Purple And Our Color-Coded Lives

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 21, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            More and more, it seems our lives are color-coded, both in the secular world and in the Church. You can see this right after Halloween, when the retail stores begin replacing orange and black items and décor with green and red. And in our personal lives, we wear red, white, and blue to express the patriotic feelings we have for our country, and maroon and white as symbols of loyalty to our home teams, — and, even of our town itself. It seems to me that’s a good thing.

            In the liturgical churches, we color-code our liturgical seasons, a very ancient practice that goes back to the beginning of the Church. In the Church, the color for Christmas is not red and green, as in the secular world, but white or gold, the colors used for paraments and stoles, until Epiphany.

            Having grown up in a liturgical church, and, in later years, preaching in one, I find the color symbolism of the Church very meaningful. This year, the Church Season of Advent begins on December 1 and ends on December 24. Advent always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and always ends on Christmas Eve; this means the beginning is always going to be between November 27 and December 3. During the Early Church, the color for Advent was purple, which was both a penitential color and the color of royalty, symbolizing the Coming of Christ. Since the Early Church celebrated the Second Coming of Christ during Advent, a penitential color was called for, emphasizing repentance in preparation for the End of Times and proclaiming Christ as King of Kings. From the earliest of times, purple was a symbol of royalty, the color worn by kings.

            In more recent times, many liturgical churches have changed the Advent color from purple to blue, blue also being a color of Kingship, but not a symbol for penitence. The reason for this seems to me to be switching the worship emphasis from the Second Coming of Christ at the End of Times to the First Coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem. We don’t like to think about the End of Times, but we love to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child to Bethlehem. Not only are the paraments and stoles blue in contemporary churches, but also three of the candles on the Advent Wreath are blue (the fourth one, of course, being pink) rather than purple.

            The color purple for Advent has such meaningful symbolism for me that I was never tempted to change from purple to blue, either at my church, or on our Advent Wreath at home. Those weeks before Christmas should be a time of repentance and preparation. You see, the Latin word for “Advent” is “Adventus,” which means “coming.” Yes, Christ is coming first as a child to the little town of Bethlehem but understood in that Coming is His death and resurrection, which was necessary for our salvation, and which is followed by His Second Coming. The Early Church considered both happenings to be joyful events.

            Even long before Christ’s birth in a stable in Bethlehem, purple was the color of royalty and nobility, as, for example only the Roman nobility wore the color purple. And that was partly due to the fact purple dye could only be made from a hard-to-find sea creature, thus it was the most expensive dye of all. Such an expensive dye made the cloth expensive, thus purple cloth was the most expensive cloth you could buy. This fact was still true during the time of Jesus, and makes us realize how wealthy Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, was. She gave financial support to the followers of Jesus and provided them with room and board, thus using her wealth to help spread the Gospel. Being a Christian did not necessarily mean being poverty-stricken.

            Today, manufacturers of art supplies can create the color purple without using the scarce sea creature once necessary, so the significance of purple is sort of lost on us. However, the powerful symbolism of purple continues to be important in our lives in many ways. For example, the Purple Heart awarded by the President of the United States for bravery (wounded or killed) in battle is purple. Purple was chosen as the color of the heart, because it symbolizes courage and bravery, duty, honor, compassionate love, royalty, and good judgment, making it a powerful symbol.

            To be sure red, white, and blue, maroon and white, purple, white and gold, and even red and green, are meaningful symbols in our lives.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.

Although It’s Cold In Texas This Week, Ice Fishing Is Probably Not An Option

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 14, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some years ago, my son-in-law and I had a bay boat and we went fishing quite often in Matagorda Bay. Having grown up in Dime Box and having fished only in Lee County creeks and ponds, I had to learn totally new fishing techniques. Bay fishing was both fun and hard work, and we did catch a fair amount of fish in those years, mainly when the weather was warm, which is most of the year in Texas. I developed a special fondness for flounder fishing, because I loved to eat them so much, and because they were easier to catch than red snapper, etc. Nothing my daddy had taught me about fishing for perch and catfish in Dime Box creeks and ponds helped me in floundering.

            The recent cold front, which blew in yesterday and has kept the temperatures no higher than 45 degrees today, plus the news accounts of snow and ice farther north of us made me think of winter in Michigan in the 1970’s when my wife and I were there for graduate school studies. It occurred to me that, though I would walk down to a creek (that’s what I called it) near the campus in midwinter and walk on the frozen-hard water, I never went ice fishing. Neither did my fellow students in the graduate program in which we were all enrolled; we were too busy having seminars, writing papers, taking field trips, and spending time in the University of Michigan library. I learned a lot about slipping on icy sidewalks, spinning your tires in the snow, and scraping your windshield, but never about ice fishing.

            Most of my fellow graduate students, like me, were married, and we were pinched for money, so catching our own fish to eat would have been a great thing. Most of the students living in “married housing” like we did grew their own zucchini and other vegetables in little makeshift gardens in front of the apartment units. Just didn’t have time for the ice fishing.

