopie pie is a New England thing (although the Amish also claim them) made with two chocolate cake-like cookies with a sweet cream filling sandwiched between them.
“I remember you saying that Grammie used to make them for you for your birthday,” my daughter Mary said.
Yes, that’s true. My mother grew up in the Boston area and I loved her whoopie pies. I used to make them for the older kids, but I don’t think I ever made them for Mary.
“I had to look through three boxes of recipes before I found this one,” Mary said, showing me the old hand-written recipe which my mother had labeled “Whoopee Pies.”
“Then, I just thought of it as a technical challenge like on the The Great British Bake Off,” she said. “I followed the directions exactly. When it said, ‘Sift the dry ingredients,’ I sifted the dry ingredients. When it said to put them by teaspoonful on the baking sheet, I used a teaspoon.”
It’s amazing what happens when a baker carefully follows an old recipe.
Even sweeter than chocolate and cream is a person so thoughtful to find a special recipe and make it for someone who would appreciate it.
Mom’s Whoopee Pies
1/2 Cup Shortening
1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Sugar
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Soda
5 Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Sift. dry ingredients.
Add rest and mix until smooth.
Drop by tsp on ungreased sheet.
10-12 min at 375 until set but not crisp
When cool, put together with filling.
2 Egg whites
2 Cups Confectioners sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Shortening
Mix until smooth.
I can love you only when I meet you where you are, as you are, and treat you there as if you were where you ought to be. I see you where are, striving and struggling, and in the light of the highest possibility of personality, I deal with you there.Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge
I came across this quote a while ago and copied it out.
I wrote it again this morning in my journal, thinking about the idea of meeting someone where they are but treating them as if they were where they ought to be.
So, so hard.
In 1949, Howard Thurman wrote a book called Jesus and the Disinherited. It is said that Martin Luther King, Jr. carried two books with him all the time — The Bible and Jesus and the Disinherited.
Thurman was an African-American theologian-mystic-teacher-author. He was raised by his grandmother who had been a slave.
Let that sink in.
We are not far removed from slavery.
Does that change how you read the words of that quote?
How about knowing that he was mistaken for the custodian while he was the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University? Does that change how you read his words?
It’s been a crap day for me. People close to me have behaved in awful ways. When I wrote those words in my journal this morning, I had no idea how much I would need them this evening.
But if I can just remind myself that those people who are behaving awfully are striving and struggling. I need to seem them in the light of the highest possibility of personality. I need to deal with them there.
The following prayer was written nearly six years ago when my mother was hospitalized. She was eventually discharged, but then died later that year.
I share it today because I know so many people are now caring for their own elderly family members. I want to encourage those of you who are in that position to use those quiet bedside moments to talk to God. Offer your thoughts, your observations, your concerns and your memories to Him — maybe in gratitude or maybe as a way of reconciling. The single most important thing that got me through those days was prayer.
O Great Physician —
You love the hoary head,
including my mother’s silver waves,
now matted from too much time on the pillow.
As I sit beside my mother’s bed
and study her lined face,
I watch each breath pass through her lips
with an effort she did not used to exert.
Occasionally, her weary eyes open,
she doesn’t even know me!
Heavenly Father, cradle her.
She worked hard in this life,
raising five children,
supporting her husband,
preparing meal after meal
for family, friends, and strangers,
using her nursing skills
to give hope to others,
using her tragedies
to encourage those
who encounter the same.
Let her know the rest
that only You can give.
While I sit here
don’t mind me.
I’ll just hold her hand
and weep a little.
I’m content to wipe her face,
give her sips of water,
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
I’ve been fighting the Snark Monster in my heart the past few days.
Every response that I begin to form in my mind to an on-line discussion goes snarky after the first few words. I remind myself, “A gentle answer turns away anger,” and try again — always with the same outcome.
Things that bother me — glibness and condescension. For those of you who want to get under my skin, try those two together.
Be glib; be shallow; don’t put any deeper thought into your comment; spit back answers that I’ve probably heard in 37 sermons. Yep — that will irk me.
