Good Friday. The faithful had gathered, about 45 people, seated in a circle surrounding the space saved for the cross. We had all come for a time of reflection, a time for contemplating the mystery of the cross, the mystery that somehow through his death Jesus conquered death, that through his weakness his strength was revealed. We had come knowing silence would be a part of our experience together. We were ready.
The silence began. Everyone was settling in. The quiet came.
A few minutes into the silence Alem stood up and said that the Spirit had spoken to him and he wanted to say a few words. He spoke about the day, the sadness of the church and each of us at remembering Jesus’ death, our grieving, our responsibility for his death and the hope we have in the resurrection. All of what he said was fine. And then he sat down.
And the silence began in earnest.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. We had now been gathered for 15 minutes and people were getting restless. But they were ready to endure. A few late-comers arrived and joined in the silence, looking a bit confused, but willing to take part in this mysterious event.
There was sighing. Legs were crossed and uncrossed. One person left, presumably for the restroom, and returned. There were a few noises coming from the Atrium, but nothing we couldn’t ignore reasonably well.
I began looking at Alem, hoping to catch his eye to somehow indicate that the silence had been long enough. That the service should move on. But our eyes never met.
In my worship training I had learned that the one presiding had control of the service. The presider is the one to make sure that things run smoothly. I try to follow that practice, but have grown into a flexibility because of the circumstances in which I find myself, namely working with someone not trained the way I was trained, someone whose first, second, and third languages are not English. I also find myself constantly discerning the role of presider versus Senior Pastor, mentor, teacher, guide. However, ultimately things are my responsibility.
I also am aware of Alem’s wonderful sense of the Spirit guiding the proceedings at hand and his deep commitment to following what the Spirit is telling him at any particular time, especially in worship. So, I assumed the Spirit was moving him to allow our silence to continue.
I was also beginning to worry. Didn’t Alem realize he was the presider? Our pattern always is that the one who is not preaching is the presider. I had mentioned it to him, more than once about this particular service, even. I was worrying about the people so willing to take part in the worship experience that had been prepared for them. This is not what they had expected.
Alem moved and there was sense of hope in the circle. Maybe now we will begin.
Nothing. I wondered what the three Augsburg male students were thinking and I saw the Augsburg women whisper and smile at each other. Surely this isn’t what they expected, and they were so faithful to come to worship on a Spring Friday evening.
The debate began in my head. Do I walk over to Alem and say something? Do I undermine his role as presider and Spirit-led man of God and begin the liturgy myself? Do I let this go on until he figures it out? How long can we endure? And, if I am the one to begin everyone will think this was my plan and my fault. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry.
Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. Thirty minutes. Finally I decided “the heck with the Spirit, it is time to begin,” and so I led the Prayer of the Day. A great relief and willingness to pray - out loud - was evident.
The adventure was not over, however. A few verses into the Passion Reading a loud chorus of “Mack, the Knife” from Three Penny Opera, complete with piano, began in the Atrium. Two worshipers ran out and quickly quieted the music.
The service went on from there. Things went as planned although the remaining moments of silence were noticeably shorter than they would otherwise have been.
We ended standing around the cross, which had been carried in, knelt in prayer before and surrounded with candles, with a triumphant singing of “There In God’s Garden.”
A brief silence followed. The worshipers shuffled out. In silence. And were gone.
I slept fitfully Friday night. I was angry at Alem and kicking myself for not having jumped in sooner. I spent the weekend preparing myself for the barrage of complaints that were inevitable on Sunday morning – and never came. In the midst of all that I was also grateful for the graciousness and openness of the worshipers that evening. Any other group on any other night and it could have been a complete disaster.
In the midst of my angst I also could see the great humor of it all and have had several good laughs telling the story.
We had suffered, each in our own ways, and we went our ways ready for the resurrection celebration to come.
Alem and I will talk today, the first chance we will have had.
