Another Portion of Jesus Bread

Another Portion of Jesus Bread*

With thanks to a dear friend and baker

If grandson Cole were a bird, which he often pretends to be, daughter Elena and son-in-law Matt would soon nudge him out of the nest, crying, “Soar, kid, soar.” Not to say his flight would be permanent, but getting an occasional break from little Red-Crest is needful these days.

When Grandma Kathy suggests we pick up Cole for a sleepover, Elena answers in a tremolo: “Really?” Underneath her whispered question is Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Matt’s eyes widen and cheeks flush.

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Cole napping under a pew during one of Pop’s sermons

Never mind that my wife and I take Cole overnight a few times monthly, mostly on Saturday evening. After the three of us go to St. John’s Lutheran in Oniontown for Sunday worship, we stop for French fries on the way back to Erie, then drop him off at home. Kathy and I adore this routine that has blossomed in our lives. We’re cute enough, with our giggles and scrunched up joy-faces, to trigger friends’ gag reflexes. The whole situation is sickeningly over-the-top.

And our bliss is weak sauce compared to Elena and Matt’s. They still have eleven-month-old Killian to contend with, but—and any parent who disagrees with this has potpourri water for blood—whenever you can send your three-year-old into somebody else’s safe, loving arms for around sixteen hours, the urge to play some Marvin Gaye, dance suggestively and make guttural sounds is overwhelming. And I will add, based on dim memories of parenting young children, that such licentiousness, should it actually occur, leads to some really red-hot napping, and that’s about it.

I’ve not inquired directly about the libido-stomping powers of my grandson, but at the moment he is a gaggle of frustrating challenges and breathtaking highs. His parents’ faces all of a sudden go slack with fatigue.

A couple weeks ago, for example, Cole kept saying “diarrhea” while we were enjoying lunch.

“Honey,” Elena said, “we don’t talk about that at the table.”

Like plenty of kids his age, Cole understood his mother’s correction to mean, “Game on.”

“Diarrhea. Diarrhea. Diarrhea.”

“Cole, do you want to go to your room?”

I heard nothing, but puffs of smoke came from Elena’s nostrils.

When she returned from caging the passive aggressor, I said, “Geez, what the hell did he do?”

“Oh, he looked at me and mouthed ‘diarrhea.’”

Such moxie for one so young. Impressive—to me, that is. For my daughter, it was yet another instance of Cole testing boundaries: befouling the nest with a vindictive pee here, hugging baby chick Killian nearly unconscious there. (Kathy reminds me of the justice of the former offense. When Elena was around Cole’s age, she demanded to be let outside to pee like the dogs do. Being refused this, she squatted on the carpet by the bathroom door. I’d forgotten, probably because I didn’t clean up the mess.)

And, of course, every human parent is familiar with dinner table wars of attrition. We could learn from our feathered friends, who simply hock up worm chunks into their children’s grateful beaks. At our last family dinner, Cole took an inexplicable dislike to anything associated with chickens. Stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and thigh meat crowned by a jiggling gem of cranberry sauce were suddenly non grata.

“But, Cole,” Elena said, “You want to have ice cream cake, don’t you?”

The stakes were unusually high. We were celebrating the first anniversary of Matt slipping on the ice and breaking his fibula. A Dairy Queen treat was required. (I’m patriarch of a clan that keeps steady by observing dark milestones and taking meds.)

How many times did everyone at the table, including perhaps Killian, say, “Just one bite and you can have dessert”?

But our hearts were flint! Cole, a sniveling conscientious objector stripped to his superhero jockey shorts, huddled on my recliner, just feet from the dining room.

We proceeded with the cake.

“Pop,” Cole called out. “I want Pop.”

Elena gave me the nod.

I took one step toward Cole when he made a second request: “Pop, bring your cake.”

No dice, of course, but somebody tell me this kid ain’t going places in life.

The party ended amicably, with Elena persuading Cole to surrender to American cheese. He ate the mouthful agreed upon and chased his cake down with three more slices, so nutrition and gladness were both served reasonably well.

Endings in this family have been happy lately, but I take nothing for granted. Anybody who pays attention knows that joy’s flame can be snuffed at any moment. And believers with a mature faith don’t blame God for the darkness.

