What’s Most True

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In a few minutes, I am going to change my Facebook picture to this old picture of the girl and me. For the last couple of days, I’d had a picture of me in an Alabama cap in honor of the Alabama-Tennessee game. Today has been a weighty football day for fans in the state of Alabama. I have been fighting a bad cold and ear infection so, lacking energy, I have dipped into the playfulness (that’s sometimes dead serious) related to the business of being an Auburn or Alabama fan.  For those who have known me for any length of time, this is outside the norm. Many years ago, when Alabama played Nebraska, I believe, at the Orange Bowl, we went with our friends, Cosby and Marsha, and I read through most of the game.  I still neither understand the game very well, nor find myself “grasped” by the passion I see in others when it comes to football.  But it is fun to inhabit spaces where I stand in the margins, understanding enough to be a part of it all, though I can’t in all honesty say I really fit in that well.  Yesterday someone indicated I might be able to serve as chaplain to the guys who make up the BBQ brigade at Ascension because my FB profile picture included that Bama cap. I love the absurdity of all that, and even if from the edges, I cherish the sense of being a part of the community of Ascension.

But tonight my thoughts are elsewhere.  Sherod heads down to Fort Lauderdale day after tomorrow to spend four days with our girl. I will stay to work, to mind the creatures and our garden, parts of my life that have a claim on me because my life must be filled with more than the absences and empty spots of life with my girl so far away.  We are struggling to discern if she is in a place where we can all be safe if she joins us for either of the major holidays coming up.  The answers are far from clear.  I miss Maria.  It helps to remember the love and the joy are still every bit as real as this picture, and that soon enough, I will get to see her wonderful self again.

Living la Vida Buena

Trying to go for a boat ride on the Alabama River.

Trying to go for a boat ride on the Alabama River.

This is a long weekend for me–Ascension is closed for the holiday and I didn’t have to preach on Sunday.  It means time with the Mallowman, time for gardening, time to work on my translation project, time to clean house, time to take it a little slow because it seems like both of us are coming down with a cold.

Saturday, we headed to the boat ramp up the road from us, on the Alabama River.  A couple of months ago, Sherod took the boat in for some repairs and Friday he spent a good while cleaning it. We were going to try out the boat, hoping that if it worked well, today we could pack a picnic and take a nice run down the river.  The boat never cranked up so it’s back to the drawing board.  On our way home, it felt providential to see something that suggested taking it easy might be in order…


The message from the universe not withstanding, I spent the whole rest of the day in the garden.  Weeding.  Lots and lots of weeding, that seems to always be the first order of business.  One of my flower beds has had a large Lantana plant that I’d been working around.  We have a good 5 or 6 more for the butterflies in other parts of the garden so I pulled it up. Those are sturdy, tough suckers–I had to do a whole lot of pruning back, digging and pulling and I’m still not sure I got all the roots.  I also pulled up a clump of garlic chives in another bed.  They simply took up too much of that bed.  Then, the really fun part began–the planting.  I put in new roses in the two flower beds in the back.  I put a third new rose in the front bed, along with a half-flat of violas, a flat of pansies, two new lavender bushes, and 5 hollyhock plants.  The pansies and violas will bloom pretty constantly through the fall and winter months and into the spring.  I’m not sure what the lavender bushes will do.  The hollyhocks will grow stems that are about 3-4 feet tall and, come the spring, will have their glorious flowers on full display, God willing. Along with the beautiful hydrangea I got from St. Paul’s and the things already growing, that flower bed should be a thing of beauty before too long.


I went to bed early and exhausted.  Yesterday was church non-stop.  Beautiful reception in my honor, so moved by the service of installation, grateful for everyone that did so much.  Then a pastoral visit, more translation work and at the end of the afternoon, the Blessing of the Animals.  Andy, my boss, had a minor family emergency that came up right at the last minute so he had to leave. The Mallowman had brought Mo and Daisy for their blessings so he graciously stepped in.  For a little while we were a tag team again and it was sweet.

