Friday, October 15, 2010
In the face of recent suicides, it is more important than ever that the voices of church leaders be heard to counter those who would use the Bible as a weapon against young fragile people. And it is important for secular leaders to speak up as well,
So I give thanks to Bishop Gene Robinson, to the bishops of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and to the Rev. Susan Russell, just a few of those in The Episcopal Church who have spoken out. And I give thanks for City Councilman Joel Burns, an old friend, who made himself emotionally and politically vulnerable in order to reach out to suffering young people.
Tyler Clementi, 18-year-old Rutgers University student
Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, Texas
Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, California
Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana
Raymond Chase, 19, of Providence, Rhode Island
Caleb Nolt, 14, of Ft. Wayne, Indiana
Justin Aaberg, 15, of Anoka, Minnesota.
And watch the videos below. I believe this is what God calls all of us to do.
Bishop Gene Robinson
The Rev. Susan Russell
The Bishops of Los Angeles
City Councilman Joel Burns
Monday, October 11, 2010
It is at this link.
Go. Read. Pray.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Mom loved riding in the car. She talked with me more, engaged with me more, when we were in the car together. I think this was a legacy of the necessarily long car drives she and my dad made on a regular basis out in West Texas. Iraan, the tiny town in which we lived, was -- as everyone joked -- 300 miles from EVERYWHERE.
Highway near Iraan
On our drives, Mom would comment on the clouds -- Texas has fantastic cloudscapes -- or on the flowers in someone's yard. She loved hearing about my garden, so every Saturday, I would walk the garden making mental notes of things to tell her about at our Sunday lunch. She especially loved hearing about the plants that I had moved from her garden. If she were still here, tomorrow I'd be telling her about the pink plumeria that finally bloomed after three years and showing her the photos I took with my phone.
It took nearly a two-day drive just to get out of the state of Texas. So my busy parents found this time in the car as precious space in which they could talk, undisturbed except by the necessity to admonish the four of us squirreling around in the back seat to quiet down or -- ultimate threat -- "I will have to stop this car!"
The only thing she loved hearing about more than the garden was news about Daniella, or about her great-grandsons, Curran and Gavin. As she did with all her great-grandchildren, she thought they were perfect and among the most intelligent beings on the planet.
On our drives she would talk to me about things she had read, or been thinking about. These were precious times to me, because as she got more frail, she got quieter, less inclined than ever to join into the boisterous conversation that characterizes our family gatherings. She was never one to talk a lot, so when she did, we all listened, because it was always a pithy, cogent observation. She didn't miss a thing.
It was on these car drives that she began to talk to me about how ready she was to die. Not that she didn't love us, but she was just tired -- and lonely. She missed my dad so much.
She told me she had had long conversations with God on the subject of her death. She told God how ready she was, how she was sure we would be OK if she left us for awhile.
I would listen and assure her that, yes, we would be OK, that she knew we would miss her terribly but we would be OK.
It's not OK.
Mom, I saw this butterfly in the garden the other day.
That's how I feel. I'm missing part of one wing.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Preached at All Saint’s Church, Wichita Falls
Pentecost 15, 2010
I don’t know about you, but I am so glad the weather has moderated. Mercy, you wake up on a morning like this one, and you think, “How lovely it would be today to join a throng of worshipers in a great nave, God’s lovely light streaming through jeweled windows, a great choir’s supernal anthems echoing in the vault, all that. Well, it’s just gonna be us, of course, in this little room with no windows at all, so we won’t fantasize. But at least, you say, let’s hope there’s something wonderful from the Bible for us to ponder. Yeah? And then you get Jesus telling us to hate Mama and Daddy and Bubba and Missy and the missus and the kids and even ourselves. Lord. Where’s the sweet gospel in that? But you can at least be thankful you’re not the preacher! I think I’ve told you that I go every week to a little gathering I call the Monday Morning Quarterback Club where a handful of clergy sit down and talk about the lessons we’ve got to preach on the next Sunday, and I’ve become a bit of a bore because I always insist on finding what I call the sweet gospel—and that’s not some saccharine something to cross-stitch on a cup towel. I just think that since God is sweet, the gospel must by nature be sweet, else it’s somehow skewed gospel. And I think there’s sweet gospel here, but it’s gonna take some work. So sit up. We gonna play godball.
Now that gospel. Jesus kicks it right off telling us that unless we hate our parents, our mates and our get, our siblings, and even ourselves, we can’t be his disciples. Gotta tote that cross. Then a couple of tiny parables about people who weren’t up to this or that job. Great way to start the day! Well, right off the bat that word hate just rings false in the mouth of the man whose every other word was love, whose two Big Orders were both to love, to love God and love each other. Something must be wrong here. Hate? When I was in the kid raising business, we raised ours not to use the word. When they’d say, “I just hate so-and-so,” we’d come back with, “Hate is a very strong word. Say, it displeases me a lot or I wish it were another way or something else. Hate is a strong word.” And they listened. Either that or they didn’t say it in front of us. In any case, hate in Jesus’ mouth stops me cold in my tracks, as do all the instances in the gospels when Jesus is credited with saying something so inimical to the voice of the Good Shepherd I’ve learned to listen for. And there are a good many.
