Call My Name: Identity and Human Dignity
Mar13

Call My Name: Identity and Human Dignity

Nick and I walked through the parking lot toward the sanctuary. A man approached and got close enough for me to recognize him. He called out, “Hey, y’all” as he walked past. “Hey, A,” I said. Our backs were toward him as we continued to walk, but I heard his footsteps stop. “Hey,” he called. I turned around. “You know my name!” he exclaimed. “I do,” I said. “You know my name. Have a good night!” I sprayed the cleaner on the table. The smell was intense. The chairs were pulled away from the table so that people could sweep underneath it, but one was blocking the path of the man walking towards me. I pushed it in and said, “Hey, S. How’s it going?” “You know my name?” “I know your name.” “Can I show you something?” “Sure.” S led me to the large rope tapestry hanging in the corner. There were purple strips of fabric and fabric markers so that people could write quotes or messages for Lent and weave them through the rope. “That one. The one up top? I made that one,” S said. “Help me Jesus to do things?” I asked. “That one. I’m proud of that one. You know that song? Help me Jesus?” S questioned. “Did you sing that at church last week?” “You heard me sing?” he asked. “I heard you sing.” The Scripture was Matthew 4:1-11. Pastor Mark asked if anyone had thoughts. A hand went up behind me, and the man stood. Pastor Mark said, “Yeah, G. You have something?” G’s mouth opened. He paused and closed his mouth briefly. Slowly he said, “Thanks for remembering my name, brother.” There is a saying, “Tigers die and leave their skins. People die and leave their names.” Maybe it’s actually an old Japanese proverb or maybe it’s a quote from the wall of a dirty bathroom stall. Either way, its power is not lost on me. A name gives us an identity. A name gives us dignity. At the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service each year, we mourn people by name. It’s not enough to say that five or thirteen or twenty-two homeless people died on the streets in our town this year. Homeless is an adjective. Homeless isn’t a name. In the NeverEnding Story, the only way Bastian can save Fantasia is by giving the Childlike Empress a new name and calling it out. “Call my name! Bastian, please! Save us!” Perhaps it is that easy. Perhaps calling the name of the person you’ve walked quickly past, averted your eyes from, or otherwise stripped of dignity is the first step that...

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Words of Christ in Red: Forgiveness and the Search for Community
Dec26

Words of Christ in Red: Forgiveness and the Search for Community

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25 I didn’t know until I saw the headline. “Man who lost family in Gatlinburg fire pens open letter forgiving arson suspects.” My heart sank. They were dead. I was hoping Michael Reed would find his wife and daughters alive, but as the days went on, I knew that was more and more unlikely. I read the article, which quoted the letter that Michael Reed had written to the two teenage suspects. “We will pray for you. Every day. We will pray for your parents and your family members. Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.” That’s what Jesus would do. I was angry. I was angry with the Christian idea of forgiveness. Why should this man have to forgive? His wife and his daughters were dead. Dead. Three lives lost. I could feel the anger boiling up inside of me, and I opened my mouth and let it spill out. Nick listened, and then he told me I was wrong. What kind of world did I want to live in? Did I want to live in a world of human vengeance and vigilante justice? This was exactly why the concept of Jesus was good. Humans fail again and again at keeping themselves in line. Maybe having a supernatural power to help us forgive each other and not engage in revenge killings wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe. I could see how in this case – in THIS case – forgiveness might make sense. The teenagers didn’t intend to kill anyone. They were hiking and playing with matches. They were stupid, but were they murderers? I didn’t think so. It was an accident. But, what about in other cases? I thought of a terribly made movie from 20 years ago, Eye for an Eye with Sally Field and Kiefer Sutherland. Field’s character killed the man who raped and murdered her daughter. Why should a mother have to forgive her daughter’s rapist and murderer? She shouldn’t! When I saw the movie, I was glad he was dead. Justice and not forgiveness! “Listen to yourself,” Nick said. “You cannot have people exacting their own justice.” “Rationally, sure, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t want a world like that. But, I know if that happened to Hannah, then I would want revenge....

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An Ounce Of Perspective
Aug21

An Ounce Of Perspective

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin I didn’t think I’d fall asleep. I tried to lie perfectly still and relax my hands. I started counting as I breathed. I was hyperaware of the tightness in my chest. Breathe, count. Breathe, count. Nick took my hand. Loose hands. Breathe, count. Breathe, count. I woke up with a start. The clock said 4:57 am. My chest was immediately tight again. I need sleep. How will I do everything I need to do today without sleep? I thought of the calendar in the garage. I’d carefully mapped out the next two weeks hour-by-hour. It didn’t seem possible. There weren’t enough hours in the day. There wasn’t enough money in the bank. My chest squeezed my heart even tighter. Go back to sleep. Breathe, count. Breathe, count. We were out of socks. The one thing people need all the time is socks. We were out. There were no women’s underwear, and we only had men’s underwear in a 2XL and 3XL. People need clean underwear. We were out of milk. No milk for coffee. No athlete’s foot powder, no reading glasses. I made a mental note every time someone asked me for something we didn’t have. Today, I’d brought combs, baby wipes, and deodorant because that’s what we were out of last time. A woman I’d never seen before said, “I need to wash my underwear. Do you have any soap I can use for that?” The male volunteer said we had shampoo or bar soap. She turned to me, “I’ll ask the other woman. She’ll know. Should I use shampoo or soap to wash my underwear?” I told her I’d use shampoo if it were me. If it were me. Homeless. Simply in need of a clean pair of underwear. I glanced around the room. So many stories here. It could be me. Nick flipped through the book with storage bin assignments. A man stood waiting, hoping that one of the 200 Rubbermaid bins might have been vacated in the last month. I said, “I doubt there’s one available mid-month. I’d check back every day during the first week of September.” He looked at me. “I don’t know what to do. I’m hungry. Do you know anywhere that’s serving food today?” There was something about his eyes. Breathe. “Haywood Street Congregation serves dinner on Sundays. I think it starts at 4:30 pm, but ask up at the front desk to be sure. Do you know where that is? It’s just around the corner.” We got home and let the dog out. I walked in the...

