Patriotism in chiaroscuro


The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is starting a new tradition with a celebration on the 3rd of July in the lovely park area around the theater. There will be music, fireworks, all kinds of festivity. And 50 people who have been nominated because they represent the diversity that defines Montgomery (though our temptation is to reduce ourselves to one or two monochromatic tones) will take turns and read the Declaration of Independence. Those fifty people will also participate in a conversation during the fall, about how this rather extraordinary regional theater can continue to unfold and discover its mission and work in such an extraordinarily complex time we live in.

I will be one of those 50 people.

I wept when I got the invitation and they were tears very much like the ones I shed on the day I became a citizen of this country. I had rocked along in the USA for 15 years, first here on a student visa, and then, after marrying Sherod, as a permanent resident. One day in late 1992, when I was complaining about some political issue or another, Sherod stopped me and said, “Look: until you become a citizen and start voting, I don’t want to hear any more belly aching from you.” GULP!!!!

I began the process with enormous trepidation. There’s the fear, perhaps irrational, that you will be turned down. There’s the magical thinking: you can really have it both ways, be a resident in one country and citizen of another, and not have to make any choices. In those days neither Colombia nor the USA permitted dual citizenship so it really was a defining choice I had to make.

The process of naturalization is hard too: the finger printing, the extensive questionnaire that asked me if I had ever participated in an anarchist or communist party elsewhere in the world, if I had HIV/AIDS or had ever been a prostitute because if I said yes to any of that, I was automatically disqualified from becoming a citizen. I listed all the addresses where I’d lived for more than 3 months from the moment I got to this country 15 years earlier (I had a lot to give: Lynchburg, Fairfax, New Orleans, Sewanee, Nashville, Huntsville, Madison, Memphis). I took the civics test—it was oral in those days, administered by a gruff older man at INS in Memphis. The two questions I was asked were about the number branches of in the US government and the names of the two senators of Tennessee: (Jim Sasser and Al Gore).

After several months, I finally got my summons to the naturalization ceremony at the courthouse. That day, 93 of us, representing 87 nationalities, became US citizens. You can change your name during the naturalization service and only one person did, a young Vietnamese man. The new name he chose was, Happy Lucky Weinberger. My very conservative friend, Tom, and my very liberal friends, Mike and Mary, joined Sherod and me, and after the ceremony, we went to the Peabody Hotel to celebrate.

The critical moment in the ceremony comes when you take this oath: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

There were no reservations or a purpose of evasion in the words I said, though my heart crumbled a bit, knowing I was turning my back on Colombia, the country that birthed and nurtured and grew me into early adulthood. It is no easy thing to say that renunciation and oath; I expect the small and deep sorrow of taking such a step will stay with me always.

There have been years when the patriotic festivities of the 4th have been easier, others when I have been clear-eyed about the fact that we are not yet anything near a perfect union. This year, I wondered how in heavens name I would participate because I see us becoming something so frighteningly different from the things that made America the city shining on a hill for one who was an idealistic and determined young woman, when I came all by myself to America.

My observance of the 4th starts tomorrow, when I will participate in a march in Montgomery in support of family reunification for immigrants detained at the border. I don’t take this stand lightly—as a clergy person, I have always been very careful to respect political differences, to find ways to engage those I serve in my church only as beloved children of God. That has included limiting my political engagement to respect the plurality of political beliefs represented in the congregation I serve.

But it is evil, evil pure and simple, to take children from their mothers and fathers and put them in detention camps.  It is evil to do so without  having a careful reunification plan in place. It is pure evil to use little ones as pawns in political games. It is evil in its worst, most insidious, banal, and indifferent manifestation, and I will join my voice with those who say, “this cannot stand.”

Then, on July 3rd, I will carefully, and with a sense of deep honor and gratitude, read my one little part of the Declaration of Independence. I re-read the Declaration just a bit ago, in English and Spanish and it felt like a plea and a prayer, a hope against hope, for what we might return to as a nation. I suspect I will enjoy a delicious meal on the 4th, watch fireworks explode over the Alabama River, be grateful beyond words for my Alabama friends—no, my Alabama family—as we gather for the celebration.

It is because I am proud to be an American that I must acknowledge both the exquisite light and the terrible darkness that defines our country these days.

How it is


I started writing this as my girl lay napping next to me on her bed in BARC in the late morning.  I suspect the meds play a part in making her sleepy, though she said she was too excited to sleep last night, waiting to see me.

