Christianity, Church life, Family Life, Reviews

Mother Tongue by Leonard Sweet – a book review

Mother Tongue Book Cover

Author Leonard Sweet’s mother, Mabel Boggs Sweet, shines like the finest gold in Sweet’s most recent book and semi-memoir, “Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” (NavPress, 2017).Written using the metaphor of a memory box, Sweet presents his family’s story by employing chapters titled with memory box “artefacts,” for example, “Ma’s Wedding Ring, Dad’s Hellevision,” “Polio Braces,” “Lye Soap,” and twenty-two others. Sweet composes the chapters as spectacular dioramas or stage settings so that the reader can step directly into the home and lives of the remarkable family of Leonard L. and the Reverend Mabel Boggs Sweet and their sons, Leonard I., Philip, and John.

Although Mother Tongue is the tale of the Leonard L. Sweet family, Mable Boggs Sweet was the powerful hub of that tribe and home – and what a home it was. Set on “Hungry Hill” in the town of Gloversville, N.Y., Mabel Boggs Sweet, “an early woman preacher, a church planter, and lay theologian,” (xxiii) took a low profile in public ministry after her marriage and the birth of her three sons. She shifted her outreach from the tent meetings of her time to her boys, whom she saw as her new mission field, and she made their home a “religious community.”(51) Had Rod Dreher been writing “The Benedict Option” (PenguinRandomHouse, 2017) then, he might have used the Sweet household as his model for Christian family life.

Mabel Boggs Sweet, a dynamic Pilgrim Holiness preacher, instituted a family pattern of prayer, Bible study, evangelism, and excellence in academics and musical skills for her sons. Sweet, in his evocative and image-rich way, makes clear that these activities were done to form Christ in the Sweet boys, and with a heart for reaching the lost. Not one to keep the good news of Jesus Christ to herself, the boys struggled with their Mother’s outgoing style of evangelism. Even so, writes Sweet, “In spite of all the embarrassment as kids growing up, we got the sense that to be a follower of Jesus is to be heir to an extraordinary heritage, host to the very Son of God, and harbinger of a promised future….”

In the chapter that features the artefact of an “Upright Piano and Soundtrack for the Soul,” Leonard Sweet describes the way in which Mabel Boggs Sweet put her boys to bed: “But mostly Mother would tuck us in musically. We would call down hymns we wanted her to play, and she would either play them by memory or look them up in one of the many hymnbooks scattered on the piano or stored inside the bench. If a radio pulls sound out of the air, prayer pulls sounds out of the heart. The assumption was that our musical requests would reflect the need of our hearts at that moment. There was hardly a problem that didn’t have disharmony as its cause, and there was hardly a problem that a song couldn’t cure.”

It is clear in Mother Tongue that Jesus was first and foremost in Mabel Boggs Sweet’s mind and heart, and she imparted the Jesus-way of life to her boys. This could lead one to believe that peace and perfection were everywhere in their home, but not so. The Sweet clan was a fully human family in our get-real modern world. Together they experienced rejection and shunning from church leaders and fellow church members, suffered the physical results of professional medical negligence, endured the brutal effects of polio, and lived through the destructive, rebellious years of teenage children. Despite these devastations, Mabel Boggs Sweet persevered as she followed her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and clung to the Truth in her role as a mother and a preacher.

“Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” is a frankly intimate and revealing book. Pain is present in these pages, but humor, beauty, love and wisdom are paramount. There is no doubt about who the central character of the narrative is, or what heritage has been passed from Mother to sons in this story: it is Jesus Christ – King, Shepherd, Lord, and Lover of Mabel Boggs Sweet’s soul.

Mabel Boggs Sweet’s life was lived in the Refiners fire, a complex process that produces the finest gold. Her life of burnished gold is truly the most precious artefact in “Mother Tongue” and is what shines so luminously in Leonard Sweet’s outstanding book.

 

Thinking back, Uncategorized

“Houston, we have a …”

Surveyor 2 launch
Surveyor 2 launch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A young friend and mother of two little boys posted this on Facebook today:

“Watching my boys play with their hot wheel cars equals  a fun and priceless moment in time!!”

It always makes my heart glad when parents catch sight of  a quintessential moment that captures the joy of children at play. Those instances can occur fairly  frequently, but the demands of raising kids while trying to keep life fairly organized can throw a  veil over the fun of living with small children.

My friend’s comment brought this long-ago event to mind:

One summer afternoon at our home, when our grandson, Devin  was 7 yrs old, and his cousin, Ryan was 5, I observed a parent’s ability to discern when one of those happy childhood moments was facing a big challenge.

On this day, the weather was beautiful and all the nieces, nephews and grandkids were scattered outdoors making the most of the big backyard and wooded lot. The girls had been exploring our large vegetable garden, and went walking on the many trails that surrounded it.  The boys, Ryan and Devin,  had been busy manipulating deck chairs and other movable objects, arranging them to make a rocket ship and using an old blanket as a launching pad. This had been the focus of their play for a couple of hours.

Eventually it was time for a meal.  Ryan’s dad went out on the deck and called all the kids into the house to wash their hands and eat. Immediately, Ryan ran up to his dad and said, “Wait Dad,  please wait!  Devin and I are just about to blast off!”