So if the day unfolds without a spitty pointer and thumb pinching my wick, I’m ducky. For seasons at a time—often through nobody’s fault but my own—I’ve heard pssst, watched swirls of smoke ascend and stared at cold candles.

Maybe I wouldn’t hold my present blessings up to the light and look at them over and over again were it not for some rough landings. Now, grace won’t leave me alone.

IMG_4286Here’s the most recent visitation. On Sunday, some old friends showed up at St. John’s for worship and brought with them little loaves of homemade Communion bread for Cole and my son Micah. At my previous pastorate, we called it “Jesus Bread.”

It wasn’t consecrated, but everybody young and old who loves Jesus Bread tastes something sacred in the late Milton Sontheimer’s recipe, and every batch, for that matter. I don’t know. Maybe the baker’s prayers and intentions add their own blessing to the Sacrament.

Kathy and I sent some home with Cole and brought a bag for atheist Micah, too.

The next morning Cole was acting sneaky as Elena got him ready for preschool. Imagine, a three-year-old with puzzling motives. He wanted to bring the suitcase he uses for overnighters at Grandma Kathy’s and Pop’s to school. Why? Little Red-Crest’s beak was clamped shut.

After prodding and prying, Elena got the truth out of him. “But, Mom,” he said, “I have to take it. My Jesus bread is in there, and I need to share it with all my friends.”

Okay, that right there is grace. And wisdom, too. A loaf of bread, the Jesus variety and all others, isn’t really bread until friends and strangers everywhere get their fill.

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Growing up is hard trouble–tiring, bruising work.

As it happens, Cole will be sleeping over tonight with Grandma Kathy and Pop. What grace does he have in store for us? Who knows?

But I’ll have some grace waiting for him. Elena called to tell me that Cole intends to draw when he grows up. I’ll be rooting for him. He also said, “Mom, I’m having hard trouble growing up.”

Before bed, I’ll tell him, “Pop is having hard trouble growing up, too, buddy. We all are. But eating Jesus bread helps. And sharing it helps even more.”

*A few months ago I had an essay entitled “Jesus Bread” in Living Lutheran. Click here if you would like to read it.

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Frass from Your Oddest Planetary Brother

My list of miscellaneous notes has grown long enough to tip over. Some subjects are worthy of mention, but not full treatment. So I offer what follows as a kind of frassy salad. Reviewing a couple month’s worth of scribblings, I’m hesitant. If you read on, there’s no way to un-know what you’ll stumble upon. An idea or two might make you want to scour your mind with Ajax. And I’m pretty sure you’ll conclude that I’m about your oddest planetary brother. All this said, here’s the list. Have smelling salts handy.

1. We’ll start with the benign and merely annoying. Some mornings after dropping off wife Kathy at Erie’s Regional Cancer Center, I stop at a grocery store for a quick grab: cranberry juice, newspaper, sugar-free dark chocolate (don’t eat too much or you’ll have explosive flatulence). At 7:40, you might expect a quick transaction. Nope. About an hour ago, two lanes were open. One was occupied by a guy who had a lot on the belt, including a bizarre number of darkish bananas. At the other, a polite woman wanted smokes, but the cashier had to call for a manager to fetch them. Oh bother. Here’s the trouble: the store has roughly an acre of self-checkouts! Of course, none of them were open. In the most nonchalant way possible, I asked why. “They don’t open till 9:00.” I had already figured out the reason: somebody has to be standing by to troubleshoot. So this is a convenience how?

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Handy self-checkouts . . . useful as dog turds on a skating rink!

Additional consumer incident: a couple weeks ago Kathy and I wanted to buy a chair at Bon Ton. We had a little time at around 8:00 p.m., went to the store, and located the chair. Kathy went on a reconnaissance mission to find an employee. I was beginning to think Rapture when she finally returned, slack faced. A cashier in another department informed her that we could not buy the chair, since nobody was working in Furniture. We walked out of the deserted store in silence, expecting to encounter tumbleweed or Rod Serling. I did say that Bon Ton could sit on what was supposed to be my new prayer chair with atomic force, and I wasn’t going to make the purchase on principle. Kathy returned the next day and bought it. Whatever.

