Sunday, June 29, 2008

I have decided

I don’t think I’ve gone a week without posting since I started this blog.

This week I’ve felt tired. Exhausted. As I’ve commented to several folks, I’ve been running out of me before I run out of day. I have a couple of good ideas of things I want to write about – that aren’t about depression – and I can’t find the energy to give birth to them. This has been one of the few times in dealing with my depression that sleep has not offered some respite. I’m sleeping restlessly and not sleeping long enough. I’m not sure there is a long enough.

Besides being physically exhausted, I’m tired of being depressed. I’m tried of writing about depression. I can only imagine many are tired of reading about it. (Actually, I know some are because they have found kind ways to let me know.) I understand. It’s not that my days are all bad, in fact, the opposite is true. I’ve had some great times this week. Dear friends have been to see us; work is good. But somewhere late in the day, I feel like the cartoon character that runs off the cliff before he realizes there is no longer any ground beneath him and then he goes into free fall, except I just start falling asleep. I have nothing left.

Ginger pushed hard to get me to write tonight because she knows the defeat I feel when I stare at a blank page for an hour or so and then close the computer without making a mark. Something about having found a couple of hundred words tonight does help and I hate that all I seem to have to say is, “I’m depressed.” There’s more to me. There’s more to life. I can see it. I just can’t write it somehow.

Somewhere in the course of my day – I think it was reading something about Zimbabwe – I wondered out loud to myself, “I’m not sure God is in the business of relieving pain. Making meaning out of it, yes. But taking it away is not necessarily part of the deal.” Many years ago, I heard (or read) Mike Yaconelli talk about a sermon he preached on suffering and God. He said he closed the sermon by reading a passage from John Claypool’s Tracks of a Fellow Struggler in which Claypool describes his eleven-year-old daughter, whose body was wracked with cancer, crying out to her dad to ask God to take away the pain. He said he prayed as earnestly as he knew how. When he finished, his daughter asked why God hadn’t taken the pain away. Yaconelli said he looked up from the book and said, “That is the God we are called to serve. Amen.”

God is not going to take away my pain. I don’t expect my days will always be this dark and exhausting, or Ginger’s so difficult as she stays with me. I have hope that I will find some treatment that will help me manage my depression more effectively, and I don’t think it is going to disappear because I keep telling God I’m tired of this. Therefore, I have to decide what it means for my life that I live with depression. I have to decide whether my faith or my illness gets the last word. I have to decide to trust those who say they love me mean they love me even if all I can write about is my depression. I have to decide I’m going to fight with all I have to offer Ginger more than the dregs of my existence. I have to decide to accept that living life means playing hurt.

And I have to decide everyday, over and over.

The counter at the bottom of the page says I’ve written 632 words: this is me deciding.


Monday, June 23, 2008

random notes

As I was driving to church yesterday, I heard that Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn from the runoff presidential election in Zimbabwe because he couldn’t deal with the violence being inflicted on his supporters by Robert Mugabe’s regime. All indications are that Tsvangirai won the first election and Mugabe doctored the results to cause the runoff. The history of Zimbabwe is a tragic story of the killing of a nation that had great promise and Mugabe is one of the key killers.

Pray for Zimbabwe.


I was out of the kitchen today and spent a good bit of time in the yard. I got a deal on daylilies last week and needed to get them planted. I also installed rain barrels under the drain spouts to have water to feed my plants and vegetables. My good friend and counselor, Ken, used to talk about gardening as a helpful response to depression. There are studies that show there’s something about playing in the dirt that makes life brighter. Ken’s take was it was an organic connection. We came from dust and will return to dust; to go out and dig around in the dirt makes a basic, essential, and healing connection. He’s on to something.

Thank God for gardening.


George Carlin died of heart failure over the weekend. He was 71. He was hitting his stride when I was in college and seminary and I still have several of his routines seared in my memory. As he grew older his cynicism sometimes got the best of him; he was at his best, however, when he played with the language. My favorite routine is a wonderful example of what happens when we really listen to our words. Here it is: Football vs. Baseball.