“Oh,Oh,” I thought. “Houston, we have a problem.” I had been watching the boys, and knew this play time had been an especially exciting afternoon for them.  I wondered what would happen now, since there was a distinct possibility that their plans to fly into outer space would be scrubbed.

His dad looked intently at Ryan for a few seconds and said,

“You’re just about to blast off?”

Ryan nodded his head vigorously.

“OK,” dad said, “I’ll give you boys 5 minutes to blast off. But then you have to land, come in, wash your hands and eat dinner.”

Ryan was completely satisfied with this answer, and ran down to the “rocket ship” to pass the good news to Devin. The mission had been saved! And to my mind, a “fun and priceless moment” in childhood had also been saved.

Looking back, I can see what wise a decision Ryan’s dad made. Wish I would have thought to say this at the time: “Houston, we have a solution.”

Am I smarter now?

Remember to breathe

Empty nest of a White-tailed Eagle, location s...
Image via Wikipedia

There are all kinds of transitions in life; one thing that most of them have in common is that they are difficult. A friend of mine is going through a big one right now, as her youngest child moves far away from home. In thinking about what this means for her, I am reminded of another type of transition – one that occurs during labor and delivery.

Here is a definition of ‘transition’ from http://www.babycenter.com/stages-of-labor:

During active labor, your cervix begins to dilate more rapidly and contractions are longer, stronger, and closer together. People often refer to the last part of active labor as “transition.”

 

A definition is one thing – living out the experience of the definition is another. I would guess most women who go through labor remember something about  transition. Here’s what I recall:

It’s hard work; it’s painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God. It is easy to forget all the lessons learned about breathing correctly through labor –  you know you should listen to your breathing coach, but the pain is escalating.  I think that if there were an easier way through transition, most of us would take it (caudal anesthesia, anyone?).  Whether anesthesia is used or not, the truth is there is no going back once the stage of transition begins. A chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually transition ends for the mother and the baby; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work is finished, the worst of the struggle and pain is forgotten; our perspective is changed and there is an entirely new world before us and our child.

I see many similarities between the work of transition that occurs during labor and the one that happens as the last child leaves home.  The transition from a home with kids to one without is difficult and painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God.   I think that if there were an easier way through this transition, most of us would take it – but there isn’t. For all of those involved, a chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually, this transition time ends for the parents and child; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work of transitioning out the parents’ home is finished and everyone can catch their breath, the worst of the pain and struggle is forgotten; those involved have a change of perspective and there is an entirely new world ahead.

Today my friend whose youngest child is moving away from home is on my mind and heart, and in my prayers. I know she will make it through this transition, but it will be painful, and it will take time. I hope we can spend some of that time together. Maybe we will practice our breathing.

Good times, Travel Stories, Uncategorized

Does this blog entry smell like Liquid Smoke?

Just got home from a few days in North Dakota ( 7 hours away by car) at the DD’s in-laws. In-laws live on a ranch not too far from Bismark, and each year on the  day after Thanksgiving they and their extended family (including us this year) make sausage from beef, pork and venison meat. This year the total production of sausage – summer sausage, breakfast sausage, links,patties cold smoke, summer sausage and jerky – was 1,100 lbs. Yep.  This is an astonishing operation, which goes on for days, with four generations involved.  DH and I have heard about Sausage Making Day for over a decade, but had not attended until this year. I mean WOW. These folks are doing something right – something that anyone with half a brain should tune into. Somehow this family has turned hard, heavy, dirty work into fun-with-a-personality-and-a-purpose. I woke up in the middle of the night last night with a smile on my face because I realized what a marvelous thing I had been privileged to experience at Sausage Making Day.

Gotta tell ya, these folks KNOW what they are doing. This is the fourth generation to carry on the practice of sausage making: the secret recipes (if they share them with you, they have to kill you), the equipment, the space, and  the expertise are all in place. And  humor is there. So is the beer. I am basically a non-drinker, and can be pretty uneasy when there is a lot of booze around. But somehow, it fit in this situation. People, from retirees to pre-schoolers and every age in between, were working hard, and laughing hard.  Yes, the adults were drinking hard, but nothing got out of hand, and even though they were surprised that I didn’t drink, they weren’t offended.

Neither DH nor I had anything to offer the people with whom we were working  except the willingness to do anything that we were asked to do – and that was enough for them. We worked for about 10 hours that day (this was the second day of operations – the early birds had started after Thanksgiving dinner the day before), with a couple of  breaks for singing, dancing and eating  thrown in. Oh yes, and cards and other table games and underwear wedgies were going on, too. I would say there were 25 to 30 people gathered at the height of the sausage making – all family by blood or marriage – all working shoulder to shoulder and making the most of the day in every way.

I forgot to mention that with each batch of sausage that was made, there had to be some cooked up on the stove which everyone then tasted and commented upon: ” “GARLIC!” “Too much salt?” “Hey, is it legal to put jalapeños in German sausage?” At meal times, wonderful homemade food items appeared as if by magic. Amazing traditional German soups and main dishes, home canned pickles, and from-scratch pies, cakes and desserts were set out and scarfed up. Bottles were passed around, jokes were passed around, and lots of love was passed around, as well.

I was exhausted by the end of the night, but it was happy, productive exhaustion. For our efforts, we were given several pounds of the finished product to take home and enjoy eating over the next year. Oh, and great memories to make us smile in our sleep, too.