To Halloween or not to Halloween

Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday established from a tradition dating back to colonial America, and July 4th is the day we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, I think I could make a case for Halloween being the most-celebrated holiday in the US.  Certainly it is looked forward to with much excitement and costume-planning by adults and children; even pets get dressed up.  Stores make a mint selling large amounts of candy as well as costumes.  People decorate their lawns and homes with elaborate, usually creepy, decorations; haunted houses and trails abound; costume parties are a given.

I don’t remember Halloween being all that special to me as a Jewish child growing up in Brooklyn, nor how young I was when I was allowed to dress up and trick or treat in my neighborhood.  I remember as an adolescent doing “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.”  The holidays that were most important to me were the Jewish ones, celebrating the miraculous intervention of God in the lives of my ancestors, reminding me that God was still a very present Being in my life, and just being really fun family times.

When two of my children were young, we allowed them to dress up and trick or treat in our neighborhood in Dayton, OH.  The costumes were usually made by the kids themselves and not very elaborate.  In those days, kids could still get homemade cookies or treats from the neighbors without fear of malicious damage, and we limited our kids on where they could go and how much candy they could eat.

When I became a Christian and started to look at the origins of Halloween, my views on celebrating this holiday changed. A friend of mine, who’d been involved in the occult before she became a Christian, was aware of the background of Halloween as a day celebrated by satanists, witches, and other occult groups, a holiday celebrating death and the macabre.  When my husband and I decided not to celebrate Halloween, we were in a very distinct minority.  Initially, to avoid the constant ringing of the doorbell, we’d leave the house early in the evening on the designated “Beggar’s Night” and return when it was over.  After a while, people realized we were not participating and just stopped coming by, so we just hung out at home as on any other night of the school year.

We have plenty of friends and family members who do celebrate Halloween – some of our own now-grown kids do – but we have never tried to preach to them or belittle them for their choice to do so.  When a child I know shows me a costume, I  admire it, but I still don’t take part in Halloween parties, Harvest parties, or any other celebration of this day.  I usually don’t express my opinion on this unless asked, but a recent article posted on FaceBook by a friend seemed to demand a response.   The Christian author offered three choices for Christians on Halloween: to avoid the holiday, to celebrate the holiday, and to redeem the holiday.  Somehow, those Christians who choose to avoid celebrating Halloween are often chastised – I’ve heard sermons preached about it – as if, by not engaging the culture in this area, we are not truly being ambassadors for Christ, not really being “in the world yet not of it.”  Kind of reminds me of when we home schooled our children, or had our home births; people would make offensively defensive remarks to us, as if by our own personal choices, we were condemning theirs, though that was never the case.  We would share our reasons, engage in discussion, and move on.

It’s been so long since I’ve done the research that I don’t remember the details of all the reasons not to observe the holiday of Halloween.  The article I mentioned gave some of the background – the Druids, the pagan worship, the involvement of the Catholic Church – and I won’t go into much of it.  You can always check it out on your own.  I just have several points I’d like to make.  Whether you agree with me or not, that is fine.  Just expressing my opinion (which is getting increasingly hard to do in this country)…

First, no matter how you try to dress up the holiday – pun intended – with Disney character costumes, Biblical people costumes, Reformation leader costumes, or just very cute, original, and well-made costumes, you cannot really get away from the fact that the basic thing about Halloween is its scare factor.  Halloween is all about being scared….because it is all about ghosts, witches, demons, and, to quote Yoda, “the Dark side.”  Whatever lightness and fun you may feel at a harvest party or when taking your kids trick or treating in your neighborhood is not the same lightness and fun that is exhibited in decorations, movies, and the general Halloween atmosphere: it is SCARY.  Personally, I don’t see the value in deliberately choosing to be scared, whether or not you think the scary things are real, but demons and witches ARE real, and they are not people-friendly; they serve a master whose goal is to corrupt and destroy people.  Thankfully, we serve a Master who is greater than theirs, and I don’t feel that I honor Him by celebrating His enemy’s holiday.