I came into Fort Lauderdale yesterday but it’s different these days—we do what’s necessary for her body and those around her to be safe, which means I visit with her at BARC, for a block of time in the morning and another block  this afternoon, not taking her out, especially not keeping her out with me overnight like I used to.  I fly back home tomorrow.

With Maria, there have been so many lessons and each time with her is another. Instead of getting to shed restrictions and do more things with her, for now at least, it’s back to basics. We watched part of a movie on my iPad and we held hands. She asked me to run my fingers through her hair as she fell asleep. Her hand rested on my arm as she slept. For now at least, this much must suffice.

I realized how tightly I’ve bound and put away the grief of those days when she visited us in April.  I let go of that kind of sadness in carefully measured, small bits, because to take it out and look at how much pain was contained in those days is overwhelming. I get to function that way.  But it means I am wrapped up pretty tight.  And when  I see her again,  the only thing that counts is, this is my daughter.  She  breaks open my heart all over again.

The new way is hard. Seeing her at BARC, we can color, watch a Netflix movie, take some short walks. I can watch her nap, as I did this morning. But this afternoon, I sensed that her schedule is really important right now and I have so very little I can give her in its place. So the time was brief and the leave-taking simply devastating for me. I got in the car and drove away; I did what I’ve learned to do: the next thing.  I went to IKEA and got my dad herring and Marabou choclade, and salmon roe spread. And then came back to my friends’ house.

They have a dog named Duke, a dog I wrote about years ago, who still remembers me from when we used to live in SoFla, who loves me enough to bring out his blankie and go round and round me enough to wrap it around my ankles when I come in.  After a while, he and I went out and played fetch, his happy self bounding back to me each time he caught the ball, just happy to have caught it, so extraordinarily willing to be with me, not with artifice or pretense or expectation, just pure playfulness. He was my comfort.

My daughter. Oh my daughter.


Straddling the urban and the rural


Recently, I had a lovely conversation with a friend about what it means to have a life that straddles what goes with an urban existence and what is woven into life in the country.  Sherod and I certainly live in the country and as I walk these days, my friends the cows, always gather to stare at me, sometimes to follow along with me, surely because they hope they’ll get some food from me.

So today, I am at Ascension after the services are all over, preparing to give a class called Safeguarding God’s Children which aims to prevent child sexual abuse in our churches.  I am setting up my fancy equipment in a lovely church in the heart of Montgomery, when I get a text from a parishioner who has a cattle farm not far from where I live in Lowndes County.  I have transcribed it below with permission.  This is what it looks like to live in my particular “both/and” life, a life so much more fun and so much funnier than seems permissible. Sometime soon, I suspect we’ll have us a good cookout at Church of the Ascension. And God bless the bull.

“Hey Rosa. Frank wanted you to know he is bringing a lot of hamburger meat to church tomorrow. He has coordinated with Will and Octavio so all will be well. A huge bull had to go. Hattie Boo”

A Lowndesboro kind of Sabbath time


This Sunday’s Scripture lessons in the Revised Common Lectionary are about observing the Sabbath. I preach on Sunday so I have been reading about the different preparations, the prayers, the ways in which our Jewish brothers and sisters observe the Sabbath, though today is technically, kinda, sorta a day off.  Just that little bit of looking in on the holiness of Shabbat brings quiet with it.

I took my dad to his physical therapy appointment in Prattville today, and drank coffee at Panera’s and worked on my sermon.  Then I came home and picked back up on the cross stitch project I’m working on.  It had been a while since I’d done this kind of work. In the heat of an Alabama summer (98 today, with heat index) that feels like it started too soon, the slow, careful work of sewing fits just right. When it had cooled down in the late afternoon, I set out for one of my walks, listening to Benedict Cumberbatch read Carlo Rovelli’s new book, The Order of Time.  Four miles and 1 ½ hours later, I walked back into the house just as the sun was setting, the beginning of the Sabbath.

A trug of vegetables, onions, new Yukon Gold potatoes, and fruits, including our first peaches, were sitting on my kitchen counter—Sherod’s harvest for the day. Some of the bounty is roasting in the oven, some will get blanched and put up, some I look forward to eating raw and juicy and delicious.  This is actually just a little bit of Lowndesboro kind of Sabbath time. May peace enfold us all this night.