Wassail Memories

My family in 1954. I’m on the right.

Wassail – the drink and the song – evokes pungent memories. At Christmas my Senior Girl Scout troop went caroling to the Baltimore County jail. Singing our way, “Here we come a wassailing.. Love and joy come to you…” through the cell blocks, we tried not to be daunted by what we didn’t want to see.

Yet wassail, as a festive drink, is a jubilant memory. My parents made it by the gallon jugs for our four-hour Christmas open house.  Creating the base required simmering spices and sugar; later they added squeezed-by-hand juice and cider. I still have my father’s aluminum citrus squeezer.

Our house was small, so the nearly 100 guests came in waves – medical school colleagues from 1 to 3, friends of my sister and me from 2 to 4, and everybody else from 3 to 5.

Because the hot wassail was such a spicily unusual drink, the teen boys judged it “spiked” and claimed the bowl, ignoring the (delicately flavored with very good whisky) eggnog. Everyone looked forward to our Smithfield ham (an annual gift from a former med student) and cocktail shrimp (in the early ‘50s shrimp was not yet standard party fare).  

At these parties I learned to love to entertain.

When my parents brought wassail to me at college, I learned how much parents will do to help their children. They brought not just one jug of wassail, but enough for more than a hundred people. With the modern dance group at Duke University, I had produced the first-ever multi-art Yule Fest. We danced to Christmas carols, accompanied by a medieval combo plus recitations by drama students. After the applause, dancers came down the aisles of the ‘theater in the round’ with glass cups of hot wassail for all.

Here is the Figge family wassail recipe in the small quantity (with medium and largest quantities in parentheses). My father’s notes say the largest quantity will be enough for 50 people (if you also have 3 gallons of eggnog!)

Boil 2 cups sugar (8 cups or 5 lbs.) in 2-cups water (8 cups or about 1½ gallons water) for 10 minutes. Add

6 cloves (24 or48)

1 stick cinnamon (4 or 8)

6 allspice or ¼ t ground (or 24- 48 allspice

1 T grated lemon rind (or 4 or 8 T)

1 T grated orange rind (or 4 or-8 T)

1 T chopped ginger (use your judgment for larger amounts)

Cover, stand 2 hours. Put in gallon jug, preferably glass. (At this point you can store the base, outside if it’s cold).

On the day of the party, strain it into a large kettle and add

 1 1/2 cups orange juice (6 or 12 c) preferably fresh squeezed

3/4 cups lemon juice (3 or 6) preferably fresh squeezed

2 cups sweet cider (or 8 or 16)

Before you reheat and serve this, dilute with 2 quarts cider or water, by taste.

Dancing with Carols

The songs we call carols are not just for Christmas! In Medieval times, the Old French word carole meant dancers in a circle, singing and holding hands. In other words, a folk dance. or a winter solstice celebration, or a religous procession to sung music. Not just Christmas music.

From now through December, let’s get creative with movement! To bring joy to a dark winter, let’s DANCE our way through the next two months. Turn on those familiar hymns- or the less familiar Renaissance tunes — and dance. On your feet — walk in rhythms, circle your arms. In your chair, sway to and fro, choreograph your hands.

Tell me what tunes you are dancing to. Need ideas? Invite me by Facetime or Zoom — we’ll dance together.

We can get through this winter: Praise God! Praise him with timbrel and dance!

The Day After

Brandice Canes-Wrone, whom I know as member of Princeton United Methodist Church, weighed in on the election in this podcast on the day after the election. A political scientist she is Director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics

Brandice asked, what happened with the polls, again? Traditional wisdom is that the polls reflect shy Trump voters. “In some parts, that’s true, but it’s not true in rural Pennsylvania – and other Trump strongholds.”

Collins has won Maine, and everyone thought that wouldn’t happen. But Trump loses statewide by huge percentage points. She cites other examples of split tickets, down ticket votes going to more traditional Republicans. “But that doesn’t mean they need to scrap reaching out to less well-off voters.”

Also scheduled for this panel were Michael Calderone, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ali Valenzuela, Eddie Glaude Jr. and Keith Whittington

Prepping for November

Did I write this just so I could use this image of a protest poster? not really.

Of all who read this, SOMEBODY will be unhappy after the election, so I offer a link to a class in making protest posters, here, led by the Princeton University Art Museum on November 5.