Pair that with a little condescension by assuming that I don’t know anything and I’m sunk. A condescending tone and, if we’re talking in person, an accompanying smirk will bug the bejeebers out of me.
Things I don’t know anything about and therefore have zero-risk of condescension — automobile engines and living in the heart of a megalopolis. Feel free to explain as much as you want on those topics, but be forewarned — my eyes will glaze over when you talk about engines.
And now I’m bordering on snarky. Sorry. Maybe it doesn’t sound blatantly snarky, but if you could see my heart… ew.
One of the things I love about the way Jesus taught was that he used stories and images to make his point. It’s hard to be condescending in a story. A good story pulls the listener in and suddenly you’re walking on that road to from Jerusalem to Jericho, you’re attacked by robbers, you see people pass you by instead of stopping to help.
Laurel asked me last night why I say half-past or quarter-to when I’m telling the time. “I think it’s because I see that clock face divided into quarters and have a mental image,” I said, realizing that she mostly sees time in a digital format, so it didn’t have as much meaning. Mental images appeal to me.
When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the Spirit, he used imagery of the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) When I think about that verse, I hear the wind, I feel the wind, I see things moving with the wind — but I don’t where the wind begins or where it ends — and I realize that I’ve learned something about the Spirit by realizing how little I know about it.
No glib condescension or snarkiness there — just an opening of my heart and mind.
I think my gentle answer needs to be a story. A good story will at least lull the Snark Monster to sleep.
There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it’s a dreadful beauty.John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I talked to my counselor about East of Eden, telling her how I am being so disciplined about not reading ahead. Seriously, I’m not even flipping a few pages ahead to see how small situations turn out. I’m reading one page at a time.
“Why did you used to read ahead?” she asked.
“The anxiety of not knowing was killing me,” I told her.
“Ah,” she said knowingly. “You struggle with regulating your emotions when you’re reading a book.”
“Only good books,” I told her.
Truthfully, if I don’t love or hate the characters, I don’t need to read ahead. It’s when I’m wrapped up in them that I feel this burning need-to-know.
My brother called me out on it. “That’s cheating,” he said, but then he went on, “Once I was reading a Stephen King book and I hated one of the characters so much that I didn’t think I could finish it, so I put the book down. About six months later, I picked it back up and finished.”
That’s basically what my counselor said, too. “When you feel those emotions rising,” she said, “put the book down and let your feelings settle.”
I’ve made it to page 485 of East of Eden using that technique. It’s slow going, but I’m being an honest reader.
And I love the book.
For so long, I have pushed my feelings aside. They’re like the handblown glass animals I used to keep on a shelf in my room when I was a kid. Occasionally, I would take them off the shelf — usually to dust — and handle them oh-so-carefully. Then I would gently place them back in the same spot they had been standing.
My feelings were too fragile to explore. What if they broke? What if I broke?
I remember one of my high school swimmers holding hours-old baby Laurel. “What if I break her?” she asked me.
“You won’t break her,” I said, knowing that holding my tiny baby wouldn’t harm either of them.
But then again, neither will sitting with strong emotions.
“It’s okay to cry,” my counselor told me early on as I blinked back tears when talking about my father.
“It’s okay to feel angry,” she said, when I told her about a terrible situation I had been in.
I just read the part in East of Eden where Lee tells his backstory. I closed the book and stared at it. It may be a day or two before I reopen it. The strong emotion button has been pushed.
The thing is Lee had known Adam Trask many years before he told him his story, and I had known the two of them for nearly 500 pages of reading. A trust had developed. It didn’t make the story easier. It did make it more beautiful — a dreadful beauty.
And I think that’s partly what I’m afraid of when reading intense books — the dreadfulness. I need to remember there’s a beauty there, too.
Truthfully, we are surrounded by dreadful beauty. Most of the time, we don’t even notice. Our eyes are unseeing and our hearts are unfeeling. Not out of callousness, but out of self-protected-ness, because it hurts to see and feel.
It hurts and yet it is beautiful.
East of Eden is teaching me.