I made some split pea soup the other day. I usually make some at Christmas time. I do so in remembrance of a time when I was still a young child in Sunday School at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Milford, Michigan.
It was the year that we had no money in our home–my father had invested all we had in his new business and there was little income (only my mother’s pay from part-time teaching). We weren’t dirt poor (although the new business was a nursery, raising trees and shrubs, so there was a lot of dirt invovled). We were investment poor.
So, my mother announced that we would have split pea soup for Christmas dinner. Or maybe it was Thanksgiving dinner–either way, it was a real break with tradition.
In Sunday School (I think it was when I was in first or second grade), we were asked what we were having for the holiday dinner. I loved pea soup, and so I raised my hand eagerly. “Yes, Robin?” asked the teacher (a well-meaning woman whose name I have mercifully forgotten). “We’re having pea soup,” I said proudly.
“Oh, now, Robin, that’s very cute, but I know your mother and she’s not serving you and your father pea soup on Christmas!” Her smile was frozen, and she pointed to one of my classmates to give the answer she expected. But I persisted. “Oh, but we are having pea soup,” I said. “My mother told us last night not to expect turkey or anything this year. We’d just have pea soup.”
“Alright, Robin, you can have your fun, but we know what you’re having–lots of delicious turkey and stuffing and gravy and pie and all the other wonderful stuff. That will be enough of your foolishness.”
I sulked the rest of class. Then, after church, the teacher accosted my mother, in front of me, to complain about my misbehavior. “I don’t know what got into Robin today. He said you are serving split pea soup for Christmas dinner!”
My mother was not one to suffer fools gladly, and I am afraid she shot this poor woman a withering stare, before saying, “Well, as a matter of fact, times are tough for us and Robin is correct; we are having split pea soup.” Then, allowing a couple of beats for that to sink in, she added, “We’re glad to be able to do so. And please, do not shame my son again.”
It began to dawn that day on me that church consisted of many different people–but that there are too fundamental groups in most churches: those who use the church as a way to confirm what they already “know” to be true (and don’t confuse us with any questions or new ideas), and those who use the church as a way to learn what new things God has for them.
One of the reasons I so love our MCC movement is that we, much of the time, are unwilling to accept only that which the existing church tells us. We want to build God’s church, a new church–a church where split pea soup can be served alongside the turkey.
(if you think you read about this before, you could be right; I told it more briefly on April 21, 2011; obviously, the incident affected me greatly)