Thursday, November 16, 2017

To Grandmother's House We Go

Sir - N- Oma's Illinois "Farm"

In the morning, by the pond with its blue gills and peepers, we picked wild strawberries, made clover chains and plucked at morning glories rambling across a cattle fence. Looking at my thumbs now, holding my book, I can see the stains under my fingernails -- brown, green and red -- that Grandma commented on before supper, sending me to wash again before I came to table.
Mom ducks under the doorway and says, “I need you girls to help me. A glass is missing.” As we slide off our beds I ask, “whose glasses?” noticing that Mom’s are on her face.
“Not glasses, a glass. A drinking glass.”
(sigh) “Grandma and I just put away the dinner dishes, and she says, there’s a glass missing.”
Imagining our cupboards at home, I ask (puzzled), “How can she tell something’s missing?”
“Let’s just find it, okay?”
“Yes ma’am.”
(My mother a Texan and my father an Air Force officer, Ma’am and Sir float across our child-sized lips as naturally as our own breath.) 
Descending the narrow staircase connecting our sleeping quarters with the rest of the rooms, we begin the search. The original house was built centuries before and generations of additions have yielded a home filled with surprises: in some parts of the house, soaring ceilings and massive doors; in others, tiny doors and low ceilings.  Windows open or don’t, staircases appear where you least expect them; it seems there’s a door in every wall.

Light Farm in Gettysburg
Grandpa Light purchased the farm after he retired from the Air Force in the 1960’s, just outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one county over from where he attended grade school. Every day since they came here, he rises early, bounding off to his tractor or to tend his steers. Grandma wakes just as early, diligently keeping all the household accounted for. This morning as we put away the crab apple jelly, she shelved each elegantly labeled jar, chirping, “soldiers in a row, soldiers in a row.”

We need to find that glass.

The Light Grandparents visit us in Omaha - dressed for Thanksgiving Dinner
Maybe it was walking across battlefields, the stairs to monuments, and the long tours of dead presidents’ houses that tired Mom out. In addition to this house, my grandparents have an apartment in D.C. close to the Capitol Hill Club, where Grandpa was treasurer. On the wall are pictures of Grandpa with Mrs. Nixon, Vice President Ford and his wife, Betty. Dad takes the photos down to show us and says, “This was taken where we’re going for dinner tonight. Grandpa and his friends have helped our President, and in this picture, they’re thanking him.” Mom says, “Behave.  There will be Senators and Congressmen at the club.” We are good, and Grandpa gives us each a tiny box after dessert. In it is a gold animal pin. I’m disappointed we’ve all gotten the same one – elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant. “Thank you, sir.” (4x)
Back at the farm, the weight of the glass … gone AWOL is heavy. We finally find it in the small bathroom off Grandpa’s study, under an elegantly framed print of dogs playing poker. We blame our brother, wash, dry and return the glass to its barracks. 
The next family vacation is to Texas. Once more the station wagon is piled with suitcases and a cooler filled with Tab soda, Ritz crackers, squeeze cheese in a can, and apples. When we reach Aransas Pass, relatives spill out of Mammaw’s house like clowns from a clown car. Mammaw puts us to work on the back porch, snapping beans and peeling potatoes while she tends the frying pan. Later, Uncle Frank gives up his bedroom to Mom and Dad, heading to the bed of his pickup, under its camper top. Aunt Lucille and Uncle Johnny, who drove over from Sour Lake, sleep in Grandma’s little pull-behind travel trailer. A gaggle of cousins spread blankets across the floor, filling the house with sticky breathing, and finally Mammaw’s snoring lulls us all to sleep.  
Mammaw as a Young Teen Eula Gladys Garner (later: Stewart, Farley)
Mammaw’s dish cupboards can’t be inventoried, their contents are in constant circulation. “My daddy built these cupboards,” Mom says as she pulls down more glasses and chipped plates. “He built everything we needed, including this house.” I know he died before Mom graduated from high school and that the bathroom we are all sharing only got indoor plumbing a few years before that. Floorboards creak under the weight of family stories untold.
From stories Mom has shared of my fourth grandparent, I picture him like a ghostly St. Francis statue out in the yard by the ancient live oak, his hammer tipped half limb lifted, a wild bird perched upon the anvil of it. Life was hard for a one-armed boat builder on the Texas coast, but she remembers him feeding squirrels from his one fleshy hand while his self-fashioned leather carpenter’s sleeve was off, giving his sawed off right forearm a chance to breathe. He made for himself everything they ever needed.
Grandparents. Now I am one, though none of my five grandchildren carry either my Texas or Pennsylvania-Deutsch blood. And what do kids really know about their grandparents, anyway? I only ever saw my paternal grandparents as reflected in the eyes of my ever-attentive mother. The wealthy, powerful General and his elegant wife, both forged in formality that felt to her less than familial. Not the hungry children of German immigrants, certainly not the small boy sent away from his parents at age 8 to work on a relative’s farm, because a farm always has food.
Grandpa Light enlisted in the infantry in 1927 with only a grade school education and an American dream. The Great Depression, a second World War, and technology which put our military in the sky made him the man I barely knew. Grandmother soldiered on at the home front, ordering a family that fashioned my father who passed on those Light characteristics to me.
Mom in the arms of her favorite Live Oak
Mammaw’s people can trace their history back to the colonies. English, Scottish, French, this-and-that-and-the-other Texans by way of Louisiana and everywhere else. My never-known maternal grandfather read poetry to Mammaw and their many children at night, let them dream lazily on the wide stretched limbs of the live oak tree, and gazed up with them at the big Texas sky on clear country nights. My mother’s eyes come alive each time she remembers him back into being for the grandchildren of his seed which he never saw.
Mammaw stitched together an expansive tapestry of family through seasons of marriage, divorce, single-parenthood, remarriage, step-parenting, widowhood, and single parenting again. With tiny stitches she sewed toddler clothes for my sisters and me; with gentle arms she cradled my baby brother. With stalwart courage she flew alone to the AFB in Okinawa where my mother was raising us, and even after breaking her leg once she got there, she flew on to Hong Kong before returning to Aransas Pass, saying “when will I ever have a chance like this again?”