Second, I disagree with the opinion that you have to participate in the holiday in order to engage people in a dialogue about Christ.  I know people who choose to do this, and that may work for them, but it hasn’t for me.  I need to stand up for what I believe to be true and to be willing to politely and kindly explain my views to anyone who asks me.  “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” ( I Peter 3:15 ) To draw a parallel between the pagan animal sacrifices to their gods, and the rituals instigated to deter demons on All Hallows’ Eve, and the Jewish animal sacrifices ordained by and offered to Elohim is clearly to miss the point….. I would not participate in other pagan rituals, nor will I in this one, no matter how it has been sanitized. There is no equivalence between worshipping gods and worshipping God.

Years ago, when our kids were young and we were living in Dayton, OH, we knew another family who chose not to celebrate Halloween.  One year, though, they decided that they would have a Halloween party for the neighborhood kids, hoping to reach some of them for Christ.  No one came.  Finally, they called us and asked us if they could just come over and hang out with us. While we were together….noshing, chatting, playing games….they mentioned a neighbor who was really struggling, becoming conscious of her sinfulness but unable to move from bondage to freedom.  We ended up spending time in fervent prayer for her, and that night, she received the Lord as her Savior.  That was probably my most memorable Halloween, because, instead of trying to be part of something we could not condone, we engaged in spiritual battle against the forces of darkness and won a victory.  That was redemption – not of the holiday – but despite the holiday.

Advertisements

Ayn Rand Revisited: Some Observations

The book jacket of Atlas Shrugged has this quote from Ayn Rand: “To all the readers who discovered The Fountainhead and asked me many questions about the wider application of its ideas, I want to say that I am answering these questions in the present novel, and that The Fountainhead was only an overture to Atlas Shrugged.  I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist.  That this book has been written-and published-is my proof that they do.”

A less objective defense of a philosophy would be hard to find, and for a philosophy she called “Objectivism,” it is a ludicrous statement.  I don’t claim to present anything objective here; just my own – subjective – views of her ideas as described in these two books.  That I write, and that I publish a blog, is no proof of anything, except that I can.

I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged years ago.  Like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged offered a chillingly prophetic view of the future, but I didn’t really like her characters.  I just dismissed her books from mind until her name started popping up frequently within the last year, so I decided to read the books again. Living today in a society which has succumbed to a great extent to the laziness, mediocrity, and cronyism she described made me appreciate the accuracy of her depiction of such a society.  However, I believe that the basic assumptions she makes are not accurate, and I still find her characters to be two-dimensional.

Everyone looks for a hero to worship.  In Ayn Rand’s books, the heroes are like Nazi Germany’s Ubermenschen; they see themselves as so far above the common man that they become their own justification for their actions.  Not content with actions, however, even though they claim that these actions are more important than words,  philosophical speeches abound…..I had to skip over much of John Galt’s message to the populace because it went on… and on… and on.  The idea is that these few people really live up to their potential as human beings, while everyone else just exists or is a parasite.  These people are the dreamers who work to make their dreams reality, usually with little help from any one else, the artists and architects whose vision of the future shakes off the clinging tendrils of the outmoded past, the inventors, producers, engineers, and manufacturers who create, produce, manufacture, and run those material things that underpin a technological society and lead it to higher levels of growth and productivity.  Yes, they are hard workers, singleminded, driven workers.  They are brilliant overachievers who accomplish great things.  They believe that they should enjoy the fruits of their labor and not be required to share it.  They are happy to be considered selfish, because they believe that their self-interest produces good.

The philosophy teacher and mentor of the hero in Atlas Shrugged tells Dagny:

“All work is an act of philosophy.  And when men will learn to consider productive work – and that which is its source – as the standard of their moral values, they will reach that state of perfection which is the birthright they lost…The source of work?  Man’s mind, Miss Taggart, man’s reasoning mind.” (p 738)

John Galt, the hero, takes up the subject, expounding on it:

“…the man of the mind….was the man of extravagant energy – and reckless generosity – who knew that stagnation is not man’s fate, that impotence is not his nature, that the ingenuity of his mine is his noblest and most joyous power – and in service to that love of existence he was alone to feel, he went on working, working at any price, working for his despoilers, for his jailers, for his torturers, paying with his life for the privilege of saving theirs…..The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined.  It was always the animal’s attributes, not man’s, that humanity worshipped:  the idol of instinct and the idol of force – the mystics and the kings…” (p 739)

He goes on to add that the mystics’ claim that feelings were superior to reason enabled them to enslave people to blind obedience, while the kings, desiring power to control men’s bodies, ruled by conquest.  Both, he says, were united against the mind.