Picture by Amber Jernigan

Picture by Amber Jernigan

On my way home, I was on the phone helping make arrangements for the funeral of someone who had been terribly sick in a nursing home for a long time.  No two days are the same.  I love that about my life.

At one point during the service yesterday,  I walked up to the railing in front of the altar, knelt and said this prayer out loud:

O Lord my God, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; yet you have called your servant to stand in your
house, and to serve at your altar. To you and to your service  I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. Fill my memory with
the record of your mighty works; enlighten my understanding  with the light of your Holy Spirit; and may all the desires of
my heart and will center in what you would have me do. Make me an instrument of your salvation for the people entrusted
to my care, and grant that I may faithfully administer your  holy Sacraments, and by my life and teaching set forth your
true and living Word. Be always with me in carrying out the  duties of my ministry. In prayer, quicken my devotion; in
praises, heighten my love and gratitude; in preaching, give me  readiness of thought and expression; and grant that, by the
clearness and brightness of your holy Word, all the world may  be drawn into your blessed kingdom. All this I ask for the
sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Beautiful words of awesome responsibility.

A Pauper’s Funeral


The instructions went like this:  “Mr. J.M.  (May 20, 1929 – August 6, 2015) will be interred at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 8, 2015 in Grave #14, Row #1, in the Pauper’s Grave Section Annex. You should go in the entrance on the far east end of the cemetery… This entrance is across the road from the Patterson Field Baseball Stadium and it has a Hank Williams’s sign. You will need to go up to the top of the hill and take a right, then go half way around the circle and take a right. (You will have passed the British and French soldiers’ graves and Hank Williams’ grave.) You will take your first right after you pass Hank Williams’ grave and the new pauper section will be on your left”.

One of the most characteristic behaviors of humankind is our determination to bury our dead, to mark the passage of one of our own.  What happens if you are poor and your family can’t afford a burial?  What happens if you are poor, you die alone and no one claims your body?  In Montgomery, we use Dickensian language to recognize what it means to have nothing and nobody so there’s a section in the old local cemetery called the Pauper’s Annex. Actually, this is a second annex. I learned yesterday that there are still a few spaces left in the first one, though only for the small bodies of children.

For years, Ascension has taken responsibility for holding a simple graveside service each time a person is buried in these circumstances.  There’s a guild–a group of members of the parish–who join the priest for the service.  People from a couple of other parishes have joined as well. Sometimes, someone is able to bring flowers.  While the graves I saw did not have markers on them, I suspect there are pretty meticulous records with the cemetery sexton.

The casket Mr. M was in was simple.  The grave even simpler–just a hole several feet deep in the red clay of Alabama.  The hearse drove right up to it and the casket went right into the ground–no astroturf to conceal the ground, no tent to shade from the hot morning sun, no fancy machine to relieve us of the effort to lower the casket into the ground.  Just an old hearse, some men who did the job quickly, though with effort, and a handful of us standing by, bearing witness.

As I stood next to the grave, I had the sense that the ground wasn’t real firm beneath my feet and that I should probably be careful or the ground might give out under me.  Yet when I was saying,

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother and we commit his body to the ground; 
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

and it was time to cast earth on the coffin as the rubrics instruct in the Book of Common Prayer, I had to dig hard to get a handful of dirt.

Ever since living in Memphis and learning about the Sanitation Worker’s Strike of 1968, I am haunted by the pictures of people carrying simple signs, simply written, with the words, “I am a man”.  We were burying a man, a person though we knew nothing about him except his dates of birth and death and his name. Perhaps in some small way, the people who gathered to give Mr. M. this most basic form of burial were there because we all know that we are always called to acknowledge the humanity of even the most forgotten amongst us.  I also want to believe that this act that doesn’t amount to a mound of dirt in the large scheme of things, also returns our humanity to us who participate–we all get so busy.  We all become so numbed to everything but what is immediately in front of us.