I think figuring it out is at least part guess, so I look for a clue. Look at the scene Jesus chooses to make the point: the family. Where else are things any more intense? Where else do loyalties get across each other harder and faster and longer and fiercer? Families are where everything we say we believe and believe in eventually gets put to the test. Jesus, let me hazard, instead of telling us to hate each other—transmission—is saying that our promise to love God and each other will at times even bring us into sharp conflict with our families, our dearest and best. Yet we must always choose God’s love first among all the options—and that prioritizing doesn’t have to be ugly, just absolute. God before anybody, before Mama or Daddy or Bubba or Missy—or even (gasp) me. “His own life.” I think when Jesus says that, he means the day will come when every one of us will have to go down into that little room inside us where nobody else can go and have a meeting with himself and say, “It’s not me first. It’s God first, and then somebody else, and me last. Dang it.” And I think that’s more than just being meek and mild. I think it reflects the nature of God’s love. God’s love wants to be loved back—but only after it has been shared by its objects. That is, God’s love radiates from itself to me and from me to another and then back to God. If I am right with God, then I let that love flow through me to somebody else and then back to God—and maybe even wash a little back up on me from my neighbor. Isn’t that the way love works? I mean, I can love a Rachmaninoff symphony and sit by myself and love it; but give me a choice between spending the evening with Rachmaninoff and with somebody I love and who loves me, and there’s no contest. Love, especially God’s love, requires sharing among God and you and me. Me last. And it always has to be that way; otherwise we ain’t right with God, we cannot be Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus says we must bear the cross. Which cross? I know for sure that the heaviest cross I have to bear is me, myself, and I; and that cross forms every time my will goes against God’s will—which it does every now and then. If you’re anything like me, and I think you are, you know what I mean. I mean, none of us has had to suffer much for the gospel, not in any material way anyhow. There are places in the world where confessing faith in Jesus will get you shot. If I lived there, I think maybe I could justify keeping my mouth shut—unless, of course, I saw somebody else being mauled. Who said it about the Nazis? Niemöller, I think. “First they came for the Jews, but since I wasn’t a Jew I said nothing. Then they came for the communists and the socialists and the homosexuals, and I said nothing. Then they came for me, and there was nobody left to help me.” I hope I’d have the guts to speak up. Can’t say, haven’t been whipped into it. But since we don’t get tested that way, by rule, can circumstances require us to suffer by putting ourselves last? I know personally of a woman who starved herself during the Depression so her children could eat. Would I do that? I hope so. Or less dramatically, will I give up something I want to buy a mosquito net for somebody I’ll never see? Whatever’s the case, I don’t think Jesus meant for us to hate anybody but rather that we must let nobody and no thing come between us and God’s love.
Does that leave you a little dissasfied? Well, me too, so let’s move on to Philemon and see if we can improve the situation. Philemon’s a surprising little book. Not a word of doctrine or theology or teaching, no argument, no threat . . . well, maybe a very subtle threat, an implied urgency. Paul, an old man and way experienced, is in jail, and he writes to his friend Philemon. “Guess what? Remember that slave—that slave—you used to own—own. Well, they picked him up here, and he’s been in jail with me. And guess what? He’s been baptized and is our Christian brother now. Your Christian brother.”
In this story, we see a man, Philemon, who has to confront himself and make a decision in Christ. He had the legal right to own Onesimus. Challenged, he would have defended that right with everything his upbringing—his family—and his circumstances—his culture—taught him, told him was meet, right, and so to do. He had to deal with his anger, his sense of outrage at the slave’s escape, cheating him of what was rightfully his. He owned Onesimus, dadgummit! And the ungrateful little creep ran off, no doubt leaving Philemon in various kinds of fixes. Philemon likely had hoped the cops would snag him and string him up, the sorry wretch! And now this. Paul asks him to shoulder the cross of his own wrongheadedness and wrongheartedness and tote it up the hill and nail himself to it. For Christ. For the sake of his baptism. For the salvation of his immortal soul. I can’t help thinking that Paul’s letter rattled him to the core. I wish I knew how it all turned out!
I don’t think Jesus wants us to hate. I don’t think hate is part of the nature of God, so that just about rules it out for Jesus in my book. When Jesus was . . . vexed . . . he spoke, acted pretty abruptly. Ask the moneychangers. But hate? I can’t imagine it. Nor can I imagine Jesus asking you or me to hate. I can, however, sure hear him saying, “It’s all or nothing at all, friend. Make up your mind. I’ll be right here when you do.” Sweet gospel? Yeah, I think so. Hard but sweet. He just leaves it up to us: either we put God first all the time, even when it hurts like the dickens, or we do not. So, which is it gonna be? For me, I’m the only who can answer that, and I don’t always get it right. When I know I’ve gotten in wrong, I have promised dozens of times to “repent and return to the Lord.” And when I do, he’s always right there. I can’t find any hate in that. Just sweet Jesus and sweet gospel.