So long, George.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

song and dance

I can remember the night.

I had been the backup for my friend Billy as he sang a concert in the Dallas area, thanks to our friends David and Christy. I had flown in from Boston and Christy had been kind enough to give us a couple more days in the hotel to do some songwriting. Billy started playing around with a fun little melody that made us both want to bounce around the room and before long we were singing

rivers singing gladly as the trees clap hands
thunder keeping rhythm to the song and dance
wind across the waters like an angel band
here’s an invitation to the song and dance

put away your woes let ‘em go let ‘em go
they’re gonna be here tomorrow
tune your heart to the birds that fly
out on the edge of the deep blue sky
can you hear the music through the circumstance
listen to the laughter in the song and dance
Even out of both of our tendencies to see the darker shades of life far too easily, we had written a song of unadulterated joy, which is, I think, a harder song to write. I remember reading an interview after the record, Red Bird Blue Sky, came out in which Billy said, as he talked about the song, “Trouble is overrated.” Yes. And it’s ubiquitous.

My brother just returned from a trip to Israel. When I talked to him yesterday he said, “Man, I don’t see how anyone can fix that situation.” And it’s not the only one. My own particular view of the world runs from Darfur to depression, often fueled by my cynicism and despair (since gas prices are so high), and wishing desperately to find a view that offers something other than a view of a world intent on self-destruction.

Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of something – like that night when we sang and danced our way around the Hampton Inn and the few minutes it took to watch this video, sent to me by my friends Ann and Doug, who are among those who help paint a different picture of the world for me.

I don’t know who the hell Matt is, much less where the hell Matt is, but today I’m thankful for Matt, for dancing (he and I share similar styles), for friends, and for the melody of grace that permeates the circumstances of life.

Tonight, I can hear the laughter. And I’m listening as hard as I can.


Friday, June 20, 2008

his eye is on the sparrow

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." -Matthew 10:19-31

Jesus’ words of comfort intrigue me because he says God knows when a sparrow falls, not God catches the little bird. In these days, which feel a bit like a free fall for me, I can say it matters to be known – even when I don’t feel caught.

Civilla Martin wrote “His Eye is on the Sparrow” in 1905, which says:
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
I love knowing the story behind hymns. Here is here story, in her words:
Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle, true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience.
These days are dark ones and they have been filled with cards and words and hugs and hope conveyed by all kinds of folks who remind me whatever is happening in my life I am not alone. God knows, and that knowledge and love is incarnated over and over around me.

Thank you.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

all I ever have to be

I’ve mentioned Emmylou Harris a couple of times this week. She has always been one of my musical faves and songwriting heroes. And now, at 61, she’s titled her latest release, All I Intended to Be.

The title takes me back about twenty five years ago when I first came across Amy Grant’s song, “All I Ever Have to Be.” My friend Burt and I were doing lots of youth camps and retreats in those days and always looking for songs that would connect with kids. This one did. It knew my name as well.

When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head,
And the thoughtful words of health and hope
Have all been nicely said.

But Im still hurting,
Wondering if Ill ever be
The one I think I am.

I think I am.

Then you gently re-remind me
That youve made me from the first,
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst.

And I realize the good in me,
Is only there because of who you are.

Who you are...

And all I ever have to be
Is what youve made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.

As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.

And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Today has been a good day. I cooked for someone else. I walked Ella up to Barnes Supply where she knows they have a cookie waiting for her. While I was there, I bought daylilies to plant tomorrow. I got an email message from a friend with information about a clinic in town that has some ideas about dealing with depression that go beyond medication. Ginger has been great about giving me a series of tasks that have kept me moving and feeling productive. I met my blogging buddy and beekeeper, Jimmy, for a beer and to get some honey samples to take to the restaurant. (His roasted garlic honey is amazing.)

Today was a significant day. This morning, on Bunker Hill Day, we traded our Massachusetts tags for North Carolina license plates. We were delayed in making the change because we packed to car titles in a place we have yet to discover, so we had to order duplicates. They came yesterday. In the same way the one little detail of a car plate helps us continue to make the transition to our new home, so the small details of dinners cooked and pictures hung help me find a way out of the dark.

