Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Funeral Homily

NOTE: I am pleased to host this homily for my friend Bruce Coggin.
A Funeral Homily for Paul Crews
The Rev. Bruce Coggin
preached at St. Mary’s Church, Hillsboro, Texas
November 11, 2013

“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Lord, what a mouthful! What a statement, what a really big statement. Jesus bit off a mouthful when he said that.

Way back when I was in seminary, we had a British professor of apologetic theology named Casserley who put up with us fairly patiently. One day I remember one of us, not me, unburdened himself of some vast, all-encompassing philosophical/theological generalization, the product no doubt of hours of fervid cogitation, the result of much heat and little light. Oh, we were full of ourselves we were! And when the orator finished declaiming, Dr. Casserley took a long, deep breath and said, “Oh, a large claim, a la-a-a-arge claim!” Well, in those words with which we started this event here at St. Mary’s Church, Jesus makes a large claim.

In nearly half a century of priesthood, I don’t know how many times I’ve said those words as I headed down some church aisle on occasions like this one, dozens, surely a hundred and more. And every time I’ve done it, I’ve started with a little word to myself: “Son, whether you believe all this or not, you’d better sound like you do.” Because I can hardly imagine making a larger claim. Just think. Life. Life! If you believe in God, you know it’s his greatest gift to us, calling us out of nothing into something, into being, into sharing God’s own life. Even people who don’t believe in the God we worship or any god at all, I think they’re mighty happy to be alive too. Few mean it when they say, “Oh, I wish I’d never been born”; and when life is so bad some people end it themselves, I think they do it from a sense of real disappointment in how wonderful it could have been. Because life is pretty wonderful, all things considered, and none of us really wants to leave it. I can’t prove that, but I expect it’s generally the truth. And I think it’s safe to say that, even if we tire of life, we don’t want to . . . well . . . die. When I learned my sweet Grandmother Yeager was sick unto death, we had a visit, and I asked her, “Mamaw, are you afraid?” And she said, “Well, Honey, I’m not afraid of being dead. I mean, it’ll either be wonderful or it’ll be nothing. But I just don’t look forward to doing it.” Death is the stark negation of everything we love and long for and cling to, and the experience itself . . . I’m not looking forward to it, tellya right now. Don’t imagine you are either. In the presence of the majesty of Death, a great hush falls on us all. Or should anyway.

Well, we’re here this morning because one of us has died—Paul—your husband and father and friend, our friend whom we treasured and enjoyed and respected and put up with, just because he was Paul—most of you call him Hotch—and found him dear if difficult at times and bound ourselves to him in love and affection and friendship. He died last week, as you know, at the end of a short, hard battle with the disease that finally took his life away. The little rubbery machine he lived in gave out, just like yours and mine will, and he shuffled off the mortal coil. But like the Prayer Book says, as the outer man decayed, so was the inner man the more strengthened, because he stayed Paul right up to the end. Those of you who were with him say he was happy. Think of that.

At this point, funeral homilies are supposed to dwell on the more presentable details of the life of the honored guest. Fact is, most of you here this morning knew Paul Crews better than I did. I met him—Barbara, when would it have been?—back in the days when I lived in Cleburne and was Dean of the old Southern Deanery, I guess. I visited here back then, mostly while St. Mary’s was giving birth to the congregation over on Lake Whitney. In the eighties. And then life intervened and we didn’t see each other again until maybe five years ago or so when I started coming to Hillsboro a couple times a month, though we might wave at each other at some church gathering. I’m not going to do that routine, because I wouldn’t have half so much to say as some of you. Instead I’ve been trying to think about what Paul’s death means to me, what my experience of him was and why I will be diminished by his passing. Put it that way, and I can tell you some things for sure. First, my experience of Paul was entirely positive. Oh, I don’t doubt he had a negative side; we all do; and you know enough about that. I, though, knew nothing but his big, sky-wide grin and his firm handshake and the unfailing offer, “Father, is there anything I can do?” Usually there was, and he did it, usually did it well. He read the Bible like he’d read it before. If we lunched after prayers, he was right in the middle of the conversation, had something to say, usually intelligent. I never heard him say anything ugly about anybody. I’m sure he did from time to time, but I never heard it. But I can’t claim that Paul was my intimate friend. Rather I’ve been trying to come up with some image to capture my experience of Paul, and I think I hit on one the other day. You know those little bitty teeny-tiny bright bright lights people sometimes use at Christmas? Sometimes you’ll come across a winter tree, no leaves, just swathed in them, and it’s often a pretty exhilarating sight. There was a famous old pecan tree in Highland Park in Dallas that some feller saved, and the city used to wrap it in those little twinkling lights. Well, if I think of the broad array of people I know and like and love as such a tree, then one of those little twinklers just winked off. My life won’t change radically as a result, but I miss it. I know it’s off. 