Alem and I have talked. And have had a good laugh together. He was expecting me to lead the service and was waiting for me to begin with the prayer. He had been trying to catch my attention to indicate that it had been long enough, but our eyes never met.
On the instructional side of things, he really appreciated the long silence; it was the first silence at Trinity that was long enough for him to really get into it. He also said that our Eritrean family was very happy. The long silence is a part of their spiritual history and practice.
So, this was a learning experience which I will continue to reflect on in some shape or form for and with Trinity. And I expect there will be other insights that come with time.
For now Alem and I have come up with a code for getting each other’s attention if we are uncertain about something during worship.
Original Journal Entry date: 4/13/04
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved
After our first Coffee and Tea, back at Trinity, Homework Help kids were starting to come. This time a Homework Help mom stopped in. I asked her how she’s doing, especially with all of this immigrant and refugee stuff happening after President Trump’s first Muslim travel ban. We talked a bit. She talked about a woman where she works who has come up to her more than once and told her to go home, that she hates Somalis and they don’t belong here. (This mom is not Somali, but rather Oromo.) Some of the other employees have told our Homework Help mom that this woman is not right in the head. But it is still hard to hear. And she never knows quite what to do.
We talked some more and I told her that what that woman says is wrong and that I’m sorry she has to hear it. But then came the question that tore at my heart. Our mom wanted to know if ‘they’ were going to round them (Muslims) up and burn them. I was stunned.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with that seeming like a real possibility.
I told her that it couldn’t happen here. That too many people would fight against something like that.
The thing is – I wasn’t really sure that if it came right down to it that I could do that if it happened here. As she left my office I could only hope and pray that I would never have to find out.
Original Journal entry date: 2/6/17
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
On Thursday one of our Homework Help students came into my office. She does that often, just checks in before getting to her homework. She is Oromo, a 9th grader at a Minneapolis Catholic school, Muslim and wears a hijab. This school seems to be a good school for her. She has struggled her first semester. Apparently, her grade school didn’t really prepare her for high school. But she has settled in and is doing fine. Joe had told me at the Wednesday Night Supper that she had had a bad experience downtown. And so I asked her.
She had been downtown at her work site. Every student at this high school has a job placement as part of their school week. While she was waiting for her taxi to come to Homework Help a 40-ish white woman, bigger than her, walked up to her and told her to go home, to where she came from. Others were standing there and no one said or did anything. This woman went on to say that her brother married a Somali woman and that she, this particular woman, hates her brother’s kids. Our student knew that if she said or did anything it would escalate, not to mention the fact that she no longer felt safe as she waited. She said she couldn’t believe it. She was born in the U.S. This has been her only home. She is an excellent student. She felt totally alone and not safe. But she had to wait for her taxi.
I told her that what that woman said was wrong and she shouldn’t have to hear things like that. And I said that I hoped she knew she was safe at Trinity. She went on to say that Homework Help is her second home. She knows she is safe at Trinity.
I really didn’t know what else to say. I would like to have said that I wish I would have been there so that I could have said something. But I didn’t say that. I wasn’t ready to make a promise I might not be able to keep.
Original journal entry date: 2/6/17
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to pull together the three pots of Somali Tea and Coffee (see posts 1/16/19 and 1/30/19 Coffee and Tea 1 and 2). This past Friday was one of those times.
Friday morning I heard about the shooting in New Zealand, two mosques, fifty people killed during Friday prayers. My heart broke. Should I try to organize a Coffee and Tea? Post on FaceBook? Write something somewhere? Nothing? I couldn’t decide so I called Wali at ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah to see what he thought. We decided not to try to get the Coffee and Tea together. On a whim I said I’d try to be there at the end of prayers, around 1:30 to greet people. He said he’d tell the imam so that he could announce it.
I texted a few people I thought might be interested and available. At about 1:15 I began to walk the two blocks to Dar Al-Hijrah.
