Put Up Your Feet & Read a Little

I have an unfettered imagination. I know this because when I tell my husband I don’t believe in zero, he says, “Neither did the Neanderthals.” “Show me,” I say. “Show me one place anywhere in the universe where zero can be found.” He turns up the car radio. At that point, I stop trying to engage him. He has that slide rule look about him and has his feet firmly planted in reality. But that is not where I live. I live most of the day in my imagination’s garage. Just last week, I considered ditching reality and zero altogether, packing a lunch, jumping into the air and letting the earth spin beneath me until I re-gravitated somewhere over Kew Garden. 

Imagination is the organizing venue for all thinkers and writers — fiction or non-fiction — lyricists or poets. Charles Darwin imagined a tree when he was puzzling through his theory of evolution; Albert Einstein rode a beam of light all the way to E = MC 2. Unfortunately for writers and readers, alike, imagination expands and contracts under its own power. Frequently, imagination is on vacation, leaving the body it once occupied limp and grey in front of a blue-glowing computer screen; but when it returns, it engages neurons, dendrites and digits to produce the most amazing human insights. 

God did this for us. By His grace, we are the beneficiaries of language. We all have, to a greater or lesser extent, the ability to describe, communicate, sooth, interdict, instruct, forecast, report, lecture, warn and imagine stunningly complex sets of ideas through the building blocks of words agreed upon by convention and organized by syntax. 

At St. Michael’s, we are blessed with an abundance of wordsmiths, but moreover, we are blessed with an abundance of discerning readers. I had an inkling that this was true within a few weeks after joining St. Michaels when Greg Jones, almost giddy with anticipation, told us that he just picked up a copy of Dan Jones’ # 1 international bestseller, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who Made England and admonished us to read it. I ordered a copy that day. Many of our members can remember being guided through C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters by Christopher Hogin at Lee and David Hayden’s house during several frosty winter evenings; and many will think back to the time Jeff Hensley brought us together to discuss the quality of mercy and forgiveness while reading The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal during three adult Sunday school sessions. More recently, I spent a flu-soddened afternoon hallucinating with Robitussin, St. Julian of Norwich and Robert Fruehwirth’s book about her spiritual life titled The Drawing of this Love. This is a sipping book — intimate and profound.

St. Michael’s book group, Words & Wisdom, catches the overflow of individuals who want more of those experiences — individuals who admire authors, love words and want to share ideas about books they have read with others. Our selections are usually a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. We intentionally select books that provide a moral dilemma or ethical challenge which we, then, try to sort out during our meetings. This past year, for example, we read two non-fiction books, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Garwande concerning issues of aging and dying, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. A month of poetry reading came in April with a collection titled Ten Poems to Change Your Life by Roger Housden. Two novels, Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian author, Per Petterson prompted discussion about how childhood trauma shapes adulthood; and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman encouraged us to be aware that even the “pests” in our lives may nudge us toward a better understanding of our sometimes remote selves. 

There are currently about 15 readers in the Words & Wisdom group. Not everyone reads every book or comes to every meeting, but the men and women who do are the most interesting people on the planet. We meet in each other’s homes (on a volunteer basis) because it provides a more intimate setting for members to get to know each other. Our meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month September through May. At the May meeting, we generally adopt a reading list for the following year. The books we selected this past May to read during the 2017-2018 year are listed below and notice is given in the church bulletin for the upcoming month. Look for the first announcement in August for the September book, When Breath Becomes Air.

Language has to be one of the most useful gifts God has given us. In life, we never really know how our story will end, but our lives are ever so much richer when we turn the pages together. Join us!

 — Anne Crawford

Words & Wisdom Reading List for 2017-2018
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty (1982)
Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline (2013)
Formed by Love by Scott Bader Saye (2017)
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (2017)
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010)
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)
The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist by Richard Feynman (2005 edition)
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance (2016)

What are you doing on Sunday?

It’s Sunday morning, and as families gather in the pews, Mike Ferguson and his young daughters Ellery and Baker are among them. “Ferg,” as everyone calls him, has been bringing the girls to church since they were very small, sharing prayer books and hymnals with them so they learn the patterns of our worship. 

Mike Ferguson with Ellery, left, and Baker

Mike Ferguson with Ellery, left, and Baker

“The routine and structure of church was paramount in my life growing up,” says Ferg, “so when I first started coming to St. Michael’s, I mostly was doing it because it was ‘what I was supposed to do.’” His wife didn’t grow up in a household where church was a part of her life, so Mike knew if he wanted his girls to know church life the way he experienced it, it was going to be his responsibility.

More than 400 families with children make St. Michael’s their spiritual home. But why? As part of our “Whole Life” year-long project, we asked a few of our families why they chose our parish, and what brings them back each week with their children.

“Kristen and I both grew up going to church but wandered away after going to college,” says Will Lingo, who was senior warden of the Vestry last year. Members since 2007, the Lingos, like many, were prompted to return to church life when their children Joe and Kate came along. “Even then we weren’t sure what church had to offer us,” Will says, “seeing most as either too close-minded and rigid on one extreme or so touchy-feely and wishy-washy on the other. The first time at St. Michael’s, Greg mocked the “Left Behind” book series in his sermon. I knew we were home.”

Ferg saw his “single parenting” church as an opportunity to spend time with his daughters alone. “What started off as a ‘need to go’ to church has evolved into a ‘want to go to church,’” he says. 

Many parents raising children in challenging times hope bringing them to church will give them the tools they need to handle the world they face. “We both think that our kids are better people than we were when we were that age,” says Will, “and St. Michael’s has had a lot to do with that.” The Lingo kids are acolytes and part of the Youth program. “Our kids, having been immersed in St. Michael’s for as long as they can remember, have a much better idea about who God is and what faith is than we did.”

Lyn Adkins and her family felt welcomed with open arms when they first came to St. Michael’s with their children. “(Husband) Thayer loved the fact that Greg went to Carolina and they share the same birthday.” Lyn grew up in the Episcopal Church but was a confessed “Chreaster,” going only on high holy days. At St. Michael’s, she was drawn by what our parish offered, particularly for children. “I wanted to raise a family where we individually and collectively felt at home in the same church.” 

The Adkinses have found “a place of comfort, peace, faith, community and a spiritual leader we could relate to,” she says. 

The whole Lingo family takes part in the full life of the parish. Kristen, who serves on the Youth Education Committee and a as lay reader. She will soon be a small group facilitator. 

“Whatever we have given to St. Michael’s, St. Michael’s has more than given back to us,” says Will, “just like our relationship to God. Becoming part of St. Michael’s has made us better parents and better people and part of that is just thinking much more purposefully about what the real message of Christianity is and trying to live through that on a daily basis.”

“Developing and nurturing my daughters’ understanding of Christianity is paramount,” says Ferg, “but it’s really so much more. Church has taught them ritual, and tradition and history. Choir gives them confidence and joy and companionship with children outside of their daily neighborhood and school routine. It may not all make sense to them now, but it’s soaking in by osmosis if nothing else.

“The time I spend with them during the worship service is something I treasure beyond words,” Ferg adds. “The chance to sing with my daughters, to read with them, to pray with them, without distraction is a blessing I will always be thankful for. Just to sit there and hold their hands, in silence. It’s not replaceable or reproducible anywhere else in my life.

“As my children age,” Ferg says, “so does their curiosity as to why we go without their mom. I’m curious as to how that will evolve. Will their love of church inspire my wife to want to be a part of their experience? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone does!”