Monday, August 30, 2010
That I have edited and contributed to a cookbook will amaze and astonish some people, particularly my family and friends. Certainly anyone who knows me can tell you I am a much better story teller than I am a cook! My husband is the one who earns stars in that category. Luckily, Judy Alter -- who is a fabulous and fearless cook -- agreed to be the food editor, because I have no business editing recipes.
All the contributors to the original G&G had more stories to tell about fabulous Fort Worth women, so we had been tossing about a lot of ideas about how to do that. And we did this tossing of ideas mostly over food, because we are a group who likes to eat.
Judy is the one who came up with the idea for a cookbook. I admit I was a bit dubious at first, but I have enough faith in Judy's judgment that I was willing to try it. And soon it became clear that working on a cookbook gave us a fun way to look at the more intimate homey parts of women's lives.
A couple of contributors who worked on the first G&G couldn't work on this book, so we had the added pleasure of having Brenda Sanders-Wise and Joy Donovan join our ranks. It has been fun to get to know both of them better.
And guess what? Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook is listed as one of 8 Hot New Releases in the West Regional Cookbooks by Amazon.com. It's also available from PBS store online under the same category. Of course, the Library of Congress will have it, and the Austin Public Library has ordered it. Some book dealers have it under cookbook and biography.
Here's what the TCU Press said about it:
TCU Press publishes Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook
TCU Press announces the release of Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook, the follow-up book to Grace and Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women. The book’s fourteen talented and engaging authors have once again mined the personal papers of women in Fort Worth to create a fresh look at life in Cowtown, says Rebecca Sharpless of Texas Christian University. Readers will gain glimpses of pantries, kitchens, and dining rooms of the past and learn about the women who presided over them.
Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook combines the history of Fort Worth and the city’s brilliant, innovative women with their recipes. For some of the women cooking was a joy, for others it was just one more chore to complete so they could get on to more interesting things, which means that some of the women didn’t leave cooking trails. The contributors have been inventive in finding “related” recipes—some of them wonderful, some so complex you may not want to try. Some attempt was made to standardize the recipes but it was not possible in all cases—they would have lost their charm, says editor and one of the authors Katie Sherrod.
In Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook, we learn a great deal about what the people of Fort Worth have eaten over the past century and a half, and so we discern much about what the people have been about. The cookbook takes a new approach to American culinary studies, recording the lives of Fort Worth Women as well as discussing the food that they prepared and ate. Sharpless says, in her forward to the book, that while many American women, particularly Anglos, remained within their homes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Grace and Gumption tells us about women who set aside those boundaries and spent their energies in works charitable and for profit. These women taught about food, and they cooked to create businesses of their very own, some of which, like Pulido's Restaurant and Mrs. Baird's Bread, endure.
Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook is a book to cook from and to read for pleasure, although there are some recipes that Sherrod recommends readers not try at home. This book provides a window into the lives of Fort Worth women that will engage readers and explore an even more intimate aspect of the lives of these outstanding women.
The contents include:
“Cooking on the Frontier,” by Joyce M. Williams
“Cooking at Our Lady of Victory,” by Brenda Taylor Matthews
“The Modern Woman,” by Ruth Karbach
“Ranch Women, Cowgirls, and Wildcatters,” by Judy Alter
“Pig in a Pit, Stagecoach Kisses and Eating Heaven: Food and Philanthropy in Fort Worth,” by Ruth McAdams
“Serving the Children,” by Sherrie S. McLeRoy
“Cooking in the Barrio,” by Sandra Guerra-Cline
“Let My People Eat,” by Hollace Ava Weiner
“Colorful Palettes Make Colorful Palates,” by Joy Donovan
“Stirred In with Lots of Love, a Little Drama, and Duncan Hines™” by Jan Jones
“Regal Women in the Garden of Eden,” by Brenda Sanders-Wise
“Braving the Smoke—in the Back Room and in the Kitchen,” by Cindy C. Smolovik
“Cooking for a Living—Lucille Bishop Smith,” by Carol Roark
“Balancing Facts and Food in the Newsroom,” by Katie Sherrod
And here's what a reviewer for the local magazine 360 West said:
Book for Cooks
TCU Press had a nice little hit a couple of years ago with its book Grace & Gumption, Stories of Fort Worth Women. Here's a smart idea for a follow-up, Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook. Editor Katie Sherrod and food editor Judy Alter have compiled essays from 14 local authors about women and food cultures throughout Fort Worth history. The story goes way back: You'll read about pioneers making coffee out of acorns when Cowtown was still more fort than city, and the first recipe here is for squirrel, dipped in buttermilk and cornmeal, then fried -- not every recipe is destined for your kitchen.