Depression is the snake eating its tail. I turn in on myself until I can see nothing but me and I’m unrecognizable. The view is desperate, defeating, and delusional. I don’t want to get trapped inside myself, but I do. When the hearts and hands come to pull me out of myself, I find hope in gratitude, as I do tonight.

I am not all I intended to be. I didn’t choose to live with an emotional trap door inside. I didn’t intend to be depressed. What I heard and felt today is I am recognizable to those who know and love me, even when I feel lost to myself. They don’t ask what I intended; they just see me.

And, by the grace of God, that’s all I ever have to be.


Monday, June 16, 2008

love's gonna carry me home

The past few days have been marked by the words and actions of people around me who have offered love and encouragement in a number of tangible and meaningful ways. I'm still not past needing a melody to get through a post, but tonight I offer one out of gratitude: Pierce Pettis' "Love's Gonna Carry Me Home."

these days I’m noticing things
the snow and the rain
the wind in the trees
when it gets moving
they seem to say
that I’m not alone
and someday
love’s gonna carry me home

these days I’m learning to smile
the hand of the child
has pulled me into fields of laughter
they make sure that I know
that someday
love’s gonna carry me home

amazing grace big surprise
hits you right between the eyes
hits you hard like a small flat stone
slays the giant and leads you home

these days my life is a song
it’s not very long and so I’ll sing it that much louder
don’t take it hard when I go
it’s ok – love’s gonna carry me home
it’s ok – love’s gonna carry me home


P. S. -- Cooking helps, too. There's another new recipe here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

prayer in open d

I spent the day on a men’s retreat with some guys from church. We were out at a lake house. The day was beautiful, the conversations were honest and open, and the day was full of meaning. I came home filled up and still ran out of gas before dark. The days feel too long and the nights too short. I sleep, but I don’t rest. I find, in days like these, that I turn to two things that offer me hope: cooking and music. I made dinner for Ginger. The meal was simple, yet it helped me to cook and then sit at our kitchen table with her.

I sat down to write and could do little more than listen. I leaned into an old friend, Emmylou Harris, and her “Prayer in Open D.”

There's a valley of sorrow in my soul
Where every night I hear the thunder roll
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I built with my own hand
There is no comfort from the cold
Of this valley of sorrow in my soul

There's a river of darkness in my blood
And through every vein I feel the flood
I can find no bridge for me to cross
No way to bring back what is lost
Into the night it soon will sweep
Down where all my grievances I keep
But it won't wash away the years
Or one single hard and bitter tear

And the rock of ages I have known
Is a weariness down in the bone
I use to ride it like a rolling stone
Now just carry it alone

There's a highway risin' from my dreams
Deep in the heart I know it gleams
For I have seen it stretching wide
Clear across to the other side
Beyond the river and the flood
And the valley where for so long I've stood
With the rock of ages in my bones
Someday I know it will lead me home

With the rock of ages in my bones, I’m going to lay down my head and my burden tonight.


P. S. There’s a new recipe here.

how did you find me here?

I can remember the day in 1989 that I bought the CD.

I was in Sound Warehouse and picked up How Did You Find Me Here? by David Wilcox the same afternoon I bought Steady On by Shawn Colvin. It was one of my better music buying afternoons. Ginger and I moved to Boston the following summer and both Colvin and Wilcox played outdoor concerts in Copley Square. When we went to see David, I carried a copy of Any Starlight Night, Billy Crockett’s newest CD at the time (on which I co-wrote some of the songs) because I wanted to make a connection. I was early and David was behind the stage working on his guitar. I walked up and thanked him for his record and gave him my offering and went on my way. I don’t think I even told him my name.

Over the years, we saw him perform several times, most of them outdoors, as I look back now: in the Charlestown Navy Yard, at Harborlights, and one inside gig at the Berklee Performance Center. We bought his CDs and sent copies to friends because we knew the vulnerability and intimacy in his songs would resonate with their situations. Tonight, we found him again. David came to Durham and we went with our new friends Lori and Terry to sit and listen on the lawn of the American Tobacco Campus.