A body lay unclaimed for 8 weeks; to quote the Dixie Chicks, this was “a missing person who no one missed at all”.  Standing at his graveside, the gathering of men and women who were there with me knit him back into the human family as someone who now had been found.

The parish guild that has taken responsibility for this ministry is having a sign made for the new annex, like they did for the old one.  A beloved matriarch of Ascension, who died earlier this year, and everyone called Dodgie, had been a very important part of this ministry and she had seen to the first sign which is in the older section.  The sign says “Children of God Cemetery” and the new one will be the same except it will say “Children of God Cemetery Il”.  The guild is also called “The Children of God Cemetery Guild”.  Small gestures, for sure.  They don’t let any of us off the hook for the hope that God always harbors, that there will be neither poverty nor loneliness unto death.  They are also defining gestures that shape the character of a community.

On Divorce: A Sermon for Pentecost 19B

Dear Lord, this is a hard passage to preach.

It is hard for so many reasons. I am pretty sure there are people here today who know first-hand what it is like to go through a divorce, because there wasn’t enough strength to go on with things like they were, because irreparable damage had been done to trust, because the other wanted it but you didn’t or because you absolutely had to get out of a suffocating situation, even if doing so caused great pain. You may have watched your parents, or a sibling, or a son or daughter or grandchild go through a divorce. You may have lost the person you loved more than anything in the world and miss your beloved desperately so any talk of marriage is hard. Or you may have wanted for forever to get married but have not found the right person or still live in a world that, while changing, has made it next to impossible for two people devoted to each other to say, “I do”.

There is enormous complexity, confusion and complication related to marriage and divorce in our time—I wish we could heed Emily Dickinson’s advice and, if we must tell all the truth, to tell it slant. Today’s Gospel is too explicit. Too direct and clear for that. And so we are called, as people of faith, to wrestle with this text.

Perhaps it helps to remind ourselves of a few things:

In the time and place where Jesus found himself, marriage had a different function, a different meaning in the life of the culture and society.  Certainly, the enormous differences in power and place between men and women shaped the implications of a divorce. One of the things of which I am acutely aware, is that in a lot of places in the world, this power difference is still very much in place. In fact, when I got married in 1988, I very consciously decided not to marry in Colombia because even then, by law I would have become the property in mind, body and earthly goods, of my husband.

Maybe it helps to remember that this started out as a test of Jesus’ orthodoxy, another effort on the part of those in power to trip him up. He is sparring and when we spar and debate, our arguments are intended to disarm, to disable, make our case. It is easier to spar when the categories are binary. The conversation continues when it’s just Jesus and his friends and his position does not moderate, but there too, we might remember that these folks have been bumbling and stumbling in their short-sightedness, their inability to keep the main thing the main thing, in the ways they just don’t understand. They were headed to Jerusalem and how hard it must have been for Jesus that over, and over again, not even those close to him were able to follow where he was leading.

I am reassured that what Jesus defends isn’t so much the law of God as God’s will, what God dreams and hopes and offers us in the relationship of marriage—a place of companionship, of safety, where the daily give and take are like water flowing over a rock, smoothing out the sharp edges, exposing unexpectedly beautiful veins of color and character that would never have been seen otherwise, constantly scrubbing clean what gets gritty and dirty.

Even I, who am married to a divorced man, who have counseled more than one person to consider divorce, who have rejoiced for people who got a second chance, even I, who am a thoroughly contemporary person, have some small sense of how deeply God must wish for us all the goodness  that a strong marriage can offer, even I can understand that deep desire of God, that what has been made one will not be torn asunder.

Perhaps the most important reminder for me about this passage is that above all, Jesus is so acutely aware of, so singularly focused, on tending to those that are vulnerable and in need of care, support, healing and wholeness. More often than not, divorce is one of those places where deep, deep vulnerability intersects with failure, one of the hard, jagged edges of the human condition. In the Middle East in that time and society, the woman would have been the vulnerable one. It is not coincidence that Jesus is concerned for the woman of his time, who looses everything when her husband divorces her, and immediately afterward, takes up for little children who again, in his day and time, count for next to nothing.