Indeed, the book is as much academic-style history as recipe book, although most recipes are appealing. There are excellent ones from contemporary cooks like Jon Bonnell (whose mother and grandmother, philanthropist Mary D. Walsh, were prominent local women with grace and gumption), but the older stuff is arguably more fun, and no slice of life was forgotten, from Thistle Hill to the barrio: There are recipes here for schmaltz and matso balls from Jewish women's Passover tables, tortilla soup from the Lancarte family of Joe T. Garcia's fame, as well as Edna Gladney's own "reducing mixture," a diet drink that combines grapefruit and lemon juices, cream of Tartar and several spoonfuls of Epsom salts ("do not try this at home," we're told). But you'll see why Gladney needed that if you make her family's recipes for Uncooked Fudge or German Hot Potato Salad. Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook will be released in late May: paperback, $19.95; http://www.prs.tcu.edu/ -- Marilyn Bailey.
And here's a note from Ruth Karbach, one of the contributors:
"Just for fun, I looked up the original Grace & Gumption on WorldCat and am thrilled to see it at Harvard University (two libraries there), the Bibliotheque de l'Universite Loval in Quebec and The British Library in London. We can celebrate that Grace&Gumption is in 109 libraries in New England, the Mid-West, the South, the Southwest and the West. "
So enjoy the reading and the eating -- we certainly have.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
But Dalton is not the type of guy who would hide, anyway. Not when there are basketball games to watch and road trips to take. Not when there are kids who need some help, or a dog that needs a simple drink of water.
To put it simply, the 6-foot-3 senior quarterback is a TCU everyman.
He counseled two young boys with red hair who were getting teased at school because only a star quarterback could convince them that red hair is, you know, cool. He still gets ribbed for a story that keeps growing in legend, when he helped a dog drink some water after it passed out on a run with its owner.
I am NOT amused by such juvenile water play.
Although it's been so hot even the squirrels aren't moving much.
The only things that moved at all in the garden -- besides my Chief of Staff -- are the butterflies, the dragonflies and the lizards.
My Chief of Staff really likes these big blue, gold, and black butterflies.
This little green guy hangs out on the pot of pentas near the front gate. He's a quick little thing. I've tried to play with him several times, but zip! Off he goes. Spoilsport.
Then, as soon as she opens the door and stands there waiting for me, I, of course, being a cat, take my own sweet time about walking through the door. This always seems to irritate her, for some reason.
Sometimes she says rude things to me, like "Simon, get your catly butt into this house right this minute!" Really!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Their conservatism made them slow to change, but their pragmatism made them willing to change. Their faith and innate kindness made them compassionate and merciful even to people with whom they had deep disagreements or about whom they had doubts.
After all, when your closest neighbor is 60 miles away on the next ranch it makes no sense to be prissy about their politics, religion or choice of partners. They may be the only folks around when you need help.
But in recent years far too many Texans have been lured into the narrow-minded, xenophobic mean-spirited conservatism being peddled by the Republican Party. And among other bad side effects is a serious outbreak of sheer dumbness combined with breathtaking arrogance and total contempt for the voters.
The most recent case is that of Texas State Rep. Joe Driver of Garland, a Republican who has been in office for 18 years.
Let me introduce you to Driver. Here's what he says on his web site under "Protecting Your Money":
"Do you believe that government must tighten its belt just like we do at home? Joe Driver does. In 2010, taxpayers are in revolt against the big spending habits of the liberals in government. Joe Driver favors capping state government spending, cutting taxes and reducing government intrusion into our lives. The more money of ours they take and spend the more difficult they make it for us to solve our own problems. For our economy to recover, we need less government spending and less government, period."
Under "Defending the Constitution" it says:
"Texas thrives because legislators like Joe Driver protect our economy, our rights and our pocketbooks. In the midst of this recession, Texans know that Joe Driver is defending our jobs, our savings and our freedom."Under "On The Issues:"
"End reckless spending: Yes
Stop illegal immigration: Yes
Higher Taxes: No
More government regulation: No
2nd Amendment: Yes
Government controlled healthcare: No
Greater local control: Yes
Tough on crime: Yes
Helping small business: Yes
Government corruption: No
Restore our American values: Yes "
Sounds pretty good, don't you think? Well, it's all a lie.
Thanks to the Associated Press, we now know Driver, that ardent protector of our pocketbooks, has been double-billing his campaign and the State of Texas for expenses he incurred as a state rep. You can read the story here.
"For years," Jay Root of the AP wrote, "he has been submitting the same receipts -- for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and other incidentals -- to both his campaign and to the Texas House. He has also been collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign has shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000."
AP was able to document $17,431.55 in taxpayer money that Driver has pocketed. Driver's defense? Essentially it is, "I'm dumber than a box of rocks."