I am off-the-chart introvert. An introvert’s two worst nightmares, or at least mine, are walking into a room full of people I probably don’t know and standing somewhere with the purpose of greeting people I may not know, alone. On my way to Dar Al-Hijrah I wondered what in the world I was doing. Would anyone else show up? Would people coming out of prayers be concerned or grateful? What if I was the only one? What if I didn’t recognize anyone? What if no one recognized me? And, I’d have to do all of the greeting myself. That is not something I would categorize as fun.
At the same time, I was fairly sure it was a good thing to do. I knew Muslims everywhere were very sad and feeling unsafe and unwelcome.. But still, the thought kept running through my head – what was I doing?
As a general rule I am not comfortable greeting people with Aselam Alekum (“God’s peace to you,” in Arabic.) Even though I have been assured many times that people would appreciate it, somehow it just feels presumptuous to me. This time I thought I’d go for it. I would be brave. After all, I was already putting myself out there. So, I greeted the first person a saw, an elderly woman who looked kind enough, “Aselam alekum.” She looked at me and asked, “Are you Islam?” “No, I’m not.” Then you should say, “hi.” She was kind and respectful. And that was that. So much for trying!
Eventually Joe came and Larry soon joined us. The worshipers began coming out and we greeted them all. If they weren’t smiling when they came out the doors, they were after we greeted them.
“Hi.” “Peace to you.” We’re glad you’re here.”
“Thank you so much.” “This is so good.” “There are good people in the world.” Once in awhile the only communication was a grateful smile.
Some stayed to talk a bit. We shook hands; some of the men even shook mine. A few hugs were shared. Several people even came back to thank us. One young man, in particular, came back to thank us (I was the only one left by this time) telling me this was proof that there are still good people in the world. He asked for a selfie he could share with others to let them know that there are good people. I took a selfie, too. One of the few I have ever taken. This seemed to be a worthy reason for one.
There was no coffee or tea on this day. There weren’t a lot of people gathered to greet worshippers. But, there were enough. On my way back to Trinity I knew why we had been there. I knew something seemingly small and simple can have had a big meaning. I knew at least a few of the Muslims in Cedar-Riverside knew they were welcome and valued. I was quite sure we had done something that brought God’s kingdom just a bit closer. Right in Little Mogadishu.
And I knew we would do it again, sometime.
I have my selfie with the young man. I’d love to use it for this post. But I didn’t think to ask his permission at the moment. This seems like a time when it is especially important to have his permission. Perhaps another time.
Original Journal entry date: 3/18/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All Rights reserved.
Tutoring Math to N, a student from Somalia new to America
The math problem was: A baseball player averages one hit in every three at-bats. If the player bats 480 times during a season, how many hits can the player be expected to get?
That sounds easy enough. I was worried when I heard I’d be helping with math – it has never been my strong suit. But when I saw it was ratios we were working with I figured we could muddle our way through. After all, this particular type of math was still using the 1 is to 5 as 2 is to ‘n’. It even had tables to fill out 1 = 2
I can do this stuff! I was ready. N was ready. 1 is to 3 as ‘n’ is to 480. No problem. The first wrinkle – this is a story problem about baseball. When you are new to this country you naturally ask “what is baseball?” Well, it’s a game where one player hits a ball with a bat and this (pointing to the problem) player, every 3 times he tries to hit the ball he hits it once. What’s a bat? It’s a wooden thing, like a big stick, you hit a ball with. What’s an at-bat? That’s each time you try to hit the ball with the bat.
How do you complete a table, how do you even begin a table when you have no idea what it is you are asked to solve a problem about? “Baseball” doesn’t fit in the table, but it is a least one thing N seems to comprehend about this game.
Well, we muddle through, I even pretend to be swinging to hit a ball with a pencil, until I realize how utterly ridiculous that must look to someone who has no idea what it is I am doing. Once we have the table filled in, most of which I just did, she got it right away. She can do the math. But what in the h__l is an at-bat? It isn’t anything.
