Mike Levy

10 Sep

Michael Levy

(picture by Denise Haughian)

Last night I had a dream about Mike Levy, my former boss in the English and Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In the dream, Mike was my teacher and I was his student. When I came to class, he berated me for not having read the first book in the Harry Potter series. Come morning I tried to figure out the dream. In the real world, Mike had given me an extra copy of the British version of the book, which used British terminology not in the American version. He taught children’s literature, among other courses, and the series was relatively new when he started using it. He told me he didn’t think it ranked with the best of children’s literature, and occasionally a religious student would resist the dark side of the book and he would have to find her an alternative, but it was definitely timely.

Ever since I had the dream, I’ve been puzzling it out. I’m one of those people who thinks every dream has a purpose, or meaning behind it. In the dream, he admonished me for not being prepared for class. In real life, when he suggested reading Harry Potter I followed through. So why did I envision him being such a scold? Freudian psychoalanysis often teaches that the main character in a dream represents a part of ourselves, which fits in with Saul McLeod’s analysis of Freudian theory: “Freud (1900) considered dreams to be the royal road to the unconscious as it is in dreams that the ego’s defenses are lowered so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness, albeit in distorted form.” Recently I have castigated myself for not spending enough time on my writing. Perhaps the Mike of the dream symbolizes the authoritative aspect of myself that is signaling it is time for a change.

What first struck me about the dream, was that Mike was so stern with me. We collided a couple times, but my main memories of him were that he was an amiable person and a good conversationalist. Mike was gentle and kind by nature. Once I presented him with a seedum from a nursery. His response was to walk around the table and hug me. He was frank when evaluating colleagues, but would also go to bat for you when he thought you deserved it. I will always remember that he supported me in his talks with the Dean concerning my being given a special status sometimes awarded adjuncts. This move was typical of his generous attitude toward adjuncts, a point of view not always popular in the department.

He was my boss, not my teacher, although I often preferred to think of him as a colleague or chum. I did value his opinion and once when he came to hear a paper I had written on Robert Penn Warren I was disappointed when he didn’t compliment me, but he did show up. I think this harks back to the dream where he is giving me advice.

I often went to his office for good conversation and/or the cornicopia of drugs that occupied his office drawer (he had allergies). One time I was teaching The Natural by Bernard Malamud, and I told him that the character of Roy Hobbs was based in part on Mickey Mantle. Mike reached into his endless bag of information and said that the characterization was not a compliment. He said that Mickey Mantle was generally considered to be a man of low character, who liked to look up underneath the stands so as to see women’s panties. Mike, the feminist, definitely remembered that aspect of Mantle’s personality.

From there, we segued into a discussion of his childhood memories of baseball. My great-grandfather played baseball in the late nineteenth century with two of the men who started the the Yankees, and our family always received good seats while the men were still alive. Mike, on the other hand, was a diehard Cubs fan. As a young boy, Mike cut out newspaper clippings of famous Jewish athletes. Hank Greenberg, of the Detroit Tigers, also known as “Hamerin’ Hank,” was one of his favorites. The Colin Kapaernick of his day, in 1933 Greenberg received a lot of attention for refusing to play on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, although he seesawed back and forth on the issue before and after that date.

But Mike wasn’t always as responsive to subjects I thought he might be. Once when I told him a story of a friend of my mother’s from the Netherlands who was rescued by Christian members of the Resistance during WW II, Mike reacted by telling me he had spent many of his childhood hours listening to stories about the Holocaust. In other words, it was a subject he knew more about than I did. Instead he wanted to talk about his father who had painted pictures on fighters and bombers during the war. I later used his mother as an interviewee for a class paper I had students do on WW II participants. She talked about her husband’s experience, but also her own life in Chicago during that time.