Hopefully, it won’t be MY side needing to make the posters!

Meanwhile, the more overtly political department of Princeton University offers some prescient talks.

Here’s one on how Wall Street can be less heartless and more helpful, Wednesday, October 14.

And here’s a chance to hear how Isabelle Wilkerson, the author of Caste: the Origins of our Discontents, addresses white supremacy history, on Thursday, October 15.

And if you REALLY want to know what precipitated the great divide during the Trump era, attend on Monday, October 19.

I’m going to TRY to go to these, but my priority lies with dance classes and spiritual development. For dance, I recommend online classes at the Martin Center for Dance, where I take a class for older adults and a ‘dancey” exercise class with Mary Pat Robertson and Gabriella Proffitt. For spiritual development, I’m in small groups and studies at Princeton United Methodist Church. Because, after all, health and spiritual delight will carry us through whatever is going on in Washington.

Social Media Mavens

Preservation New Jersey’s Zoom Webinar on Social Media on October 8, 2020

At the Preservation New Jersey Webinar, I picked up some excellent tips to use in my work with Princeton United Methodist Church (where, in our historic building, we have some amazing stained glass windows, including one by Louis Comfort Tiffany) and with the New Jersey State Button Society.

I met three women, leaders in their fields.

Melissa Ziobro of the Ocean County Historical Society and Monmouth University and author of American Heiresses of the Gilded Age, an Audible book.

Tara Maharjan of the Rutgers University Libraries

Emily R Manz of Preservation New Jersey, and also of EMI Strategy and Have You Met Newark.

And I learned so much!

Helping One Helps All

Best Buy’s landmark employee handbook

Reading this post I watched an interview with a nationally known HR guru on how taking care of caregivers can help everyone – including the employer.

Charles Montreuil, SVP of Human Resources at Best Buy, was interviewed by Alexandra Drane, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Health and ARCHANGELS, a national movement that recognizes and honors caregivers.

Montreuil broke new ground in ways for a corporation to care for its workers who are caregivers, and as both a recipient of care and a caregiver myself, his ‘corporatized empathy’ has special meaning for me.

Charles Montreuil and Alexandra Drane

At minute 23 came my AHA moment about why my church’s new arrangements for “taking care” are so meaningful. Montreuil says that having a caregiving system in place will reduce stress — not only for the employee caregiver — but also for everyone who works with or who knows that person. Stress for one person affects those around her. When the employee’s friends – her team – know that she can get help if she needs it — they can relax too.

I tend to carry a lot of that kind of stress. As an empath and a diagnosed worrywart, I am prone to worrying about who isn’t being taken care of. Ten years ago I helped manage an informal team to look after a beloved church member who lived alone but had dementia and other health problems. Refusing to move from her fourth floor walk-up Palmer Square apartment, she charmed everyone in sight, inspiring them to help her. But it took 10 of us to manage all aspects of her care.

What org”>Princeton United Methodist Church lacked then was an organized system of tracking who else needed care. We did have had other formal systems in place. In addition to the pastors, they included:

Stephen Ministry, which I knew pretty well since my late husband worked, as the lay leader, with then -pastors Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash and Rev. Catherine Williams and the lay team of Stephen Ministers — caring Christians trained to walk alongside those in need for as long as necessary to provide emotional and spiritual care.

From Stephen Ministry grew a caring group for widows and widowers, called Love Lives On.

The Prayer Chain, for as long as I can remember, offers solace to many. To be able to say “our prayer warriors will pray for your loved one” seems to help even those (perhaps especially those) without a firm faith.

Until Covid, several 12-step groups had, for decades, found a warm and welcoming meeting home in the church’s building on the town’s main drag. (After Covid, they will return).

Then. last year, Pastor Ginny Cetuk and an experienced lay member, Laverna Albury, put together a program, Circle of Care, to try to ensure that no one in our flock would “fall through the cracks.” This 12-member team “provides services and support to individuals or families who find themselves in acute distress due to illness, injury or family stress. ” When Covid came along, Circle of Care was in place and ramped up its efforts.

My AHA moment: When Best Buy’s HR guy, Montreuil, acknowledged that help for a stressed out caregiver could reduce the stress among that worker’s associates. “When you take care of one employee you are influencing the rest of the store. ‘Look at how this store takes care of us.'” Just knowing that respite care is available for the co-worker makes everyone breathe easier.

