Posts Tagged listening

Tell Your Story. Celebrate National Listening Day

November 25 better known as Black Friday is also National Listening Day. This is a day to tell and record family stories. This gives a great alternative to spending the day or wee small hours of the night in the mall. StoryCorps started the event which has been widely celebrated and appreciated.

I am regretful that when I had the opportunity I did not pay attention to all those family stories freely shared at reunions, funerals, and other get–togethers. The ones I do remember enrich my life.

My friend Bob is writing his memoir. He sometimes reads portions to Carol, Brandy and me. What a treat that has become as he shares details of his life with us. Remember you are not limited by who constitutes family. It can be a group of friends, a church group or a social group as well as actual family members.

Record the stories if possible. Use a voice recorder, a video recorder or pen and paper. We all remember stories. As you remember one bit of information, dozens more will rush in. I recently wrote my spiritual journey, Our Father: Discovering Family, which became a book. The problem quickly became what to leave out instead of what to include. I was overwhelmed by memories.

A very important point is that your story is your story. Your sister, brother, mother, father, aunt or cousin will remember it differently, but then it is their story not your story. Of course you can make factual corrections when necessary. The important thing is to tell the stories and record them. Stories make us who we are. They span generations.

This morning my son asked me, “When did I get my first Lionel Train and where did it come from?” Those questions sent me back down wonderful memory lanes. That train was more than forty-five years ago. Luckily I made voice recording of all those early Christmas mornings to send to the missionary grandparents who were in the Philippines at the time, but they were on a reel to reel tape recorder. I hope that recorder is still in the attic. That quest will bring more memories.

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What Writing a Spiritual Autobiography Taught Me – www.ethicsdaily.com

When I started writing Our Father: Discovering Family, the working title was, Our Father: From Certainty to Faith. I had two questions in mind stemming from an amazing, eye-opening, soul-stretching experience I had at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. How did my spiritual development bring me to this point from where I started life in a small provincial town in South Carolina during the days of racial segregation? The second question was equally daunting. What am I to do with the remaining years of my life?

I discovered that God had a much bigger plan. God wanted to expand my vision as to who is in God’s family. God always has a bigger plan than we have. I am reluctant to put words in God’s mouth, but it is as if he were saying, Mitch, you can’t understand me until you know who is in my family.

In 1998 my new wife and I were in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At 11:00 a.m. the priest for the day announced, “At this time every day we stop and say together the Our Father Prayer.” An amazing thing happened. People from all over the world: white, black, brown, male, female, tall, short, handicapped, able-bodied gay, straight were all praying the Our Father Prayer. For the first time in my life the true meaning of what “Our” means swept over me. I knew at that moment that my life had changed forever and that my faith had taken a quantum leap forward.

The process of prayer, reflection, research and writing lead me to two conclusions. First, I needed to drastically expand my understanding of who composes God’s family and second God had been preparing me all of my life to be a voice for fostering better understanding and communication between Christians and between Christians and the rest of the world. We need a more Christ-like dialogue. Striving to improve Christian communication became my mission for both writing and speaking.

The book is best described as a spiritual autobiography. I grew up in the segregated South where learning about the brotherhood of man wasn’t easy. As a child I could not understand how a church that preached God’s love could turn black people away from its doors. Much later, I struggled through the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and a church split. My late wife, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, challenged all of my provincial ideas in a loving but forceful way. Her death coming just days before Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston and my beloved church was an unimaginable tragedy. One from which I was not sure I could recover, but God provided abundant expressions of love and reassurance.

In 2006 my wife asked me to volunteer to teach creative writing to her students in an inner-city minority middle school. The atmosphere reeked with negativity from both faculty and students. That experience lead me to write a little booklet, Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. Then I founded the Say Something Nice Day observance now listed in the Chase Calendar of Event. In 2007 because of the rising tide of animosity between Christian groups, I spearheaded the Say Something Nice Sunday Movement celebrated on the first Sunday in June… This movement has gained support from Baptists, Catholics, Disciples, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The book I edited and contributed a chapter to in 2009, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, which brought together leaders from various denominations grew out of these events.

God brought great Christian thinkers into my life through my visits at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State and the many speakers at the John Hamrick Lectures at First Baptists Church of Charleston: Bill Leonard, Molly Marshall, Glenn Hinson, Martin Marty, Thomas McKibbens, Arthur Caliandro, Timothy George, John Claypool, Paul Raushenbush and Joan Brown Campbell to name a few. I owe a great debt to my childhood pastor, Rev. Roy R. Gowan. One day he said to me, “Mitchell, God made all of you and that includes your brain. He does not expect you to park it at the door when you come to church.” It took me years to fully grasp what this wonderful man had said to me.

As I researched and wrote, Our Father; Discovering Family, all these isolated events – a career in communication disorders, Sunday school teacher, life-long church and civic volunteer, deacon, writer and speaker, consultant – began to fit together. They revealed to me that God has been leading me step by step to discover meaning and mission in my life. There are no coincidences. God’s Word says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) It also lead me to understand that the God I had been worshiping all of my life far exceeded anything that I could imagine or comprehend. Insights keep coming. It is an amazing journey.

An Excerpt from Our Father: Discovering Family

London and St. Paul’s Cathedral are light years away from Woodruff, South Carolina and Northside Baptist Church but each is an essential mile marker on a journey – a journey to discover a fuller understanding of who God really is and how I can be more like him.  In the process God revealed a much broader plan for me. He wanted to open my eyes and mind to see who his children are.  It is as if he is saying,” Mitch, you can’t understand me without knowing and loving my children, your sisters and brothers. I am the Father of all.” He is constantly reminding me that I am one of his children and that I belong to a family that is much larger, much more diverse, much more inclusive than I imagined at the start of my journey.

