The Great Graham Cracker Miracle

First Methodist Church, Newton, Iowa

What John and Charles Wesley would have thought of my youthful Methodism, I can’t say.

To be frank, I’m not certain I knew during childhood that John Wesley had a brother. I loved hymn-singing on Sunday mornings, but it was years before I realized that Charles Wesley had written most of my favorites.

I certainly didn’t know about the history of the denomination, the doctrine of prevenient grace, or why our Greek revival building looked more like the town bank than any of the other churches in town.

I only knew that our church was comfortable, and well-suited for children. No one had to force us out of bed on Sunday morning in order to force us into a pew; we suffered no nightmares because of Jonathan Edwards-style preaching. In spring, we played tag or jacks on the church’s broad, sun-warmed steps. In winter, we sneaked into the kitchen to filch coffee hour cookies: then ate them, giggling, in the narrow, hidden passageway leading to the dome.

Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran friends all envied our youth groups. Hayrides, taffy pulls, movie nights, roller-skating or ice-skating parties in season, father-son camping trips and father-daughter banquets were as much a part of our traditions as Easter dresses, Christmas programs, and work days, when we polished, scrubbed and swept alongside the grownups.

Best of all was Vacation Bible School. One of the great summer trinity that included a week away at Camp Hantesa and a two-week arts and crafts day camp, it provided a week’s worth of field trips, plays, educational projects and musicals.

Always, there were stories. Related to the summer’s theme, they were told both to encourage old-fashioned virtues and to increase Biblical knowledge. One year, lessons were built around the hymn “This is My Father’s World.” Another year, we wrote a play based on the book of Genesis.

One memorable year, we studied the miracles of Jesus: his walking on water, changing water to wine, raising Jairus’s daughter, calming the storm.

Of all the tales told, the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes left me most perplexed. In our house, if we ran out of food, we ran out of food. No one ever had made another rhubarb pie appear on the table, or an extra dish of mac and cheese: at least, not without some extra time in the kitchen.

Puzzled, I consulted my mother. “How did he do that?” “I’m not sure,” she said. “Ask your teacher.” The next morning, with slight trepidation, I asked my teacher. “How did Jesus do that? How did he find so many extra loaves and fishes?” My teacher, pink-cheeked, plump, and perhaps not accustomed to theological discussion with a ten-year-old, said, “Well, sweetie — he could do it because he was Jesus.”

Walking home that afternoon, I expressed my frustration to a friend. A born sceptic, she was convinced the miracles were akin to fairy tales, but she had a suggestion. “Why don’t you ask Dr. Long? He’s our minister. He can’t kill you, or give you a bad grade.”

Arthur V. Long was tall, with thinning black hair, black glasses, and a serious expression. Given to wearing black suits even at the height of summer, he bore a striking resemblance to Ichabod Crane, and it probably earned us a black mark in the heavenly ledger that we giggled at him behind his back.

On the other hand, the door to his office always was open. He waved to us as we passed by on our way to choir practice, and he asked us questions about our vacations and our pets. Finally, I decided to ask him a question of my own.

“Come in,” he said, as I lingered just outside the door. “Come in and sit down.” It was the first time I’d faced someone across so large a desk, but he seemed to find the presence of a vacillating ten-year-old perfectly normal.

“What can I do for you?” he said. I blurted it out, all at once. “We read the story in Bible School. I don’t understand how he did that. The loaves and fishes. Jesus. Where did that boy get all that food?”

Not even a flicker of a smile crossed his face. “What did your teacher say?” “That he could do it just because he was Jesus,” I said.

Outside the opened window, sounds of robins and bees roiled the rising heat. In his suddenly silent office, Dr. Long studied a pencil on his desk, rolling it under his finger with only the slightest, wooden sound: clackclickclickclack.  Finally, he spoke. “What do you think?” “I don’t know,” I said.

Suddenly animated, he looked up with more questions. “Did you have good time in class this morning? What did you do?”  I told him about the songs, the Bible story, the bread we helped to bake. “That’s good,” he said. “Did you have some treats, too?” In fact, we’d had some of my favorites: grape Kool-Aid and cookies made from graham crackers and chocolate frosting.

By this time, I’d grown comfortable enough to describe the cookies and Kool-Aid with a certain enthusiasm. When I finished, he asked, “Was there enough for everyone?” “Of course,” I said. There’s always enough.” “What if there hadn’t been enough?” he said. “Would you have shared?”

Actually, sharing chocolate-frosting-sandwiches and Kool-Aid was pretty far down on my list of priorities, but I was talking to a man of God. “I suppose,” I said. “Sure.”  “Well,” he said, “would you have wanted to share?”

He already knew the answer, but he was kind enough not to force me into saying it. Of course I didn’t want to share. I was ten years old. Even today, I’m not always given to sharing, and for that reason alone, it’s good that Dr. Long’s words still echo in my mind. “Maybe that’s the miracle,” he said. “Maybe Jesus touched their hearts, and helped them become more willing to share. Maybe all of his miracles were meant to help people live differently.”

Whatever else it may or may not be, Easter isn’t a time for arguing over what’s possible and what isn’t; for splitting theological hairs; or for ridiculing those who long to believe in miracles. Easter is a time for trust and reclaimed innocence; for celebrating the triumph of life over death; for affirming the power of love and the possibility of a world made new.  Certainly, it’s a time for sharing, and so I share these words of Mary Oliver.

Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

Comments are welcome, always.

112 thoughts on “The Great Graham Cracker Miracle

  1. Amen to this! So many miracles under our noses and we worry about explaining and defending what is really meant to be shared. Dr Long sounds like a bit of a miracle himself: taking time for ten year old theologians! What a lovely memory. Thanks for sharing it and a blessed Easter to you!

    1. It’s a wonderful memory. My only regret now is that I can’t share this post with him.

      I was browsing newspaper articles, and found an interesting entry in the “Ames [Iowa] Daily Tribune” from February 26, 1960. In the church news, it mentioned that “Delegates to the jurisdictional conference of the Methodist Church Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution requesting reassignment of Bishop F Gerald Ensley to another four year term In Iowa The resolution, presented by the Rev Dr Arthur V Long, Newton, cited Bishop Ensley as a source of spiritual strength and encouragement, and praised his creative and scholarly mind.”

      For some reason, that tickles me. We need more leaders who can value scholarly minds and talk to ten-year-olds.

      Happy Easter!

      1. Not enough people know how to talk with children. It is no mean feat to take them seriously at their level by not talking down to them or by weighting them with unreasonable expectations. I suspect it takes practice.