            Even great fishermen in Texas haven’t got a clue as to how you go about ice fishing, but it’s common knowledge in places like Ann Arbor, and really, quite easy. The first thing to know, of course, is whether the ice is solid enough to walk on. I was told that ice six inches deep was safe, and when ten inches, you can drive a car on it. But, if it’s only two inches, you can’t even walk on it. Also I learned that you don’t need power tools to cut through the ice, that a sharp ice chisel will work quite well if you know to use it right, — in fact, you can cut through six inches in a minute. It’s also better to ice-fish in smaller bodies of water.

            In winter, the fish apparently live at the bottom of the creek or lake, a few species even burying themselves in the mud, — kind of like flounder in warm water? So once you’ve got your hole chiseled out in the ice, what do you use to temp the semi-dormant fish to swallow your hook? Ice fishermen seem to prefer mealworms as bait (the mealworm is actually a beetle rather than a worm, as the worm-stage morphs into a “darkling beetle”). We have mealworms in Texas, but Texas fishermen prefer grubs. Obviously, you don’t use it after it’s a beetle.

            With its over 11.000 lakes, Michigan is an ideal place to go ice fishing, winter fishermen catching bluegill, perch, walleye, northern pike, trout, and sunfish, some of the same fish you can catch in the summer. On the plus side for ice fishing is the fact these fish are easier to catch in the icy water because the cold slows down their movements. Bluegill seems to be the most sought after fish, as it is probably the tastiest of the panfish and delicious fried.

            Even though more cold weather to come is forecast for us, and even if we do get a hard freeze at some point, I would not advise ice fishing in our area. Even in Dime Box (a little farther north) in frigid winters in the 1940’s, the ice on the stock pond near our house was rather thin. Although new ice is stronger than old ice, my brother and I found that even a small pebble would break through the thin sheet. And by midday, it will be melted anyway.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

Why People Become Nurses And Pastors

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES November 7, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In retrospect, I can’t say for sure why I wanted to be a pastor and serve a congregation, — obviously it wasn’t for the money. I think it may have been for the same reason someone wants to become a nurse or a counselor or a special education teacher, or any teacher for that matter. Women I have known who wanted to be a nurse or became a nurse expressed some of the same feelings I felt in seeking the route to the ministry. These want-to-be nurses were all very sensitive human beings who saw so much hurt, so many needs, so much sorrow all around them, and they felt “called” to help do something beyond themselves to help vulnerable, hurting human beings. The inner love they felt for others (and, in most cases, for God) pulled them toward a career that would fulfill this inner, indefinable something.

            My mother was one of those women, a fact that I did not learn about until pretty late in life. She was the ideal mother and the rock of our family, so I never thought of her as having any feelings outside of wanting to be a loving mother and splendid homemaker. But one day, when I was talking to her about my retiring from teaching and possibly going into the pastoral ministry and trying to express hard-to-express feelings (while I loved by father dearly, it was always my mother whom I could and would talk to), she said she understood, because she had once felt that way, too. She went on to explain that she had wanted very much to enroll in a nursing program and become a Registered Nurse, but there were way too many obstacles keeping her from doing it.

            To begin with, Dime Box Rural School in those days had only eleven grades, and you had to go to Giddings to complete the Twelfth Grade and graduate. One of her classmates in Dime Box was able to do that; he graduated from Giddings High School so that he could go to college and Med School and become a Medical Doctor. But my grandparents could not afford to pay room and board for her in Giddings, nor could they afford transportation back and forth to Giddings. From there, of course, were the even greater costs of college and nursing school. Instead she went to work as a clerk in Noah Alber’s Drug Store. But she confessed to me how very, very much she felt drawn to a career serving hurting people as a nurse.

            Others in my family had similar feelings of wanting to help suffering humanity. Two of my cousins became RN’s and one wanted to but did not finish the road to certification. She did, however, go on to work with small children, helping them to learn and grow in a Christian environment.

            My mother did go on to reach out to and help others in many ways, some through her church work and some through the bounty of her success with her garden, her canning, her cows, and her chickens. She would give free milk and butter to needy families, and many, many folks enjoyed the incredible abundance of her garden and her canning. She was never a person to feel sad or bitter about what could not and did not happen; she believed God directed our lives.

            During my 29 years serving in the pastoral ministry, I not only encountered many, seeking, hurting, lonely, depressed, defeated people who looked to the church, and especially to the pastor for help, but I also met many pastors who served those folks well and gave much of themselves to them. And I encountered a few pastors who probably should not have chosen the ministry as a career. The good pastors were helpers and healers and teachers and gave much of their time and energy to others. These were men who felt somewhat the same feelings the want-to-be nurses felt, — they felt drawn to love and serve others in many ways, and also had the component of faith in God and compulsion to serve God fully through the love of Christ Jesus. Meeting so many of these inspired Men of the Cloth, and getting to know them and learn from them, was one of the true “perks” of my ministry in the Circuit. I would not conclude that I myself ever completely achieved the fulfillment of those strong desires to serve God in that particular way, but, in retirement, and in retrospect, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to attempt to fulfill my dream.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.