What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-8-20

Mom, me, her father (Grandpa Hoekstra) and her grandmother (Grandma Fannie)

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-8-20

Dad used to say to me, “You’re just like your mother.” It was not meant as a compliment. Mom and Dad didn’t get along very well. He saw her as weak and indecisive while at the same time claiming she was scheming and manipulative. In reality, my mother is none of these things. After his death, I gained access to Dad’s medical records which included a diagnosis of “narcissistic personality with a histrionic flair.” This meant that he had a tendency to view himself as persecuted. Dad was gay, and he did have deeply wounding experiences of homophobia. But it was as if he had persecution goggles welded to his face. No matter how much Mom or any of us tried to love him, he had a very difficult time accepting it. The point is, Dad’s accusations weren’t personal. It was the mental illness talking.

It’s also possible that Dad heard the words “you’re just like your mother” said to him when he was a boy. He shared with me that in his mind he was “special” and his mother’s “favorite.” In Dad’s time as in ours, the accusation of being a “momma’s boy” often meant bullying was on the way. Clearly, Dad enjoyed the attention he got from his mother. And he was very close to her. But the relationship between mothers and sons can be complicated. This is due in no small part to sexism and discomfort in the wider culture with males who display “female” qualities (the premise of which I reject all together, by the way. There are no essentially “male” or “female” qualities, only human ones.)

Dad’s accusations often had no basis in reality, but I hope he was right that I am just like my mother. She is strong. She is good. She is an adventurer. And she has never stopped growing and changing in all of the time I’ve known her. She is a happily retired minister and chaplain who has traveled the world and blessed countless lives–not least, mine.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-14-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-14-20

Handling anger is difficult to do well. Buddhism, for example, identifies anger (along with greed and ignorance) as one of the “three poisons.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “everyone who becomes angry with his brother is liable to judgment.” Anger is a human emotion. We feel it, often before we’re consciously aware of it. Anger “overcomes” us, floods our neurotransmitters, narrows our vision, sets our hearts racing, “boils” in our guts. It activates the “fight or flight” response in the most primitive parts of our brain. Anger can be incredibly destructive whether we express it outwardly in hurtful words and actions or turn it inward where it manifests as depression, bitterness, and physical ailments. So how do we handle it?

Although I doubt they intended to, my family taught me that anger was scary and shameful. They didn’t teach me this explicitly. Like all children, I learned my lessons on anger by watching my caregivers (who, in turn, learned how to handle anger from their caregivers.) We were a Dutch immigrant family that tended toward emotional reserve. As an adult I can see that there was a lot of anger under the surface. I’m grateful I didn’t witness any physical violence or verbal abuse. Instead rage seethed underneath and manifested as physical absence, cutting remarks, alcoholism, infidelity, lying, and other passive-agressive behaviors. This disconnect between how we as a family presented ourselves publicly as happy and healthy and the chaos churning behind closed doors created its own challenges for me as I became an adult.

As an adult I’m still very much learning how best to handle my anger. For me, meeting the reality of anger begins and ends with awareness. It was a huge shift for me simply to admit that I’m incredibly angry . . . for all kinds of reasons. These days most of my anger is in the form of “moral outrage.” I anger myself when I notice my own failings as a Christian. I notice loving churches that have so much to offer their communities “hiding their light under a bushel” while mean, vengeful, and bigoted Christians spread their message far and wide and I get very, very angry. Mostly I’m exhausted by the moral outrages of our current politics, but when our government puts children in cages or when 26 first-graders are gunned down in their classroom and politicians cry “2nd amendment” or when I notice the casual, day-to-day violence and racism that implicate all of us who vote, pay taxes, and work for the improvement of our communities, my anger flares up, and I say something.

Just creating the psychic space where anger can come into view increases the likelihood that I can engage it productively. It’s become a joke around our house when I’m moping and acting out of sorts for my wife to say to me, “Now Todd, use your words.” Just saying “I’m angry” opens the door for conversation that can create the conditions whereby anger, which is simply a form of psychic energy, can be directed toward fixing a situation that is not as good as it could be.

Anger arises in the context of love. Mr. Rogers put it this way, “It’s the people we love the most who can make us feel the gladdest and the maddest! Love and anger are such a puzzle!” Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the context for his teaching on anger. This week at First Congregational Church of Granby we will stand close enough to the flame of anger to benefit from its warmth and energy yet at a respectful enough distance that none gets burned.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-7-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-7-20

My family and I had a wonderful holiday together in Windsor. We took some time off to focus on reconnecting. Fiona and her boyfriend (who is from Tokyo and stayed with us this winter break) cooked for us. My sister and her family of 6 (!) stayed with us for a week. They filled our sleeper sofas and bunk beds. Olivia directed the Christmas pageant here at FCC Granby and worked lifeguarding shifts at the Jewish Community Center. Even in this age of virtual reality and social media, there is no substitute for simply sharing space. While physical proximity does not guarantee intimacy, it is a key factor for cultivating closeness. (Which, just to drive the point home, is why there is no substitute for dragging your _____ to worship on Sunday morning.)