  2. This is lovely and written so that I felt as if I were present in the Methodist church of your childhood.

    I grew as a Methodist as well but I’m afraid that it was vastly different from yours. My church was a country church and I was the sole young person in attendance. I was confirmed in the church called Meirs Settlement Methodist Church. It was only about 1/4 mile from our farm and I walked to church each Sunday. I’m sad to say that I was not overly fond of church except for the hymns that we sang. I loved to sing and sang a few duets with my Sunday school teacher, I was considered to have a very good voice but I refused to sing solo and then stage fright took over and I refused to sing any more duets as well.

    I was confirmed in that church and can remember it vividly. I was the only one in the class. I was christened as a baby in that old church.

    The church still carries on but I’ve not been back since I left home.

    I think Mary Oliver’s poem is an excellent example of believing in Jesus.

    1. I so enjoyed learning about your first church, Yvonne. It has a historical marker now, that says:

      “Founded in 1887 by members of the Methodist Congregation in nearby Perry, this church first was known as the Zion Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Construction of a sanctuary began on March 5, 1887. With a membership made up of German immigrants, the congregation conducted all worship services in German until 1922. The church building was used as a public schoolhouse for a time, with the Pastors serving as teachers. In 1915 the name was changed to Meier Settlement Methodist Church. It continues to serve the community.”

      I found a nice photo on a wedding announcement page.

      The choir and congregational singing were good enough for me, too. In 8th or 9th grade music class, singing a solo was a requirement. There was widespread rebellion, so duets were allowed. Since any song was acceptable, Bob Lohr and I sang this. Oh, my gosh. We even did our own arrangement. What a memory.

      Mary Oliver is a treasure. I found this poem some time ago, and decided then that I needed to tell my own loaves and fishes story. This seemed like a good time to do it.

      Happy Easter to you!

  3. loved this post for several reasons…first thing that struck me was even @ 10 yrs of age, you were not afraid to speak up and say hard things…that was huge… it gives me a glimpse into your heart ;-) Tells me you are a thinker, and won’t just “yes” someone, just because…yep, sounds just like the Linda I know. Thanks for a beautiful blog post on Easter! DM

    1. I didn’t say anything about not being afraid, DM! There was a lot of skulking around before I got up the courage to make my presence known. Believe it or not, I was terribly shy, for more years than was necessary. Now? Well, not so much.

      On the other hand, I also was known for one of my catch phrases: “I want to do it myself!”

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story, and I hope your Easter has been a good one. It sounds like you’re going to have a very busy Easter season.

      1. Yep, former shy person myself. Isn’t life more fun when we’re not in prison to our shyness. Glad that issue is not as strong as it once was…I will confess to once in a while feeling a tinge of it still..but 95% gone.

    1. Oliver is one of my favorites, Nia. I’m glad her poem brought you pleasure.

      I just was thinking — in Instanbul, Orthodox Christians will be celebrating Easter next Sunday. I found this beautiful video from the Hagia Sophia. As much as I liked my Methodist hymns, this is thrilling in a different way.

      Happiness to you!


    1. You’re right, patc44, that living a good and honest life is important. Equally important is knowing that, when we fail to be good or are a little less than honest, we always can begin anew.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. You’re always welcome here.


  4. I remember asking a burning bush question of our minister, but I can’t remember his answer. I can’t even remember my question. I was intrigued by it, though. I loved the wine and fish story, and believed it as told. Like your teacher, I accepted it as truth because Jesus could do anything, but that burning bush seemed a little strange.

    We did all kinds of activities at our Southern Baptist church, too. I loved Vacation Bible School. It was so much fun. I still remember some of the crafts. When we were teenagers, we went to a lodge in the mountains and rode horses. That was tons of fun.

    1. There were some strange things happening in that Old Testament, weren’t there? Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt got my attention for years. Then, I learned that, in some Jewish circles, she was named Edith, and every time I heard the story I thought about Edith Bunker. Ah, well.

      Mom was such a collector that some of my craft projects hung around the house for a long time (or too long, depending on your point of view). I finally convinced her to ditch things like the matchbox nativity and the Ten Commandments popsicle stick pencil holder when she moved from Iowa. On the other hand, what’s not to like about a clutch of papier-mâché Easter eggs? They were a little lumpy, but colorful. Of course, they’d never have done for your dog’s basket. The rain probably would do them in.

  5. Many thanks for this post, Linda, and for reminding me that asking theological questions need not always meet a negative response. I still vividly recall an R.E. class in secondary school, when I asked a question about the theory of evolution in relation to biblical teaching. I was informed – loudly – that if I believed in the theory of evolution I would be damned to hell everlasting. I could have done with your Dr Long at that point…

    1. Anne, don’t you think part of the problem is that too many people confuse questions (of any sort) with accusations? I certainly have seen that lead to the sort of “Don’t question me, young lady!” response you received after your evolution question.

      What’s so ironic is that, today, it’s often science that responds by asking,”how dare you question?” Beyond that, the suggestion that we take things on faith pops up as often in politics as it does in the churches. But I don’t need to tell you that. You’ve written about it at length, and well, and I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

  6. What a lovely post, I was smiling thinking of you as an inquisitive ten year old, and I liked Dr Long. It’s always worth taking the time to discuss with children. I remember asking our priest, around the same age as you, if animals had souls and went to heaven too, I was brushed away with a curt…”Of course they don’t!”

    Have a wonderful

    1. It wasn’t so long ago that great excitement ensued when the NY Times reported that Pope Francis had said yes, our pets and other animals do go to heaven. In fact, he didn’t, but it still took a while for the discussion to die down. One of my favorite headlines from the various newspaper accounts was, “Does Heaven Have a Doggie Door?”

      Personally, I’m convinced my cat thinks she’s in heaven now — as must many of the creatures who find their way to you. I hope all of you have had a wonderful Easter.

    1. Thanks, Melanie. As so often happens, I didn’t fully understand at the time what a treasure we had in Dr. Long. Perhaps some of the adults did. But the memories have remained fresh, and give me much pleasure even now. It’s a reminder to us that we might be influencing people without even knowing it.

      I trust your weekend was a good one. It’s time to start moving into spring.

      1. My weekend was good but has ended on a sad note, news of a relative’s relapse with addiction. I’m going to bed feeling quite sad and hopeless about people’s ability to do better, be better. “It’s time to start moving” but sometimes we get stuck. It makes me wonder oh so much…

        Thanks very much. thanks…

  7. That was a good story. Your church looks like a Carnegie library, or a post office. Impressive.

    I was raised Catholic. We had some summer catechism school I barely remember. When I had my own kids, they were enrolled in vacation bible school some years.

    I like the pastor story of the miracle. We need more good story tellers to teach the lessons of life.

    1. Isn’t that architecture something, Jim?This photo of the old post office is more recent, and shows some renovation.The current windows used to be glass from top to bottom. But you can see that the columns are the same as on the Methodist church. The red brick building to the left is the Presbyterian Church. The Methodist church is across the street diagonally from the post office and directly across from the Presbyterians.