Touting reason as the highest of human abilities and exalting the singleminded work ethic to the level of a god, Rand, against all reason, denies that only the greatest reason of all, exhibiting the most creative acts of work, could produce people capable of reasoning and working.  Only the greatest intelligence could produce man, a being whose “state of perfection” is a lost “birthright.”  Only one whose own “extravagant energy” and “reckless generosity” was in existence first could have created man in his own image to possess these qualities.  How is it reasonable to believe that man, Ayn Rand’s god, so infinitely complex and beautiful, could be the product of mindless evolution?  Rand wants to claim the high place man occupies in creation without acknowledging the creator who made him and put him there.  Neither does she understand that it was man’s own selfishness, his worship of himself, that led him to take the steps away from the only one to whom rightful obedience is due, steps leading to the debased condition of humanity that she observes so well.

John Galt states that he hates Robin Hood and everything he stands for.  He sees him as one who robs from the deserving, productive rich to give to the undeserving, parasitic poor.  In the stories I read, Robin took from the parasitic, corrupt rich to return to the helpless poor that which had been unjustly taken from them.  Obviously we have different interpretations of the Robin Hood legends.  Yet one of Galt’s best friends becomes a pirate to use violence for his own idea of income redistribution. It is not the violence that is a problem for Galt; it is the way it is used, and that, it seems to me, is not objective at all.  Furthermore, when a train wreck kills many people due to negligence and mismanagement, the glimpses of some of the people on the train before the crash make it seem like Rand deems them deserving of death, as a punishment, not just a consequence, of unproductive behavior.

Speaking of violence, the relationships between the heroes and heroines is often a violent one.  In The Fountainhead,  Howard Roark rapes Dominique.  In most of the sexual relationships – and each heroine has three separate involvements – sex is a means by which the hero demonstrates his conquest of the heroine; it is often violent and a means to humiliate a woman who is seen as a strong and worthy opponent.  Yet each of her heroines, Dominique and Dagny, must suffer and grow before they can come up to the level of their men.  All of this makes me wonder what exactly Ayn Rand thought about women.  I found this description telling:

“On the slopes around them, the tall, dark pyramids of firs stood immovably straight, in masculine simplicity, like sculpture reduced to an essential form, and they clashed with the complex, feminine, over detailed lace-work of the birch leaves trembling in the sun.” (p 704)

It seems to me that she perceives the feminine as something of less value than the masculine.
Her heroines, like her heroes, are tall and thin, almost masculine.  They engage in battles of wills and resources, competing against men.  The mothers of the characters are either dead or interferingly obnoxious.  There is only one mother portrayed positively, as are her children, who are growing up free from the constraints of a corrupted society.  The most important creative act of life, the birthing and raising of children, is not a part of any of the main characters’ lives.  They want to make their mark on the world producing material things, but don’t seem to realize that even those will fade and be destroyed.  The only lasting legacy humans can have on this earth is their children and their children’s children…..souls that will live on when the material is gone.  Children are the supreme production of the human race.  It is interesting to me that children, and a healthy family unit, are largely missing from these books.  I suspect because, in that family unit, the theories of objectivism break down.  Parenting is impossible without the willingness to make and accept sacrifices.  A healthy family unit, the basis of a healthy society, cannot exist on the basis of these philosophical statements:

“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live-”

“Pride is the recognition that you are your own highest value,” and

the “symbol of all relationships among such men [“men who neither make sacrifices nor accept them”], the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader.” (pp 1020-1022)

Ayn Rand had some very accurate descriptions of the political situation in the world today, but her basic understanding of humanity and creation was, I believe, flawed.