Driver, who is a former chairman of the House Law Enforcement Committee, claims not to have known that this practice is wrong. This elected official, who is on the powerful House Appropriation Committee that oversees the spending of state money, told the AP he thought "it was OK to bill two entities for the same expenses. He said he routinely pays hotels and airlines with donated political funds and then submits the same expenses to the state, taking the taxpayer money for himself.
"Now you're scaring the heck out of me," Driver told the AP. "It pretty well screws my week."
Awwww. Poor guy. Getting caught stealing from the taxpayers will do that for you.
He also said, 'If I knew it was wrong, I wouldn't have done it that way. I wouldn't have done it just to make money."
Ok. We'll pause here long enough for everyone to pull their jaws off the floor.
Now even though Driver may be ethically and intellectually challenged, he apparently has mastered the trick of bilocation -- being in two places at once.
Among the records Root examined were receipts Driver submitted for a trip to Memphis during the closing days of the 2009 legislative session.
Root write, "On that trip, House journals show Driver present and voting in Austin on April 30 at least two dozen times -- even though the travel records indicate he was traveling to Memphis during the proceedings."
The next day, Tryon Lewis, a Republican from Odessa, moved that Driver be excused to tend to "important business in the district." Not sure when Memphis, Tennessee, got moved into Texas State District 113.
So Driver steals and Lewis lies to cover up for him. Nice.
On his web site, Driver writes, "taxpayers are in revolt against the big spending habits of liberals in government."
If liberals do spend too much money, at least they do so openly and transparently in appropriation bills. Conservatives such as Driver just steal the money and blame the liberals.
Driver also says, "The more money of ours they take and spend the more difficult they make it for us to solve our own problems."
Driver is being opposed by Democrat Jamie Dorris in November.
Let's hope the voters in Garland are not as stupid as Joe Driver.
Texas deserves better.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Wichita Falls, Texas
The Rev. Bruce Coggin
August 1, 2010
Lordy, look at those lessons today!
Have we ever got a bunch of Bible to gnaw on for the next little while. The lesson from Ecclesiasticus—the author is either the Preacher or the Teacher or Qoheleth, depending on how you translate or don’t translate, which means we really don’t know who wrote it—is a favorite of nihilists and pessimists and was sure enough a favorite of mine when I was a card-carrying existentialist on the campus in Austin about a half a century ago. The passage from Luke’s gospel reports Jesus laying it hard on our backs for being greedy—or so it’s usually preached, though I think it runs just a whole lot deeper than that. And in Colossians we are in the realm of high Christology, the writer trying to get people’s eyes off the temporal and on the eternal and throwing in some behavior pointers as lagniappe. For what it’s worth, the Psalm could be hooked up to any or all of them, as could today’s Collect—but then we get off into liturgics and all that, and we’ve got enough to deal with without too many sideshows. So let’s get down to it.
The theme the writer of Ecclesiastes harps on goes way back in the Bible. Poor old Abraham—né Abram—all his threescore and ten used up and no children, or none by his Number One Wife, just one teenage boy that we know of, got on his concubine Hagar and not eligible to inherit the old man’s considerable flocks and tents and other chattel. He complains, “Eleazar of Damascus will be my heir!” That was the conniving foreman, likely a sleazy character, foreigner, lurking and rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the boss’ demise. God, of course, stepped in to prevent that, but nothing so dramatic happened to the Preacher/Teacher/Qoheleth. Life is a dreary business, sez he, lift that barge, tote that bale day and night—and then you die and somebody else comes in and enjoys everything you worked for, some sorry wastrel who did not turn a hand for any of it! How can anybody call that fair? Vanity, all vanity. A straining after wind.
Well, have you ever felt that way? Heavens to Betsy, how many people leave wills—notice that noun, made right off the verb, I will have it my way!—that cut their kids out dramatically or otherwise keep unworthy hands off their dragon hoard? You read about it all the time. Of course, you don’t have to die to know that feeling. Have you ever had a job where you started out with nothing or worse and absolutely gave yourself to it heart and soul, you and the enterprise fused, a blue-white flame of purpose—and then for some reason life takes you elsewhere, and in no time flat the folks where you once rode sky, wide, and handsome act like they never heard of you? I’m fond of saying that I’ve spent most of my life cleaning up other people’s messes, just as fond of whining that when I go back ten years later, nobody knows I’m a hero. If you’ve ever known that experience, well, you tend to sympathize with the . . . let’s just say the Writer. We work hard, most of us, and we are told we must be in control and exercise a kind of black-belt stewardship over whatever falls into our possession. Possession. An illusion in the long run. What’s the joke? “Didja hear? Old man Gotrocks died last night. Lord, the money that old man had! How much do ya reckon he left?” And the answer is, “Y’know, I reckon he left all of it.”