Of course, to you, Barbara, he wasn’t one of a myriad, not just a little twinkler. He was the star on the top of your Christmas tree.  For his sons and grandchildren he was a guiding star. Your lives have changed forever, and the flood of emotions—both the good and uplifting as well as the bad and frightening and painful, the flood you’re weltering in today—will throw you about for a while. You’ll find your way forward, believe me, and . . . well, life goes on. I think you’re really lucky in this case that, as I mentioned before, you don’t have to remember Paul fighting it. He was happy as he lay dying, and I reckon I know why. Bishop Terwillinger used to say, “Death is a meeting with someone you know.” Paul looked up and saw his Lord Jesus and . . . went with him. I think it’s wonderful to think of him not so much as that little light that winked off but rather, if we go out under God’s shining sky at night, to think of him as that new star there in the firmament, twinkling the way he always did, always will. Thank you, Paul, for taking it right in stride.

And now, back to the beginning. Resurrection. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” There’s that large claim again. In the face of the physical evidence—Paul’s ashes are right there, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, right there—we gather to proclaim our faith that at death our lives are not ended but rather changed. We who have known resurrection all our lives—in our baptism, in our sinning and repenting and living again, in the thousand ways your life or mine has at times become a living death and all the Hell we need, then turned and revived and lived again, stronger and more joyous than ever—we who have known resurrection all our lives, we now claim that for Paul. In the very next breath comes the question: just what does that mean? What does resurrection mean? What does it mean to you? I figure most of us grew up in religious communities where as children we learned about Heaven, all the golden streets and the angels and the harps and Mama and Papa and Cousin Martha coming to meet us, spending the rest of our days singing God’s praise. All that. Most of us also sorta kinda turned loose of that Norman Rockwell kind of Heaven on down the line, find it all charming and dear but not entirely . . . So then what is it? God knows I’ve pondered it considerably in the past seven decades, and I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around it. Oh, my heart goes there in a flash, but when I think about it, I have to be honest with myself. It’s pretty daunting. First thing I wonder is, will I know me after I die? I mean, will I survive personally, as me, as Bruce? It seems unreasonable that the God who took the trouble to make the splendor that is me, the splendor that was Paul, that is you, unreasonable to think that God our creator would go to so much work to make us and then . . . just throw us away or leave us with some vague concept of living on in the memories of those who loved us and so on. Nah, I want to live, I, me. And yet . . . ? When I contemplate those images from the Hubble telescope, the unmanageable chaos which is in fact a kind of order, the unsearchable depths and distances, the violent mystery of the Big Bang and the questions it raises—What banged? Who banged it?—why, I don’t know about you, but my composure just collapses around my feet and my courage turns to skim milk. How can I, l’il ol’ me, one of some billions living now and of uncounted hosts of those who have lived before and all those yet to come, just a little twinkler down in the corner of God’s sparkletree—what arrogant vanity leads me to believe I can actually continue to . . . be, to know, to love . . . in the midst of All That? Who do I think I am? Yet even from the depth of that quivering despair, I really wish I could, really hope I will, really do want to see Who Banged and What Banged and how it is that The One who did all that took frail flesh and died . . . for me. I think we all really want to do that, even in the face of worlds of evidence to the contrary.