Ginger and I went early because we were used to Boston days where free concerts meant get there early to get a good seat – or a seat at all. We parked the car and walked past an Airstream trailer hitched to an SUV and there was David Wilcox leaning over his guitar case. Since then, he and Billy have gotten to know each other and David performed at Blue Rock, Billy’s artist ranch and studio. I walked up and said, “You don’t know me but we share a mutual friend in Billy Crockett.”

“He’s a good man,” David said. Then he asked if we would be willing to help him carry some CDs and DVDs to the stage area. We listened to a marvelous evening of music. After the concert – a good while after the show – he was still standing around talking and we walked up to thank him for the evening. I also got to tell him I thought his song, “Show the Way” should be our national anthem. I also got to tell him how the song has been a touchstone and a life line for me during my depression. Ginger and I stood and talked to him for about ten minutes, I guess. As we got ready to leave, he hugged me and we went on our way.

I never did tell him my name.

These past couple of weeks I have struggled against the gathering storm. My depression, it seems, is working hard to suck me in. As usual, Ginger gets hit hardest because the bottom drops out when I get to the end of the day and stop moving. I think it’s harder to live with a depressed person than it is to be the depressed person. Yet, on a night when we were only two of several hundred people sitting on the lawn under the Lucky Strike tower listening to David and two of any number of folks who wanted to talk to him, he found me with his words and music and helped me stave off the darkness, at least for tonight. He doesn’t know who I am, other than the guy who knows Billy and who got choked up when he talked about “Show the Way.” He’ll remember talking to Ginger, I’m sure, long after he’s forgotten talking to me. Still, almost twenty years after that afternoon at Sound Warehouse, it’s my turn to ask, “How did you find me here?”

And to say thank you.

Now, please rise for our national anthem.

You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason
We should dream that the world would ever change
You're saying love is foolish to believe
'Cause there'll always be some crazy with an Army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream, put the fear back in your life

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late, he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the Evil side will win, so on the Edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins
It is....

Love that mixed the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote this play...
For in this darkness love can show the way

So now the stage is set. You feel your own heart beating
In your chest. This life's not over yet.
So we get up on our feet and do our best. We play against the Fear.
We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears burning in the happy angel's eyes
For its....

Love that mixed the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote this play...
For in this darkness love can show the way


P. S. -- There's a new recipe here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

ruthless gene

I was reading the June issue of Harpers last week and found this sentence:

Israeli researchers have identified a ruthless gene.

That sentence led to this poem.
Ruthless Gene

I wonder how long gone
she was before anyone
noticed. The Moabitess had
been around, refusing to
leave Naomi and desperately
seeking Boaz, since Bible days.

Who knows how Gene came
into the picture, or why
he was being studied, or
how the researchers found
him, but by the time they
arrived, Ruth was long gone.

“Why did she leave?” asked
one of the white coats.
“Why do you think?” he
answered, stamping out his
Lucky on the back of hand.
“Why do you think?”
That's just the way my mind works sometimes.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

summer music sampler

Emmylou Harris released a new record today: "All I Intended to Be". I thought a great way to celebrate might be to point to several folks who have caught my ear and my heart. The videos on YouTube have been disabled for embedding, so here she is singing "Midnight Train to Georgia" with the Indigo Girls and some other folks.

A good follow up is the Indigo Girls' latest, "LIttle Perennials."

In my recent roamings, I found Justin McRoberts, who covers one of my favorite songs -- Patty Griffin's "When It Don't Come Easy" -- on his new project, "Deconstruction."

Tift Merritt is a North Carolinian and someone with a new record of her own, "Another Country." Here is the video for the song, "Broken."

Here is a song I got to sing when I sat in with Mark Cool a couple of weeks ago: "Wagon Wheel" by The Old Crow Medicine Show.