Whatever’s the case, the Writer of Ecclesiastes locates a pain a good many people feel, and the passage we have today brings no relief, just confesses the pain and admits there’s not a thing to do about it. I suppose that explains its popularity with young people discovering life’s Big Injustices for the first time. When I was reading Camus and feeling the weight of the centuries pressing upon me, Ecclesiasticus was the one piece of the Bible my crowd loved to allude to. “See there? Even the Bible says life is meaningless! So get depressed, dang it!” And it is pretty depressing on the surface. When Kitty finished reading and said, “The Word of the Lord,” I half expected you to come back with, “Thanks be to God. Not.”
On to the gospel lesson. Somebody in the crowd makes a fairly reasonable request in a culture where law and religion were fused, very much the way they are today in some Islamic societies. Jesus is a holy man, a wizer, and the man asks him to make a decision about . . . a will! An inheritance. We don’t learn. At once Jesus turns the question aside—I’m not about to make your decisions for you!—and seizes the opportunity to teach about the folly of loving things inordinately. My Greek’s too rusty for me to tell you if greed translates the word Luke used, but we’re talking not about asceticism—the rejection of the world’s thinginess and things—but rather about letting things get between us and God. Jesus tells the sobering parable of the successful man who quite reasonably takes steps to secure his hard-earned wealth. He identifies the problem. He weighs his options. He plans. He executes. He succeeds. Why is he not justified in celebrating all that? Why not eat, drink, and be merry?
Well, why not indeed? Don’t we all behave more or less that way? Or maybe I’d better hedge that bet. Don’t Episcopalians act that way? I mean, we’re a church of Elder Brothers, folks who get things done, who comply with requirements, who answer duty’s call, who manage what comes into our . . . possession. Oh, yes, that again, drat it, but don’t we deserve a little down time, a little R&R, a little party? Isn’t that Jesus’ favorite image of the Kingdom of Heaven? Well, yes, all that’s true. But let’s go back to possession and the Rest of the Story. That night at the banquet, our successful entrepreneur gets a little too far into his cups maybe, stows away a supersized hunk of roast lamb, and keels over in a fit of apoplexy. “Thou fool! This. Very. Night.” I regret that this translation says his life will be demanded of him. The Bible Jesus used in Sunday School says, “This night thy soul will be required of thee.” If it’s only life, the guy can die and be done with it; if it’s soul, then Jesus is talking beyond death and into eternity.
Let me point that difference up a little. Luke uses greed to translate what Jesus warns against, and you can bet your bottom dollar that most of the time you’ll hear this parable trotted out about the time we ask people to sign pledge cards. The parable’s twin elsewhere in the Bible—“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt”—was enshrined exactly where in the Prayer Book for centuries? Why, right before we “took up the offering,” a real trivializing of what the eucharistic offertory is all about. To reduce this parable to a little teaching on being generous to the church ignores its far larger message. This parable does not say, “Be nice and share, especially with the church.” This parable says, “They don’t ask for your bank statement at St. Peter’s Gate, y’know. Things have their place. Keep ‘em right there.” And a lot more beside, but let’s move on.
The writer of Colossians is at great pains to help newly converted Christians understand a mystical perception of considerable sophistication. The letter comes along a couple, three centuries before the church got the doctrine of the Holy Trinity all hammered out, but it deals with the mystery of who Jesus was and how being Jesus’ own means being caught up in the eternal mystery of God’s urge to make himself thingy, to take our flesh and become one of us, to be born of a human mother, to rejoice and suffer as one of us, to die as one of us, an urge that should still make us shake our heads in a mixture of puzzlement and gratitude. The theologians who rassled the problem to the ground as much as it can be, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, never did reach unanimous consent. It is, as is just about everything about God, a mystery to be lived and apprehended, not information to be comprehended. To believe it, you have to see it, and you see it in Jesus first, then in those who are his by baptism. The writer reminds us that our baptism does a lot more than convey church membership. It reveals our eternal destiny which is to be caught up in God’s enjoyment and love of us and all creation and to share his life and his love forever.
In response, Colossians urges Christians—you and me in the lot—to do our best not to be distracted by things that don’t count in the long run and—and this is even more critical, I think—not to be discouraged in what is going to be a troubled life here on earth. The things, the facts, that take our eyes off our union in Christ and with each other—things like nationality, race, gender, religion, social caste—do not count in God’s eyes. God’s purpose is to bring harmony from our disharmony, shape from our chaos, joy from our moroseness, to take us all to his breast where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one unspeakable fire of love, three personalities united in one passion of self-giving and delight. And along the way, the writer hands out some pointers on behavior, but that in a minute.
Now, as quickly as I can. The first two lessons reveal two familiar human experiences which most humans, religious or not, likely know: the love of life in its abundance and the rejection of life in its harshness. The Writer and the cheated heir both must have loved their lives at least in part, else why work, why dig and delve, why waste time and energy getting and holding on to things? The Writer and the cheated heir also rejected their lives because . . . well, it ain’t fair! In the long run, all the things you dig and delve for let you down, turn to dross, leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Vanity. Unfair. Those experiences are likely universal among us.