      I wondered if the church imitated the post office’s style, but not so. The church was built in 1914, and the p.o. in 1928. Apparently people just were into Greek columns at the time. The two banks in town had them, too.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. It was fun to put it together, and start the memories flowing in the process.

      1. On our drive to our family potluck for Easter this morning, Melanie and I talked about your post. I remarked how the building looked. She agreed, it was typical architecture for the time. Thanks for following up with this comparison image. Funny how in many towns, the big churches are positioned near one another. We have several like that in Iowa City.

  8. You know Linda, for the first fifteen years of my life in HK my family went to a Methodist Church. I was baptized there as a baby. But my experience was totally different than yours. You can say we were just “pew warmers”.

    Here in Canada they don’t have that denomination and I went to some other ones since. But your post reminds me what a good pastor should be like, always open and ready to talk to a child. A beautiful tale you have told, reminding me of the verse from Matthew 18:3 when Jesus said “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. He is risen indeed. Happy Easter to you.

    1. Arti, when you said there are no Methodists in Canada, I really was surprised. I did some checking, and found that you’re right — in a sense. There were Methodists in Canada at one time (several varieties, as a matter of fact), but in 1925 they joined with Presbyterians and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada.

      I found this, which I thought was especially interesting:

      “The Methodist Church with its notable benefactors the Eaton and Massey families was the sponsor of Victoria College at the University of Toronto, once and still a mainstay of intellectual rigour at that university and the alma mater of many of Canada’s leaders and most famous thinkers.

      Although Methodists were never a majority of anglophone Canadians or even Torontonians, their political and social influence in southern Ontario generally and Toronto particularly earned Toronto its longstanding semi-facetious sobriquet “the Methodist Rome” and Metropolitan Methodist Church in Toronto that of “the Cathedral of Methodism.”

      The “Cathedral of Methodism” now is known as Metropolitan United Church, that fabulous neo-gothic structure in downtown Toronto. Say “hi” to it for me, the next time you’re in town!

      As for becoming like a child: yes. Children can be trusting, curious, and cute, but they also have an uncanny ability to see the world as it is. Sometimes, they see the things we no longer can.

      He is risen, indeed. Blessed Easter!

  9. This was a wonderful read, (I’m still laughing about “He’s our minister. He can’t kill you, or give you a bad grade.”), and I hope that we never lose that kind of feeling and spirit.

    1. There’s nothing quite so enjoyable — and occasionally quite funny — as watching kids try to figure out the world: calculating the odds, as it were.

      We forget most of those experiences, I suppose, but the bits of memory that remain are real treasures. It’s important to write them down, or at least to record them in some way, lest we lose them like the fading trail you posted about. Once the trail’s gone, it can be hard not to get lost.

      Happy memory-trails to you!

  10. Thank you for this post, Linda. I think if I had gone to your church I would still be going~ it sounds wonderful. I don’t have much use for church anymore, but you’ve reminded me of the gentle gifts Jesus shared with people, leading them to live better lives with each other and with God.

    1. Congregations are like people, I suppose. Some are delightful; some aren’t. Some seem to find ways to deal with conflict easily, while others have to work at it over time. I’m just happy that I was lucky enough to be raised within a congregation that (at least as I remember it) was attentive to kids without being condescending.

      Now that I think of it, that lack of condescension toward people seems to have been part of Jesus’s makeup, too. We could use a little more of that these days, for sure.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Melissa, and thanks for commenting.

  11. Happy Easter, Linda!
    This reminds me of my dad and his church. He was Methodist; very involved with the youth group, and just about everything else as well. In my hometown, the youth activities are well attended by many denominations! … lovely post!

    1. Aren’t the memories special, Becca? It’s so good for kids to have non-parental adults around who also are committed to their welfare, not to mention places where they can begin working together as well as playing together. It sounds like your dad did his part, that’s for sure.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope your day was a good one. Happy Easter to you, too.

  12. The story of your dialogue with the minister is bound to find its way into a homily. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  13. I think I might just love Dr. Long – what a fabulous explanation! I was a cynical child & finally did just go ahead & accept that I would never understand about miracles. It would have been nice to have someone explain how very possible a miracle could be.

    1. After thinking about this for a couple of days, Dana, something else has occurred to me. I wonder if Dr. Long went home that night, sat down at the dinner table and said, “You’re never going to guess what happened today…” He might have been as amazed by his own explanation as I was satisfied by it. We always worry about saying the wrong thing, but sometimes we say the right thing — seemingly by accident.

      In any event, it’s one more bit of proof that the little things in life do matter. I’ve been laughing all day at a remembered quotation from Flannery O’Connor. In her book “Mystery and Manners,” she says, ““Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” I’m beginning to believe that.

  14. “Accept the miracle.” Indeed! Pretty much sums up our faith, right, Linda? After all, there’s so much we don’t know, so much that logical reasoning would scoff at, yet faith tells us differently.

    I think I’d have liked your church building, your Dr. Long, and especially, your ten-year-old inquisitive self! All my Protestant friends had more FUN at youth group meetings than we Catholics did at ours. And you know, your minister had as good an explanation as any I’ve heard for how Jesus multiplied this simple meal!

    1. Increasingly, I find myself pondering mystery rather than seeking to prove or disprove miracles. I’ve always appreciated Pascal’s point of view on this: ““The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

      I’ve posted my favorite Iris DeMent song here a few times, but often as a link, so you might not have seen it. I’m with her a hundred percent — sometimes, we just need to “Let the Mystery Be.”

  15. Your story is so sweet, the characters so real, and the messages so genuine that the Methodist Church ought to be mighty proud of one of its own. Happy Easter to you!

    1. The irony is that, once I hit college, I was done with Methodism. Hayrides and taffy pulls — even great hymns — were good, but a little wandering’s inevitable. Eventually, I landed with the Lutherans, and all of my overseas work and later study was done with them. I do wish Lutherans were more like Luther, but I suppose we can’t have everything.

      The pastor of my childhood church did preside at my mother’s funeral. I believe I might send this along to him, just so he has a glimpse of what happened in his office so many years ago.

  16. This remembrance of your elders and your closing thoughts about “those who long to believe in miracles” reminded me of a poem about a different Christian holiday, Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen”:

    Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
    “Now they are all on their knees,”
    An elder said as we sat in a flock
    By the embers in hearthside ease.

    We pictured the meek mild creatures where
    They dwelt in their strawy pen,
    Nor did it occur to one of us there
    To doubt they were kneeling then.

    So fair a fancy few would weave
    In these years! Yet, I feel,
    If someone said on Christmas Eve,
    “Come; see the oxen kneel,

    “In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
    Our childhood used to know,”
    I should go with him in the gloom,
    Hoping it might be so.