Whether or not the dream represented a facet of my own subconscious or a recollection of Mike’s role in my life as an advisor, it indicated that I thought his opinions were important. Once when I remarked that I didn’t care for science fiction, he gently reminded me that I’d enjoyed the movie E.T., probably suggesting that my “categories” needed a little work. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, I commented on the cover of the science fiction book he co-authored in 2016, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. The cover was an illustration of the Iroquois creation story, a story many New Yorkers know, which involves dirt placed on the back of a turtle. He was pleased that I recognized it and I am now pleased that we had that exchange across Facebook. It seems a fitting way to end a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Levy

9 Sep

Michael Levy

(picture by Denise Haughian)

Last night I had a dream about Mike Levy, my former boss in the English and Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In the dream, Mike was my teacher and I was his student. When I came to class, he berated me for not having read the first book in the Harry Potter series. Come morning I tried to figure out the dream. In the real world, Mike had given me an extra copy of the British version of the book, which used British terminology not in the American version. He taught children’s literature, among other courses, and the series was relatively new when he started using it. He told me he didn’t think it ranked with the best of children’s literature, and occasionally a religious student would resist the dark side of the book and he would have to find her an alternative, but it was definitely timely.

Ever since I had the dream, I’ve been puzzling it out. I’m one of those people who thinks every dream has a purpose, or meaning behind it. In the dream, he admonished me for not being prepared for class. In real life, when he suggested reading Harry Potter I followed through. So why did I envision him being such a scold? Freudian psychoalanysis often teaches that the main character in a dream represents a part of ourselves, which fits in with Saul McLeod’s analysis of Freudian theory: “Freud (1900) considered dreams to be the royal road to the unconscious as it is in dreams that the ego’s defenses are lowered so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness, albeit in distorted form.” Recently I have castigated myself for not spending enough time on my writing. Perhaps the Mike of the dream symbolizes the authoritative aspect of myself that is signaling it is time for a change.

What first struck me about the dream, was that Mike was so stern with me. We collided a couple times, but my main memories of him were that he was an amiable person and a good conversationalist. Mike was gentle and kind by nature. Once I presented him with a seedum from a nursery. His response was to walk around the table and hug me. He was frank when evaluating colleagues, but would also go to bat for you when he thought you deserved it. I will always remember that he supported me in his talks with the Dean concerning my being given a special status sometimes awarded adjuncts. This move was typical of his generous attitude toward adjuncts, a point of view not always popular in the department.

He was my boss, not my teacher, although I often preferred to think of him as a colleague or chum. I did value his opinion and once when he came to hear a paper I had written on Robert Penn Warren I was disappointed when he didn’t compliment me, but he did show up. I think this harks back to the dream where he is giving me advice.

I often went to his office for good conversation and/or the cornicopia of drugs that occupied his office drawer (he had allergies). One time I was teaching The Natural by Bernard Malamud, and I told him that the character of Roy Hobbs was based in part on Mickey Mantle. Mike reached into his endless bag of information and said that the characterization was not a compliment. He said that Mickey Mantle was generally considered to be a man of low character, who liked to look up underneath the stands so as to see women’s panties. Mike, the feminist, definitely remembered that aspect of Mantle’s personality.

From there, we segued into a discussion of his childhood memories of baseball. My great-grandfather played baseball in the late nineteenth century with two of the men who started the the Yankees, and our family always received good seats while the men were still alive. Mike, on the other hand, was a diehard Cubs fan. As a young boy, Mike cut out newspaper clippings of famous Jewish athletes. Hank Greenberg, of the Detroit Tigers, also known as “Hamerin’ Hank,” was one of his favorites. The Colin Kapaernick of his day, in 1933 Greenberg received a lot of attention for refusing to play on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, although he seesawed back and forth on the issue before and after that date.

But Mike wasn’t always as responsive to subjects I thought he might be. Once when I told him a story of a friend of my mother’s from the Netherlands who was rescued by Christian members of the Resistance during WW II, Mike reacted by telling me he had spent many of his childhood hours listening to stories about the Holocaust. In other words, it was a subject he knew more about than I did. Instead he wanted to talk about his father who had painted pictures on fighters and bombers during the war. I later used his mother as an interviewee for a class paper I had students do on WW II participants. She talked about her husband’s experience, but also her own life in Chicago during that time.