“To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument – is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality.” (p 1023)

This situation IS a reality for many in this world, as radical Islam and terrorists are forcing people to make this choice.  Yet what gives people the courage to stand up for the truth, to retain control of their minds, and accept death rather than give in, in most cases is not the objectivist philosophy, but rather their faith.  Faith in the God who created us and gave us value, faith in the moral universe he gave to us, and faith in the one Man who sacrificed all for those willing to accept that sacrifice.  I’m sorry that Ayn Rand did not have this faith; she might have attained to the happiness she sought had she worshipped God rather than man.

Note:  Quotations are taken from the 35th Anniversary Edition, hardback, of Atlas Shrugged, Dutton, 1992.


What’s Going on Here?

In an online magazine article, a blog writer told of her experience shopping with her three young children in a crowded store.  She expressed her opinion that children are not valued in our society.  I was amazed at the number of negative comments she received, most polite, but some resorting to name-calling.  The one that stuck in my head, though, was that of someone who ended his remarks by telling her not to waste people’s time by publishing her thoughts in a public forum.  I wanted to reply, “Who forced you to read it? Why should she be blamed for your choice to read and comment on what she wrote, her freedom of expression curtailed because you felt you wasted your time?”

Seems like it makes no sense, right?  But it reminded me of another incident that “stuck in my craw” even more.  Some months ago my daughter and I were hanging out in an ambulatory care waiting room, there to support a friend who was having surgery and to drive her home afterward.  Being a people watcher, I studied some of the other occupants.  There was a man there alone, waiting for his wife.  There were two sets of grandparents and a set of parents waiting for a child.  There was a woman on her cellphone, calling for reinforcements as she needed to be somewhere else,  Eventually an older woman joined her; they both spent some time there, and then the first woman left.  The TV was on and one news item was the upcoming local visit of President Obama to some rally or event.  One of the grandpas remarked that he’d heard on the news earlier that they weren’t expecting many people to show up. There was an implication, perhaps, of the declining popularity of the president.  Mind you, these were just six people sitting in a waiting room, facing each other and making conversation to pass the time.

The older woman, sitting on the outside of this family circle and apparently preparing to leave, said angrily, “You need to watch what you’re saying in public.”

The old man, taken aback, answered, “I’m just repeating what I heard.”

“Well, you need to watch what you say because not everyone agrees with you, ” she retorted, and then she marched out of there.

The rest of us looked at each other in surprise, commented about the inappropriate nature of the woman’s statements, and let it go….except that I couldn’t.  It kept coming to mind and irritating me.  What right did this woman have to tell someone to be quiet because she didn’t want to hear what he was saying?  He wasn’t being loud or rude or uttering profanity; he was just expressing an opinion.  This incident came to mind again when I read that comment on the article; apparently that commentator also felt he had the right to tell the blogger not to write what he didn’t want to read.

What’s going on here?

This used to be a country where the free exchange of ideas was encouraged.  No longer.  Our freedoms to express our opinions verbally, in writing, or through media have been seriously curtailed.  There will always be someone who takes offense, someone who will then express his dissatisfaction by attacking the perceived offender, and it seems that in these days the political system is on his side.  The ability to have a rational discussion of different opinions with the goal of understanding one another’s point of view is something we are fast losing.

Are we going to allow ourselves to be muzzled?  Or are we going to continue to speak, write, and portray what we think despite those whose loud opposition to free expression is the real “hate speech.”


When Normal Becomes the Ideal

These thoughts are the result of a FaceBook discussion started by a friend of mine.  She was disturbed by the public acclaim surrounding a young woman’s decision to commit suicide because of the diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.  Not much of a news reader, I hadn’t known about the story until she mentioned it.  I can empathize with the anguish, the pain, and the fear that this young woman has experienced since she received her diagnosis, all of which no doubt led to her decision to end her own life.  I do not believe she should be ostracized nor condemned, like the suicides of other times who were not accorded burial in holy ground.  I am concerned, however, by the publicization of her story, in an attempt, it seems, to make suicide seem to be a laudable and therefore eventually a normal response to the overwhelming difficulties one may face in life.