    1. There are two unfamiliar words here. When I looked up the etymology of “barton,” I found this: “Another word for “barn” in Old English was beretun, “barley enclosure” (from tun “enclosure, house”), which accounts for the many Barton place names on the English map, and the common surname.” That made me think of Barton Creek, of course.

      As for “coomb,” I found that it refers to a “deep hollow or valley, especially on flank of a hill,” mainly surviving in place names,” and that it derives from Old English “cumb.” Now I wonder if that doesn’t underlie the “Cumberland gap.”

      Apart from all that, the poem captures perfectly a certain kind of experience. When I was very young — still in grade school — I was told that at midnight on Christmas eve the Star of Bethlehem would shine in the east: but only for a moment. One year, I managed to stay awake, and I saw it. It wasn’t there on previous nights, and it wasn’t there in the nights that followed. But on Christmas eve, it was as bright as any star I’d ever seen.

      Well. Did I see a miraculous star? I saw something, that’s for sure, though I’ve never seen it since. But I still look.

      1. I thought about defining those two regional words for you but I decided you’d enjoy looking them up and finding more information about them than I could easily include in a comment.

        There’s an etymological gap between Cumberland and coomb. The article at

        says that Cumberland was “a historic county of North West England that existed from the 12th century until 1974. The earliest record of the place was when it was listed as Cumbraland in 945 in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and literally meant ‘region of the Cymry or Cumbrian Britons’ from the Old English words Cumbre + land.” The Britons in this context meant the Celts.

        The star that you saw in childhood will remain forever a mystery, I think, and that may be for the best.

        1. That’s interesting, about Cumberland. I know it by its more recent name, Cumbria. It’s the Lake District, home to all those wonderful Lake District poets, and vacation spot for a few Brits that I’ve come to know via the internet.

          As interesting as the star was the lime-green, pulsating, vaguely oblong UFO a clutch of us saw on our way home from the 1964 World’s Fair. We’d stopped at a Howard Johnson’s on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the middle of the night, and when we got rolling again, there it was — off in the fields, traveling along with us for a good while, until it zipped straight up into the sky and disappeared.

          I’m still in touch with a couple of classmates who were on that school bus. We don’t have a clue what we saw, but we still agree that we saw something. Keep your eyes open!

  17. There was a strong Methodist tradition on my mother’s side of the family but I was brought up in a merry mix of Presbyterian and Anglican traditions. I loved the hymns we sang at either church, and I enjoyed attending Sunday School. But my only interest in theology came when my mother took me to a Presbyterian service which touched on Lloyd Geering’s heresy trial. the

    As a 10 year old it wouldn’t have occurred to me to question the Fish and the Loaves or any of the other miracles. They didn’t seem any stranger than, say, how the wireless worked. More troubling to me, and of more immediate concern, was how anyone could be developing a bomb that could destroy us all in a flash. And there was no Dr Long to ask about that. Mary Oliver’s poem is perfect as is Let the Mystery Be.

    1. Oh, my. Disturbing the ecclesiastical peace! What a bad man.

      What really tickled me was this, from one of the notes to the article: “He’s gone on to challenge Christian orthodoxy perhaps even more profoundly, by questioning the distinction between the religious and the secular worlds.” That’s interesting. Both my Methodist upbringing and Lutheran education made clear that the sacred-secular distinction has no part in Christian faith, any more than dividing people into saints (us) and sinners (them) is acceptable. On that issue, I’m with Geering, although he seems to have been a little fringy in other areas.

      Back in the day, when the so-called “search for the historical Jesus” was in full swing, I always enjoyed listening to supporters of the effort take on the literalists. I remember there being criticisms of the historians’ methods. I followed the link from the Geering article over to the page for “The Jesus Seminar,” and found that group “[voted] with colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of the deeds and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth.” I suppose it’s as good a method as any.

      As for the bomb, I’m more than a little troubled that our government seems to have gone over to supporting the bomb-makers. The so-called “nuclear framework” appears to me to have put an end to any nuclear non-proliferation. Even during the duck-and-cover days of my youth, I never really worried about such things. It seemed as fanciful as multiplying loaves and fishes. Today? Not so much.

      Gosh, that’s gloomy. Time for more Mary and Iris!

      1. Yes, back to Mary and Iris. The real miracle is that we survive at all. Mankind, one way or another, has been doing its best for centuries to wipe itself off the planet.

  18. Cookies made out of graham crackers and chocolate frosting. That’s a new one. We had vanilla wafers and big cans of juice in little paper cups.

    I remember vacation bible school. We had some interesting craft projects and picnics. One youth group project stands out — a large circular mosaic made up of separate little tables. The tables were pie shaped pieces of 1-inch plywood somebody had cut. Wrought iron legs were screwed to the bottom. Designs were developed and drawn on the plywood. We got the ceramic tile squares, broke them into pieces, glued the pieces to the plywood then grouted them. We had tile nippers to shape the pieces. The designs were all biblical themed. It was difficult to find a “bread” colored tile. I was fascinated by the chi rho design, and the In Hoc Signo monogram. .

    Once, the Sunday evening youth group met over at the associate pastor’s house because of the time conflict so we could watch a certain British pop group play on Ed Sullivan. The first time I drove a car by myself was to go to youth group on Sunday evening. It was a baby blue Oldsmobile Rocket 88 battleship, and a cop pulled me over to tell me I had a tail light out.

    I was a bit older than ten (she says dryly) when I figured out that the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes had nothing to do with the food. I guess you could call me a Feminist* Cosmic Presbyterian. My parents sang in the choir so when we were too old for the church nursery, my brother and I sat in the congregation by ourselves, watched from on high (the choir loft). We went to church. We had no say in the matter. We behaved, or else. Still, there came a point when we had a preacher who knew how to preach a sermon that both instructed and engaged the imagination (he was the one who turned us on to Pogo), and I actually paid attention to his sermons. The music of my childhood is liberally laced with hymns (we were kind of nondenominational in our hymns — Watts’ and Mighty Fortresses, Power in the Blood, and Be Thou My Vision). Perhaps because of my enforced attendance, I stopped going immediately I had a say in the matter. By then I had realized I had a deep ideological conflict. I’m too much of a tomboy and a Taurus to buy into the patriarchy. I marched to the beat of a different drum. No red tent for me. (The first incarnation of my blog had the tagline “Dea Ex Machina” When I moved to WordPress, I couldn’t figure out how to work it, so it got left off.)

    My mother is 90 and still sings in the choir — this is her 61st year as a member of the church of my childhood and its choir. (My dad sang in the choir until macular degeneration made it impossible to read the music.) Mom is unhappy with the direction this particular church has taken (the minister and a vocal minority are against gay marriage and gay ministers and have split with the governing body of the Church because of it — and the church has lost members because of that and other reasons). My mom has, over the years, come to accept as fact that people do not choose to be gay, that immorality has nothing to do with sexual orientation, and that this action her church has taken amounts to the very kind of discrimination Jesus was against, who offers redemption to all comers. I think she keeps going to that church because she’s gone there too long to change horses in the middle of the stream.