2. I did away with my graying beard last week for a reason you’ve probably never heard. If I go any length of days without shaving, a dozen hairs sprout from my lower lip. Not from the flesh just south of my lip, but my lip. You know, the landing strip for Chapstick. So now I’m baby faced, not that anyone takes much notice. It’s not like when George Clooney or Brad Pitt shave off their ugly-ass beards and everybody, men included, are relieved. I’ll also mention that I can no longer dig wax out of my left ear with a fingernail, since a tuft of hair has taken up residence on my eardrum–at least I assume it’s hair. Could be moss. “What’s next?” I ask myself. I’m hoping not to experience the fate of the Coleman’s beloved lab mix Watson, who has a stiff, inch-and-a-half bunch of silver hairs growing bull’s-eye center out of his rump-hole. It’s a marvel, but kind of pathetic.

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Watson years ago ready for trick-or-treating–before his unfortunate hair event.

3. Just now, Starbucks friend Barb handed me a gift card. How sweet! We were talking about miscellaneous topics, and I mentioned the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria and the South Korean kids who went down with the ship. “It’s your day off,” Barb said. “Happy thoughts.” Thanks, sister.

4. The Coleman family is about to get our 1981 Electric Commuticar back on the road after repairs made by Renaissance son-in-law Matt. Behold:

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The “Goudalet,” so named because somebody told the previous owner that the car looks like a wedge of gouda cheese approaching. Kathy will be driving this bad boy to work.

5. Talented photographer-writer friend Mary Birdsong told me that the term for caterpillar poop is frass. Though spellcheck denies it, frass covers multiple varieties of insect droppings. (Side note: Mary took what I think is a stunning macro-photograph of a butterfly that will grace the cover of a frassy book I’ve got coming out in June. It’s called Your Grandmother Raised Monarchs . . . and Other Wonders Before Your Time. This collection of notes will get handed to my grandchildren when they come of age. Meanwhile, you can read it if you want. Watch for details, please!

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“Daily Minder”: 1.) Eat leaf. 2.) Drop frass pellets. 3.) Eat another leaf. 4.) Drop more frass pellets. (Credit: Wikipedia)

6. Thoughtful friend and fellow Lutheran pastor Mark Fischer posted on Facebook the following quote from President Eisenhower, which comes from an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953. I reserve my only comment for the caption:

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Ike was a Republican, right?

7. For nearly twenty years I’ve written pretty much in solitary confinement. That is to say, I seldom write more than an hour a day and have had minimal contact with other writers. I think that this fact is partly to blame for my present need to reconsider my use of contractions. How stupid is that? I’ve published a decent pile of work with another book on the way (though the upcoming one is indie published–so be it), and at fifty-two years old, I’m rummaging around with the apostrophe. Here’s the rule I’ve come up with: if a contraction has more than one possible meaning, scrap it. Example: Bush’s beans can mean beans belonging to Bush or Bush is, as a person, beans. Avoiding confusion trumps casual tone.

8. Here are a couple of delightful additions to my vocabulary of expressions. Wife Kathy mentioned the first: “rode hard and put away wet.” Urban Dictionary‘s illustration: “when someone has not taken care of a horse after a hard day.” Ah, so many possibilities here. The other two come from friend and parishioner Judi Pacileo: shoveling smoke, which means worrying about and planning for something that probably won’t happen; and chin wagging, which refers to fun, relaxed conversation. Enjoy!

9. I’m oddly proud of grandson Cole, who at five months old swore for the first time when he was out shopping with Mommy and Grandma. Mommy (Elena) captured the moment for us all:

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Proud Grandma Kathy with our future Mensa grandson, who seems to be saying, “Guys don’t like shopping.” I’m a little verklempt here!