Yes! I realized. With the Circle of Care in place I can put that particular worry, that particular reason to be anxious, on a shelf. Other folks are in charge!

Full disclosure: I found this video on the website of my daughter, Susannah Fox. She bills herself as an “internet geologist” who helps people navigate healthcare and technology. At the end of her post she gave a link to Best Buy’s caregiver handbook.

The photograph below shows the elder in the fourth floor walkup, barely able to walk herself, charming a 10-yea-old stilt walker.

“See the Indians” in 1948

See the Indians! The sign at the tourist store offered photo opps.

In a camping trip to Colorado in 1948, we went to a tourist store that featured photo ops with Native Americans. My parents truly valued the Native American culture. Our home was filled with baskets, weavings, rugs, pots, and jewelry that they started buying in the 1930s and continued to buy in the ’40s. But appreciating skills doesn’t do much for the concept of equality.

In this video from the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Chebon Kernell, tells of the historic mistreatment of Native Americans by the United Methodist Church. I saw this video as part of a 10-session series, Vital Conversations on Race, screened in zoom meetings at Princeton United Methodist Church.

More than 30 annual conferences are beginning to pay attention to Native American concerns and to offer acts of repentance, says Kernell. “This is just the beginning. Are we really ever done with repentance? Some have asked me ‘when will you be satisfied.’ My answer ” Repentance is like discipleship. Do not expect my contentment any time soon. As long as the church stands up for a society that has worked to eliminate our presence…we are not even close to existing in a church and world that is inclusive..”

On Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m., Princeton UMC will start another 10 week session of Vital Conversations on Race in September. I found it VERY helpful. I recommend it.

Wearing the cowboy hat from my uncle, I stand next to a Native American girl just my size (I was 8) while my sister stands with our cousins. I’m sure we paid for this photo. Nobody in this photo looks very happy. And no wonder. Sisters in their matching dresses, made by our mothers, and how heavy those feather headresses must have been!
My first introduction to Native Americans, at age 3.

Looking back — at least as a child I had some idea of what a native Americans looked like, as opposed to the usual white man’s conception of Tonto and the cowboy and Indian movies. But nobody told me – not at home or in school – about the Trail of Tears. Nobody told me how the Native Americans had been forced to give up their culture.

Thirty years later, when I met the chief of the Turtle clan of the Lenape people, I found out. As a reporter for a daily paper in Media, PA, I tried to help them save a sacred spring. By going to their corn planting ceremonies and attending their rituals, I had some insights into a spirituality that did not depend on pews or stained glass or organs. It came from the earth.

These photos came from my father’s slides, curated by my sister Rosalie Ann Figge Beasley.

The Ordinary Made Holy

liturgy

Sometimes “chance” happenings are just too grace-filled to be chance. On August 2, Rebekah Anderson’s sermon text and a chance-read book “happened” to coincide with (shh) my colonoscopy prep. A former church member gave me a book her group had read, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices in everyday life,” by Tish Harrison Warren. I perused the first chapter. It was about making your bed in the morning and it helped me to enjoy doing that.

This morning, with creaky bones and foreboding spirit, facing a 36 hour fast for my colonoscopy, I happened to pick it up again. The next chapter is about “living in a body” and it was so perfect that I feel impelled to share this passage.

Jewish faith, the soil from which Christianity sprang, is delightfully, at times shockingly, earthly and embodied. Observant Jews use a prayer called the Asher Yatzar, which they recite after using the bathroom. 

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

It’s embarrassing and perhaps a bit uncomfortably graphic, but there is a baldness and beauty in this Jewish blessing. it dares us to believe that the God who holds the planets in orbit deigns to be involved with even the most mundane, pedestrian, and scatological parts of human embodiment. It calls us to gratitude and worship in the most undignified parts of our day. 

Then the author, who began the chapter by pondering on the act of brushing teeth, continues  ..these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator…who mysteriously became flesh … has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, and teeth. 

Oh yes, the text for that Sermon “An Invitation to New Life,” available on video here.(at minute 35, and at minute 25 is an amazing handbell solo). The text was Isaiah 58:

ALL ABOUT HOW TO FAST!