Whether or not the dream represented a facet of my own subconscious or a recollection of Mike’s role in my life as an advisor, it indicated that I thought his opinions were important. Once when I remarked that I didn’t care for science fiction, he gently reminded me that I’d enjoyed the movie E.T., probably suggesting that my “categories” needed a little work. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, I commented on the cover of the science fiction book he co-authored in 2016, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. The cover was an illustration of the Iroquois creation story, a story many New Yorkers know, which involves dirt placed on the back of a turtle. He was pleased that I recognized it and I am now pleased that we had that exchange across Facebook. It seems a fitting way to end a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

George McGovern, pilot

26 Jul

George-McGovern

I just finished The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s  over Germany, a book by Stephen E. Ambrose about the experiences of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group that uses Senator George McGovern and his crew as its centerpiece.  A high school friend asked her Facebook friends for examples of good fiction she could read this summer, and I’m recommending it despite the fact that it’s non-fiction.

Ambrose starts out by describing McGovern’s identity as a p.k. or preacher’s kid, and the fact that he was one of four children from his father’s second marriage.  In many ways, he appears to have been fairly average, or at least that’s how he comes across in the book’s first chapter.  He was not a stellar student–that he would change later on–and he was not a gifted athlete like his father, who had been a professional baseball player.  Ambrose seizes on his embarrassment at not being able to perform a somersault after diving over a sawhorse as partial motivation for wanting to prove that he was courageous: “McGovern had never before been up in a plane but he agreed to be one of the students because he felt, ‘If I can fly an airplane that will show Joe Quintal [his gym teacher in high school]that it isn’t heights that I’m worried about, that I’m not too cowardly to fly a plane'” (32).

Most of the WW II men were very young, but as Ambrose illustrates, they grew up quickly.  McGovern was twenty-one and had been trained in several places across the country when he was assigned his crew in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The life of a WW II pilot was extremely dangerous as Ambrose indicates by citing the following statistics: “Because the formation flying was so demanding and led to so many accidents, Eleanor worried about her husband.   She was right to.  Twice as many air officers died in battle, than in all the rest of the Army, despite the ground force’s larger size.   In addition, in the course of the war, 35, 946 airmen died on accidents” (100).

 

I regret to say that I voted for Nixon, not knowing that he had been obstructing justice, but I have become more impressed with McGovern over time.  He made his name as a war hero and pilot of the B-24.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.  Stationed in Italy, he and his crew made 35 forays into parts of Nazi-occupied Europe, Austria, and Germany.  Every pilot had to complete 35 missions before returning home.  Because his group used more than one airplane, McGovern called every plane the Dakota Queen after his wife, Eleanor.  He took her picture on every flight he made.

Some think that his biggest mistake in the 1972 Presidential Campaign was not running as a war hero, especially given his exemplary service. A group of conservatives said he was a coward, because he was against the Vietnam War, but his record proved otherwise.  He was not a pacifist.  The comments made against him are reminiscent of comments made recently in the political realm, but I don’t want to sully my review by mentioning them.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for making a successful emergency landing  on an island called Vis in the Adriatic.  One engine was flaming and leaking fuel.  All the other B-24 pilots who had attempted to land on this island had crashed,  due to the short runway.  He had many close calls, including the time a piece of shrapnel landed between him and his co-pilot.  The B-24 was considered to be a very difficult plane to fly, partly because of its weight.

 

 

The Unsung 2

7 Jul

Tom and Kathy

Kathy and Tom Speros

Robert and Tom

Robert Brown and Tom Speros

My friend Tom Speros was a connoisseur of the unsung–Jeff Bridges (“You [non-actors] have no idea how good he is.”), the responsible reporting of minority news by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the burgeoning politics of his left-leaning niece Gwen, and the well-crafted detective fiction of Elmore Leonard. He had an artist’s eye for talent that did not draw attention to itself and an unabashed fondness for liberal politics and those who practiced them. When my restaurant in Edina tried to unionize, he participated in the sit-down and sang the solidarity song. He was in his element!

