When Angels Smile On Bennett Avenue

I talked with God this morning,
About a certain street, said, Lord,
Spread your wings, Lord,
Send your angels too, to bear us up and
Bless the souls on Bennett Avenue.

I talked with James next door
In the quiet of this morn. He said
A devil last night rode him hard,
But today is new; another day,
He’s looking up, On Bennett Avenue.

I talked to Gayle this morning,
And she shushed
Her two dogs sharp so I could hear
Her say it’s true, they had
Each other’s back on Bennett Avenue.

I talked to four sweet girls last night,
Working lovelies, heart and mind;
Their laughter rang out late and loud;
And strong their faith, too. Deep their thought
For this old world on Bennett Avenue.

I talked to a man and woman last night,
He is dark and she is light,
And their hands held and my heart
Sang true a parent’s song of peace
And tomorrow on Bennett Avenue.

I helped along a child of mine;
Smoothed the quilt, folded clothes,
Swept the fine dark hardwood floor,
And left the love of candled meal
To shine on Bennett Avenue.

And this is not a scholar’s take
On all the knots that need unknotting.
It is a woman-mother saying,
It’s sweet and fine, for this old world,
On Bennett Avenue.

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Walk Beside Me

The rhetoric of
Outrage
Burns itself out
In meme wars,
And cancels the
Righteousness on all sides.
Then the aching soul is left
With a clearer view,
That there are indeed
Two sides.
Sheep and Goat sides.
The only left and right
Are His left and His right,
The everlasting day of His presence
Or outer darkness.
And I, I simply
Marvel that He would welcome
Me and the one who walks beside me,
My brother, my sister, my friend in the skin,
Into the Day.

 

Essential Oil

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Sitting in the middle
With my glasses on,

It becomes clear that
My parents are bold because
They have seen.

My children are bold because
They see.

And I, seeing,
Tap boldness from
Both ends
To decant
Oil that flows down on
Aaron’s beard.

Oil is essential.
And can be bold.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes
!”  Psalm 133:1, 2

For when the foolish virgins took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”  Matthew 25:3, 4

~

St. Elmo Serenade

“Position yourself so you can
See the mountain,” He soothes.

Is this the fracture point?
It’s been this way before,
And will be again.
Maybe.
Certainly.

Doubt is good.
Keeps me from thinking I am
God, makes me listen.
Certainty is good.
It is the best part of us shedding blood
For someone else, for something true.

Certainty can be deaf. Bled dogmatic,
It is the end of
Relationship.
And doubt cripples.
I must resolve,
Against fatigue within and cries without,
To do the grocery trek
So I can cook dinner
For my ocean-tossed children.

So I do.
And there at the foot of the wine-lovely mountain
A fine woman,
Lends me her coupon card for my
Chuck roast, and we talk
About our children. And my heart weeps.
And hopes.

“Position yourself so you can
See the mountain.”

There is a mountain, Oh Lord.
Open that rock and river us.
I see
You.

 “He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.”
Psalm 105:41

#OhEarth!

earth

I saw a heartbreaking story recently about a man from India who had come to Alabama to help his son care for his newborn child.  The elderly man went out for a walk and woke up paralyzed from a police beating.  The person who posted the article included the hashtag #ohalabama.  I don’t think the hashtagger was commenting on police brutality.  He was mourning the racial nature of the incident.
#ohadamandeve!

According to the article, the man was trying to express that he could not speak English and to point to his son’s house.  But the police saw him as a threat and one of the officers present proceeded to break the man’s back.  The man’s skin is brown and this is Alabama, hence the hashtag.
#ohlegacy!

The image of a vulnerable, desperate man unable to communicate his innocence is beyond sad to me.  It is one of those I-can’t-look images. You know the kind; you have to look away because the brokenness is too sharp, the flesh too exposed and close to home.  My skin is not brown, nor is it exactly white for that matter, but the man could have been my father or brother or son.  What agony to think of someone I love enduring this.  #ohhumanity!

But the hashtag really bothered me.  Is it naïve of me to say, “Wait.  I didn’t do that!”?  I am an Alabamian and I hope that I would have had the courage to intervene even if it meant I could have been arrested myself.  I am Alabama.  Why “ohalabama”?