When I studied Experimental Psychology as an undergraduate and again in graduate school, I became familiar with terms such as “average,” “mean,” “mode,” “median,” “norm.”  These are all different ways of assessing frequencies in populations.  These measurements impact our lives in many ways.  For example, if you are a parent, you may have had your infant’s growth marked on a chart that shows curves of “normal” growth.  The general developmental milestones of children are also laid out in terms of what is “normal.”  I don’t deny that these tools can be useful in understanding development and in determining causes for concern.  However, in reality, there is no such thing as “normal.”  “Normal” is just another way of saying “average”; it is a concept, a statistical construct whose purpose is to make it easier to assess and to categorize groups of people or things.  I wonder if the concept of a normal human body temperature, for example, is calculated from the average of a variety of inputs or from the most commonly occurring one.  Instead of just being used as a relative measuring tool, however, “normal” has come to mean “ideal.”  It has become a measuring stick against which many of us find we fall short.

The use of the concept of normal is particularly egregious in the public education system.  The whole system – philosophy, methodology, and materials – is geared toward a fictional normal child instead of the actual flesh and blood individuals who populate our schools.  It is more than frustrating for teachers, parents, and students to be hampered in the learning process by a bureaucratic system based upon holding up an average as an ideal; it is wrong.  It is wrong not only because it is largely inefficient but also because it labels children, categorizes them, and declares some of them to be less than “normal.”  The “normal” child does not have autism, Down’s Syndrome, or a learning disability.  To be normal, a child may not be gifted intellectually but also be socially awkward; he is not ahead of his peers in one subject and behind in another.  The “normal” child, who is on the designated grade level in all areas and fits exactly where he should on the pediatric growth charts, does not exist.  In an attempt to gear our pedagogy toward an ideal of normal, we have achieved a norm of mediocrity.

But the educational system is just a piece, albeit a large one, of the effect of the concept of normal on our society.  We have allowed the present culture to define what constitutes the normal life to which we are all, by assumption, entitled and therefore encouraged to achieve.  If you have read Lois Lowry’s The Giver or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, you have read  descriptions of the logical devolution of societies in which all pain is to be avoided, the lives of children are a commodity, and the desire for security builds a prison of regulations that ensure the normal life will have no surprises.  However, what is considered to be normal is not always what is right.  When we lose the compass that points us to God, when we have no way of determining what is right or wrong, then actions that are wrong become acceptable and then “normal.”  Abortion and suicide are just two examples.  The giving and the taking of life is in God’s hands, not ours.  Our job as people made in His image is to come alongside those suffering enough to consider either of these actions, to offer help and love, but not to accept the actions themselves as a normal part of life in our time.

Life is full of pain; to avoid pain at all costs is to become like a rat in a Pavlovian experiment.  To seek out pain is to be mentally unstable.  But to accept pain as it comes and seek the lesson it brings, that is to be fully human.

Life is full of surprises, some good and some not.  To regulate one’s life so carefully so as to avoid surprises is to become a robot, an automaton, not a human being.

Life is full of grief, but to try to avoid the sadness that is part of all human relationships would mean closing off the vulnerability that enables those relationships to exist and to have meaning beyond the surface of polite interaction.

Life is full of fear and anxiety.  We may fear bad things that we know are going to happen and also those that are even more frightening because they are unknown and unpredictable. Courage is pushing through these fears so that they do not govern our actions.

Life is also full of joy, but that joy is only fully realized in the context of a relationship with God.  That is the relationship that enables each of us to walk through the pains, the surprises, the griefs and the fears of life, accepting them with the knowledge that our God, the Giver of all good things, is bringing us through all of that to a life so much more than “normal.”


Writing 101: Happy Pesach!

I’m not a picky eater anymore, but I still love the twice-yearly Passover Seder more than any other meal.  The Seder is an experience, not just a meal, celebrated for two consecutive nights in March or April by Jews all over the world.  It is both a remembrance of what God did for us as a people years ago when He freed us from slavery in Egypt and a celebration of what He continues to do for us up to the present.  My memories of childhood Seders are so rich and so entwined with who I am that it will be hard to consolidate them into one post.