The product of an Oregon T.B. doctor and a mother who shot herself, Tom inherited both his father’s IQ and compassion and his mother’s propensity for depression. He spoke in perfectly parsed paragraphs interspersed with epithets about his lack of serotonin and the two chief tragedies of his life–his mother’s death (“in her Sunday best”) and his son’s head injury from a motorcycle accident. He had days so bleak he wasn’t sure how he got through them.
In April of 2001, Tom began coming to our Minneapolis screenwriting group with hopeful accounts of an operation that had previously been used on anorexics. It involved the insertion of an object inside the body that would help increase the production of serotonin, and he was hopeful that it would allay his depression. The only problem he said was the play Wit that he planned to direct in Ely, Minnesota, where he and his ex-wife Nancy managed a resort. His sister Lis was to star in this play about ovarian cancer, and as desperate as he was to have the operation, he wanted to put the play first. Before he left for the resort at the end of the month, he elicited a promise from me that I would come north to see the production.

Once May came around I received an email; he was going to miss the last two shows in June because of his surgery, “but I’m having so much trouble with my depression that I’d do almost anything to get rid of it (Sigh!).” He talked about one of his diversions at the resort, which involved taking the trash to the dump where he would commune with the crows: “Haven’t seen many crows lately. Since fishing just started this weekend (so there were no guts for them to dine on) I suspect they went to someplace where they could get grains. They’re opportunistic and omnivores, so they don’t mind traveling to forage. I’ll be seeing them soon.” Tom always identified with crows; like him they were considered to be brighter than their peers, but they were also underachievers.

Considered to be remarkable by friends and family, Tom had always worked but under the radar. He had taught drama therapy to alcoholics, filmed documentaries, led political protests, and acted in commercials–all to very little acclaim. He had auditioned unsuccessfully for the original movie version of Fargo, and commented ruefully about the one time where he was memorialized in celluloid–in the film, Trauma, where he was crushed in the doors of an elevator.

When June arrived, my friend Robert and I made the six-hour trip to Ely to see the play. Tom greeted us in his white dinner jacket, an outfit he had worn to a Guthrie production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf the preceding winter. He was all atwitter with the news that the play had received positive reviews from the town’s two papers, but also indignant that one of the papers had said he was “perpetrating a fraud” because he was actually a professional shepherding an amateur production. He was very proud of the cast, especially his sister.

At dinner before the play the three of us ordered N.Y. Steaks. Robert and I, famished from our long trip, dug in, but Tom merely moved his food around his plate. Smiling brightly, he preceded to tell us about the previous night’s performance.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” I asked.
“No, I’ll eat later. I’m too excited about tonight.”
“But you need to eat something,” I persisted.
“I have just found out I have esophageal cancer,” he said. “I can take it home.”
As we left the restaurant later, Robert turned to me and said, “Kathy, he didn’t eat the steak because he’s not able to.”

The next morning Tom showed us the town–I had trouble connecting the man before us, who bragged about playing what he thought of as a Coyote (of Indian legend) trick on an unsuspecting Ely editor, with the news of the night before. He chortled when he regaled us with the tale of how he had sent in a letter to an advice column, purportedly from a jilted woman, and managed to get it published. However, at breakfast there was no pretense of eating on his part.
Like his friends and family, Tom had no time to adjust from an attitude of hopefulness that somehow his depression would be alleviated to the realization that he had an illness from which he might not recover. Even when he found out that an operation to remove the cancer would replace the other expected operation, he continued to hold onto the hope that he would one day be able to have the experimental surgery. For a time, the depression weighed more heavily than the cancer news. He mused that perhaps “Wit had desensitized him.”

Tom’s death or “ice out,” as we say in Minnesota when referring to the final thaw, occurred July 14, 2001 in a hospital in Duluth. Every time I see a movie with Jeff Bridges or read one of George Bush’s numerous malapropisms (Tom kept track of them), I smile. I like to remember Tom’s air of expectation in an email when he first returned to Ely a couple months earlier in May of 2001: “We’ve had a lot of rain, but some glorious warm and sunny ones [days] too. Last Monday–the day the ice went out on most of the other lakes in the region–the temps reached 80! So the crows and I have plenty of time tor renew our friendship.”