That point of intersection between failure and vulnerability is the place where God places God’s self. It is the place we call the cross.

More often than not, even in the best of circumstances, divorce is devastating. It strips us of financial health, of social status, of our sense of ourselves, of our community, many of our friends, even our church. The vulnerability is enormous, regardless of whether or not the failures were in part, or sometimes, largely, ours.

There are other places where we see that intersection of vulnerability and failure. The news early this week was devastating: a tiny newborn baby, umbilical chord still attached, was found dead next to a high-rise in Manhattan, thrown out the window while she was still alive.

The news as the week was ending was devastating: Young men and women, in hope and vulnerability, doing the work of growing up, of learning and studying and preparing for adulthood, were mowed down in the prime of life. That place where were failure and vulnerability cross in ways too painful to fully grasp.

Sometime late on Friday afternoon—and here, I have to believe it happened out of plain and simple human error and the failures that are embedded in every war—people, frail and weak, getting medical care at a hospital in Afghanistan, people who were cared for by men and women, also vulnerable for being foreigners, and for bringing sutures and bandages, not weapons, found themselves being bombarded by us, saw, or became collateral damage made flesh.

And Jesus wept. At each and every one of those intersections of vulnerability and failure, our friend and savior wept. We too must weep. Then, Jesus took each person whose marriage had failed, each baby and child, each person in that hospital in Afghanistan, he took all of them up in his arms, laid hands of healing on them, and blessed them. That is the work of love. It is work that our God of infinite love does again. And again. And yet again. And as many times as necessary.

That love that holds, that heals, that blesses, opens space for us to learn a different way of being, creates the possibility that we will be able to grow into the full stature of Love. So we too may help do the work of the kingdom in our willingness to go to those places where failure intersects with vulnerability. Amen.

As Fall Finds Its Way

Spider Webs and Baby Turnip Greens

Fog, Spider Web, and Baby Turnip Greens

Fall continues to creep into our lives, a small inch at a time on some days, with the dull roar of heavy rain others. Except for maybe twice this month, the mornings have been cool and damp. There have been a handful of days where a light sweater felt good. We aren’t crossing the 90 degree mark any longer, for which I am grateful. When we lived in Memphis, I developed a really bad allergy to Goldenrod in particular, enough that for a while I had to use an inhaler because I’d start wheezing. I held my breath last year waiting for the allergy to kick up and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t. This year—not so much. The Goldenrod is nearing its peak and I have had some epic sneeze and sniffles episodes. The body remembering, I suppose.

It is also October now. A month ago yesterday, I started at Ascension and already it seems like this is where I’ve been forever. Each day seems to bring another small reminder of why I love parish ministry—the ways ministry surprises me by what it asks me to do and be. For the first time, people are coming up to me, days, weeks, even months later, to tell me how something I said in a sermon stayed with them. I think I have a clearer voice now, one that is also more free. I have a boss who shares leadership generously and who has invited me to serve more as a partner than a subordinate who receives assignments to carry out. It is an honor and responsibility I don’t take lightly.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, in the small chapel of our church, I celebrated the Eucharist in Spanish, gathered with only a handful of people. I don’t know if it meant as much those who were there as it did to me. But after more than a year without that kind of communal prayer and worship, I wanted to stand very still and let the beauty of my native language wash over me; another kind of Baptism, both fire and water.

Yesterday, I was cc’d on a church document that included the following:

>>The Upcoming Dates listed on the attached xxx Agenda highlighted the Welcome
for The Rev. Rosa Lindahl as Ascension’s new Associate Rector.   (A
>>note for future historians: Rosa Lindahl is the first female priest on the clergy staff
>>at the Church of the Ascension.)

My heart is happy.