This week I’ve been settling back into a work rhythm. The answer to “What’s Up with Pastor Todd?” is “a lot.” I’m sitting in my office with the “to do” list Office Manager Sue prepares for me every week, to which I typically add a dozen or so more items. My view is that if my “to do” list doesn’t exceed my ability to complete it, I’m not living big enough. How do I avoid a constant state of overwhelm? Prioritizing and letting go. Even so, sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize. So many things demand attention. In these moments I use a tool I’ve learned in many years of meditation practice: focus on what’s in front of you. Sounds simple enough. But then the question becomes How do I get the things in front of me that are most consistent with my goals and values? This brings me back to the practices of inviting Sue to partner with me in creating a “to do” list and literally putting it on my desk where I will see it. This brings me back to the “big rocks” of Scripture study, sermon preparation, writing liturgy, namely, the spiritual practices that ground me in what is of ultimate importance.

One of my favorite Buddhist Scriptures is called “The Five Remembrances.” It’s part of an ancient text attributed to the Buddha entitled “Subjects for Contemplation.” The fifth remembrance is this: “My deeds are my closest companions. I am the beneficiary of all my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” The only place to act is here. The only time to act is now. What are you doing right here, right now? What practices help you align your deeds with your values? Who are your “closest companions?” Are they hindering you on your spiritual journey or propelling you forward? What is your “ground?” Is it a solid place on which to stand?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-21-19

Crane China

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-21-19

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). 

Recently my wife’s aunt Susan shipped her a set of family silver table settings and a set of family China. My wife, Nicole, and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for family and friends since we started dating 26 years ago. And as we’ve moved around the country, our extended family have made it a priority to travel any distance to be a part of the celebration. This year the family will be joining us to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family silver and China.

The China has been passed down from Nicole’s grandparents. Burleigh Crane and Dorothy Warren had set their wedding date for the summer of 1942 when Burleigh was called up for active duty in the U.S. Army. The wedding date was moved up to February. After the wedding Burleigh was deployed to Italy as an artillery commander. Upon his return in 1945 Burleigh and Dot settled into their home in Milbridge, Maine where they would live for the next 60 years. They raised two children and were fixtures in the community. At their wedding they received two sets of China. They used one. The other was never opened. They stored it in the attic where it remained for over 75 years. Until this year. Next week the family will gather for Thanksgiving to use Dot and Burleigh’s China set for the first time. 

A couple weeks ago, Nicole and I talked with Aunt “Sue-sue,” as she is known, about our Thanksgiving plans. Susan wept as she talked about how meaningful it was to pass something of the family legacy on knowing that it will be used to celebrate the rituals of gathering together and giving thanks.

This year the gospel lectionary for Thanksgiving is John 6:25-35. In this text Jesus unfolds a complicated metaphor around food. Backstory: Jesus fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish and then left to sail across the Sea of Galilee. The crowds, amazed by Jesus’ miracle and wondering if there was more where that came from, followed Jesus and his disciples across the sea and caught up to him in the town of Capernaum. When the approach Jesus, he says, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life.” 

What is the food that endures to eternal life? In the context of the Gospel of John, this “food” is faith. For Nicole and me, our commitment to giving thanks, gathering family, and honoring legacy arises out of the faith that was passed on to us, a faith that sustains us day to day, moment to moment through scarcity and abundance. Let’s face it: family can be a real pain in the ass. Traveling long distances to attend family gatherings can be difficult and even dangerous at times. There are family conflicts, losses, absences, and griefs. There are times when we set our own preferences and agendas aside for the good of the group. There are some days when the sacrifice doesn’t appear to be mutual. Faith means looking beyond the moment to what endures.

All of us–Nicole, Aunt Sue-Sue, me, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, and the rest–are looking forward to feasting on brined turkey, mashed potatoes, squash au gratin, roast vegetables, homemade cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, pies, ice cream, carrot cake, and Nicole’s famous espresso-and-Grand Marnier-infused chocolate mousse for dessert all served on the family China. Left-overs will keep us fat and happy for another week or two. But the food that endures is faith, love, and a legacy of gathering to give thanks.

Reconnect

Pastor’s Page November 2018

My wife and I have hosted Thanksgiving for the past 20 years. Celebrating Thanksgiving at Todd and Nicole’s has become a family tradition for our generation of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws. It’s a multi-day event which includes a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, squash au gratin, stuffing (or “dressing” as my sister-in-law from Alabama calls it) gravy, vegetables, pies of various kinds, and–a Thanksgiving favorite–chocolate mousse. Over the years our family has grown, so the table has gotten longer. In fact, I think this year we might need two tables. What makes this time so precious is the opportunity to reconnect with people we love.

It is important to take time to reconnect. On October 13, about 20 of us from FCC Stamford made a retreat with Rev. Jim Griffith, who taught us about what church restart means and what it will take for us to do a restart should we decide to. One of the things he mentioned was that in this time of transition from our current location to a new one we make sure we take time to reconnect with each other. Our Monday evening pub study has been a great time of reconnection. Nicoline and Stuart Sawabini are hosting a generosity gathering at their house on Sunday Nov. 4, 5pm, share food and conversation. There are a lot of stresses in our lives both inside the church and outside, in our families, our workplaces, our schools, our politics, and in our hearts. It’s vitally important that we intentionally take time to reconnect.