Jesus says we can. Jesus says we will. He promised it. All the lessons we read at funerals are full of it. We sometimes hear Job affirm that he knows his redeemer lives and that he shall see him face to face and not as a stranger. We often hear Paul remind us that nothing—neither height nor depth nor principalities nor powers nor life nor death—absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus himself tells that he will take to himself all who come to him, all the Father sends, and that he will lose not one of us. In the lesson from John’s gospel you just heard, he tells us that his Father’s house is a big one, plenty of room, and that he’s going on ahead to get our room ready—and then he asks, “Would I lie to you about something like that?” Know what? I don’t believe he would; and whereas it’s more than I can wrap my mind around, I have faith that the God who has shown us so much resurrection in this life will go right on being the same life-giving, life-restoring, loving, forgiving father or parent or creator or what word you like that I’ve known all my life. None of us knows when our turn to cross the bar will come. I just hope I’m there when it happens. I mean I hope I’m not drugged up and inconscient. I hope I can, like Paul, face it like a man. I am going to be scared, I know, but I hope I have the presence of mind to say, “Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me to the promised land. O Lord Jesus, take me with you.” And after that, well, it’s all up to him.

So this day we come to mourn the loss of Paul, and we’ll shed some tears. I’m glad. I don’t understand dry-eyed funerals. I hope somebody sheds a tear for me. But in the midst of our sorrow, hope rises; in darkness, light shines; and even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Happy are they who die in the Lord, because they rest from their labors in that place where the saints cast down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.

And now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be upon you and remain with you until time is no more.

Amen. Alleluia.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We never know what kiss will awaken a child

Here is another of the columns I wrote about my daughter when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her birthday is Friday. This was published on August 23, 1985.


In the Walt Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, baby Princess Aurora is visited by her fairy godmothers, each of whom gives her a gift.

They give wonderful things, such as the gift of beauty, and song. I always loved that scene, because
I thought it was the dream of all parents - to know what wonderful gifts your child possessed. Even when the scene was interrupted by the wicked Maleficent, I still felt that Aurora's parents had the better of it.

Maleficent, in a fit of rage, cursed the child so she would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. However, one of the good little godmothers hadn't given Aurora her gift yet and so was able to mitigate the curse. Aurora still would prick her finger, but she wouldn't die. She would simply sleep until awakened by true love's kiss.

But as bad as that still was, at least Aurora’s parents had some idea of what to expect.

What parents wouldn't like even a small clue as to what gifts were embodied in their child and what the future holds for her or him?

Unlike Aurora's parents, we can only wait to see what gifts will emerge in our children. We have to await patiently the unveiling of the marvelous secrets they hold within.

Twenty years ago today, a nurse handed me a tiny bundle whose eyes and fists were so tightly shut I was convinced they never would open. No sooner had the door shut behind her, though, than those fists unclenched and one tiny hand closed around my little finger. At the same time, those eyes opened and I found myself looking into the bluest blue eyes I had seen up to then, or since.

And I fell instantly, irrevocably, head-over-heels. sky-rockets-and-brass-bands, earth-shakingly, totally, in love.

She and I looked at each other for a long time. I don't know what she saw, but I saw the most magnificent blending of her father and me that could be imagined. Somehow, the best of both of us had gone into her making and out of two such different people had come this unique individual.

Some of the gifts became visible early on. Even as a small child, she could draw well. She understood color and line and space early, and it shows in her artwork, in her room and in her clothes.

She has a stubborn streak that is serving her better all the time as she figures out how to manage it. She has an uncanny instinct about people, and I've learned to pay attention to her first impressions. She loves animals, music, family gatherings when her uncles start telling jokes, and fast cars.