Next math problem. On a basketball team, the ratio of players less than six feet tall to players six feet or taller is 2 to 5. If 10 players on the team are six feet or taller, how many players are less than six feet tall?
Basketball – now we are getting somewhere. Even the newest Somali arrivals know what basketball is and so does N. Yeah, a word we can start with!
But, alas, what is a “six feet or taller? What is a less than six feet tall? After trying to explain this we end up with 2 are short for every 5 who are taller. The way the sentence is written is hardly clear. In the table N wants to include six somehow. Six is to what as 5 is to what? Six isn’t any number in the ratio, but N is zeroed in on six. Once again, I fill in the table. Once the numbers are in place N does the math. She gets this stuff but……
Problem #3. Last year during league bowling, Jeremy averaged one strike for every five frames he bowled. If he bowled 84 strikes last season, how many frames did he bowl?
N begins. How many leagues were there, she wants to know? Well, there weren’t any, a league is the same as year. (Oh really?) How many Jeremy’s were there? Well, Jeremy is a boy’s name. Oh. Ok, do you know what bowling is? No. It’s a game where you roll a ball down a long narrow lane, no, ‘’hall,’ and you try to knock down 10 pins, things at the end of it. Oh. So, every 5 times Jeremy tries to hit the things down with the ball he gets one strike. You mean like in baseball where after three of them you can’t try to hit the ball any more? Well, no, that’s…..that’s……that’s something entirely different. Oh.
Once again, as soon as the table is laid out she does the math. And it’s right. But I’m getting nervous. Those who are real teachers at Trinity would strongly object to the fact that I am preparing and filling in the tables. They would say, “How can she learn if she doesn’t do it on her own? Well, I just don’t know.
Problem #4. In a 72-hole golf tournament, Patricia scored under par every 2 out of 9 holes. For the tournament, how many times did Patricia score under par?
Of course, N had no idea what golf is. How in the world do you explain par when the person doesn’t even know what a golf course is, what a golf club is, what a tournament is? At least now N is able to trust(?) me when I tell her what to write in the table. And once again, she does the math in her head and it is correct.
Problem #5 In a gymnastics meet, a gymnast earned a perfect score of ten from one out of every four judges. If there were eight judges altogether at the meet, how many perfect scores did the gymnast earn? Can you see where this is going? 10 is to ? as ? is to what?
Well, 10 really has nothing to do with the problem. Oh. We have to think about the number of judges and the number of perfect scores. Oh. Why is ten a perfect score? I don’t really know…It doesn’t really matter because they changed that this year….oh, wait, no, that was figure skating. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. This time we do somehow get the table figured out faster and her math is again correct.
Next problem. On a football team, 7 out of every 9 players weigh 190 pounds or more. If 42 players weigh more than 190 pounds, how many players are on the team?
It’s 5:30. Time to close up. Whew. N thanks me over and over. We each go home. It was a great way to spend 1 1/2 hours.
Original journal entry date: 3.22.06
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved
Ash Wednesday is two days away as I write. It is the beginning of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. Lent includes the forty days, not counting Sundays, before Easter and is a time for repentance, almsgiving and prayer, all practices with the intent of coming closer to God.
And it all begins with Ash Wednesday. Some consider it to be the most honest day on the Christian calendar. An explanation I overheard one day explained it as well as anyone could.
It took place during Trinity’s Homework Help program. Neighborhood kids come with their homework, get paired with a tutor, and work on the homework for the day. A lot of homework does get done, but as this story tells, a lot more than homework happens.
This was on a Wednesday afternoon that happened to be Ash Wednesday. Our space was quite full and some of the students and tutors were working on the floor in the hallway outside my office. I admit I often eavesdrop on conversations in the hallway. This is one that is worth reflecting on.
In 2016 Trinity and Augsburg shared one intern. The Intern would split their time between the two locations. In two such busy sites time management was definitely one of the big challenges. This particular year, Jacie was our Intern. It was her conversation with the students in the hallway that I overheard.