    Personally, I have no patience at all with organized religion of any stripe. I refuse to espouse the elect versus the damned mindset. More and bloodier wars have been fought in the name of religion than for any other reason. These days, you can hardly turn around without falling over a case in point. John Lennon had it dead to rights.

    1. I think the graham cracker sandwiches might have been more common in the midwest, WOL. After all, you folks had to have vanilla wafers around for a proper banana pudding. I never tasted that until I came to Texas. Amazing, really.

      I must say I’m envious of your tables. We were experts with macaroni and beans. Real mosaic work would have been a treat. What I really love is that you found Pogo at church. I suspect I would have enjoyed those sermons myself.

      The elect vs. the damned is a horror even when it’s found in totally secular settings (think global warming discussions, for example). When it’s used to distinguish between the saved and the heathen, or the saints and the sinners, it’s even worse.

      Have you ever read Annie Dillard’s “Holy the Firm”? I’m always quoting from “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” but I actually came to “Holy the Firm” first. There’s some wonderful writing in it about her church. She says, “On a big Sunday, there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia.” And this: “I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without getting killed.”

      It’s vintage Dillard, and a great read.

  19. Linda, you have provided such a beautiful Easter-themed message here, culminating in Mary Oliver’s poem. It’s always all about sharing.

    As an aside, it’s been a loooong time since even thought about kool-aid or graham crackers, but I loved them growing up in Minnesota. I vividly recall those little packs of coloured powder that we mixed with water to produce a raspberry, orange, etc flavoured drink. Nice to enjoy that happy flash back once again.

    1. I managed to control myself, Mary, but by the time I’d finished writing this, and re-read it a time or two, I was ready to set off to the grocery for some graham crackers and frosting. I remembered just in time that our “cookies” were made with homemade frosting, and I surely wasn’t going to whip up a batch of buttercream frosting.

      It’s amazing how foods and memories are intertwined. Our Kool-aid and grahams are a far cry from Proust’s madeleine, but the effect is the same. I’m glad I raised the memory for you.

  20. I think your pastor’s explanation of the loaves and fishes parable was perfect for a questioning ten-year-old girl. And the Mary Oliver poem was a perfect answer also.

    I grew up in hellfire and brimstone Baptist churches, where the preachers shouted and pranced back and forth across the podium and the congregation shouted “Amen” and “Hallelujah” to punctuate his pronouncements. I didn’t love it. I loved the singing of the old southern gospel hymns, and I loved vacation Bible school, and that’s about it. I was made to go every time the church doors were open…twice on Sunday, and Wednesday nights, and all week long when we had a twice yearly revival. I especially didn’t love those special times. Oh, I also loved the “homecoming” that was held every summer. There was preaching and singing all day, but the main draw was the yards-long table of homemade food and desserts. I usually ate enough to put me into a stupor, so I would just nap with my eyes open (and sometimes not) during the afternoon preaching. At least on those Sundays we didn’t have to attend church in the evening.

    During my teen years, I started rebelling about attending, and still not getting my way, so I started attending a different church where I joined a quartet with three friends. We traveled around to different churches in the area, so that at least made it a little more interesting. Finally, in my senior year of high school, I started babysitting for my sister in town from Thursday night until Monday morning (they owned a pizza restaurant), and stopped attending. My mom wasn’t too happy about it, but Sis couldn’t afford a real babysitter (I did it for $10!), so Mom relented. After I graduated I just stopped going altogether, and, except for a couple of times of conflicting emotional times, I haven’t been back since.

    1. Your “homecoming” reminds me of what we called “singing and dinner on the grounds.” Our congregation didn’t have such a practice, but some rural congregations did, and it was great. There were grange picnics that were good, too, but they didn’t have the singing.

      Can you believe I’ve only been in a Baptist church twice? Well, at least that I recall. That wasn’t until I moved to Houston, and had a friend whose mother was a Baptist. We went with her on Mother’s Day, and one other time. It was a fairly staid service. As a matter of fact, if I’d been asked to guess, I might have said it was Methodist.

      I suspect things are different in some of the small, scattered Baptist congregations in the country. One of my favorites, in far, far east Texas, is the “Heaven Can Wait But Can You Church of God in Christ.” On one trip, a friend started writing down all the interesting names, but we lost the list.

      I attended Bethlehem Lutheran in Oakland for a while. It was a Black congregation, and there was a good bit of amen-ing and hallelujah-ing there, too. I really enjoyed it; partly because I was newly returned from Liberia, and there were Liberians in the congregation.

      It must have been great fun, traveling with your quartet. Here’s one of my favorite quartets from Cajun country — Bonsoir Catin.

      1. I wouldn’t go so far to say it was great fun, but it was a break from the dull routine of my country life, and we didn’t sound anything like that quartet. It would have been a whole lot more fun if we had. :)

  21. Dr. Long’s explanation reminds me of the story of “Stone Soup”.

    And here is a little graham cracker history…more inventor than cracker…that is a local lore. I’ve eaten at the restaurant.

    And I also like Iris. I’ve heard that song before and, possibly in keeping with or in spite of my lack of a traditional spiritual attachment, agree with the sentiment.
    Here’s my favorite Iris video:

    1. I went over to the restaurant’s site, and looked at the menu. Nice! It looks like they’ve done a great job of refurbishing, too.

      I laughed at the suggestion that, “as time went on, Sylvester Graham became a local eccentric.” It sounds to me as though his eccentricity set in early, and never wavered. I am glad to know where the cracker got its name, though. Today, I guess I’d choose the British version — the famous “digestive biscuit,” which is much better than the name suggests. They’re a little thicker and softer than our graham crackers, and Pims has a version with orange jelly and chocolate on top. No need to make frosting!

      That’s another great song. I saw Iris back in the 90s, at a club called Rockefeller’s, in Houston. I don’t remember what she sang, because all we were aware of was how terribly sad and unhappy she seemed. I went back and looked at her bio — it may have been that she was just past her divorce at the time, or her dad’s death.
      In any event, it’s good to see her recording new material again.

          1. Here’s the location: “Just south of Vanderpool on the way to Utopia on Ranch Road 187 is a sign declaring that that section of the road is cared for by the Lost Maples Sheep Dip Philosophers and Whittlers Association.” I found that here.

  22. Oh my—a wise minister. Your church sounds the kind of church all should be. Mine was not child oriented, so I don’t have your fond memories. Although I went to a Methodist Bible school as a visitor once. It’s hard to share chocolate frosted graham crackers,, but you learned to share early. and now you share your experiences wholeheartedly with us. Thank you and thank you Arthur V. Long.