She has a generous spirit, and no meanness exists in her soul. She is gentle and can tell a joke well. She is loyal and will brook no slight to those she loves. She is a good letter-writer and loves to read.
She already knows how to forgive and is learning patience.

I'm not saying Maleficent left her alone. She doesn't leave anyone alone. She moves about, playing tricks on us all, dealing out a short temper here, giving out selfishness there, and robbing most of us of the ability to see our gifts.

This last is Maleficent’s favorite trick, I suspect. All people, with the exception of a lucky few, have to fight through lack of belief in themselves before they can become comfortable in the world. Some never make it and go through life convinced they are impostors, undeserving of the success they've achieved.

If I had three wishes to give our children, t would give them the ability to believe in themselves, to see the gifts they already possess and to be open to those gifts that haven’t fully revealed themselves to them yet.

But when the babies arrive, there aren't any fairy godmothers, and there aren't any instructions. We parents have to simply do the best we can with what we have at the time.

So it happens that when parents think of their children, our minds form that eternal parental question: How goes it with the child?

As I consider my child on the 20th anniversary of her birth, I realize that there is never going to be an answer to that question for me.

The only answer that matters has to come from her, for her.

The hard truth is, no parent can provide the kiss, the answer that will awaken the child's sleeping self.

Parents can only provide an atmosphere in which the kiss can happen that brings the child into full awareness of her or his or her capabilities.

But there are some gifts we can give them. One is keeping quiet so they will have a chance to hear that answer when it comes.

And the other is to let them know they are loved, that they do not sleep unguarded.

Happy birthday, my darling. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Packing the house and heading for college

Here is another of the columns I wrote about my daughter when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. This was published September 12, 1985.


I spent this last weekend protecting my possessions from invaders from the east.

My daughter was home from college for the weekend. As she was preparing to leave, I discovered among the things she was planning to take back to school:

  •         A 5-foot shelf that had been holding some of my books in the library.
  •         The extension cord I keep permanently on the vacuum cleaner so I can vacuum the entire house without changing outlets.
  •         My wonderful white cuddly terry cloth bathrobe.
  •         The brand new can of spray starch.
  •         A large carpet scrap that had been hanging in the garage against the day we needed it to patch the carpet in the house.
  •         A large red plastic storage container into which I had tossed packages of photographs I planned to organize someday before I'm 80.
  •         The lotion in the large bottle I keep by my bed. (The bottle was still there - the lotion had been poured into her bottle.)

As I discovered these things, her invariable response was, “Well, you never use it anyway."

Apparently, if it was not on my body or in my hand at the particular moment she decided it would look good in her dorm room or on her body, it was fair game.

As we began negotiating over what was to be put back and what she could take, I realized this child is missing her calling. She should be in our State Department, heading up our negotiating teams. We would not only have the Soviet Union totally disarmed within days, we might end up owning it - or at least a good portion of it would be in her dorm room.

As I was telling some friends about this raid on my household, I discovered mine is an experience common to most parents of college-age children who live away from home.

One woman told how it happened to her. Seems the father of a friend of her son had pulled a horse trailer equipped with hanging rods into their driveway. Her son proceeded to empty the entire contents of his closet into the trailer. (Two chairs also disappeared from his room.)

When his mother asked why he was taking everything to school instead of splitting it into warm weather clothes and cold weather clothes, he patiently explained that taking it all was easier than deciding.

I told some other friends of this phenomenon, whereupon one told of how she knew her oldest son had really left home for good. He borrowed a friend's van and began to load it with things from her house.

His two younger brothers watched the operation in silence (she wasn't at home). To this day, the two younger brothers refer to it as The Rape of Fort Worth.

Another woman I talked with on the phone later that same day told me her daughter left for college on the East Coast three weeks ago. So far, she is missing two chairs, one small bookcase, three saucepans, four blouses and a pair of slacks.

"At least that's all I've discovered so far," she said. "I haven’t been up in the attic yet.”