The Unsung

7 Jul

Tom and Kathy

Kathy and Tom Speros

Robert and Tom

Robert Brown and Tom Speros

My friend Tom Speros was a connoisseur of the unsung–Jeff Bridges (“You [non-actors] have no idea how good he is.”), the responsible reporting of minority news by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the burgeoning politics of his left-leaning niece Gwen, and the well-crafted detective fiction of Elmore Leonard. He had an artist’s eye for talent that did not draw attention to itself and an unabashed fondness for liberal politics and those who practiced them. When my restaurant in Edina tried to unionize, he participated in the sit-down and sang the solidarity song. He was in his element!

The product of an Oregon T.B. doctor and a mother who shot herself, Tom inherited both his father’s IQ and compassion and his mother’s propensity for depression. He spoke in perfectly parsed paragraphs interspersed with epithets about his lack of serotonin and the two chief tragedies of his life–his mother’s death (“in her Sunday best”) and his son’s head injury from a motorcycle accident. He had days so bleak he wasn’t sure how he got through them.
In April of 2001, Tom began coming to our Minneapolis screenwriting group with hopeful accounts of an operation that had previously been used on anorexics. It involved the insertion of an object inside the body that would help increase the production of serotonin, and he was hopeful that it would allay his depression. The only problem he said was the play Wit that he planned to direct in Ely, Minnesota, where he and his ex-wife Nancy managed a resort. His sister Lis was to star in this play about ovarian cancer, and as desperate as he was to have the operation, he wanted to put the play first. Before he left for the resort at the end of the month, he elicited a promise from me that I would come north to see the production.

Once May came around I received an email; he was going to miss the last two shows in June because of his surgery, “but I’m having so much trouble with my depression that I’d do almost anything to get rid of it (Sigh!).” He talked about one of his diversions at the resort, which involved taking the trash to the dump where he would commune with the crows: “Haven’t seen many crows lately. Since fishing just started this weekend (so there were no guts for them to dine on) I suspect they went to someplace where they could get grains. They’re opportunistic and omnivores, so they don’t mind traveling to forage. I’ll be seeing them soon.” Tom always identified with crows; like him they were considered to be brighter than their peers, but they were also underachievers.

Considered to be remarkable by friends and family, Tom had always worked but under the radar. He had taught drama therapy to alcoholics, filmed documentaries, led political protests, and acted in commercials–all to very little acclaim. He had auditioned unsuccessfully for the original movie version of Fargo, and commented ruefully about the one time where he was memorialized in celluloid–in the film, Trauma, where he was crushed in the doors of an elevator.

When June arrived, my friend Robert and I made the six-hour trip to Ely to see the play. Tom greeted us in his white dinner jacket, an outfit he had worn to a Guthrie production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf the preceding winter. He was all atwitter with the news that the play had received positive reviews from the town’s two papers, but also indignant that one of the papers had said he was “perpetrating a fraud” because he was actually a professional shepherding an amateur production. He was very proud of the cast, especially his sister.

At dinner before the play the three of us ordered N.Y. Steaks. Robert and I, famished from our long trip, dug in, but Tom merely moved his food around his plate. Smiling brightly, he preceded to tell us about the previous night’s performance.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” I asked.
“No, I’ll eat later. I’m too excited about tonight.”
“But you need to eat something,” I persisted.
“I have just found out I have esophageal cancer,” he said. “I can take it home.”
As we left the restaurant later, Robert turned to me and said, “Kathy, he didn’t eat the steak because he’s not able to.”

The next morning Tom showed us the town–I had trouble connecting the man before us, who bragged about playing what he thought of as a Coyote (of Indian legend) trick on an unsuspecting Ely editor, with the news of the night before. He chortled when he regaled us with the tale of how he had sent in a letter to an advice column, purportedly from a jilted woman, and managed to get it published. However, at breakfast there was no pretense of eating on his part.
Like his friends and family, Tom had no time to adjust from an attitude of hopefulness that somehow his depression would be alleviated to the realization that he had an illness from which he might not recover. Even when he found out that an operation to remove the cancer would replace the other expected operation, he continued to hold onto the hope that he would one day be able to have the experimental surgery. For a time, the depression weighed more heavily than the cancer news. He mused that perhaps “Wit had desensitized him.”

