Sunday, October 28, 2012

We Tell Stories

Normally, when I have a chance to speak I like to be very measured with my words.

For example, I know that if I have 30 minutes to speak on a Sunday morning that is about 2600 words.  So, normally on a Tuesday morning reflection at the Chapel here at MIT, I would plan to write 800-1000 words.  Choosing those words to both carefully convey an idea, to inspire, but also to provide verbal cues to ongoing conversations.

Today, however, my notes are scribbles.  I have chosen to write only a few verbal clues as reminders of ideas, because our topic for the semester is, “In my family we…” and in my family…we tell stories.

Stories are better told than parsed.

About 10 years ago, with a video camera in hand and my children at the table we wrote down a series of questions and let my grandparents tell the stories.  My kids were especially interested in how my Grandfather used to come to my Grandmother’s house when she was a teenager.  He would always come to play cards with my Grandmother’s parents, but looking back my Grandfather would say that was just an excuse to see Theta Bell, my Grandmother.

My kids were also interested in what their Great-Grandparents watched on television, what it was like to purchase their first television and when and how Theta Bell and Harley first kissed. 

But, one story my Grandfather saved for last.

“Timmy (my Grandfather was one of three people who call me Timmy).  I want to tell you a story, and I want you to record it and play at my funeral.” 

“Now, I’ve never told this story to no one.”

My Grandfather proceeded to tell of a prank that my Uncle, my Father and some of their buddies played on my Grandfather. 

Harley raised chickens and used to sell them locally.  And he proceeded to tell how he found out about the prank, and pranked them instead.  And he finished telling the story with great laughter, and said, “And to this day, they don’t know I did that!”

We ended my Grandfather’s funeral with this video, and we all laughed with him.

We are people whose lives are shaped by and give shape to stories around us.

When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we did not know the gender of the before the birth…so we came prepared with a boys name and a girls name.

Our second turned out to be a girl that we named Amolee.

Amolee was named after my wife’s Grandmother, Amolee.  Not only did we like the name, it was a way to honor my wife’s memory of her grandmother who passed away when she was a little girl.

Some months later, my wife’s Aunt sent us a beautiful letter about our kids that included a story that we cherish about naming our daughter Amolee.

Jeannie, my wife’s aunt, said in her letter that she only remembered seeing her Mother cry twice in her life.  Once was when Jeannie’s dad passed away, the second was on a day after Stephanie had been to the house.

Stephanie would frequently come to the house and play on the floor with at her Grandmother Amolee’s house.  At this point Amolee was also ill and not able to play with her on the floor, but would sit in the rocking chair and watch as Stephanie played.  After one visit she began to cry, as Jeannie would tell the story. 

“What is wrong, Mom?”

“I love when Stephanie comes to play, but I am afraid that she will not remember me.”

And then Jeannie wrote in her letter to us, “Guess what Mom, Stephanie is all grown up now with a daughter of her own, and guess what she named her?  Amolee.  She did remember.”

Stories shape our identity.

Jesus used stories as his predominant way of conveying understanding about God’s world, God’s way of seeing things.

One of my favorite is from Mark 3 and goes like this…

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

The choices we make give shape to the story we are telling.  We can be shaped by other stories that are being given to us everyday, or we can choose to shape the story around us. 

The Kingdom of God is best captured in stories; even the story of Jesus himself is a story of death and resurrection of need and hope.

In my family, we tell stories…

Tim Hawkins
Sojourn College Ministries

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Love of books and family


“The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man.  Nothing else that he builds ever lasts.  Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others.  But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.

            And even the books that do not last long, penetrate their own times at least, sailing farther than Ulysses even dreamed of, like ships on the seas.  It is the author’s part to call into being their cargoes and passengers,--living thoughts and rich bales of study and jeweled ideas.  As for the publishers, it is they who build the fleet, plan the voyage, and sail on, facing wreck, till they find every possible harbor that will value their burden.”

Clarence S. Day, The Story of the Yale University Press told by a Friend. 
New Haven : At the Earl Trumbull Williams Memorial, 1920

Speaker ~ Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries, MIT

The theme of this year’s Tuesdays in the Chapel is the completion of the phrase, “In my family, we…”
To tell the truth, I had a difficult time finding a single word or story to describe my family of origin.

I could say, as the quote from Clarence Day suggests, that we loved books and were voracious readers.  In my family reading material was everywhere. Television viewing was rationed, but reading was not (except after lights out at night). One of the highlights of our week when I was a child was piling into the car to visit the nearest public library. We children always borrowed the maximum number allowed.  In the evening, around the dinner table, we would talk about books and words, and to this day, swapping books and articles, and talking about what we are reading pervades our lives and our relationships as a family.

Or I could say that as a family we had porous boundaries.  Both of my parents were only children, and they both dreamed of having a large family.  When their own children peaked at 3 (two boys and a girl) they opened their home and hearts to others. My sister arrived at the age of 7 as a foster child.  Over the years we hosted two foreign exchange students; each for a full school year.  My best friend lived with us for a year and a half when her mother was no longer able to care for her. My brothers both had friends who lived with us for periods of time for other circumstances.  One never knew what the head count would be when the census takers knocked on the door. But for sure, we never had enough bathrooms.  When my mother passed away at the age of 52 my father remarried a wonderful woman – who brought her three children into the family mix and today with marriages and grand children and great grandchildren our family is bigger and more fun than ever. 

Or I could say about my family that we are incurably optimistic and fiercely loyal to one another.  We moved many times when I was growing up, and we learned as a family how important it is to support and trust one another.  When we’d arrive at a new home we’d all fan out and make new friends – confident that we’d find friends as good as those we’d had to leave behind. Every fresh start was approached with optimism, and we’d always make sure to look out for one another in a way that creates security when you’re the new kid in town.  By now, our lives have gone in very different geographic and career directions, and through many ups and downs.  Yet we remain as optimistic about life and as loyal to one another as we were when we were children. 

On that note of optimism, in closing, I would like to read a poem by Emily Dickinson.  Two members of my family are dealing with serious illness right now, and I am in awe of the optimism and courage each brings to the difficulties they face. 


HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960

Monday, October 15, 2012

Invocation for a new President

Invocation for President L. Rafael Reif

September 21, 2012

We give thanks for this day and
the ever moving currents of life
that have brought us to this time.

In the wider world we are mindful of the
challenges presented by a struggling
economy, the pain of war and the struggles
that promote peace.

Our spirits are pulled by political talk
that values victory more than truth,
words that tell us what we wish to hear
rather than what we need to do.

In this cacophony, may we remember
that we offer our best service by doing  well
what lies in front of us.
MIT serves the nation and the world best
when we take care of the business at hand.

We have been blessed by the service and vision
 of Presidents Gray, Vest and Hockfield, and now
we begin the era of President L. Rafael Reif.

Our challenge is to advance knowledge
and educate students in science, technology
and the areas of scholarship that will best serve
the nation and the world in the 21st century.

What lies in front of  us are the problems of modern time;
may President Reif’s leadership be wise and may
he be surrounded by learned counsel;
may our community hold up his arms when the going is tough,
and  encourage his spirit when the days are dark for we stand or fall together
and do our work best when our collective minds inform the hands
that touch the keys that play the music, write the words that sway hearts, 
sketch the lines that define buildings, seek out genes that open pathways to curing illness, build the systems that create the renewable energy to sustain life.

That we may do these things is our prayer,