She said she should have been prepared. When her son left the year before, he not only took almost everything in his room plus four lawn chairs, he also tried to sneak the family dog into his car.

She was really pleased when her son came home so often for weekends (He’s going to school in Texas). Then she discovered his frequent visits home were because he missed the dog.

"He said, 'Well, gee, Mom, I can always talk to you on the phone,” she said. "It keeps things in perspective for you. I'm not sure I like the perspective, but what are you going to do?

“One good thing is that he'll never get homesick. He has most of home in his room.

"When they come home for Thanksgiving this year, I may have to conduct body searches before I let them out of the house to go back to school," she said.

Since I know dorm rooms at my daughter's school are about the size they were when I was in college, I can’t imagine where she is putting all this stuff. All I can think of is the scene in Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone when Merlin packs the entire contents of his house into one small carpet bag. He does this by magic, of course, being Merlin. As some spritely music plays, everything in the house - pots and pans, beds, chairs, cabinets, chests - marches into the bag, each item getting littler and littler until it all fits. This is the only possible explanation - magic.

Still, I’m amazed she was able to get it all in one small car. It was a feat of packing that would be envied by professionals. There was not one wasted square inch in that car. She even moved the vase with a dozen red roses that her boyfriend sent her for her birthday.

Now she has-announced she's coming home next weekend, too. I would be flattered at all these visits home except that I know why she's coming.

She can do the laundry for free here. It costs money at school.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A child becomes a woman -- and I helped

My daughter's birthday is Friday. The other day when I was looking for something else, I came across some columns I wrote about her when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one published August 22, 1983.


My daughter turns 18 tomorrow. We plan to celebrate by registering her to vote, then going out to lunch and generally making a fuss over her.

Eighteen. How did that happen? I remember the nurse putting that serene baby in my arms and my astonishment at her teensy perfect fingernails and tiny ears. She opened the most piercing blue eyes and looked right at me.

"Hi baby. I'm your mommy."

She went through college with me, learning to color in university libraries while I studied, playing with blocks while I typed papers. Only a couple times did she issue ultimatums. Once, during the week before finals, she raised herself up to her full 2-year-old height and pushed all my books off the kitchen table.

"No more books! Me!" she said.

I got the message. We went to the zoo and played for the rest of the day. The Houston Zoo was free, and we didn't have much money. We became fast friends with Oscar the Otter and learned to love the lions.

When I graduated and we moved to Fort Worth she was not yet 4. When I went to work at the Star-Telegram, l had to find a way to care for her. At Southcliff Baptist Church's day-care center we found Mrs. Travis, who made me feel my daughter was in good hands.

At the end of the first day, after worriedly rushing out to the church, I walked in and she asked, "Are you here already?" I decided we would both survive this. She stayed there until she was 11.

To those women at the church, I once again say thank you. The woman my child is, you helped to shape with your loving care.

The woman my child is...

Well, she's independent. She's smart, but she has no patience with things that bore her. She does not suffer fools gladly.

She has a temper worthy of her flaming hair. When she was little, and got angry with me, she would go into her room and close the door. Pretty soon, little pieces of paper would come sliding out.

"I'm very mad. Don't think you can come in here."

I'd write back, "Sorry you're mad. Let me know when you're ready to talk." 

After a while, here'd come another note.

"Do you love me? Check one box."

There would be three boxes drawn on the paper, one marked "More than anything in the world." Another would say 'A lot." The third would say "Most of the time."

I'd always check the first box with a big exclamation mark and slide the paper back into her room. Then she'd come out and hug me.

She handles her temper somewhat differently these days. She's more, well, vocal.

She is sentimental, and a true patsy for animals. She has a genius for line and color, and dresses with flair. She has a very organized mind and a sense of order, although looking at her room would cause one to doubt this.

She has a deep rooted sense of fairness. She still is youthfully unforgiving of people who don't live up to her standards, but her standards are worth aiming for.

She doesn't yet perceive the world in shades of gray.  With her, issues are delineated in black and white. It's interesting to listen to her think things through, though, for she often helps me see something I've missed.