Tom’s death or “ice out,” as we say in Minnesota when referring to the final thaw, occurred July 14, 2001 in a hospital in Duluth. Every time I see a movie with Jeff Bridges or read one of George Bush’s numerous malapropisms (Tom kept track of them), I smile. I like to remember Tom’s air of expectation in an email when he first returned to Ely a couple months earlier in May of 2001: “We’ve had a lot of rain, but some glorious warm and sunny ones [days] too. Last Monday–the day the ice went out on most of the other lakes in the region–the temps reached 80! So the crows and I have plenty of time tor renew our friendship.”

St. Paul’s Methodist Nursery School Director (1956), Mrs. Chitimba

25 Jun

stock-vector-nursery-school-logo-design-387701350

Those of you who know me know that I grew up in the church, but you might not know that I attended nursery school here in 1956 and 1957. I am sixty-three going on sixty-four and that means that I was in at the beginning. Two of the other children were Susie Geer, Elaine’s sister, and one of the Rossiter boys, a brother-in-law of Christine Stockwell, who was in my carpool. The snacks were different back then, mostly grapefruit juice and Ritz crackers. There were more wooden and metal toys, but fewer plastic. We did a lot of finger painting on paper that looked like butcher block paper and we painted on easels in old white shirts of our fathers’. Play-Doh came out in 1956 and became one of the playthings in our nursery school. A record player was provided that played yellow vinyl records. One was the “The Farmer in the Dell.” We had a fire escape that we went down to get to the yard and then used to get back up again. I remember there were about twenty of us and we acted like any three-year-olds

The reason I wanted to speak to you is because I wanted to tell you about the director, Mrs. Chitimba. Academics usually leave a paper trail, but I’m not able to start one because I don’t know the exact spelling of her name. She was one of the best-looking women I have ever encountered. She was a tall woman from India with perfect facial features, and black hair to her shoulders, a somewhat liberal cut for an Indian woman at that time. Her saris gave her a touch of elegance. She had a bindi on her forehead, that red mark that signifies that the woman is Hindu, married, and of an upper caste. I remember how confident she was and that she laughed a lot. She probably had assistants, but her force field was so strong that I don’t remember them. She and her husband were only here for several years, which means that he was most likely a Cornell graduate student, and she probably already had a degree.

I have an image of her that has stuck with me–she is standing on the fire escape, looking down at us in the backyard., as the wind lifts her sari. She would be in her eighties now; possibly she is no longer living, but I wish I could find out more about her. Little girls always look up to women who have their act together and she belonged in that category.

 

 

 

 

Communion–How or How Not To Commune

16 Jun

communion-clip-art-communion-clip-art-12

Yesterday during Communion I was reprimanded  for not taking the piece of bread the lay person offered and taking a piece next to it instead. “Please don’t do that,” she said.  I responded with “I always do that,” which I admit was not diplomatic and off the top of my head and not well thought out.  Typically, six to eight people serve the congregation  in the front of the church and the ushers let us go up row-by-row to have a piece of unleavened bread handed to us, which we are then supposed to dip in a goblet of juice.  My primary reason was that I think this way of handling Communion–having congregants break off a piece of bread with their hands and passing it on to other church members–is unsanitary.

However, this type of service by the lay people is not my only beef with the practice.  I also think handling Communion in this fashion is very “high church,” a term used to connote a church service that has an elevation of pomp and circumstance,  and that I think not appropriate for a Methodist.  It is true that one of the things that Catholic churches and the Methodist churches have in common is that it is considered okay for the minister to place the bread on the tongue.  But this is a highly controversial practice, , and does not happen often.  Protestants do not believe it is necessary to have someone intercede between them and God, so in the symbolic sense this kind of Communion doesn’t coincide with actual church teachings.  I did go ahead and dip the bread into a common goblet, which is maybe worse in terms of sanitation.  A local minister told me that this practice is referred to as intinction.   She also said that using wine instead of juice would be more sanitary, but there is some concern with alcoholics being in a position where they have to drink alcohol.  Some argue, in addition, that merging the intake of the bread and the wine isn’t biblical because they are separate in the Lord Supper (Christianity Stack Exchange).