But let’s add God to the mix. People of faith and wonder also know those experiences, but let’s rename them. Let’s call the first a spirituality of integration, the second a spirituality of alienation. The spirituality of integration moves us to find our place among all the wonders of God’s creation—to love the people we know, to love a song, to love a place, to love just living and breathing and . . . well, to see life as a big dish of macaroni and cheese (not Kraft’s), a glass of buttermilk for me, a glass of chablis grand crû for you. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, sez I, so long as it’s tempered properly; because like everything else, that nectar can clabber. The spirituality of integration can degenerate in a hurry to a religion of smug self-satisfaction, can let us see life as a safe place where we can sin safely, a kind of ethnic religion that corroborates all our prejudices. There’s a good bit of that going around these days if you haven’t noticed. To keep that from happening, we need also to know that second spirituality.
The spirituality of alienation is also all over the Bible, most notably among the great literary prophets who wrote at a time when the Jews had it made, had the clabber of temporal success, a religion that justified everything the eating, drinking, being merry people—especially the ones at the top of the pile, the ones who counted—did. Then and only then did the prophets stand up and utter the great prophetic No! to all of it. No, says Amos, to people who do in widows and orphans. No, says Hosea, to people who keep God in his place. No, says Isaiah, says Jeremiah, to those who think that God’s favor means entitlement and not humility and self-sacrifice. Hard talk and true, and did they ever pay for it! And just like a spirituality of integration, the spirituality of alienation can clabber too. Think of the hippies. Though they might be surprised to hear it, they operated out of a spirituality of alienation, raised in abundance which they found cloying, tasteless, without purpose and value. That doesn’t mean for a minute every hippy was a prophet. Some were just spoiled brats. Nor is every crank who puts on a sandwich board that says THE END IS NEAR! a prophet. Most of the time we’re dealing with someone who rejects the world because it hasn’t turned to him for The Answer. There’s a good bit of that going around today, too.
As you no doubt know by now, I’m making for balance, a sane and holy balance between the love of things and people and life, the spirituality of integration, and the rejection of things and life in the raw, the spirituality of alienation. But I’m not a taoist. The balance I mean, the balance I think today’s Bible lessons point us to, is a balance with a preference, the balance Colossians teaches. Look at Jesus. A party boy. Loved his wine. Loved good company. Loved crowds. Loved kids. Loved like a champ. And at the same time a dadgummed troublemaker. Calls a lie a lie. No tolerance for hypocrisy. Disturbs the peace. Would rather die than fight the fire of hatred with its own weapons—and does. And wins in the end without boasting but rather with gentle compassion, assuring those who trusted him that they were and will be his forever, will enjoy the kingdom prepared for them before the worlds began. Colossians brings all that right down to earth, doesn’t it? When we learn to see the world that way, to pray that way, then instead of treating the thinginess of life as an invitation to get and keep and control, we see the thinginess of life as a gift from God that humbles us and gives us hearts to become our brothers’ keepers. No more greed (which is idolatry), no more putting each other down, but rather compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, patience.
Those are complicated lessons. They teach us things about ourselves that are both wonderfully comforting and utterly terrifying. Our souls, our spirits, our lives enlivened in God’s life, are part of the whole mystery of God. Yes, it’s in this thingy, thingy world that we learn to love. Creation is God’s school of love, and it’s so lovely at times that our weakness, our foolishness, our wickedness lead us to let it all get between us and our destiny. But the upward tug of the Holy Spirit’s hand in ours turns our eyes again and again to Jesus whose example teaches us to love the world without trying to own it, to cleave to him only, to let him clothe us in himself, so that at the day of our death when things are no more, we who are baptized into his death will live with him where truly Christ is and always will be all in all.
Monday, August 02, 2010
So I thought it was time to post photos of the snow we had on Christmas Eve. Snow for Fort Worth is rare, and snow on Christmas is a once-in-a-lifetime event for most Texans.
For my Mom, of course, snow on Christmas was an annual part of her childhood. So she loved seeing this snow, even if it was sparse by the standards of upstate New York where she grew up.
Enjoy these photos of the garden in the snow, think cool thoughts, and pray for a break in the heat.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Once when I was complaining,"Why do we have to do all this homework," she replied, "Because it's more fun to know about things than it is to not know about things."
Julia Hettie Sayer Sherrod was 92. With the help of Community Hospice she slipped very gently from sleep into heaven.
In addition to the standing ovation I am sure she received from the angels, she was certainly greeted by her beloved Alan, my dad and her husband of nearly 63 years. He died in 2005.
This all happened rather quickly. On the 4th of July, we took her to the hospital with what turned out to be a blood clot in her leg.
Early in that stay she was in pretty good humor. Once when my brother Michael opened the blinds and the light was too bright, she borrowed his sunglasses. We all agreed it was a good look for her.
We got the blood clot and the resultant pneumonia resolved and she was moved to a rehab facility. But on Tuesday she had a stroke. She could not speak, her right side was very compromised and she began having several seizures.