Jackson Browne has released the second volume of his solo acoustic recordings. Here is "Alive in a World."

Finally, the clip that set me to searching for some other cool songs: Lyle Lovett's cover of "God Only Knows," which he sang at the Kennedy Center Honors Brian Wilson.

Thanks for listening.


Monday, June 09, 2008


One of things I find to be true in this life is evangelical churches have it all over us mainline folks when it comes to sound systems. I’ve been in several on both sides of the aisle and my observation remains spot on. I don’t have an explanation for this phenomenon, nor do I intend to attempt to assign blame. I do wonder sometimes if of the mainline folks have just never heard the difference a great sound system makes and so they think what they have is good.

I notice it because I respond to sound. I’m moved by music. I would almost rather listen to a Red Sox game on the radio than watch it on television. When I go to the movie, I look for the theater with the Monster Extra Dolby Sound, even if it isn’t the biggest screen. I like to feel the bass line resonate in my chest cavity, to hear the clues before anyone sees them, to swim in the ocean of tight bluegrass harmonies.

I like to hear and it’s getting harder for me to do.

So when I get to church and I can’t hear, I end up complaining about the sound system. (I refer you back to paragraph one.) I want someone to do something about it; I want them to fix it where it works for me. About a month ago, in my frustration, I picked up one of the hearing aids we have available at the back of the sanctuary – a churchpod, as I like to call it – and used it for the service. I heard every word.

And I had to sit in church wearing a hearing aid.

About halfway through the service, I realized I was being discreet. I took it off during the hymns and the passing of the Peace. I was doing my best to not look like I was wearing it, even though I was not aware of my attempt to hide the little gray box. As I drove home from church, I tried to listen to myself to see if I could figure out what was wrapped up for me in wearing the churchpod. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, even as I pick up the little receiver each Sunday morning.

As far as sound systems go, the issue appears to be mine more than the congregation’s at large, because I don’t hear anyone else talking about it. We have a good audio committee that works hard and I don’t have the time or energy – or knowledge – to get on the committee to try and do the leg work to see if we could install a more effective system. If I’m not going to put in the time and effort to help change it, I need to quit complaining. “I’ve got a great idea of a couple of things you need to do” is never a helpful statement on any number of levels.

The emotion behind the whole issue for me has much less to do with sound systems or churchpods than it does with my own anxiety or even fear. I’m scared to come to terms with the fact that I am losing my hearing, even if it is incrementally. As both my ears and eyes change, I have to stare down my own fear of the claustrophobia that I think would come with being unable to read and listen. Books and music are two things that feed me deeply. What would I do if I lost them? I can rationally understand my question is reaching for an unnecessary extreme at this point, but that’s where the fear lives.

My other realization is not any easier to take: my limits are drawing closer; I need help. The truth in that sentence runs deeper and more profoundly than my embarrassment at wearing the churchpod. The earphone is the tip of the iceberg. I can hear I need help, even without the churchpod, and it’s hard to take.

In Earthly Good: Reflections of Life and God, Martha Sterne writes:

Because it is hard to see God, find God, know God, love God, when we get busy posing like the strongest, richest, happiest people who ever walked. Because it’s just terribly hard to connect with God when we don’t need God, it’s just a terrible curse to suffer from the awful soul-killing delusion of self-sufficiency.

All of us know the word “woe” from the inside. The woes are part of the truth of what it means to be human. Yen and yang, blessing and curse, heartbreak and heart open, life and death. We know that. And yet and still we people with much riches, much laughter, much power, we say “cheese” so well. We, more that poor people, can delude ourselves. So, for Christ’s sake, remember that self-sufficiency is not the truth of us, lest we forget our need for the One who made us and gives us every breath.
In her sermon Sunday, Ginger talked about the different self-sufficiencies in the tax collector, the synagogue official, and the woman with “the issue of blood,” as I’ve always remembered it from my King James days. Matthew chose a profession that alienated him, Jairus was used to power and position, the woman had to be on her own because no one would include her. Jesus called Matthew to follow, Jairus was brought to his knees by his daughter’s death, and the woman grabbed Jesus’ robe in an act of ultimate desperation. They each found healing because they let go of the myth of their self-sufficiency.