Jacie had attended Chapel at Augsburg earlier that morning and had received a cross of ashes on her forehead. By the time she came to Trinity in the mid-afternoon the ashes were forgotten. They were still there, though, on her forehead and the students were quick to notice.
Student: Jacie, what’s that plus sign on your forehead?
From there the conversation went on. Jacie did a great job answering their questions. She explained that the day was Ash Wednesday. That it is the beginning of Lent, a season very similar to their season of Ramadan. That fasting and charity and prayer were common practices during Lent, just in Ramadan. But that was not what the students wanted to know.
“Is it a tattoo?” “Is it permanent?” “Where are the ashes from?” “Did it hurt?”
After thoughtful answers Jacie added that the ashes remind us that we are sinful and that we will all die. One student responded, “Well, duh!” After a bit more processing one girl asked, “Can you get those on Amazon?”
I never heard the answer to that one, but I’m quite sure you can. Judy (who had overheard this conversation with me) and I were privileged that day to hear that conversation. More than homework gets done, indeed.
But, really, how do you explain any of that? To someone of the same faith or kids whose faith is in many ways quite different?
It’s not the theology of it all that matters. It’s not the accuracy of the explanations or the goal of “winning one over to our side” that is important. It is about a safe place where such honest questions can be asked that matters, where an Intern can take the time to be truly present, where understanding grows just a little bit once again.
This holy work that we find ourselves in the midst of is about coming together in hallways, and mosques and parking lots, over Somali tea and coffee and pancakes simply to be together and get to know each other better.
And it’s a great way to start Lent.
Original journal entry date: 3/4/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Fat Tuesday is coming. Again this year we will be inviting our friends from the Islamic Civic Society of America (ICSA)/Dar Al-Hijrah.
I am disappointed that I didn’t write about it last year. It was actually the first time Trinity had done anything regarding Shrove or Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras since I came to Trinity. And it was a first for the people of ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah, to be sure.
It came together as a kind of Stone Soup event. We don’t really have a functioning kitchen, except for a dishwasher. So we gathered griddles for making pancakes and people brought syrup, fruit, jams, whipped cream in cans, chocolate chips and other basically unhealthy food. Before we knew it we had a feast before us.
Some precautions were necessary. Griddles had to be spread through out the building to avoid blowing a fuse and we didn’t want pork in any form.
It was a great evening. The griddles were plugged in and pancakes were kept warm in crock pots. The buffet table was set and the smell of cooking oil filled the building. When our guests arrived we were ready. Many had never eaten our version of pancakes before. They have their own equivalent, kind of like sweetened crepes. But I don’t think they put the same things on them. The ones I have had were plain, and quite tasty.
As our guests went through the buffet line they were braver than I tend to be, trying new things. They were amazed by the spray can of whipped cream but weren’t quite sure at the same time. And, of course, being the gracious and generous people they are they brought some food to share as well – Somali rice and beef with onions and spices– yum.
We ate. Conversations happened. New friends were made and some old unexpected friendships were rekindled.
As a part of the evening I led a short discussion, “Christianity 101 and Lent 101.” Just the basics. When I do that I am always struck by the fact that it is impossible to do either of those topics. Not all Christians, not even all Lutherans understand things in the same way. I did mention that Christians are not nearly as good as fasting as they are, but we are really good at eating fat. That got a laugh.
As Wali translated I was aware that Muslims use most of the same words we use – mercy, forgiveness, etc. – but I am always quite certain they understand all of those words in a slightly different way. So I never really know what Wali has told them!
But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we had come together and have eaten together. And in some way we were all aware that it iwas a gathering based on a faith tradition, this time ours.
After a hearty meal, many words of thanks, hugs and handshakes, our friends left, heading to the mosque to pray. I would have loved to be a mouse in the car to hear how they processed the whole thing.