10. Speaking of Cole, I baptized the little pootums this past Sunday. I should say we because my sister Cindy, also a Lutheran pastor, and I splashed the water and said the words together. Such a joy. But I mentioned to you that by the time you finish this sophomoric slog, you’ll consider me a weirdo–and probably a heretic. Here’s the deal: Cole’s sponsor (Godfather) is my son Micah. Elena and son-in-law Matt asked me if that would be okay. There’s only one snag: Micah is an atheist. My first thought was, “Aw, shit!” But I did what I always do. Prayed, sat with the issue. And a sacred irony settled on my heart. Most sponsors or Godfathers or Godmothers are frankly nothing of the sort. Most are given this awesome responsibility because they’re somebody special in the parents’ or kiddo’s life. And I’ll wager fully one half of sponsors-Godparents never acknowledge what ends up being an honorary title. Never. Ever. With thoughtful atheist Micah, Cole is going to get an honest-to-goodness spiritual companion, somebody who will accompany him where his spirit takes him. As a matter of fact, Cole will learn from Micah a distinctly Christian gentleness and sense of mercy and justice. There were promises in the baptismal service Micah couldn’t say, but there were other promises written on his face. Again, the promises many parents and sponsor-Godparents make are simply lies. So, I said yes to Micah being Cole’s Godfather. As Sister Joan Chittister once said, “Okay, go ahead and throw tomatoes. This [shirt] is washable.”

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This picture gets blurry as I ask: “Could the God I love use my beloved atheist son to lead my beloved grandson to a God-pleasing place?” Lord, hear my prayer.

11. Okay, you’ve stayed with me for a long time, so here’s your payoff. I had an exchange sometime back with my blogging bud at naptimethoughts.com. She is one funny woman, so please visit her blog. The topic of our brief back and forth had to do with males and farts. The only thing I’ll say in my defense is that she started it. In her post “Boys are gross” she describes walking into her five-year-old son’s bedroom, which the kid had fart-bombed all night long. (It’s a quick read, so klick the link.) His manly output combined with his astute description of his state of health forced me into this comment: “I never met the kid, and I’m proud.”

Naptime made the mistake of responding with a question: “Men. Tell me John, why is it the potency of the fart and not the loudness that is the prize? I don’t get it.”

Here was my answer (and remember, if you read on, you can’t un-know this):

“Okay, see, there’s a fahhht hierarchy with men, whose sense of humor never graduates middle school. Third place goes to one that simply issues a loud report. First place goes to a quiet one in a confined space that takes another poor soul by terrible, horrid surprise. And second goes to a subset of first and can best be explained with an example. My daughter and son-in-law were driving along when my daughter said, ‘Sniff, sniff. What is that smell?’ Son-in-law was quiet. ‘Sniff!’ daughter said. ‘Hey, did you fart?’ ‘Yes, I did,’ confessed son-in-law. ‘Aw, dammit,’ daughter said. ‘I explored that.’ The cruelty of the second place winner is in the receiver’s conscious decision to sample and evaluate. Ok, this day’s work is done. I’ve unveiled the mystery of flatulence and modern man.”

I suppose this is more than enough for one day. And what I said about throwing tomatoes: that was a lie. I’d appreciate if you took it easy on me with my heresy. I don’t seem to be able to get anger stains out of my soul.

Micro-Post: A Morning Note from My Daughter

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“All right, Mr. DeMille. We’re ready for our closeup.” (Credit: DLILLC / Corbis)

Blogger’s Note: If you read my last post, “Why Babies Fill Us with Longing,” you’ll appreciate daughter Elena’s description of what grandson Cole does when he’s not busy being cuter than a bucket of Shar Pei puppies. Enjoy!

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So, Mommus Maximus, you’re not mad at me, are you? (Credit: Elena Thompson)

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s been a funny morning. Cole soaked through his diaper onto the bed (my bed, ugh). Then when I took his diaper off he peed on his own face! So I decided to give him a bath, but the washcloth I had over his bits didn’t hold the explosive poop that is all over my bathroom.

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Just wondering, Mommy: I’m the one who got pee on my face. So who really got the worse end of the deal? (Credit: Elena Thompson)

Thank God for dogs.

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Layla, the clean up dog, having committed a crime several weeks ago. Blogger’s Note: I’m in favor of dogs taking care of any and all messes. I’m pretty sure they regard whatever hits our gag reflex as a five-star delicacy. (Credit: Elena Thompson)

If it weren’t for the semi-good night sleep I probably wouldn’t have found it so funny.

Love,

Elena

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What’s that you say, Momma-Lhama-Ding-Dong? It’s Grandpa’s day off and we’re meeting for lunch? Cool! I’ll have more fountains and poo-canos ready by then. Thanks for the bath! But say, isn’t it time for a snack from old Lefty? (Credit: Elena Thompson)