    1. It’s interesting to think about that congregation. As children and youth, we were important — heaven knows there were classes and activities galore for us. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t say the church was child-oriented. I’m not sure what kind of distinction I’m trying to draw, but it’s real. We were engaged, but not fussed over, if that makes any sense.

      Because I was an only child, there were lessons I had to learn outside the home, and sharing was at the top of the list.Of course, I also had to learn how not to share, when it wasn’t appropriate. When Karen from two houses down wanted to take my little turtle home, and told me I was mean for not sharing it, she didn’t make much progress!

  23. Brilliant! I wish we’d had a pastor as perceptive as yours. We had a church with a huge edifice and a very fine organ, but what it lacked was what was most important.

    1. There’s an old joke about pastors who are most concerned with congregational growth and “bigger plants” — they’re said to have an edifice complex.

      I know I’ve posted a video of the Noack organ at one of my Houston congregations, but I can’t remember if you saw it. Both the building and the organ were “built for Bach” — the Houston Bach Society performs at the church regularly. Here, you can see a fellow New Yorker — Claudia Dumschat, organist at the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan — providing a taste of another fine organ.

  24. This makes me smile in many ways and I suspect if I had that good a minister as a child I would have a different life. (I should add that I did as a young adult and when he died, everything got all wonky, but that’s another story.)

    But it also made me smile because I remember my favorite Thanksgiving. It was after Rick’s bike crash and I had a broken rib and the kids were with their mom that year. We were just going to have a small turkey breast and stuffing. I think I bought a bag of salad the day before and who knows what for dessert. Maybe Rick was making a pie — he usually does. A nice dinner. But for two, not six. But on Thanksgiving morning when I awoke, we were both feeling reasonably good and the night before had learned that two couples would be celebrating independently without their kids. A quick call and I had dinner company. I don’t know why I didn’t think of going to the store, except it felt more than I could handle. (Yes, I can handle cooking for minions with no food but going to the store can be too much of a trial). Yet somehow, we stretched that turkey breast, a bag of stuffing, a salad and whatever they brought to a meal that left us completely satisfied and all the more grateful that we had good friends with whom to share a day of thanks. Kate said, “I think you just pulled off that loaves and fishes thing.” No, we did.

    I hope your Easter was lovely. I’ll remember this story a long time.

    1. I remember that Thanksgiving, Jeanie, and I remember at least one of the couples who were there. As a matter of fact, I remember that you blogged about it, and provided photos. And most of all, I remember how grateful we all were that Rick had survived that crash. I don’t remember your broken rib — I’ll have to go back and refresh my memory!

      It’s amazing, really, how often what we judge in the beginning to be not enough turns out, in the end, to be more than enough. That applies to a lot more than meals, as you know. There are gifts galore in this life, if we just pay attention!

      1. Linda, while “funeraling” in Maryland last weekend we somehow got on a discussion of loaves and fishes and I was happy to cite your story. One of the brothers who knows more bible than I do was saying how when things like that occurred, people came from miles away and they packed their food to travel and of course the sharing comes into play. Metaphorical and all that. It was a lively discussion and I was happy I had a bloggie story to share!

        1. Well, my goodness. That’s really wonderful, Jeanie, that the graham-cracker miracle got retold. But of course, that’s how we got the original loaves and fishes story — it was told, retold, and finally written down. I’m sorry you had to make the trip, but it sounds as though it was a good one. A little cork-popping and conversation always eases the heart.

  25. At our Methodist church in the city and in the country, there is always a children’s sermon to engage (and acknowledge) the younger ones. Gone it seems are the days when children were taken out by their mamas to the front steps to get a scolding if they squirmed too much. In the city, it seems a nice church lady led those sermons and in the country, the minister himself is taking on that role. Parents delight in their children willingly and cheerfully walking up to the front to sit with the teacher. I bet your Reverend Long probably had a whole file of sermons tailored for children. How wonderful he left the door open. If the door is left open, someone, even a wee one may walk in. I love this “great graham cracker miracle” and I love that you remember and share the memorable and good parts of your faith journey.

    1. Georgette, I don’t remember children’s sermons being a part of our services – at least, not when I was in grade school. We took part in services by singing songs, or presenting pageants, but otherwise we were sitting in the pews, being more-or-less attentive.

      I do remember there was something called a Cradle Roll, but I haven’t a clue what that was. I must have been too young to remember. I only know about it because Mom had a collection of post cards and other cards that were sent. In fact, every time I missed Sunday School, there always was a card in the mail by Tuesday, saying, “We missed you!” What a wonderful tradition that was.

      I very much like the custom of the pastor doing the children’s sermon (or whatever it’s called). And I’ve known a pastor or two who’ve smiled and said, “You know, it’s not only the kids who are listening.”

      Open doors are so important, and not just for ministers. I’ve had teachers and professors who were open-door sorts, and some who weren’t. It makes a big difference.

  26. I love the warmth and welcome of Dr. Long to children like your 10-year old self. Your story drew me to remember the almost-cozy sense of belonging when my family attended a small Baptist church.

    1. Small congregations have so much to offer. For one thing, they give real meaning to the phrase “church family.” I’m sure you and your parents experienced that, and were grateful for it.

      On the other hand, even though I have the sense that your current church is larger, you’ve certainly provided the same sense of family for others, like the international students. Everyone needs that, and it’s wonderful when it can be offered.

      1. A short time ago I wrote a blog called “Small Churches are Good Soil,” and I am thinking of continuing a series with that title. These comments are encouraging to me to do so. Thanks.

  27. I’ve enjoyed reading and browsing this “miracle” topic. Put me with the teacher who said the miracle was because “he was Jesus” but I certainly concur that sometimes a change in the heart of man is also a big miracle!

    Loved your description of your church as a child. Mine was a poor country church with Pentecostal on it’s sign, but we didn’t recognize the “poor” label since we were so blessed with so much in the way of love and bonding. Especially enjoyed the singing. Charles Wesley can only be equaled by Fanny Crosby in the hymn department. I loved the church in which all generations learned, sang, worshiped, played and prayed together. Of course, there was also the eating Sunday dinners which always fed the crowd with “baskets” left over.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for adding to the discussion, Oneta. I enjoyed browsing your blog, too, and found a memory or two stirred there. When you mentioned ““We don’t drink, smoke, or chew, and we don’t run around with those who do,” it brought back the little song that we sang at Camp. It began, “We are the girls from (something?) follies; we dance around like rubber dollies; we don’t drink and we don’t chew and we don’t go with boys who do.” I suspect we were singing that in junior high, before things got complicated.

      I’ve never heard of Fanny Crosby. Given how prolific she was, that seems amazing, but there you are. “Blessed Assurance” was one of my grandmother’s favorites, and I still can hear her singing it.
      Another surprise was discovering that Lyle Lovett included some of her hymns in performances and CDs.