Once she has a sure sense of what she wants, she doesn’t give up until she gets it. With things that are important to her, she doesn’t leave anything to chance. She plans and campaigns and lobbies with all the effectiveness of a Washington veteran.

She's taller than I am, and looks like her father, though sometimes I see parts of me echoed in her. Sometimes she likes thinking we are alike. Other times she wants distance and differences between us.

The years between 13 and 15 were not easy as she struggled to become her own person. There were days when I wondered if either one of us would live through that time.

She and I have been through some dark and scary times together and I'm not ashamed to admit there were days (and nights) when she propped me up and send back out into the fray.

On the days I come home depressed, she’s good at reassuring me that the world is worth the effort. When I’m grumpy, she has a good sense of when to leave me alone and when to jostle me out of the moodiness.

She still likes a hug now and then and is not averse to having me baby her from time to time, but then, she occasionally babies me too these days.

She can detect insincerity at 50 paces. She has been proven right in her impressions of people so often that I've learned to listen to her.

She drives me crazy with her messiness and her total inability to hang clothes up. She makes me want to strangle her with her whining some times. She irritates me when she tries to manipulate me with emotionalism and drama.

On the whole, however, l think August. 23, 1965, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston was a day worth celebrating. That serene baby has grown into a vital, assertive, interesting woman.

Happy birthday, baby.

Do I love you? More than anything in the whole world!


And I still do, sweetheart. And I have a lot of fun watching your oldest child act EXACTLY like you, especially the lobbying and the drama. Just sayin'. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Growing up with a friend called Neenie

My daughter's birthday is Friday. The other day when I was looking for something else, I came across some columns I wrote about her when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one published December 11, 1983.


The little heart that said "I love you" started it all.

How can one resist a soft, huggable doll that tells you constantly and faithfully that she loves you?

That first Raggedy Ann was given to her before she was born. It sat in a corner of her crib, smiling and waiting patiently for her arrival. After she came home from the hospital, it waited some more for her to get old enough to notice.

Raggedy suffered all the pats and pulls and teething tugs of the growing, exploring baby with undimmed eyes and complete softness.

When the baby was old enough to pull up, Raggedy was dragged along. She learned to walk holding Raggedy, and the doll's soft body even cushioned a tumble or two.

"Raggedy" was hard to say when she was learning to talk, and it came out "Neenie." And Neenie she stayed, long after talking was a perfected - and much used - skill.

Neenie was always around. She took her everywhere with her, dragging her along by the arm or leg, tossing her over a shoulder, putting her on a chair beside her at dinner, tucking her in beside her at night.

The soft round face got dirty with sticky kisses, and was even once stained with blood when she cut her forehead in a bad fall and I had to drive her to the doctor. She held onto Neenie and didn't cry. She was braver than I. But then, I didn't have a Neenie to hold.

Several times I had to sew Neenie's arm or a leg back on, and mend tears in her skirt.

New Raggedys appeared on the scene occasionally, usually at Christmas or birthdays, and they were much loved, too.

But Neenie was special, even when her yarn hair began to fall out, an eye came off, her nose wore through, and one foot tore completely off. (It was sewn back on, held in place with a plaid fabric that gave Neenie quite a jaunty air.)

The new Raggedys would be taken places, and would be included in games. One Raggedy was very big, almost the size of an red-haired 8-year-old. Her father carried it around in the trunk of his car for weeks before Christmas because there wasn't any other place big enough to hide it.

On Christmas morning, she discovered it under the tree and came running to tell me about the wonderful Raggedy that was just her size. This Raggedy sat on the window seat, smiling down at the gerbils in their cage, and occasionally cradling her head when she read a book.

Another was a handmade Raggedy bought at the Senior Citizens
Fair. It had a blue dress with lace on the hem, and brown hair, so it wasn't a "real" Raggedy. But it had that tiny heart.

