Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Family Minister’s Message for December 2012: Thoughts for Advent, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and the Whole Holiday Season

 The Family Minister’s Message:

Culture Shock and the Gift of Presence    

            A woman in my religious history class in Berkeley is from a hilly state in the far northeast corner of India.  Her tribal people look more Burmese than Indian.  They speak no Hindi, only English and the tribal tongue of their region.

Her state is nearly all Christian.  Welsh and Scots missionaries took the Gospel there in the 1800s, and it took root.  Her husband, a Presbyterian minister, is here to get a Ph.D. in Biblical studies.  He has to learn Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin and German.  Their girls are 7 and 11.  One attends Malcolm X School, and enjoys music, art and all subjects. The other attends middle school, plays soccer a lot, and reads a ton of books. In one year, the girls have gained an American accent!

Mom said the kids have adjusted well, but it’s been harder for the parents.  They are used to having many relatives and friends drop in all the time back home.  Here, they are isolated.  People are too busy.  We Americans always need to schedule ahead.

On hearing that I stay overnight in Berkeley on Mondays, she asked me to come home with them sometime.  To be nice, I said yes.  But I’ve been busy and have stayed with my usual hosts. Then she asked me to come on the next week, and I decided it was time to go.

They live at Presbyterian Mission Homes, a very plain set of cottages and apartments for international student families at the Graduate Theological Union.  I saw this family’s vegetable garden, and the dad and I talked about life in Northeast India and our studies.

At dinner, dad said grace, giving thanks for the fellowship, asking for a blessing on me, my ministry and my congregation.

We had a simple and big meal:  freshly cooked veggies, flavorful meat, and white rice.  Mom kept offering more rice.  The girls were polite and friendly but not rambunctious.

They didn’t mind giving up their room for me, as they were excited to sleep on a mattress in their parents’ room.  After supper, dad studied Deuteronomy; the girls played on the computer and bathed. Mom held them, sang to them, chatted with them, put them to bed.

Afterward, she made Nescafe for us.  We three grad students read quietly into the night.  It was sweet and cozy… to study together in a small, plain cottage.  It was a gift of quiet companionship.  I faded, and turned in first.

We had breakfast, the girls met the school bus, and dad and I walked a half hour to campus.  Mom would come to school later.  I thanked them.  They thanked me.

They expect me to come back.  Showing hospitality to me gave them a break in their isolation, and a chance to express their culture and values.   To show up as their guest was a gift for me–but also for them.

I’m glad I decided to alter my usual pattern.

This December, may we find ways to alter some usual patterns.

May we reach out and welcome in.

May we give the simple gift of our presence, and invite that gift from others.



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