      Speaking of Lyle Lovett, what you say about your church reminds me of his wonderful song called “Church.” You might enjoy the humor, and the gentle fun-poking at a preacher who preached too long even for himself. You can find the lyrics here.

      Thanks again for the visit. You’re always welcome.


      1. Thanks for sending me the “church” link. It was fun. And my experience with church was fun even long winded preachers most of the time. Your song from Camp was similar. And you are right. Things have gotten complicated. I feel very sorry for young people now. They are pitched into so many choices so quickly. I doubt that they ever feel the joy that I experienced. Funny how in my quiet life, I never felt bored. I’ll be checking you out more.

        1. I don’t remember boredom, either. Even when summer got long, and the camps were over, and family vacations had passed, there were things to do. Of course, we had remarkable freedom in those days, and no one came unglued if our freedom brought us back home with skinned knees or a broken bicycle. Actually, a skinned knee rarely sent us home, because we knew what to do. We rubbed dirt on it.

  28. I think sharing is always a good thing. But being 10 years old I can understand why the concept is hard to acknowledge particularly when it’s something one really would like to keep for oneself…

    1. Sharing really is at the heart of your workshops, Otto. You share knowledge and expertise, the participants share their goals and questions, and everyone shares in the experience: both photographers and subjects.

      Mix in an adult version of Kool-aid and cookies, and it could be a kid’s summer camp, all grown up!

  29. Wonderful — Dr. Long seems to have been a brilliant, clever, and kind man. :) Miracles are everywhere; one just sometimes has to shift perspective a bit to see them.

    1. I was going to say, “I wish I could go back and get a sense of what his colleagues, and the adult members of the congregation, thought of him.” Then, I decided I really wouldn’t want to do that. They might have considered him dull, plodding and cantankerous. I prefer the man in my memories.

      Willa Cather agrees with you. In “Death Comes for the Archbishop” she says, ““Miracles… rest upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there around us always.”

  30. Beautiful, Linda! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

    I myself have good memories of being a lay missionary for many years. The wonderful worship services; my travels to many places to share God’s word; my pilgrimages to holy places, especially the Holy Land; but, above all,the people’s lives I touched and the people who touched my life, too.

    Of course, it wasn’t all sweetness and light. I had also my share of heartache and pain. But that’s another story…

    However, as anything in life, we take the good and the bad and move on, remembering during this Easter season:

    “Easter is a time for trust and reclaimed innocence; for celebrating the triumph of life over death; for affirming the power of love and the possibility of a world made new.”


    1. I really do resonate with your point that life always is a mixture: of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, healing and pain. I think that may be the primary reason I finally gravitated toward Lutheranism. Luther’s emphasis on the need for Law and Gospel, his insistance that each of us is that mixture of saint and sinner, really rang true for me. I’ve never had much patience with people who claim the point of faith is to remove us from the world. In fact, it should help us live more deeply in the world.

      It sounds as though you followed in your father’s footsteps in some important ways, with Jojang at your side. I hope your Easter day was delightful, and that the season as a whole is joyful.

  31. Dr. Arthur V. Long is exactly the sort of figure I wish I’d encountered as a wondering child; instead, I faced the rather prickly nuns of my catechism classes. Questions weren’t appreciated, to put it mildly. Raised Catholic, I now bounce around a bit visiting the churches in my small county. The local Methodist church is quite warm….filled with song and kindness. Sadly many of these small traditional churches are dying out now. Younger families are going to what the traditionalists call “hootenanny” services. Change is in the wind, methinks. Thank you for the Mary Oliver poem. It touched me. And it’s the second of her poems to cross my path in two days. Hmmmmm.

    1. I used to read a wonderful blogger (no longer active) who came up through a parochial school system. He often posted about the good sisters who were his teachers, and the traumas of those years. He had quite a collection of (previously) Catholic readers, and their back-and-forth was an education of another sort for me.

      It’s true, what you say about non-traditional worship gaining popularity. But I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t reaching its peak. There are some signs, anyhow. A few congregations of different denominations around here have added second (or third) services that don’t require earplugs because of the amplifiers, and now use hymnals rather than an overhead projector. Retro, perhaps, but nice.

      Mary Oliver is wonderful. I think my favorite of her poems may be “The Journey.”

      1. I think about the power of quiet contemplation and wonder where in the world we can find it nowadays if not in a church. We seem to have such an endless thirst for entertainment!
        “The Journey” has just blown me away. No other phrase will suit. I will print this and read and re-read. How have I managed to go this long without knowing her, I ask you?
        We are an irreverent bunch in my Catholic family and have named that old-fashioned classroom nun Sister Mary Sadistic. My father, actually, had far worse experiences than we kids did as corporal punishment was more the norm in his day. I never actually got hit – just terrified!

        1. I had to depend on my junior high wrestling coach/math teacher for the corporal punishment. I only got thumped on the head with his huge college ring (as did we all), but he had quite a paddle, too. And, yes: it had holes drilled in it. It was a different time, to be sure.

          Sister Mary Sadistic reminds me of the name of the Catholic church in Lake Woebegon: Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.

  32. Delightful.

    I smile at your description of a Methodist childhood. There were a handful of what we called “holy rollers” around here when I was growing up, but the vast majority of us were either Baptists or Methodists. In fact the joke was that a mixed marriage in those days was when a Baptist married a Methodist.

    I was a product of such a mixed marriage–a (nonobservant) Baptist father and a (observant) Methodist mother. Our mother had the privilege of choosing where we children attended church (to the horror of my decidedly observant Baptist paternal grandmother), so I grew up Methodist.

    As far as I could tell, the principle differences between Baptists and Methodists were that Methodists were allowed to dance and drink alcohol, and Baptists were not.

    The only theological distinction of which I was conscious related to baptism. Methodists sprinkled and Baptists dunked. I can recall my grandmother telling me (as we sat in a swing beneath a majestic oak) that according to the Bible one must “come up out of the water” to be saved (or something like that). It terrified me that my baptism might not have taken, leaving me condemned to eternal torment. I got over it.

    Love the post Linda. Sorry I’m late responding. Hope you had a wonderful Easter.

    1. Bill, one of the things I’ve come to love about the liturgical calendar is that it’s completely eliminated that business about being “late” for Christmas (Twelve Days, you know) or Easter (all the way to Pentecost). So, your greetings are entirely appropriate.

      Your mention of baptismal differences reminded me of a word I’ve not thought of in years: “dunkards.” I can remember hearing it when I was growing up, and now I see that, “The Dunkards started in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. Like the Mennonites, the Dunkards were anabaptists, believing in adult baptism. In 1719 Peter Becker led a group of Dunkards to Krefeld, Germany and from there to Germantown, Pennsylvania. This was the beginning of the Palatine immigration phase, with inhabitants of the palantine region of Germany heading for America in great numbers.”