There are no shutouts in God’s family or as Dr. John Hamrick says, “People are not throw-aways.”  We all belong.  Just as my aunt tried to do 50 years ago, someone or some group is always trying to exclude some other group from God’s family for reasons of their own.  It never works.  You and I are members of the family.  We are loved, but we are not the head of the family.  That is the basis of all sin – wanting to take the place of God.  God is the head of the family.  He alone decides who is in and who is out. His greatest desire is that everyone should be a member of his family.  My role as a member of the family is to invite others to join by living a life that is truly reflective of what being a child of God is all about. It is about inclusion, not exclusion.  It is about love not hate. It is about accepting the invitation, “Come and learn of Me.”

For more about Mitch’s books, including Our Father: Discovering Family, click here.

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Tell Your Family Stories

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Sue Monk Kidd

You are the keeper of some wonderful family stories and history. Funny, strange, tragic, inspiring things happened that only you know about. Share them in a few sentences with other family members. We are not talking about revealing secrets or skeletons, just good stories. If you do not share these stories, they will be lost forever.

Here are some clues to get you started. These are just prompts. Looking at old family photographs will also help. If it is possible, drive or walk through your old neighborhood.

Where and when were you born?

Were you named after someone?

Did anything significant happen the year you were born?

Take a memory walk through your grade school or high school.

What teacher was in each classroom?

Visualize going to church or synagogue.

Where did you sit?

Who was your religious leader?

What was a family dinner like?

What was your first car?

How did you get it?

Who was your first real boyfriend or girlfriend?

Did you ever play hooky from school?

Where did you hang out?

What was your first job?

Who broke your heart?

Did something funny happen at your wedding?

How much was your first allowance?

What did you buy with it?

Who was your childhood hero?

Does your house or neighborhood have a ghost?

The day after Thanksgiving is designated as a National Day of Listening by Storycorps. It is a day set aside to tell and record family stories. Sit down with family members and encourage them to share their stories with each other. You might need to break the ice by telling your story first. Research has shown that children who know their family stories both the successes and failures are better able to cope with life as adults than those who do not know their stories. Stories connect us to each other. They create a bond.

My new book, Our Father: Discovering Family (WipfandStock), is full of stories. For each one that I recorded in the book, there are three or four that I didn’t include. As you recall one story, the telling will lead you to remember others.  Relax and enjoy the experience.

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Tell and Retell Family Stories

At the funeral of my friend there were wonderful stories from her children,  grandchildren and former students. She was a faithful member of the congregation for over fifty years. The atmosphere moved from sorrow to one of thanksgiving. I was left with a great question. Why do we wait for funerals to share these wonderful stories?

My dad was a great story teller. I relished the saga he told about his asking my grandfather for my mother’s hand in marriage. “Mr. Gossett (my grandfather) was a big man. He was already dressed for bed. Here was this big man wearing a white night shirt and he was barefoot; As tears rolled down his cheeks he said, ‘Well Carnell, if you don’t know how to treat her,  you know where you got her.'”

When I was in the third grade my family traveled to Spartanburg for an appointment with my eye specialist. My sister and I were walking ahead of my parents. I heard mother say to dad, “I am not sure I want Mitch to get new glasses. He thinks I am so pretty.”

For a short time when my sister and I were in middle school we boarded my grandparents’ cow. She was a gentle animal, but my sister, Jean, was afraid of her. One day Jean was missing for an hour or two. We finally found her cowering in the barn with the cow standing in front of the door. Jean was afraid to come out.

These are family stories. There is nothing unusual here. They are stories that bind our family together and we need to remember them and share them. The National Day of Listening , the day after Thanksgiving, was created for this reason. by StoryCorps in 2008. We are encouraged to tell and share family stories.

The family had gathered for our annual Christmas dinner. My wife had knocked herself out getting the house ready and preparing a scrumptious meal including the family’s favorite –her macaroni and cheese. She prepared everything except the ham. Our friend Roger gave me directions on how to boil a ham the way his family in New Mexico had always done. His ham was always so delicious that I wanted to try it. I announced my plan to the family and was met with unanimous apprehension. Undaunted, I confidently executed my plan.  All afternoon I carefully watched over my masterpiece and was eager to prove all of them wrong.

My ham was a disaster. It was ugly on the platter, the consistency stringy and the taste did remotely remind you of ham, but only remotely.  Although my offering turned out to be a culinary disappointment, the merriment that filled the room was spontaneous. There was no end to the light hearted puns and the suggestions as to what might render the ham into something eatable. Even my grandson’s girlfriend got in on the act. My son told me later that he had not seen my sister laugh so hard or enjoy anything so much in years. Everyone let me know that this was one time when father definitely did not know best.  I made certain that the ham was soon gone, but the story of this Christmas dinner and dad’s great fiasco will warm our hearts for years to come. There is nothing like warm hearted laughter to cheer the soul.

 

Your family also has a storehouse of marvelous stories. All it takes is for someone to start the ball rolling. One story quickly follows another. Be intentional about it. Set up a voice or video recorder. If necessary ask a few leading questions. Where did mom and dad meet? What is your favorite childhood memory. Where did our grandparents live before they were married? What was your first memory of Christmas? You will think of others related to your family history.

If your family holds family reunions, send out a request for members to come prepared to share a family story.  Another idea is to interview an older person who is reluctant to stand up and talk. What is true for families is also true for other groups. A favorite activity at our Sunday school class’ annual Christmas dinner is the sharing of childhood Christmas memories. These stories break down barriers and turn members into friends.

Stories bind people together. They capture our shared experiences. You will be amazed at how one memory will trigger another one.

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