A small parable of joy

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About 10 days ago, a little feral kitten took up residence in our pole barn. S/He’d come staggering into our property earlier in the morning and when I figured out s/he had found a hidey-hole in the barn, I put out some food and water. The kitten was so skittish that there wasn’t any way to get close, though it became clear almost immediately that the food was getting consumed and the kitten was staying put. I was fearful for what our two cats, Gilbert and Sunny, might do in response to this interloper of their homestead, when it became clear that lil’bit was going to stay around for the food.

Yesterday, when I put dinner out in the little dish in the barn, Gilbert, our boy cat (who is all boy, and can play pretty rough) came bounding up and tried to start eating the food until I shooed him away. I went on with some other things I was doing in the yard until I happened to look back in the direction of the place in the barn where I most often catch a glimpse of the little kitty.  Gilbert sprawled out on the cool dirt in the barn as the kitten approached him. I knew better than to try to run, scoop up the kitten and I knew with dread that I was about to watch a massacre take place. What I wondered was how quickly Gilbert would kill the kitten.

Huh.

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Gilbert and Lil’Bit Playing “Whoobass”

That’s not what happened. I had caught them playing what we call “whoobass”  in my family. Gilbert was as sweet and gentle as I’ve ever seen him be. That small fluffy baby cat was deliciously playful and only stopped teasing with Gilbert long enough to look at me with mild curiosity, not fear. Today I started back to work after a glorious week-long stay-cation, and before I left, I took some more food out to our new baby. The two were back playing with each other.

What is the kingdom of God like? The kingdom of God is like Prince Gilbert of the homestead who had good reason to protect his territory and drive out the stranger, and who instead welcomed one who is vulnerable and scared and alone and said, “you are my friend.”

Thirty, unvarnished

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The two of in 1989

Thirty years ago today, Sherod and I got married.  When I think that out loud, I feel the knot gathering in my throat, feel the sting in my eyes.  I’m a little surprised, though not really.  By this time in a marriage, when you look back, or at least when I look back, there are equal parts joy and devastation, heart break and exulation and quiet amazement for what has been endured, found, accomplished.

It’s like this: just a few days ago, I stumbled out of bed one morning and headed into the kitchen to make my coffee. There’s an unspoken understanding between us that if one of us gets inspired with the cooking and uses lots of pots, pans and stuff to prepare a meal, that person will clean up after him or herself.  I looked around the kitchen and nothing had been washed or put up. There was stuff all over the counters and 2 cast iron skillets that had been used for some fairly serious frying and were still on the stove.  

My first thought was, “if I had done this, he’d have been mad as all get out.” My second one was, “I’ll be d^%$#d if I am going to clean up this mess.”  I stopped in my tracks. Heard myself—the sharpness of tone in that interior voice that goes on the offensive/defensive so quickly.  The impatience.  The unwillingness to see him and me as “us”. Shame drenched me. Sherod was still asleep in our room and as quietly as I could, I went to work on the kitchen. I was just hanging the last clean skillet when he came in to get his first cup of coffee. I must have reread the thank you text Sherod sent me later that morning at least ten times in the days that followed.  So little. So much.

One thing thirty years together has done is disprove the optimistic assurances I gave myself that by Sherod’s side, I’d be able to be the bewitching, well-nigh perfect person he thought I was when we fell in wild love. When you’ve been together this long, everything is so close-up and personal—from his penchant for having a radio or TV on 24-7 to the way I forget to tighten lids and caps, causing unnecessary spills and mishaps.  There’s very little we have not seen and heard about each other by now; we are at our most unvarnished selves in marriage and sometimes I wonder how either of us can stand it. And yet we have.  

Last night, we sat together late into the night, he on the leather couch that’s too deep for my legs to reach the floor, me in the recliner that held him after each of his hip replacement surgeries.  Sherod watched a BBC program about the ocean, I worked on a cross-stitch project I started and then put down a couple of years ago.  If you looked at us from one angle, we were the personification of the couple in Simon and Garfunkle’s Dangling Conversation. If you looked at us from another, we have been fulfilling and continue to fulfill, however imperfectly, the prayer that was said over us on the day of our wedding:

Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life. Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.  Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.

Sometimes the paradox of marriage is so painful, I know I am not the only person who has asked herself if she should have get the heck out of Dodge, who has drawn a rough sketch in her mind of what that might look like and thought, “I actually think I could make that work and anything would be better than this.”  In a deep conversation that caught us both by surprise earlier this weekend, I realized something else, though.  In those times, I have not acted on that urgent desire to run, not because I couldn’t build another life for myself, but because even if there was nothing else left at that moment between us, there was still a promise I had made to this man. Keeping my promise was the one way I could show him and myself that love has not stopped growing between us.

I am 58 years old and Sherod is 72.  The probability of us getting to mark another decade together is quite low and it is that knowledge that brings the sting of tears to my eyes and the sense that if I allowed myself to start crying, I would have a hard time stopping. The unvarnished truth of marriage is complicated. 

And. And.  It has been  grand beyond grand. Today we will clean windows, tend to dogs, cats, a sick chicken girl who may not make it through the day, a stray feral kitten, vegetables, roses and dahlias.  We’ll drive over to Selma early enough in the afternoon to be able to pick up some medicines from the vet for my dad’s dogs and then for an early dinner at the Tally Ho. We will get to stay married for another day.

With all  that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Worth reading

 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Patriotism in chiaroscuro

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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

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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

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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

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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.