We even had a Raggedy Andy, a sprightly little fellow who got pulled around on the back of a bike, and who rode on our border collie’s back in game after game.

We had Raggedy Ann and Andy books, and she had some Raggedy Ann and Andy bookends to hold them in place on her shelves. The Raggedys went on vacations with us, and even grandparents and uncles treated them with respect.

But Neenie was always the one. All the others were placed lovingly on the window seat at night. Neenie slept in the bed.

Neenie was the one wept upon during those horrible, deeply suffered tragedies of preteen years. When she was misunderstood, unfairly punished, or just generally mistreated by her obviously uncaring parents, she would shut herself in her room and tell Neenie how awful we were.

Neenie listened, and loved, and smiled.

Her smile was getting a bit crooked because some of the threads were pulling loose. But it just added character to her sweet face.

Neenie soaked up the tears of family changes, and cushioned her head when she flopped on the bed after that first date, ready to tell about her evening.

Neenie's other foot came off after being carried by her leg one too many times, causing instant remorse and hugs.

It got sewn back on with a patch of red fabric, which, with her plaid patch on the other foot, made her quite a snazzy lady,

The snazzy lady Neenie loved and lived with was growing up, and the room was changing around her. Dolls got packed away and posters went up. Toys were gone, and records appeared.

A stereo dominates the room. Pillows are heaped on the bed, and pictures of a special boy are everywhere.

Cats have joined the family and taken over some of the pillows. Stylish clothes hang in the closet (and in heaps on the floor. Sigh). Earrings and bracelets and necklaces and belts fill up spaces on the chest and the bookcases. Senior prom souvenirs and homecoming mums hang on the walls along with a treasured Outward Bound banner and certificate.

So much has changed. So much remains the same.

When that special boy makes her cry, Neenie still soaks up the tears.

When she's angry or upset, Neenie still gets hugged. When she's lying on the bed, reading, one hand almost unconsciously pats Neenie from time to time.

Neenie still reigns on the bed, smiling.

And the little heart still says, in slightly faded red, '”I Love You."


And I do too, sweetheart. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bumper Sticker ministry

On Juneteenth (June 19), I had an experience of bumper sticker ministry.

I live in the reorganized Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Because the recent history of our diocese was marked by exclusionary and unwelcoming attitudes on the part of former leaders, the people of the reorganized diocese are working hard to create a diocese in which all are truly welcome – liberal, moderate, conservative, straight, LGBT, male, female, young and old. As we work our way out of the time warp that was our diocese and into the 21st. Century, our goal is to invite everyone into the life and ministries of the Church. In short, we are living out the same struggles in which The Episcopal Church has been engaged for the last several decades, albeit in smaller scale and in a much more compressed time frame.

Nine months after our 2009 reorganizing convention we held our regular annual diocesan convention, and for the first time in diocesan history, Integrity had a booth. The very next day, Provisional Bishop Edwin F. (Ted) Gulick, Jr., ordained Susan Slaughter, the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the history of our diocese. At the same service, his successor, Provisional Bishop C. Wallis Ohl, installed her as rector of a parish. We now have 15 priests who are female serving in some capacity in our diocese.

Several of our congregations now proudly state they are welcoming and affirming while others act that out more quietly but just as sincerely. Our present Provisional Bishop, Rayford B. High, Jr., continues the work of full inclusion, having recently issued a statement in support of the vote of the Boy Scouts of America to admit gay Scouts.

In support of this work, like most of the people in our reorganized diocese, I have on the rear window of my car two stickers that say, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," one in English and one in Spanish.

Now, back to June 19. I was driving home from my daughter's house. I was on the new entrance ramp to I-30 from Forest Park Blvd., which locals know is now a long stretch through new road construction. As I approached the light at Summit Avenue, it changed to red. I stopped, as did the car next to me. I glanced over casually to see the driver waving frantically at me, mouthing "Lower your window!" Thinking I might have driven over something in the construction zone or that something was wrong with my car, I did so.

