True Confession: I love fruitcake. Not the kind that can be bought at the grocery store, nor the kind that can be made from what can be bought at the grocery store; but the kind my mom used to make and her mother before her: English fruitcake. I remember my mom making it when I was a kid. If she didn’t manage to make it one year, a relative in England would wrap one up, put it in a tin and send it to us. At Christmas there was always fruitcake.
All those years I watched the process and enjoyed eating the results, but I never made it until this this year. The thing about fruitcake is that it has to be made by All Saints Sunday- a good 6-8 weeks before Christmas. It spends those weeks wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and hidden in a closet. In the darkness the chaos of fruit and alcohol create the perfect fruitcake. Every week more brandy is applied, more time in the darkness is provided, and by Christmas creation is complete, and the cake is ready. It was fruitcake when it came out of the oven on All Saints, but its transformation into Fruitcake is not complete until Christmas. It’s the now and not yet of Fruitcake. Kind of like Advent: Jesus was born years ago, but we wait for him to be born anew in us on Christmas. Kinda like that – but don’t push the metaphor too far or it will completely fall apart, like – fruitcake that’s not quite done.
Fruitcake is part of what is best from my past. As you probably know, I left the part of the church world I once called home to launch Living the Resurrection. Much about this change is exciting but as is often the case, the flip side of excitement is anxiety. God is leading but most of the time I don’t know where we are going. I’m in the middle of an adaptive change process and continually adapting to the changes as they come up. In this chaos a few of the traditions of my past have shown themselves to be more important than ever. Traditions can help us through transitions.
When I work with congregational leaders, I help them create opportunities to hear the stories of what their members treasure most about their life together. Appreciative Inquiry, the change strategy I use, holds that we need to listen to the stories we tell ourselves, especially the ones about who we are and where we come from. I tell leaders to listen for stories that give life and energy to the storyteller. Once they identify a few key stories, the leaders work with their congregation to bring the best of the past into the future. I caution them that they will probably hear people talk about when “the Sunday School was full, and the place was bursting with children,” but Sunday School isn’t a story, it’s an event. The story is underneath the event and requires more digging. My warning is necessary because when leaders decide that the event is the story, they spend their energy trying to recreate it. They work hard to start up a new Sunday school but, if they are lucky enough to have kids come, they soon hear their members complain that the kids are loud and unruly and disturb worship.
Because it wasn’t about Sunday School and kids, just like it’s not about Fruitcake. It never was. My annual experience of fruitcake nurtured me and my family’s connection to extended family across the sea and through the generations. Each bite reminded me that I was part of something bigger, something special. What we treasure lies beneath the stories of the events of old. What we treasure lies in the feelings that contributing and participating in those events aroused in us. Today God is leading us to find new ways to connect to something bigger, to find our part in God’s mission and live into it.
As I move into my new life as a consultant, I find myself needing to think through and write up where I see myself in God’s mission and what I value most. These will be my anchors as I move into the future with Living the Resurrection. I help leaders do the same thing with their congregation. We move into the future with less anxiety when we can trust that what we treasure most will not change.
I’m sending my Fruitcake to family and a few friends. My brother told me that he will be pairing his cake with a fine old Irish whiskey and suggests we all do the same. I’m not sure how our English mother and her family would feel about this tweak to tradition, but maybe this is part of what will be new at Christmas this year. I’m going to try it and to raise a glass and offer a toast: To the future, which God holds.
Special thanks to Evelyna Prodonov and Suzanne Gorter for helping me make the fruitcake.