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.

The body doesn’t lie

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It wasn’t much in the beginning but it nagged. Twinges I ignored while I walked and prepared my homily for one of three funerals. It was there as I served during our Sunday services, then a little more insistent on Monday; by Tuesday, during the funeral, I had to focus on my breathing to carry me through throbbing, seeing stars, kind of pain.

On Wednesday, I finally made it to the dentist who took one look at the x-ray of my mouth and said, “I’m sending you to an endodontist. Here are some pain meds and antibiotics—he’ll see you tomorrow for a root canal.” Another office, another gentle person and Southern gentleman who took a different kind of x-ray and said, “you have too much infection—I need you to go home and stay on antibiotics for a week before I can do the root canal. But with the antibiotics, you will turn a corner and the pain will diminish by Saturday.”

Saturday came and went with no relief. It was my turn to do the early service on Sunday and I got through that but the antibiotics were already playing havoc with my stomach and I headed back home early, in double misery now. Monday, the same. Tuesday, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. I rescheduled my appointment with the endodontist for Wednesday instead of Thursday and got in to see him mid morning. Another x-ray and this time, really bad news. My infection had not responded to the massive amoxicillin I’d been taking and it looked to him like the root was fractured. The verdict: “I’m sending you back to your dentist because he will be able to get you into see an oral surgeon for an extraction. It needs to happen today.” Schlepp back to another office with more reasonable music, wait, tell, wait some more. Get an appointment, but not for that day; “Dr. P will see you tomorrow (Thursday).

Go in on Thursday, wait a long time and finally get to see Dr. P who is part of a swank, highly efficient oral surgery center. A quick conversation about going ahead and getting an implant—”it’s only going to take a few extra minutes, I’ll have you out of here in 45 minutes.” All the while my tingly pain runs up and down my face and neck—ok, I’ll do it—and then he asks, “you haven’t had anything to eat or drink for the last six hours, right?” Uh. No. Nobody told me I shouldn’t. Outta luck then—they only do extractions and implants under sedation in this office. Get through another night of pain and come back tomorrow morning.

So finally, finally, yesterday, I got the relief. It is nice not feeling the shots in your mouth—I’ll take the little bee sting of the IV needle going in to deliver the sedation any day. It all happens a lot faster that way too. But after having gone for so long with that infection, when I woke up, I had worse pain than I ever remember experiencing. I quite literally wailed as my sweet husband rushed me to the drugstore to get the pain medicines I needed—I even scared myself. The pain subsided. I slept a lot yesterday. Today, I’ve only needed over-the-counter pain killers, spaced further apart; life and energy are coming back. And with all that the sober reminder—it’s way easier for me to take care of everyone else than myself. But the body tells it like it is, the body isn’t fooled by that lie that “I’ll be fine, I just have to get through this funeral.”

I walked out this afternoon and marveled at the calla lilies that are blooming in my front yard.

Facebook, privacy, utility

I have loved being off Facebook for a number of reasons.  So much gets amplified to the point of distortion there.  I have to manage my private/public boundaries carefully as a priest which means I was always on tenterhooks about having things misconstrued. Facebook too easily makes me reactive,  too easily offends me. There has been great gift getting to avoid all that noise.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a former member of the FCC who described Facebook as a ‘social utility’—a new kind of utility, in many ways like water and electricity. He pointed out that utility companies are viewed as important enough to the life and function of individuals and communities that they are quite regulated in order to make them available to the most people with the greatest ease possible. Utility companies are not known for being bright stars of capitalism with huge growth and profit potential, and instead, as solid performers of some pretty vital functions of communal life.  Part of the dilemma related to privacy on Facebook derives from the fact that the business model for Facebook is as opposite of a utility model as is possible.  Too much of their model depends on transgressing privacy needs for the sake of stellar profits.

When I first heard Facebook described as a utility, it helped me understand the issue with the business model and why I had such a visceral reaction against the cavalier way in which my privacy was used for financial gain.  Now, having lived without Facebook for over a month, I understand it is a utility in a deeper sense.  It is a really important means of communication and connection with the community I serve, the people who are far away, who are busy and who matter to me, people who I lose without Facebook

Admittedly with considerable reservations, with a new determination to set up the tightest privacy constraints possible, with the awareness that there are no free lunches, I am headed back to that space.  Along with the anger and trepidation I feel about this particular tradeoff, I am also aware that connection matters to me, enough to say, I’m going back on Facebook and there will be folks I’ll be glad to catch up with because I have missed them all these weeks.

Four

Four—that’s the number of miles I am walking three or four times a week now.  It’s like reclaiming a better version of myself, renewing a connection with the land that’s different than what I experience working in the garden. Sleep comes easier and deeper at night, my mind gets clear, and on hard weeks like the one that’s just ending, I am able to sort through between what matters and what doesn’t.

Today, for part of the way, I dwelt with the words and thoughts that are beginning to take shape as I prepare the homily for one of the three members of our parish who died in a 48 hour span.  I had my phone with me and decent reception so I used YouTube to get to some music I haven’t heard in a while—on the way back on these treks on Old Selma Road, I have to walk up a moderately steep hill and I find the music gives me a rhythm that overcomes all that complaining and resistance my body wants to unleash, about half-way up the hill: “it hurts too much, it’s too hard hard, it’s too long, I’m so hot, why am I doing this?”

After the first couple of times I took these walks, I gathered up a walking stick and some pepper spray. Around the curve from the farm, heading east, there’s a Rottweiler who came flying toward me, teeth bared and spittle flying. Scared the sweet bejesus out of me. Recently, though, I happened to hear his human friend call him Rocky. Now as he comes bounding in my direction, I stop and calmly say, “Hi, there Rocky—look at you being such a good dog and taking care of your homestead.”  Mostly, that catches him by surprise and you see that pea brain of his trying to process these strange data.  “She knows my name and she is a stranger and I am totally confused.” Sometimes he just flops down, sometimes he stays on the property and walks along, with me across the street and he growling, but not messing with me.  I am always cautious and I’d use the pepper spray and walking stick if I had to, but I believe we have some kind of truce going.

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There’s a little creek that runs alongside the road a little further down, and thick woods on either side.  When I first started started walking down the road, I wore jackets and sometimes even gloves, and the wind could blow something fierce. One day, it was so windy, I heard trees literally clacking against each other as they bowed and bent in the wind.  There was only the palest green sheen as you looked at the woods down the road, tiny new leaves little more than a glowing promise.

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Now, the shade is dense, the heat and humidity are rolling in, and in the past two weeks, when I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been able to pick juicy, ripe, wild blackberries to slake my thirst. A bank of wild roses is in full bloom and I’ve watched nettles, poppies, crimson clover, and these incredible little purple flowers bloom and fade. The black-eyed Susans are also beginning to bloom.

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I walk next to a couple of pastures that have a fair number of cattle.  I am deliciously amused by the way in which the cows stop what they are doing and turn to watch me as I approach. I always greet them which, in turn, makes them think I might have some food with me (or at least that’s what I think is going on), because darned if they don’t all start walking along with me, they and I on either side of the fence, until they reach the end of the pasture; they then watch me and moo as I continue my trek. I’ve seen deer, raccoons, a small bunny who was beyond terrified by me, hawks, an owl and a small turtle crawling across the road.

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Walking in the promised land is what this feels like…