Is it because of our history?  I acknowledge our history.  I’ve seen the pictures of fire hoses in Birmingham.  I’ve read the literature like Beloved and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  I’ve heard and dismissed those who try to minimize what it is to enslave another people, to say that many slaves had it good and were worse off after they were freed.  Nonsense.
#ohbloodshed!

I have been stupefied unto silence that someone, one day, said, “Hey, I have an idea.  Let’s go chain up those people over there who look different from us, and let’s beat them and sell them and starve them and separate them from their families and then we’ll be rich and happy.”  And then someone else said, “Good idea.  I’m in.”  I’ve been horrified by that, and simultaneously convicted that due to many subtle factors I might have been one of those people.  I hope not, but there’s no way to know, is there?  We all have it in us.  Yes, you do too.  And to those who have argued that it wasn’t an Alabamian who originally floated the slavery idea, but ancient cultures and economies were built on it the world over, I say, how does that excuse the practice here on American soil?
#ohevil!

So should I just accept that because of the great wrongs committed, the descendents for many generations will pay the price, will rightly be referred to as “ohalabama”?  Should I sit still and say, “This is right.  We – white Alabama, anyway – had it coming.”?
#ohfalsehope!

I could.  Except I don’t think that is intellectually or theologically honest.  Or helpful.  Of course there is a price to pay for wrongs, consequences that follow.  Ultimately, those wrongs were paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ.  I cannot do penance for our white ancestors; neither am I called to.  That price, along with the price of every sin, was extracted from the body and blood of Jesus, and then was declared sufficient payment at the resurrection.  I cannot add to a payment that was paid in full.
#ohcross!

Though many scream against a God of justice, I am thankful for One.  Without Him the slaves of old and the paralyzed man in Madison, Alabama would never be vindicated.  Their blood cries out and has been heard and answered with the just blood of a spotless Lamb.
#ohjustice!

That doesn’t mean consequences, like distrust and strife between the races, just go away. They don’t.  But it does mean that in Christ we have hope for reconciliation.  We have a common ground, a place of peace and forgiveness, a place where the barrier is removed.  Without the cross, there is no place of cleansing and forgiveness, no place where the atrocious wrong was righted.  But on this common ground we can report not that a white man beat a brown man, but that a man made in God’s image beat another man made in God’s image, and that a just God noticed.  We can stop keeping tabs on how many white on black crimes stack up against black on white crimes.  Let’s say they are equal because from a bird’s eye view of this earth, humanly speaking, they are.
#ohmercy!

At the cross, #ohalabama! and #ohearth! received the promise that one day the oh! will be one of wonder and awe, not sorrow and shame.
#ohgloriousday!

This earth cries out for our reconciling Savior to be acknowledged and worshipped by people of every nation, tribe, and tongue.  The noise of strife is loud and painful.
#OhLord,ComeQuickly!

Rosa Parks and 87,451 College Football Fans

Perhaps the only thing connecting Rosa Parks with 87,451 Auburn and Texas  A & M football fans is that I encountered them both on the same day, an exquisite November day made for SEC football and an early morning run through the dew-damp Montgomery downtown. Somehow, though, at the end of the full day, on a late night drive up Highway 280, getting the preacher home so he could sleep and preach a sermon the next morning, Rosa and the almost 90,000 people at Jordan-Hare stadium seemed linked.

Let me back up a day to Friday.  Parents of athletes are used to driving to their children’s far-flung sporting events.  Parents of kids at little Christian schools that play 6-man football are used to redefining the word ‘far-flung.’   Three hours is a starting point, so off we went packed for our son’s state championship game, totally being that family we said we never would.  Hard-core.  Some dear friends had reserved us a hotel room for the night so we could go right over to the Auburn/Texas A & M game the next morning.  So here we were, the Littles of Littleville, unloading our coffee-making apparatus, and walking into the soaring atrium, fountains, wait-staff, and amenities of a high-end hostelry.  Having declined valet parking and strapped with bag and baggage, I walked through the revolving door and smack into, yes!, one of Texas A & M’s massive linebackers.  I called a cheerful hello to him and told him I would see him tomorrow.  He smiled, but his Beats I’m sure muted my fan-chatter. Mind you, I’m an Auburn fan, but hey, football mystique is real even though the players are 19 years old and probably from Littlerville than my Littleville.

