Fruit Pies and Pencil Lead: A Thanksgiving Meditation

Adapted from a sermon at Northaven Church, delivered this morning…EF

christmasturkeyfHope you all had a great Thanksgiving. We had an incredibly restful one around here. We decided to stay here at home, just the three of us. We still did up the whole turkey/dressing/meal thing. It was wonderfully peaceful. Not that we don’t love our families, and not that we didn’t have chances to be with them. But a couple of months ago, Maria actually asked us if we could spend Thanksgiving by ourselves this year. This was deep in the middle of the campaign season when –between that, Maria’s activities, and regular church stuff– we were basically meeting each other coming and going. So, we took her small request as a barometer of sorts. After some original plans fell through, we thought, maybe we just need the time by ourselves. As it turns out, we did. Hope you had a good weekend too.

And since it is still, technically, Thanksgiving Weekend, let me tell you a little story about family worries and fruit pie. For many of us, “family worry and fruit pie” about sums up our Thanksgiving experience.

But this story wasn’t originally about Thanksgiving. It was a story about a breezy day in my Mother’s childhood. My mother was a young child of maybe six when this story took place. She was playing, as children do, outside her home in Atlanta, Texas. Her Aunt, who just lived down the street, had come over to do some baking in my grandmother’s kitchen. She’d decided to bake up some delicious fruit pies.

There is nothing quite so amazing as a good, homemade fruit pie, is there? So, Mom’s Aunt baked the pies, and set them out on an open window sill to cool.

Mom was playing as children do when –like Adam and Eve in that first perfect garden– she spied a fruit pie, cooling off in that open window. Like the very “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” it beckoned. And so, “seeing that the pie was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes,” she took a bite from a corner of that fruit pie. And OH! It was delicious. She was in pie heaven.

But it was not a fruit she recognized. Had a strange flavor. It certainly wasn’t apple or cherry. It was a little bit like blueberry, or
raspberry, but not quite either. And so, having appropriately licked her lips so as to remove all evidence of the crime, she decided to ask her Aunt. She found her Aunt and Mom relaxing on the front porch swing. And she asked, “What kind of pie is that that you just made?”

And her Aunt replied, “It’s Boysenberry.”

Well, my mother had never heard of Boysenberry Pie.

In fact, not only had she never heard of it before, she didn’t hear of it then either. For instead of correctly hearing her Aunt say “Boysenberry,” she INcorrectly heard her Aunt say, “Poisonberry.”

(“What kind of pie did you just make, dear Auntie?”

Well, at age six, you still live in that magical world between fantasy and reality, where all things are possible. And, apparently, one of the things that’s still possible is to believe that your kind, sweet, loving Aunt, would actually make a Poisonberry Pie.

In shock, and terror, my mother stumbled off into the other room. She thought about it for a moment. Maybe her Aunt had made it as some kind of a test. (A test she had obviously failed!)

So, what should she do now? With the poison pie now coursing through her veins, what was the better moral choice? (I’m sure she didn’t quite think it that way at age six…)

If I don’t tell about the pie, I will probably die.
But, if I tell them about the pie, I will surely be in trouble.

Sadly, Mom decided that the best course of action was to sit there. Admitting to the sin of eating the forbidden (ahem) fruit pie was just too much to imagine. No, she decided, the better course was to just accept her immanent death.

But she started to think about how sad that would be. And how much she would miss her life and her family. And she started to cry. And, as you might imagine, her Aunt and mother came running, and explained to her that it was BOYSENberry, not POISONberry. And all was well…nobody got banished from a garden forever….and they all lived happily ever after….

So, I’ve been thinking about this story of childhood worry. And I remember the first time my Mother told it to me was when I was small boy.

You see, when I was in kindergarten myself, and I came home with my own traumatic-worry-experience. I was playing with one of the other boys in class, who apparently poked me with a pencil. I don’t think he poked me very hard. I’m not even sure it broke the skin.

But what this young boy told me right afterwards was that I would probably die of lead poisoning.

I had actually heard about lead poisoning, and I knew that it was at least in the realm of possibilities, in that a pencil has lead in it. And so, I raced off to the bathroom, and scrubbed that arm as hard as I could, to try and get to (ahem) get the lead out, all the time worrying that my life was slipping away, right there in the kindergarten bathroom. But as with my mother before me, adults came to my rescue. A teacher heard my cries, and came in to reassure me that I was not going to die from a pencil poke.