My Grandma name is “Oma”, an aspiring Tex-Deutsch GroƟmutter, drawing upon the strengths of all four of my grandparents.  Gazing at my grubby cuticles, as fingers dance across the keyboard, I see they are once again stained from pulling morning glories from fence rows by the cow-barn which Grandpa-"Sir" and I are trying to save. 
Grandsons gathering eggs at Sir and Oma's farmstead
I don’t know what our grandchildren will remember of this farm, or us, in the end. But when the table has been cleared, and our house breathes with the sleepy chatter of our grandchildren (until we’ve snored them all to sleep), I am rising early the next morning, reenlisting all the AWOL glasses for circulation in a new day.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Admitting as Much

Yesterday my friends Jack Sullivan and Sekinah Hamlin were among the thousands who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They did so remembering those who crossed it 50 years ago, shining a spotlight on the brutal nature of institutionalized racism in America. Over the years of my ministry, many (well-intentioned?) church people have suggested to me that recalling the dark days of Jim Crow, or the horrors of slavery upon which much of white America's wealth was built, is dangerous and counterproductive. It has been suggested that we are better served to "leave the past in the past and move on." One person said, "I don't see what good it does to keep bringing this up."

Here at UniPlace we have been praying our way through Exodus as our Lenten discipline for this year. God's call to liberation is undeniable, and if you've seen one Pharaoh, you've seen them all. It's not an accident that the Civil Rights movement in this country was championed by a preacher who knew his Bible. 

What good does it do for people of faith to remember Moses leading a band of slaves out of bondage? Of what use was it for the people of Israel to erect a monument at Massah and Meribah to recall a nearly violent rebellion against Moses' leadership over the issue of water? To what purpose do we Christians partake of bread and cup reciting the words, "Do this in remembrance of me?" There is something about the spiritual journey which requires remembering -- remembering the dark days of slavery, remembering the heady joy of freedom's early days, remembering the quarrels in the wilderness, remembering how hard it is to unlearn the legacy lessons of oppression, remembering that love and liberation are both tethered to a tree.

I don't know what it means that in 2015 a bridge still stands lauding the name of a Grand Dragon of the KuKluxKlan. To think that in 1965, one hundred years after the thirteenth amendment outlawed the institution of slavery, a city could look up at the name of that bridge and be proud to recall, "that was our senator," causes my head to spin. But I think it is important to remember. Elected to the US Senate in 1897 and 1903, Edmund Pettus' senate campaign relied on his success in organizing and popularizing the Alabama Klan following Reconstruction. The brave men and women who crossed that bridge in 1965 did so as a statement that they were ready to unlearn the rote lessons of a people too long oppressed. This is American history, this is our Christian faith history, and we need to tell the truth about it.

I agree with our President who said yesterday that  we have made some progress in this country since 1965 in the realm of racial inequality. Citing the Justice Department's report excoriating the police department of Ferguson, MO, President Obama said in Selma, "What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it's no longer endemic. It's no longer sanctioned by law or custom, and before the civil rights movement, it most surely was." But while some progress has been made in some areas, we cannot just leave the past in the past as if racism has been defeated now. As our President said, "We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over; we know the race is not yet won. We know reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.”

Sekinah Hamlin and Jack Sullivan (thanks for the photos!)

Stand by Me

"Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek." (Exodus 17:9)

Have you ever had to make a choice about who you would take with you to do something troublesome and hard? What guided your decision about who you wanted at your side?