So there he stood in team sweats, backpack, mellow smile, and 65 more just like him headed into the banquet hall which had been decorated with the Aggie maroon (with a tinge of eggplant) and black and no doubt served these man-children AYCE porterhouses and french fries.   The chef in his recognizable kitchen shirt moved through the hall ensuring the players’ dining satisfaction. Men in suits on cell phones directed the players into dinner and maintained this vast machine of human beings called a college football team. Food for thought there.  At one giddy point, I was wedged on an elevator with 7 members of the defensive line plus a coach.  I couldn’t help myself, but began talking.  I told them I would pray for their safety and for their mothers who would be worrying about them.  Again, the Beats (intentionally) hindered conversation.  Unfortunately, my prayers were answered and they won the nail-biter football game the next day with no injuries. Teach me!

I am going somewhere with all this.  Hang with me.

As for my son’s championship game, the opposing team was named Victory.  And they made sure we could spell it.

The next morning the breakfast area was 98% maroon and black in every variation of boot, vest, scarf, custom leather coat, ditto shoes, western-yoked shirt, and felt hat.  It was like finding myself in a stranger’s living room at their family reunion. Or being at another church during prayer time – none of the names mean anything.  But then here came the talent; 65 sweat-suited Aggies, having had blessed, uninterrupted sleep (my son and his best friend decided not to pull the fire alarm after all), a herd of bacon, a generation of eggs, and an orchard of citrus, were now deferentially herded to the 8 luxury buses at the curb for the hour ride to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains.”IMG_0724

But what about Rosa?   During all this moonstruckness, we tied on our Nikes and headed out into the 48 degree morning to run to the Capitol.  Oh, the urban run!  How different from LIttleville.  And, oh, the unanticipated treasures!  I am a plaque person, to my family’s chagrin.  One block in, and a plaque stopped me cold announcing that this was the route that slaves would walk in chains from the river to the auction house.  Game changer, that.  A block further at a beautiful cobbled square and fountain a plaque informed us that this was the site of several auction houses and slave warehouses.  The mind tries to reconcile then and now and can’t.  And then, in one shady corner of the square I encountered Rosa’s bus stop.  There it was, the very spot she stood, weary from a day’s work and with all her own house work ahead of her.  If ever time travel was possible I longed for it then. To watch her.  Had she thought a million times, “Tomorrow, I won’t get up. Tomorrow when he tells me to move, I won’t,” and finally tomorrow came?  Or was it completely spontaneous, a split-second decision?  Is the conversation recorded by any witness? A man said some variation of “Move.” And she said some variation of “No.”

We moved on.  I touched the etched marble slab that commemorated the march from Selma to Montgomery that ended right here at the Capitol.  We Rocky-Balboaed up the marble steps and jumped the victory jump at the top.  The only people who saw us were the hoodied, DOT-vested construction workers. We admired the statue of my husband’s distant relative Jefferson Davis, though later my son would say it looked like Benedict Cumberbatch to him.  It was no doubt the caped coat.

But Rosa stayed on my mind.  Because if I wished I could time-travel to watch her, what if she time-traveled to see me?  I wondered what she would think of my last few hours.  I had fan-worshiped 19-year-old college students.  I had sat at breakfast among custom-leather-clad men and women who had money to spare and we shared smiles and have-a-good-games. I watched one couple from my hotel window, on the very Via-Dolorosa their ancestors walked in chains, exchange laughs with friends, load up their SUVs and head out to cheer on their sons and their alma mater.  Again, the mind tries to reconcile then and now and fails.