I have no doubt it was a holy moment in these divided and fearful times. This coming Tuesday we will gather again. The griddles will be hot and the food will be fatty and delicious.
It will be another moment of seeing God in Little Mogadishu.
Original journal entry date: 2/27/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Bob and I went to see mom and dad. While we were there the pastor from St. Peter (the town’s LC-MS church mom and dad were considering joining) was going to be doing worship at the nursing home, including communion. Dad suggested that we go with mom. In all honesty, the idea didn’t excite me much, but the idea of going to communion with mom was a good one. From the start I had my doubts that they would serve me – I know their ‘qualifications’ and I don’t qualify. I am a woman, an ordained pastor. But I also thought, hoped that maybe things could be a little looser in a nursing home setting.
We gathered in the chapel/theater. There was a great amount of energy around making sure everyone could hear, plugging in of mics and other sound devices. That seemed very hospitable. The pastor seemed quite nice. We sang Christmas carols and the sermon was quite good, in fact, it felt like home. The words of the liturgy were from The Lutheran Hymnal, p. 15. At first I was annoyed, but quickly realized that that was not only what they are probably still using at St. Peter’s, but more importantly, it is what the residents know.
Anyways, time for communion came. Before hand, Viola had asked dad if was going to take communion. She never asked me. A bad sign. For the distribution we all stayed seated and the pastor and Viola began making the rounds. They served a small group on my right, including my mom, and then they walked behind me and served a small group on my left, including my dad. There was no indication that I even existed. My mom wondered why I wasn’t served with her, but I was able to convince her it was alright. For her sake I was glad she wasn’t really aware of what had just happened. When they didn’t serve me with my dad’s side he looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
At the end of the service the pastor said how nice it was have me join with them along with some other small talk.
Mostly I had all kinds of snarky remarks floating through my head. I was a bit shocked, even though I wasn’t surprised. I was hurt. It is never fun to be excluded. And I surely was. Quite blatantly. Amazingly, actually. All the theological stuff ran through my head which at the time I boiled down to wanting to ask the pastor exactly what he had hoped to accomplish by doing that. Of course it was upholding purity (of something or other), but what’s the point of that. What does that even mean and what’s the point of the Gospel anymore if that is the case.
But perhaps for me there was a bigger irony and hurt. I remember as a little girl going to St. Peter’s with my grandma to help with her Altar Guild duties. While she worked I was able to explore the chancel and go in places I never could otherwise go into. The pulpit. Close to the HOLY altar. Behind the communion rail. I especially remember the red carpeting. And it was really neat. I always felt moved/inspired/called(?) when that happened. And then to have that same church turn me away because of the way I have followed that call is incredibly ironic. And painful. All for the sake of purity.
I don’t know if my grandma ever knew how neat that was for me. And how now I think of it as a bonding time and this has made me think of it as an early time when I ‘heard’ the call.
I might have a conversation with the pastor (I don’t even know his name). Maybe. I’m pretty sure it would be pointless, except for maybe causing him to think for one second a little bit about the implications of upholding purity. Where was the grace? Where was the pastoral care? Where was Jesus’ message in all of that? WWJD?
I did want to tell him I have prayed with Muslims and that they pray in my office all the time. And that those have been some of the most sacred moments of prayer I can remember. I’d tell him purely for the shock value. I don’t know if I’ll follow through on a conversation, but maybe. I have a feeling my dad has already given him a call.
Original journal entry date: 1/8/09
©2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
I am on the verge of aching, have been for a couple of days. I’m not quite sure why. There certainly are enough viruses going around to contribute to the aches. But my guess is that it’s not that, or at least, not only that. I often ache when things have been stressful.
I have been obsessing over the 9+ baptisms on the 18th. It is partly the logistics of the whole thing – how do we do 9+ people? Ray and Elizabeth and I agreed to figure it out next week. I am trying to let go of that part of it.