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Creepy Guys and Grocery Stores: Don’t Second Guess Yourself
May18

Creepy Guys and Grocery Stores: Don’t Second Guess Yourself

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” – Fred Rogers “But, I don’t need to go to the bathroom!” “Yes, you do,” I said. “Go now so we don’t have to stop later.” Ari reluctantly headed into the men’s bathroom in the grocery store, and Hannah and I went into the women’s bathroom. When we walked walked out a few minutes later, there was a man standing in the hallway by the bathroom doors. Something about him made my internal alarm go off. I glanced at him quickly. Not an employee. No one else was in the bathrooms. He was just standing there watching people. Why was he hanging out in that hidden corner of the store? He wasn’t doing anything, but something wasn’t right. I walked past him with the kids, and we finished grocery shopping and went on with our day. Several hours later we were home, the kids had eaten, and I was sitting in the garage. “Mom,” Hannah said. “There was a creepy guy in front of the bathrooms at Ingles.” She’d noticed him too. “Yeah,” I said. “I saw him.” A creepy guy. I’d never heard her say those words before. Nor could I remember her ever commenting on someone appearing out of place. Ever. “Why was he just standing there like that?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “I wondered that also.” Acknowledgement. We both felt the same way. This was hours later, and it was important enough for her to mention to me. And, that was that. “I forgot to buy soup,” I said. “That’s not good,” Nick replied. “You live on soup!” “I know, right? If I run to Ingles, do you want a Key Lime Refresher from Starbucks?” “Of course!” “Okay. Trenta sized. I’ll get you one. I love you!” Soup and Starbucks. Soup and Starbucks. Soup and Starbucks. I repeated it in my head so I wouldn’t get distracted and forget again. I stopped by the cantaloupes. Two other women were picking them up and smelling them. “These are great,” one of them said to me. “I got some the other day, and they were delicious!” “Thanks,” I said. “I love cantaloupe.” A nice, normal grocery store interaction. I put a cantaloupe in my cart. I walked through the produce section and stopped to grab a potato salad and macaroni salad for Nick. I rounded the corner to head toward...

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It’s Gonna Be A Great Day! Amen!
Apr17

It’s Gonna Be A Great Day! Amen!

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” – Isaiah 58:10 The alarm beeped at me at 6:27 am. I don’t like setting the alarm for round numbers. Threes and sevens are good. Zeroes and fives are bad. I’d already set up the coffee pot last night, so I rolled out of bed and turned it on. I took a quick shower, threw on my workout clothes from yesterday, put my hair into a pineapple bun, and poured two cups of coffee. By the time I walked back to the bedroom with the coffee, Nick was dressed. I chugged my coffee and poured another. Nick passed on the second cup because he likes to sip his coffee. And, we were out the door. “Brr, it’s chilly!” The thermometer in my car read 38 degrees. That number was not lost on me. I turned on the heat and flipped the switch for the heated seats in my car. We drove to the tiny parking lot and headed down the sidewalk to the homeless day shelter. A crowd was outside waiting for the doors to open at 8:00 am. As we walked toward the building, one of the men said, “Good morning. How you doin’?” Nick said, “I’m good. How are you?” “I’m good considering the circumstances.” Considering the circumstances. I stood at the front desk. Even though I’m only there a few times a month, I consider the front desk my spot. Some volunteers like to sort mail, but not me. I get to talk to people at the front desk. The front door opened, and everyone outside lined up to sign in. The first few people inside came immediately to the front desk. There are two showers in the men’s bathroom and only one in the women’s. The requests came fast and furious. “Can I get a towel and soap? And shampoo. A razor also.” “Can I get some ibuprofen?” “Mucinex.” “Do you have vitamins?” “A ziploc bag.” “Do you have any deodorant?” “Socks.” “A rubber band.” “Socks.” “Do you have a piece of tape?” “Socks.” We were out of white tube socks by 9:00 am. I wrote “socks” on my list. Every time I volunteer, I make a list of things to bring next time. Today’s list read: socks, washcloths, shaving cream, apples. I like to stand at the front desk because of the women. If I’m there, they will motion to me specifically and whisper to ask if they can get a...

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