And the 87,451?  What is their connection to Rosa?  The Loveliest Village on the Plains, at least the campus, is indeed lovely.  From our perch in section 57, row 10, seats 1 – 4, we had a view of the slanting sun turning the brown rooftops gold all around us. 85,000 wore orange and blue, and made those colors look good. Impressive.  To be a part of that many people wearing the same colors and with one goal in mind – protect this house – was thought-provoking.  Rosa might find it interesting that the music they used to get 87,451 people on their feet, either in approval or outrage, was rap and hip hop.  A low-sounding synthesizer pulled at our blood and obligated us to get to our feet and scream at the intruder in the house. “Turn down for what?” compelled the home team on a third down to maintain its level of ferocious, competitive play.  Or so I gathered.  And when, on the first completed pass, I opened my mouth to proclaim my approval, a 90,000-strong roar came out of my mouth. It was startling and powerful.

And that’s the connection to Rosa.  She opened her mouth and a roar 90,000-strong came out.  I don’t trivialize her action at all in comparing it to a football crowd roaring approval or condemnation collectively.  They are saying to the enemy, “You shall not pass!”  She, too, was protecting her house.  She was saying, “You shall not pass.  You shall not encroach on my humanity anymore!”

Highway 280 north at 10:00 on a Saturday night is late and far from home for a preacher.  It’s a rare Saturday that finds us ranging that far from Littleville.  But we made it back in a van crowded with two sleeping boys, Rosa Parks, and 87,451 football fans.

Letter To A Friend and Democrat

Dear Friend,

I know the red maps of Wednesday were tough for you.  I know you hold your convictions deeply, and that to you a Republican vote is a vote against human beings, against flesh and blood American people.  So, without snark or arrogance, I want to tell you why I voted Republican and why Tuesday gave me hope for our country.

First, I don’t believe the Republican Party to be the hope of the future, or full of perfect people, or God’s will for America.  Neither do I believe that God is a Republican or that America is a Christian nation.  I believe the whole world, every nation, is God’s book, and He is writing a story of redemption and America is a part of that.

Many Democrats in their despair last night declared that we Republicans obviously want pollution, starvation, oppression, war, unaided illness, poverty, bullying, and the list goes on.  My motives are frequently very selfish, and you would in an honest moment admit that yours can be too.  But do you really think that Republicans want that list of things for our country?  Do you really think we hate America and American people so much?  Do you think we hate our own children, who will inherit the America we make for them, so much that we would purposely work to destroy it?

I can’t speak for all Republicans, or for all Christian Republicans.  I speak for myself when I say that what I want is to stand for the party that most closely retains the Biblical definition of life and its inception and ending, of gender which we have no more authority to change than we do to change our species, of marriage and the clear pattern that was set by the first two humans who were married – Adam and Eve, of the obligation and responsibility to work for the good of the place I am put.

To your protest that a Biblical definition is up for grabs, open to millions of interpretations, I say no, it’s not.  And you know it.  The Bible is clear.  You and I don’t get to subtract what we don’t like and mold what’s left into our own image, though we all are prone to this, even those of us who say we submit to the Bible as our chief authority.

Because authority is the issue, isn’t it?  I vote Republican not because Republicans are all Bible-believing Christians or even all admirable people, but because Democratic ideology seeks to make itself God.  It wants to remove the highest authority, the Creator, who determines night and day, and water and land, and male and female.  And it wants to put itself in His place.  It would abolish the pillars of our culture and put nothing in their place except individual personal feelings.  Personal feelings won’t hold up a culture.  The cry is that this pillar-abolishing is in the cause of tolerance, equality, fairness.  And who could argue with those goals?  Except that I don’t believe they are the real motivation.  The real reason the pillars must be abolished is because they are put in place by the Authority; they are an affront to one who would be his own god.

Are you thinking that I have my head in the sand, and haven’t looked at our polyglot, poly-religious, poly-everything country in the last half century?  I have.  I don’t expect everyone to be Christian, Southern, church-going, white, conservative, football-manic, small-town, happy, optimistic, women like me.  I know this list is everything you push against.  But you didn’t push against me.  You respected me and I have always appreciated that.

No, I don’t expect America to be Christian, but I will fight, I will vote, for the pillars to remain precisely because I love America. I want it strong for my children and their children, and I believe that removing those pillars, removing the Author who has all Authority, will be bad for you.  And for your children’s children.  And for the very people – marginalized, needy, different – that it claims to help.

Can you see this as a compliment to you?

Your Friend