I’m just not sure the pastoral wisdom I think I’ve used justifies the theological and liturgical issues. The ones that most get in my way include the fact that we haven’t talked about what they will be committing to, all of things about worshiping, educating, etc. I met with them all on Saturday and my conversation with them was all grace – the gift of it all. God’s unlimited grace and love. I never mentioned the responsibilities or what they’ll say they believe. Some people would be very upset over that. And the baptism candidates might be a bit surprised. I haven’t figured out how to let them in on that part.
But still, given all of the context including: the black family and a white female pastor dynamics; the recent history of the funeral of J, killed in a drug deal gone bad; and not least of all, the Spirit’s work in this, I still believe that to have said ‘no’ or to have put demands on their process would have been a travesty far worse than the looseness (grace?) with which we will be going about this. I’m not sure I expect to ever see them in church again. On the other hand, I never expected any of them to ever be interested in baptism either. I was pretty certain that I’d never see them after J’s funeral – perhaps until the next funeral. So, I guess I’ve decided to err on the side of grace. Surely that is forgivable!
Original journal entry date: 1/9/09
©2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Every year, perhaps since time began (at least at Trinity) the Sunday School Advent/Christmas program has been an opportunity for members to gather hats and mittens to give to those in our neighborhood who need them. A Christmas tree in the Chapel serves as the collection point. Some of the gatherers have been holding onto their hats and mittens since the previous January, having bought them during the post-Christmas sales. Once in a while Trinity kids, some of whom may not have hats and mittens of their own quite yet, fight over who gets to put the hats and mittens on the tree. By the end of the day the tree, as scrawny as it may be, is covered with warm hats and mittens, all bought and shared with love. Some are hand knit by members. It can be a colorful sight to behold.
As people pack up the left-over food from the pot-luck and the scenery for the pageant gets put away, the mittens are put in grocery bags to be taken, at the earliest convenience, to the Brian Coyle Community Center in the neighborhood. The thinking is that it would be wonderful, perfect if the hats and mittens could be handed out right before Christmas. After all, who wants to spend Christmas without warm hats and mittens? What child doesn’t love finding colorful hats and mittens under the tree?
Except for one thing. After talking with Abdirahman to find a time for me to deliver them it turns out the best time to drop off the hats and mittens is, in fact, for the Fire and Ice event on January 23rd. The Fire and Ice event is a winter safety event for people of the neighborhood, especially those who are new to Minnesota. It is a chance to learn about how dress in cold weather and how not to fall on the ice and snow,
The people attending are mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many have never experienced winter before, so it is not unusual to see recent immigrants out and about in the neighborhood on a cold winter day with bare hands and wearing sandals.
They also are almost all Muslim. Which means Christmas is a non-event for them. They see all of the consumerism, the frantic shopping and preparing around them, but the day itself is not important. What is important is the event scheduled for January 23rd, where they will learn how to stay safe in their new home.
So, the bag sat in my office until January 22. That is when Abdirahman suggested they be delivered since he has no storage room in his office. A number of people who stopped in my office asked why the mittens are still there. It is, after all, more than a month since they were collected and Christmas is long forgotten. We are long past the twelfth day of Christmas.
No one was upset or angry, only surprised. It was to be as much about Christmas as it was about providing warm hats and mittens. For us. But not for the people of the neighborhood. For those who would receive them it was about the hats and mittens that would keep them a bit warmer and safer in the cold days ahead.
For over a month every time I walked in or out of my office I saw the bag sitting there, reminding me of the amazing place in which Trinity finds itself. A place where language and culture often do not mesh, where even the calendars that guide the rhythms of our lives are different. Even though the hats and mittens were a part of the frantic pace of the time-before-Christmas for us, they were simply much needed gifts for those who received them on January 23rd.
The Christmas hype and consumerism were long over with and the gifts were received as pure gifts. The true meaning of Christmas happened in spite of us, in spite of the calendar. In the midst of people who were simply grateful to have warm hats and mittens.
Original Journal entry date: 2/2/15
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee. All rights reserved.