Might We Be Someone Else’s Weeds?

duke chapel space
Duke University Chapel entrance, without the statue of a Confederate general

Today at PrincetonUMC, 7-19-2020, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz addressed the conflict I have been holding in my heart — how to condemn the evil of white supremacy and still love those (in my family and elsewhere) who perpetrated it, those (including me) who benefit from it, and those (in the #endracism movement) who — as they try to eliminate symbols of injustice from public places — find it hard if not impossible to acknowledge that someone who did evil may also have done good.

Let’s admit that we ignore 98 percent of the information that we see or hear. Of the remaining two percent, we put half into a bucket, labeled “I like this,” and the other half into a bucket labeled “I dislike this.”

Don’t believe that the human race is so cruel and blind? Here’s what Pastor Jenny cited as historic examples.

Let’s send the convicts to Australia.
Let’s create an Aryan society.
Let’s eliminate the Tutsis.
Let’s create different sets of privileges for those with black and brown bodies.
Let’s block whatever the opposing party in Congress wants.
Let’s leave our church because someone I don’t approve of can belong.
Let’s put this person’s name in stone on the bad list, so no longer can I see them as a whole person.

It’s the last one that twangs my heart. 

Woodrow Wilson was a terrible racist and I support removing his name from a school that represents public policy. He was a president, but he was more racist than others of his time.

At my alma mater, Duke University, a Confederate general’s figure was removed from the entrance to the chapel. Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate, was more loyal to his roots in the South than to his nation.

Some want to rename the middle school named after John Witherspoon, a Scottish preacher, sixth president of Princeton University. He trained  three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court); 10 Cabinet officers; 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 U.S. senators, and 49 United States congressmen. But he also owned slaves and lectured against the abolition of slavery.

Can we no longer see Witherspoon — or any of our political and spiritual leaders — or anyone in our community — as whole persons? Must those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement condemn people who are at different places on the spectrum of learning about and accepting the concept of white supremacy? 

Yes, I want to work against white supremacy,  a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other. That is the mission of Not in Our Town Princeton.  Nevertheless, I admit to being empathetic to those who struggle with emotions of ‘white fragility,’ as described by Robin DiAngelo. I DO empathize, because I’m struggling too.

It’s not only that I am ‘feeling fragile while white.’ I understand why these symbols need to be removed, but I also have a firm commitment to the Christian teaching that there is good in everybody. And evil in everybody. Can we condemn the evil and still acknowledge the good? 

Preaching on the Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24-30, Pastor Jenny says:

Let’s try to imagine that we might be someone else’s weeds.
Let’s acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be either one or the other.

Is it possible to acknowledge that evil does exist and not seek to destroy those who enact evil while you destroy the evil itself?

Pastor Jenny says that Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God and a gardener, knowing  that weeds will inevitably crop up, advises — wait to pull out the weeds until the good crop is ready to harvest. “This gardener is so immensely patient that it scandalizes and terrifies us. Jesus shows us a picture of the Kingdom, the mysterious realm that is the 98 percent that is hard for us to perceive, hard for us to even know that we aren’t perceiving.

This patient gardener can hold ambiguity in a holy, purposeful way. We “good people” are beautiful but weeds are growing up in us and around us. Jesus invites us to sit with the silence, the patience, the challenge, the ambiguity – to try get in relationship with God. Our job is not to create a pristine landscape for the world to see, but to imagine that there is a place there for every one of us. And that it is God’s job to sort out the weeds.

In this sermon I think Pastor Jenny is trying to open a safe space for everyone, no matter where they are in their opinions.  She closed with this poem, ending… 

May my peace and acceptance
be the seeds I sow
for the next harvest. 

from Weeds and Wheat, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Guilty Pleasures Needed

loneliness
by Tracy Lee for NPR

“Guilty pleasures” are good for our health says psychologist Dan Gottlieb on WHYY today. He says there is a good study suggesting these guilty pleasures do help loneliness. So, to combat loneliness, grief, and the fear of tomorrow, do something you enjoy at least every day. This will nurture social capital.

Another tip from NPR, this from a May 10 segment on Quarantine Blues:  Don’t miss the opportunity for small touch points throughout the day. Even sharing a joke over text can make you feel less alone, says  Judith Moskowitz, of Northwestern University.