My mother came from Austria and my father from Russia, both as children with their families.  Some of their siblings did well and others not so well; those who were successful lived in nice homes in Long Island.  We were on the lower economic end of their families during most of my childhood, and I grew up in a succession of apartments in Brooklyn.  Going to my aunt’s house for the Seder was also a treat because I got to spend time with my cousins whom I saw only at holidays and special occasions.

When I walked in the door, the smell of frying latkes enveloped me.  Crisp, greasy, hot – we would nosh on them, plain or with applesauce, while waiting for the Seder to start.  When everything was ready, we all sat at tables arranged in a T, with a short horizontal part at one end and a very long vertical piece going down.  The men sat up at the front, next the older boys, then the older girls, then the children and the women.  The table was always decorated with fresh yellow daffodils, and their sweet smell brought Spring into the room.  Small cut-glass bowls of salt water were placed along the table, along with plates of celery and carrot sticks.  Everyone had a goblet of water and a cup for the dark, sweet Manischewitz wine we had to drink at four different points during the recounting of the Passover story.  At the head of the table was the Seder plate, with various elements significant in telling the story, and at an empty seat was the large wine cup of Elijah.

Seder means “order,” and there is a definite structure to the progression of the Seder, a lot to go through before you get to the actual meal.  My father and uncles were experts at verbal Hebrew speed-reading, so things usually progressed fairly quickly.  The actual Seder meal came about two-thirds of the way through the Seder, so there was a good reason why the men chanted at such lightning speed. At different points there would be general participation, like when we all dipped 10 drops of wine from our fingers to represent the 10 plagues God visited on the Egyptians,  or tasted the horseradish root, the parsley, the charoses (a delicious mixture of apples, walnuts, and wine), and the matzo. The salt water on the table was for dipping: parsley, boiled potatoes, and boiled eggs.  I traded my yolks with my cousin for her egg whites.  There was lots of music – traditional songs, blessings, and the Four Questions chanted by the youngest child and answered by all the men.

Finally, it was time for the feast, and a feast it certainly was.  First there was gefilte fish with horseradish – I passed on that.  Then bowls of clear chicken soup with one or two matzo balls; my father fondly called them “sinkers.”  Meats – roasted chicken, beef brisket – and vegetables – carrot tzimmes and potato kugel – appeared next.  We ate until we were stuffed, and then went off to play until the adults finished their eating and conversation and it was time to resume the Seder service.  When we had finished the stories, the songs, and the last cups of wine, we had desserts, all made without traditional leavening.  There were sponge cakes light and fluffy because made with so many eggs, nuts, coconut macaroons, chocolates, pies.  After the desserts, when our eyes were heavy-lidded and our bodies lethargic, the last excitement of the evening roused us to pay close attention.

Part of the Seder involves hiding half of a matzo, called the Afikomen, in a napkin.  The Afikomen must be eaten at the very end of the Seder, the last morsel in our mouths.  The procedure was that one of the men would have the napkin on his knee, one or more of the kids would steal it and hide it, and then a committee of children would bring it forth and bargain with the men for a price to give it back.  Depending upon the condition of the Afikomen – it must be as close to a whole piece as possible – and the bargaining skills of the committee, we could end that evening with quite a bit of cash in our pockets.  After we prayed and ate the Afikomen, we always sang Hatikvah and God Bless America.

Our family has always been close-knit and the cousins kept up the Seder tradition each year for a long time after my aunts were unable to do it any longer.  We have had a few Seders at our home, done larger group Seders in our churches, and have been guests at others’ Seders.  All of them have been immensely enjoyable, yet none of them has quite captured for me the overall experience of the Seders of my childhood, when I was full of delight and anticipation, filled with good things to eat, and enveloped in an atmosphere of family, faith, and tradition.


Blogging 101: Be Inspired by the Community: Hospitality

I enjoyed reading the post “The Hardest of Christian Dispensations” on the blog Tantoverde, which discussed judging others.  Although I could have shared my own experiences of being judged and found wanting, I commented instead on one of the things we did in our family to encourage our children to love and respect people; we practiced the Christian virtue of hospitality.  I believe that hospitality is a gift that can be nurtured.  In my childhood and earlier adulthood, I did not have this gift. I witnessed it in action with my first mother-in-law, Mamita Edith, who would welcome any one we showed up with at her house, with no prior notice, and feed us all.  Her motto was: “Donde comen tres, comen cuatro,” literally, “Where three can eat, four can eat.”  Pots of rice and beans were extended to make food for all.