Even though evangelical churches will probably always have better sound systems, the truth is I can hear in our sanctuary when I use the churchpod. They keep them in the back for people – like me – who can’t hear in the sanctuary without help.

That’s me. I need help. Even when I hide it under the hymnal.


P. S. -- There are new recipes here and here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

grandma c

I always knew her as “Grandma C.” Her name was Marie.

She was my dad’s stepmother. My father’s mother died a month after he was born and his father remarried when my dad was eleven. She saw me when I was born and then saw me get on a boat with my missionary parents to go to Africa when I was one year old. The first time I remember seeing her, I was five and we were on leave from the mission field. She lived in Hawaii. I remember the fresh smell of the leis they hung around my neck and the pineapple juice that came out of what I expected to be a water fountain at the Dole pineapple farm. She was, for all practical purposes, a Baptist minister without being named one, since Baptists allow women the title, even when they did the work. She was also by herself. My grandfather died before I was born. She still wore her wedding ring.

When I saw her again, I was in sixth grade she was living in Dallas and working at Wilshire Baptist Church. That’s the first time I remember eating her Ritz cracker crusted fried shrimp. I saw her again when I was in tenth grade and she was working at Dallas Baptist College, where she worked until she retired. She and I both lived in the Metroplex for most of the eighties and I saw her (and ate shrimp) with some regularity. I was in my twenties before I began to understand what it meant to have a grandmother.

One of my favorite memories of Grandma C was taking my two roommates, Burt and Robert, to eat shrimp at her apartment. Robert was adamant about not being called “Bob” and Grandma C called him nothing but that the whole evening. Burt and I did the hospitable thing and followed her lead.

I’ve thought about her the past couple of weeks while the strawberries have been in season because she is the one who taught me to cut them. She would pull off the green leaves and then cut a small circle around the stem with a paring knife leaving a small hole where the stem had been. I still do it that way.

In the early eighties, she suffered such a deep depression that she had to be hospitalized at Baylor Medical Center where I happened to be a chaplain. She fought hard to beat back the darkness. After thirty years, she took off her wedding ring. When I asked why, she told me she got to the end of her rope and knelt down by her bed and prayed for God to either take her or provide some means of relief. She said she felt peace wash over her and she decided to start writing letters, trying to reconnect with friends and rebuild relationships. One of those letters brought a response from a man, Roy, whom she had known in Arizona when she was married to my grandfather, who was starting churches there, and he was married and also pastoring. Though their story is worthy of more than this brief paragraph, the short version is the letter led to their dating and getting married when they were both eighty. I got to sing at the wedding.

They grew old together, making the transition from their home to assisted living to a full-fledged nursing home. As Ginger and I stopped to see them on our way to Boston, they gave us a hundred dollars. “You’re our missionaries,” Roy said. After his death a few years ago, her health began to fail, though her spirit did not. She lost her sight and most of her hearing and she still kept going, even if she never left her room at the nursing home. She outlived two husbands, many of her friends and siblings, and most of what you and I might think necessary for a meaningful existence.

Last night she died in her sleep. She was a hundred years old.

Marie Tatum Cunningham Sutton lived a good and a hard life. She was a stepmother, a minister, a curriculum writer, a lover of children, a dorm mother, a shrimp fryer. And she was my grandmother.

Today, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it feels like to feel whole. I can’t help but lean into song lyrics on a day like this: Mac McAnally’s “Somewhere Nice Forever.”

mama I know you’re feeling low
let’s be low together
got to say it’s time to go
somewhere nice forever

there won’t be no leukemia
they’re gonna keep it out
there’ll just be redeeming love
like we sang about

mama you never let it show
you talked about the weather
and jesus love me this I know
somewhere nice forever

you gave us all you had to give
I could not ask for better
you told us of our chance to live
somewhere nice forever

there won’t be no leukemia
they’re gonna keep it out
there’ll just be redeeming love
like we sang about

mama you’re tired we’ll let you go
promise when you get there
you’ll think about me here below
somewhere nice forever

for the bible tells me so
somewhere nice forever

jesus loves me this I know
for the bible tells me so
little ones to him belong
they are weak but he is strong . . .