In this week's scripture from Exodus we find God's people being sniped at from the rear as they wander, lost in the wilderness. A band of nomads known as the Amalekites are preying on the former slaves, only recently liberated from Egypt. Strangers and sojourners in a hostile desert, the Israelites don't know what to do. At the back of their caravan are the heavily burdened, the tired, the weak, children, pregnant mothers, the injured, disabled, and elderly. Rather than confronting the strong ones leading the refugees from the front, the Amalekites intentionally go after the easy pickins' straggling behind.

Moses singles out a young man named Joshua (this is the first time he is mentioned in scripture) and assigns him the role of army recruiter. Someone needs to stop the Amalekites. Joshua chooses those who will fight back against the marauders and Moses chooses two close relatives, Aaron and Hur, to accompany him where he will stand overseeing the battle ground. It seems both Joshua and Moses choose well. When Moses' arms grow weary, Aaron and Hur support him so Moses can support the "boots on the ground" with signs of God's strengthening presence while they fight for their lives. Joshua's newly formed army defeats the Amalekites and the journey of God's people continues.

What a difference it makes --- choosing the right people to have at your side.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Slip Sliding Away

Driving to church on Sunday morning I was singing aloud Paul Simon's Slip Slidin' Away when my 16 year old son, obviously annoyed, said, "WHAT are you singing? Is that even really a song?" I know the fault was entirely in my singing, not Simon's song-writing.

We drove slowly and made it to UniPlace without incident. This was due primarily to the lesson learned on Thursday when we slip-slid right through a stop sign only a few feet after starting out from home. That scary moment ended with the Prius nose-first in a snowbank. Thankfully, a charming neighbor in a big blue pickup came along about 90 seconds later and showed Luke how to push me back up on the road. We were grateful both for the helping hand and the wise counsel.

It's good to have friends in high places, low places, and on the plain in between.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let Us Serve the Egyptians

I've been thinking all week about those Israelites at the seashore and their second thoughts about leaving Egypt. Faced with the vast uncertainty of what awaited them on the other side of that frightening sea, they were quick to wax nostalgic about the life they had left behind. Whitewashing the memories of brick-making quotas, the whips of their masters, and the greed of Pharoah, they only remembered the security of sameness.

"Let us serve the Egyptians." How many times have I chosen the predictability of the past rather than risk walking off that set? How often have a taken tentative steps toward freedom only to look over my shoulder and wonder if I could sprint back to where I was? God help us, lest we forget that freedom lies on the other side of the sea change.

Humility Plate

I drove to church this week behind this guy. Kinda turns the whole "vanity plate" idea on its head, doesn't it?

People on a Journey

“Ours the Journey” Sermon Series
Beginning February 15 the congregation at UniPlace was invited into the prayerful discernment process of our Visioning Team as we reflect each week in worship on the theme “Ours the Journey.” The book of Exodus guides us as we consider how God calls us forward to discover our true identity as well as our purpose in the world.

February 15        Exodus 3:1-15                    Journey into God’s Presence
February 22        Exodus 14:10-31               Journey through the Waters
March 1                Exodus 17:1-7                    Journey through Doubt
March 8                Exodus 17:8-13                  Journey with Partners
March 15             Exodus 19:2-8                    Journey with Intention
March 22             Exodus 22:20-27               Journey into Neighborliness

Join us in worship!

Welcome to this Table

Thanks to my wonderful husband, Ed Taylor, for sharing this poem with me today.
A Welcoming Prayer
by The Ponderer

And so we gather at the table.

We come from many places,
differing in age, differing in race,
differing in orientation, politics and even religion.
As we come together around the table
we discover that our differences 
are not something we tolerate
but that our differences are indeed a blessing,
the more difference we bring, the more fully we experience
the presence of the sacred in our midst.
So come, children of God, just as you are.
Wherever you are on this journey of life
you are welcome here,
here in this place, 
here in this community, 
here at this table.
Come, children of God, 
come and remember with us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More than I Can Be

When God tells Moses to head back to Egypt (which he has wisely left after committing murder there) Moses replies, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ It seems a fair question. At the moment, Moses is no more than a fugitive from justice hiding out in the wilderness, pursuing the lowly occupation of shepherd to his father-in-law's sheep. But God sees in Moses what Moses cannot see in himself. Requiring him to remove the sandals from his feet, God grounds this experience of holiness in the very soil from which every human has come. With no barrier between Moses and the earthy reminder of all our beginnings ("from dust you have come and to dust you will return") Moses is simultaneously brought low and lifted up. 

On Ash Wednesday at UniPlace we each received the sign of the cross on our foreheads to these words: From dust you came and to dust you will return. On the journey between, go with God. Standing on holy ground, Moses' call is grounded in God's passion for justice and his identity is lifted high, to be more than he thought he could be.
 Josh Groban
Josh Groban