While I admired this philosophy, I did not, in the early years of my second marriage, have the aplomb to carry it out myself.  I remember the first time we invited a pastor and his wife to dinner.  I was so nervous that, when I leaned in to take the chicken out of the oven, I singed the hair off my forearm; the smell of scorched hair added nothing good to our meal.

Somehow, though, as our four younger children were growing up, our family started reaching out to other people with food.  First it was bread.  I had learned to bake bread with my ex-husband, when we had a bread baking business first on the Lower East Side and then in Woodstock, NY.  I scaled down some of the recipes so that I made six loaves at a time instead of twelve, and my children eagerly got involved in the baking process.  One loaf disappeared as soon as it had cooled enough to eat, and we kept another one or two, but the rest we gave away.  We evaluated the loaves together, giving away the best looking ones and choosing on whom we would bestow them.  Sometimes we would take bread with us when visiting a friend, or pick someone from the list of our bread fans; occasionally we realized that a person totally unexpected needed a loaf of freshly homemade bread.   I remember only three times in about 30 years when the offer of fresh bread was refused.

Our son Matt was attending community college when he heard of a church just beginning, comprised mostly of young singles and led by a young pastor whose messages were good.  We went as a family to check it out – my husband and I the only people of our age there, and our three young girls some of the few children.  We ended up becoming part of that church community and found that we could invite young people from church over to our home for dinner on a moment’s notice and they would gladly come, eat a lot, and take home leftovers.  It warmed my Jewish mother’s heart and was so casual that it never made me nervous.

At some point we decided as a family to institute a monthly Saturday evening open house.  We made a big batch of bread and a big pot of soup, usually black bean, minestrone, or chili, and sometimes had dessert or salad. Then we put the word out, and people started coming, perhaps bringing more food, perhaps not, but all welcome.  The most fun part was that often people would show up whom at least some of didn’t know….some of these people became very much a part of our family.  My son Matt and daughter Cathy were both in college at the time.  When they came home for a weekend visit while we were having an open house, they remarked with some irritation that they’d been greeted at the door by people they didn’t know, welcomed into their own home which was crammed full of people, and asked how they knew our family!  Matt also said that he was getting really tired of that ever-present minestrone soup….

We have had many other opportunities to open our home to welcome guests wherever we live.  Each opportunity enriched our lives and taught our children to minister to other people, to share what we had, and to learn from and respect our differences. One Thanksgiving we invited some Chinese international students and friends who had triplets, among others.  The Chinese students had not known it was a meal and had eaten before they came.  Our friends were worried about their kids eating too much, so they’d fed them first.  We’d never had so many leftovers from a Thanksgiving meal before, but the meal became not the focus of the visit but the excuse to bring us all together to enjoy each others’ company

When we moved to the South, we thought we would find that Southern hospitality would take the form of ours, and that we would be invited to eat and to fellowship frequently.  That was not the case, and we realized that, if we wanted to experience the kind of hospitality and fellowship we’d left behind, we would have to initiate it.  We started inviting people to drop in and got a pleased yet surprised response.  The idea of the open house seemed strange to people, yet they enjoyed it once they participated.  Picture this:  tables laden with fresh loaves of bread and butter; a huge pot of soup on the stove; desserts, salads, and snacks set wherever there was room;  water, juice, coffee and tea up high where the little ones couldn’t reach.  Rooms full of people, sitting, standing, conversing, eating, in a shifting kaleidoscope of relationships.  Children everywhere, playing with each other, with adults, being held, being fed.  Age no barrier to interactions, as children might get involved in a conversation with adults, and adults would get into playing games with the kids.  People of all ages, colors,  backgrounds, beliefs coming together in a shared experience of food for the body, the soul, the mind, and the heart.  That is the community that hospitality fosters, where cold judgment stays outside and warm fellowship reigns.