Monday, June 02, 2008

an open letter to barack obama

I had been youth minister at the church I served in the eighties about six months when the couple that taught twelfth grade Sunday School let me know – actually, they told the pastor – they were leaving the church. Because of me. He was a professor of youth ministry at the seminary and was not pleased with the changes I was making because they didn’t follow the denominational curricula and weren’t the things he taught. And I didn’t have a degree in youth ministry. And – oh, yeah – he had been the interim youth minister prior to my coming.

Their announcement caught me by surprise. I had asked him to be on the Youth Committee. He had two kids in the youth group who were very happy. But he was determined to leave and he took the family with him. I was hurt, confused, and angry. I took in personally – mostly because he said I was the reason they were leaving. I never got to have more than a cursory conversation with them before they left. When I talked to the wife, she cried and said she was sorry. When I talked to the husband, he was curt and dismissive (my read on his feelings). The situation didn’t seem to hold any possibility for healing. They left. I didn’t. Life went on. (Well, I worried about how they would talk about me to others and, of course, it hit at the heart of my lingering feelings of not measuring up.)

When I was associate pastor at a church in New England, several families left the church over our decision to follow the equal marriage law in Massachusetts and perform same sex marriages. The issue came up because a gay couple in town came to the senior pastor and asked to be married in our church. The issue with the families was not so much equal marriage as it was the process by which the decision was made: they felt left out. We asked our area minister to lead a conversation among the families, the deacons, and the ministers. As the meeting progressed, the anger moved from the immediate issue to things they had carried around for awhile, many of them having to do with me -- my preaching style, my dress, my manner in general – their read on me being based on the assumption that somehow I was gunning for them. One specific example was I had sung “We Shall Overcome” as part of my sermon one Sunday, which they took to be a brazen in-your-face challenge to them. I reminded them the sermon had been an account of our visit to a church for homeless people on Boston Common where we had sung the hymn and I sang it because I was moved by people with nothing having the faith to sing those words. Again, despite our best efforts, the situation did not end in healing. They left. I didn’t. It wasn’t any easier to take the second time around.

In both situations, there were things I could have done differently, less defensively, more compassionately. In both cases, the point came when I decided I had done all I could do, or at least I couldn’t change their minds or their hearts. By that time, in both cases, I was beyond being mad; I was hurt and sad.

I thought about both situations this week with the news that you and Michelle had decided to leave the church that has been your spiritual home for the last two decades. I haven’t been able to find any more information than has shown up in the various news stories, so I know I don’t know the whole story. Your move has some personal impact because you are a part of the United Church of Christ, my denomination. So is Jeremiah Wright. So are the other people at Trinity. You are my peeps who are hurting and hurting each other. That’s hard.

I have no idea the kind of pressure you are living under these days. I imagine you are right when you say your candidacy has created a great deal of pressure on Trinity as well. I’m saddened that the pressure has broken relationships that took years to build. I’m sad your church was not a place you felt you could go for comfort and support after all of these years. I’m also sorry you didn’t post anything on your website that provided more explanation for your decision and left that, instead, to the media who don’t understand faith and church to begin with. They make it sound like a political decision, as though you needed to break the ties in order not to damage your campaign. I don’t want that to be true.

Only you know your heart. Here’s what I know, looking back. I stayed another six years as youth minister and would have had the chance to see both of those kids graduate from high school as a part of our youth group. At the Massachusetts church, one of the guys who left used to go to Red Sox spring training every year and send an nightly email about the games that rivaled any sports writer you can think of. After he left the church, he took me off the mailing list. I missed out on a great deal because we couldn’t (wouldn’t?) figure out how to be church together.

You’re walking away from people you love and people who love you. Walk slowly. And know you can always turn around and go back.