She was barely conscious, but when I placed her rosary in her left hand, she immediately began fingering the beads. So I sat down beside her and began saying the rosary into her ear. As I did so, she began sliding the beads between her fingers.
Mom was born September 15, 1917, in Black River, New York. She graduated from Black River High School at age 16.
In 2007, she and I traveled to upstate New York for the Sayer Family Reunion so she could see all her siblings - Colin, Dot and Bill -- all of whom are still alive and well.
The Fab Four.
We also visited the graves of her mother, Colice Sayer, and her grandmother, Frances Caulfield.
It is a beautiful swift running river containing more water than any river she saw for years in Texas.
Mom's life was a rich one. Following graduation from the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Albany in 1939, she was awarded a fellowship to St. Louis University where she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in nursing education in June 1942.
Mom and Dad at their graduations from medical and nursing school.
While she was in school, she managed a hospital and taught nursing at St. Louis University as well as at an African American nursing school. She was an excellent surgical nurse. One day in 1941 when a young surgeon named Vincent Alan Sherrod collapsed while preparing to do surgery, Judy rushed over to help him. It was the beginning of a lifelong romance. On September 8, 1942, they married.
The engagement announcement
Mom was the major wage earner while Dad completed a three-year residency in surgery at Missouri Pacific Hospital. He then joined the U.S. Army and was immediately diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unlike today, TB usually was a death sentence. Mom cared for him during his long convalescence and for the rest of his life, Dad often said it was her determination and support that kept him alive.
In 1949, Judy and Alan moved to Iraan, TX, at the request of his uncle, Frank Bascom, who worked for the Ohio Oil Company, later the Marathon Oil Company. Physicians were desperately needed in West Texas, and the oil company offered to pay for the move and set them up in practice if they would move their young family west.
Mom with her firstborn, Daniel Alan Sherrod.
And with her second son, Peter Stewart Sherrod.
And with me, her only daughter, Colice Kathryn Sherrod.
And finally with her baby, Michael Sayer Sherrod.
West Texas was in the midst of a several-year’s drought when they arrived. One can only imagine Mom’s reaction to the sere landscape after growing up in the lush beauty of upstate New York. She and Dad and the four of us lived through epic dust storms that took the paint off the side of cars and buildings.
Their first clinic in Iraan.
At the time, there were no physicians at all for three huge West Texas counties around Iraan. Mom and Dad worked as a team to deliver health care to the thousands of people in that isolated part of Texas. In 1957, they built a clinic in Iraan.
The clinic they built in 1957
Mom successfully wrote grants to establish a Well-Baby Clinic in Sheffield, TX, where she and Dad immunized the infants and children in these counties and taught young mothers to feed and care for their children. She also founded the Iraan Public Library. She and Dad were instrumental in establishing the Iraan Hospital.
Mom was a moving force in getting Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops established in Iraan. She was a member of the Iraan Garden Club, whose members were the embodiment of the triumph of hope over adversity, given the challenges of growing anything at all during the drought years. When three of us were in Catholic boarding schools in Austin and San Antonio, Mom drove 600 miles round trip to see us every weekend.
Mom, as the only other licensed health care practitioner in the area, often functioned as would a nurse practitioner today because Dad was so often away at the hospital in Fort Stockton or making house calls to remote ranches. While he was away, she ran the clinic and triaged the patients, taking the most seriously ill to Fort Stockton when necessary.
Once she had men secure an oil field worker with a broken back onto her ironing board and carefully load him into the back seat of her big car. Then she loaded us four kids into the car and drove us all to the hospital in Fort Stockton where my dad was doing surgery.
We saw this kind of thing all the time. People instinctively turned to Mom when they needed help. She exuded competence and calm.
M parents were devout Catholics, driving 30 miles to either McCamey or Rankin to attend Catholic Mass because there was no Catholic Church in Iraan. When they moved from Iraan to Odessa, they donated their clinic building to the Catholic Church, who turned it into St. Francis Catholic Church.
In Odessa, Mom continued to manage Dad's medical practice while also volunteering at Catholic Charities and serving as long-time treasurer at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Mom and Dad and Mom's beloved Scottie, Ian.
She was a member of the Odessa Garden Club, continuing her interest in gardening – an interest she passed on to me. She read widely and voraciously and was a published poet.
We also traveled to Russia and Uzbekistan, because she had always wanted to go to Samarkand.
Here we are in the spice market in Samarkand.
Mom is survived by her children, Dan Sherrod of Richardson and his wife Patricia; Dr. Peter Sherrod of Plano; Katie Sherrod of Fort Worth, and her husband, the Rev. Gayland Pool; and Michael Sherrod of Fort Worth and his wife, Dr. Melissa McIntire Sherrod; two brothers, Colin and William Sayer; a sister, Dorothy Sayer Foltz; nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
And now, while we all rejoice that she is at peace, we know we will miss her every day of the rest of our lives.
Well done, Mom.
We love you.
Rest in peace.