The United Methodist Church website states that “The term Holy Communion invites us to focus on the self-giving of the Holy God which makes the sacrament an occasion of grace, and on the holiness of our communion with God and one another,” This Holy Mystery continues.  This emphasis on being together with other people to participate in a sacrament is implicit in the word “communion,” but I think the symbolism works better when people are together in a circle, as opposed to trooping to the front of the sanctuary and being served by lay people.

At Walker Methodist church in Minneapolis, I had a similar problem with Communion and sanitation.  I was involved with hospitality and one of the things I did was to bring the goblets to the stage for the service.  I also filled them with cranberry juice, but I did not drink from them.  Once we had finished the service, we would assemble on stage in a circle, share joys and concerns, celebrate Communion, and then finish by singing “Amazing Grace.” Communion consisted of the minister, Walter, raising the bread and the juice and then passing them around the circle.  For some reason I was not too bothered when the bread loaves were passed around.  I would simply try to tear off a hunk in a fresh place, but I usually avoided dipping my hunk in a goblet.  Despite this one problem, Communion at Walker was a community experience and preferable what I have experienced in some other churches in that it brought people together.  Passing the bread and juice had the advantage of in some way mimicking the way Jesus shared the fish and loaves in the Bible.  Although Communion is taken from the scripture about the Lord’s Supper, his sharing of food earlier in the New Testament prefigures the Lord’s Supper.

As a small girl growing up in my church, I was in awe of the whole Communion process.  Pieces of unleavened bread were passed on silver salvers by the ushers.  They tasted like saltines with no salt.  Each person took a piece from the plate and waited for the minister to say something holy.  Then we swallowed them simultaneously.  Next, tiny glasses of grape juice inserted in  large round holders made of silver plate were passed around.  My mother always became very nervous around the grape juice, but I was very excited to hold the tiny glass in my hand and drink along with everyone else.  After we finished drinking, we put the cups in small holes that were located on small shelves on the backs of the pews.  I realize that taking care of the silver and washing the little glasses was probably an arduous task.  Perhaps the contemporary ways of serving Communion stem from an attempt to make the sacrament less formal and less work, but both of the more recent examples that I have described are not as sanitary as possible.  In addition, the current situation at my church of having two lay people serve Communion, one who passes out a piece of bread and another who holds the goblet that the bread is to be dipped in, doesn’t contribute to my sense of community.  I’m taking the bread separately and, if I’m daring, dipping the bread into the goblet by myself, not in the company of other people.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favorite intellectuals, began his career as a Harvard Divinity School student and was ordained early on.  But he left the Unitarian Church because he didn’t think it should be the province of the minister to intercede between God and man.  I agree with him in principle, but think the fact of the pastor administering Communion doesn’t make him or her holy. However, it was an argument against a minister performing the sacrament on which Emerson chose to take his departure.

Emerson was very influenced by the Romantic poets and their sense of self, so it is not surprising that he chose to focus his belief system on an approach to spirituality that centered on the individual and his relationship to God.  In Uncollected Prose, he refers to the confusion caused by the many interpretations of the Lord Supper, “In the history of the Church no subject has been more fruitful of controversy than the Lord’s Supper. There never has been any unanimity in the understanding of its nature, nor any uniformity in the mode of celebrating it.”  For this reason and others, celebrating Communion does not always create a sense of togetherness with other Christians.

Experiencing awe over a sacrament is also harder when you’re an adult and have been through Communion so many times, but it is usually a religious experience for me and in the past a joyful one.  Having to choose how I partake of this sacrament certainly takes away from its mystery and glory.