No one, she reassured me, ever had.

Ah…childhood worries.

We grow out of them, right? We grow taller. We grow stronger. Our brain capacity expands and we become quite smart for our own good. And we grow out of these kinds of irrational worries, right? We take on all sorts of rational adult worries. And rational adult worries: now those are real worries, right?

And, we tell ourselves that some adult worry is good:

It helps motivate us, we tell ourselves…
It helps keep us on our toes, we tell ourselves…
It keeps us thinking ahead of the next guy, we tell ourselves…
It gives us a competitive edge, we tell ourselves…

We tell ourselves all sorts of things about our worries.

And we worry about all sorts of things:
We worry about terrorism.
We worry about violent crime.
We worry that we will not be able to protect our children from terrorism or violent crime.
We worry about being good parents.
We worry about our own aging parents.
We worry about our health.
We worry about being a burden to our children.
We worry about the details of our jobs.
We worry about our coworkers.
We worry about what people think of us.
We worry about the finances of our church.
We worry about the direction of our country.
We worry about the love and support of our family.
We worry about never having enough.
We worry we might have too much.

“Fruit pies and pencil lead, ha!” we tell ourselves, “that was nothing. You want worry? Have WE got some ADULT worries for you!

This is what we say about our worries.

But what does Jesus say about our worries?

“Therefore I tell you,” Jesus says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will
wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look
at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” we say to Jesus, “we hear what you. We really do. But don’t you think you’re being a little unreasonable here? I mean, after all, worry is a motivator for us. Worry pushes us forward. Worry helps us be prepared for the unexpected.”

To which Jesus replies: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

You know, that’s actually a good question.

Some experts are now finding that we actually can take time OFF our life expectancy, if our lives are filled with unchecked stress and worry.

Ian Philip –one of the leading British experts on aging– says that in a society where we have solved many life expectancy problems (through vaccinations and public health advances) that stress now becomes one of the major life expectancy factors for us.

So, in a sense, Jesus is absolutely right; maybe even righter than he knew! No, we can’t add even one day to our life through worry. AND! We might actually take days OFF our life through worry.

Jesus continues:
“And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon
in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes
the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into
the oven, will (God) not much more clothe you–you of little faith?”

I love that first line of this last section: “Consider the lilies of the field…”

Consider them. Don’t forget them. Ponder on them. And dare, we say, even give thanks for them.

Yes, it’s as if Jesus might have said,
“Give thanks for the lilies of the field, for they neither toil nor sew…”
“Give thanks for the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns…and yet God feeds them…”

Give thanks.

Yes, worry robs us of our ability to enjoy life. Worry may even rob us of some of the days of our lives. But worry robs us of one final thing, and it’s something worth remembering on this Thanksgiving weekend:

Worry robs us of our ability to give thanks.

If our minds are always cluttered up with our next worry –our next task, our next fear– then there will be little room in our hearts for thanks; little room in our hearts to give thanks for all that we do have, right now.

I know you have worries. I do too. I know that you believe they are justified. I believe mine are too. But what I find, over the long span of my life, is that most of the things I worry about, while they seem monumental for a time, turn out to be fruit pies and pencil lead.

So, on this Thanksgiving weekend, imagine Jesus saying this:

“Do not worry about what you have to eat…give thanks for bounty that you do have.”
“Do not worry about what you will drink…give thanks for the sustenance that is before you.”
“Do not worry about what you will wear…give thanks that your body is more than clothing.”

On this last day of Thanksgiving weekend, I challenge you to consider how to reduce the worry in your life, and how to replace it with thanksgiving. Even with everything you worry about, or that you want to change in your life, also consider the blessings in your life….RIGHT NOW.

And last Thursday, as I gathered with the two most important people in my life, I was grateful for all the things I just mentioned, but I was also thankful for the two of them too; and for the blessed chance to spend a few quiet days together.

Despite the real worries I am sure you have in your life, I hope you were thankful this weekend too.

Because, over the long haul? We ought to be able to find a way to be thankful far more more than we worry.

And most of what we worry about are fruit pies and pencil lead.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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