What follows is my best memory of an encounter that lasted only a minute or less. The young man said, "Thank you! Thank you!"

I obviously looked puzzled and he said, "Thank you for your support of same sex marriage. Your church is awesome. The Episcopal Church is awesome."

"I said, "Yes, it is," and smiled at him.

"We are getting married in July (not in Texas)," he said. I offered two thumbs up. "Thank your church," he said.

Then the light changed and he turned right. I started forward to merge onto I-30, smiling and lost in gratitude for the decades-long work of so many faithful LGBT Episcopalians and allies who are loving my church into becoming a transforming force in so many lives, both in the wider church, and now, at last, here in my diocese.

I am proud to be an Episcopalian.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Simon Chronicles resume


Yes, it is I.

Simon.    The Cat.

My Chief of Staff has informed me that my recent misadventures following a terrible misunderstanding of the motive of my Chief of Staff's Assistant in taking me to "the vet" have caused quite a stir among my fans.

I regret that. 

But seriously, what is a Cat to think when he awakens from a nice nap in the seat of the car to find himself in the arms of the Assistant being confronted by two Dogs coming out of a place that smells of the fear, pain, and bewilderment of myriad Cats -- and even Dogs? 

I ask you -- what would you have done?

Of course you would have done exactly what I did. Run like hell. Can I help it if the Assistant couldn't keep up?

Then I found myself abandoned. Alone. Bereft. Forced to sleep on the bare ground.

It was quite terrible. 

I met rude Cats and stupid Dogs who did not know their proper place. 

None of the humans I encountered knew who I am, and therefore did not know how to properly treat me. 

No one told me how beautiful I am. No one admired my intelligence. No one fed me. No one gave me treats. I actually had to steal food. 

And no, I didn't hear my Chief of Staff calling me, and calling me, and calling me day after day because my misery was so huge it filled up all the space around me. 

Until yesterday, when I heard a woman say, "I think that's the Cat on the flyer." Before too long, while I was hiding under a trailer parked in a driveway, I heard the voice of my Chief of Staff saying, "Simon? Simon Cat. Come here, baby."

I came out from under the trailer and started to run again, but she said, "Simon. It's me. Your mommy." 

When I paused, she walked over and picked me up and began to cry all over my head.  The Assistant was thanking the woman who recognized me, and my Chief of Staff was trying to, but she kept crying into my fur. 

She held  me so tight there was no way for me to escape as she got into the car.  I settled into her lap and began to purr because I knew she wouldn't let me go again. She had instantly seen I was wounded, and so (Sigh) we went straight to "the vet" again. Turns out I was only about a block from "the vet's" office. The Assistant went in and got a carrier -- my Chief of Staff was taking no chances -- and then we went inside.

People at "the vet"s" office all seemed very glad to see me. Turns out my photo was everywhere. I am even more famous now than ever. 

"The vet" couldn't see me right away, but my Chief of Staff said she would wait --she was NOT leaving me there alone. So we waited in a bare room for "the vet."

She finally let me off her lap and onto the table, and we stared at one another. She asked, "Do you have any idea what you have put us through?"

I decided I needed to be on the floor. She said I was too embarrassed to look at her. Whatever.

 So now after having my wounds cleaned and getting a shot of antibiotics, I am home. This morning my Chief of Staff and her Assistant took home-baked bread, a bouquet of flowers, and a gift card to the woman who "found" me as a thank-you gift. They did not take me with them. In fact, my Chief of Staff is quite happy for me to stay within about three feet of her.  Even the Dogs are happy to see me, especially Molly, who, it turns out, was quite upset by my absence  - so much so that my Chief of Staff feared Molly was getting sick. 

But now that I'm home, Molly seems just fine.

So far, my Chief of Staff appears to have kept things up to my standards while I was away. I have given her lots of head butts and allowed her to hold me a lot. I comforted her by sleeping next to her pillow last night. 

It did feel good, if I do say so myself.