      There seems to be only one Brethren congregation here in Texas, but there are many in Iowa, some very close to where I grew up. That no doubt accounts for my knowing the word. Still, it wasn’t until I moved to Texas and began traveling the south that I discovered “real” baptisms still were common. When I visited Moon Lake, Mississippi, I stayed very near this spot, which still is favored for baptism today.

      Just as a side note, whether we were Baptist or Methodist as children, we counted ourselves lucky that we weren’t Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. Our friend whose father was a pastor in that denomination led a remarkably circumscribed life: no drinking or dancing, of course, but also no Camp Fire Girls, no 4-H, no activities on Sunday, and so on. The Catholic kids used to tease her by saying she had more rules to follow than the nuns.

      You surely know Alison Krause’s version of the old standard, but this is an especially good video.

  33. Oh, I’m “late” to this as well but what a wonderful essay. I wish you could take my Evangeline to your Reverend Long – she wants to know why Mary didn’t cut Jesus’ hair, and he makes such funny faces in her church coloring books, and why God is invisible but also here…

    1. You can’t be late. We’re still in the Easter season, and will be for some time! I love Evangeline’s curiosities. To be quite frank, there have been a few times in my adult life when I could have used another chat with the Rev. Long, myself. Still, even the memory of a good man can be sustaining. I’ll hope for Evangeline’s sake — and yours! — that she finds such a friendship.

  34. Here I am, late to the party but coming to life at least, so that’s all right then. I like this essay very much. I had never thought of the loaves and fishes in that way. Now I’ll never think of them in any other way.

    1. What an absolute pleasure to see you, Gerry. I’ve thought of you often. Most of the time, I confess, I see you either on the lakeshore with your boon companions, or deep into piles of history books and ephemera. Either would be good.

      It was a wonderful way of re-setting the story, wasn’t it? At this remove, I’ve often thought it was the best way to help me see the same dynamic in other settings. That’s a pretty good gift in itself.

  35. I have been following this thread and I notice that a lot of readers’ comments side with with Dr. Long’s explanation of the miracle of feeding the five thousand. It makes sense that Jesus did change the attitude of people probably making them more generous and willing to share. However, if that is all that happened, why do you think the people by the thousands were following him? Creating miracles out of nothing seems like it would do that.

    1. I don’t know that it’s a matter of taking sides, Oneta. It may simply be that a new way of telling an old story allows some people to hear the story in a new way. Jesus seems to have enjoyed taking that approach himself. There are many places in the New Testament where he says, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” That’s very much the approach Dr. Long took with me: taking received wisdom, or traditional teaching, and turning it on its head.

      I suspect (although of course I can’t know) that Dr. Long would have had other ways of approaching the miracle of the loaves and fishes if he had been teaching an adult class, or leading a theological seminar. But he was talking to a kid, and his explanation suited. I suspect that’s part of the reason so many people were intrigued by Jesus and followed him. He was able to speak to them in a way that touched them, and that they understood.

      What tickles me after all these years isn’t just that I remember his explanation, but that years of experience with selfish or sharing people have convinced me of its truth. I’ve wondered sometimes if that could be one of the tests of a true miracle — that it isn’t only something that happened “back then,” but is something that we can also see happening now.

      It’s interesting to think about, isn’t it? Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      1. Thanks, Shoreacres. I guess we in America would mostly agree that we suffer more from a “hungry” heart, than a “hungry” stomach. A helping, compassionate hand out to share with others sure does feel good, doesn’t it? How blessed to be able to be a giver.

  36. I am also quite tardy joining the conversation. Maybe I should be grateful that at least it was still April when curiosity drove me over to discover miracles concerning graham crackers!!

    I may have mentioned before that I was raised Methodist even though on most army bases it was a general protestant service we attended. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist Minister and Military Chaplain in both World Wars…he did in fact perform my parent’s wedding ceremony and later Christened me as a baby.

    However, as a child I was much more interested in collecting rocks and arrowheads than questioning miracles in the Bible. It wasn’t that I didn’t notice, just accepted as was. Never could sit still in church much to my mother’s chagrin. I did love Vacation Bible School though and the pin with little add on hangers for the years attending Bible School.

    Your story of Dr. Long’s explanation really has struck me as wonderfully kind, interesting and clear. I’d understood that the Jesus’ miracle was in multiplying fish and loaves to feed the multitudes. Instead, perhaps the miracle Was Jesus touching human hearts in a way that completely changes the math. It was by division that food was shared enough to feed the throng. Funny how a little thing like that can change it from a rather impersonal necessity being met to a personal involvement which all experienced in what happened that day.

    Thanks always for those different ways of looking at things which you bring with thoughtful and generous essays.

    1. Do you know, I’d forgotten those pins. I have no idea what happened to mine. They probably were lost or tossed when Mom moved from Iowa to Texas. She would have been the one to keep them. I kept my Palmer Method Penmanship pins, though. Priorities, priorities.

      I’m not sure I knew you grew up Methodist. What I do remember is that you like “Gift From the Sea,” as do I. That book was so much a staple of Methodist women’s clubs in the 1950s and 1960s, I was sure Lindbergh was Methodist: but apparently not.

      It doesn’t make any difference, of course. What is true is that the same sort of wisdom displayed by Dr. Long permeates Lindbergh’s book. She was a wonderful counterweight to deBeauvoir and Fonda back in the day — proof that you could be smart, independent, and capable of standing up to life, all the while being gracious and kind.

      For some reason, it amazes me that your grandfather served in both World Wars. I’m sure many did, but it makes clear his strength and dedication. And what a wonderful thing, that he could be an “official presence” on so many family occasions. It must have been wonderful for him.

      Multiplying by dividing… Rather like addition through subtraction, now that I think of it. The dynamics of life sometimes escape our formulae!

  37. Dr. Long was indeed a wise and kind man. And you were a brave child to ask your question. His interpretation of the story’s meaning is one I wish I had heard long ago. He didn’t condescend to you because you were a child, nor did he evade the question. Instead he gave an answer that is valuable and meaningful to anyone who will hear it—regardless whether they are a believer, an agnostic or an athiest. Thank you for sharing this and continuing to teach Dr. Long’s message.

    1. I wasn’t always so brave, Mike, and the adults around me weren’t always so wise and kind, but it happened often enough that my view of the world as basically good, and approachable, got established early on.

      And you’re right, that there wasn’t any condescension. Parents, teachers, and other authority figures did expect respect and obedience. On the other hand, they always seemed open to questions, or requests for help.

      Now that I’m an adult who has been approached from time to time about life’s little complexities, my admiration for Dr. Long’s answer has only increased. It is an answer for everyone — and we surely could use more of those these days.

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