School Shootings: It’s Not the Schools, It’s The Guns

During my time supporting three Assistant Principals and an Associate Principal, I saw all the Discipline on a 5A, highly diverse High school campus. Most is petty and routine: dress code violations, excessive tardiness, insubordination; a subset of chronic cases who had more serious offenses on their records; and maybe a dozen of the truly troublesome.

I thought of the truly troublesome as the Disaffected Boys, sometimes, because they just seemed adrift. They had messy or tragic home lives, often. If they had been involved in athletics, by High school they were kicked off their teams because of their disciplinary offenses, grades, or absenteeism. They had few friends or fluid, ever-changing friendships among the other truly troublesome students. They weren’t involved in clubs or activities, or seemed to have any church or worship life. Drugs were a common theme, both prescribed (which they either didn’t take or did so abusively) or recreational. They were adrift and seemed angry most of the time. A couple of them scared me, and I don’t scare all that easily; these were the ones who’s own parents were afraid of them.

What they were was dangerous, and they existed on our campuses for the same reasons there are students with profound mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, on your student’s campus right now: every student is guaranteed an equal and adequate education, and most districts find it cheaper to place difficult students or profoundly special needs students on standard campuses with sparse Special Ed resources available to them, than place them on smaller, more expensive campuses where more intensive interventions can take place. Parents may also object to their student being placed on an alternative campus, and most districts have policies of returning even suspended and/or expelled students back to a regular campus as quickly as possible, in order to provide that equal and adequate education.

From my seat in the AP’s Office, I witnessed Teachers, Principals, Special Ed Aides, and yes, Secretaries, too, doing everything in their power to help every student who had need. And you know, we don’t always like every student. Some students can be real jerks by the time they are in High school, and some have parents who are real jerks, too. But schools are staffed with professional, highly educated, big-hearted people who put aside personal animosity and go by-the-book, as defined by their District. I have never seen any who particularly wanted to stick it to even the most obnoxious student. They approach their duty in fairness and compassion, because they know what is at stake: a human being, a life. So I really don’t want to hear anyone blaming the schools when something awful happens. It’s way, way bigger than that.

Let’s look at our society: we’re so busy making money we throw money at our kids instead of time. Many abdicate parenting entirely to the schools, only to rail at them when they try to impose discipline. More often, I saw parents doing their best while working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and/or parenting alone.

Parents and schools are also struggling against a society which hyper-sexualizes and matures the young far beyond their brain’s still-developing capacity to deal with the issues this presents. TV, video games, movies, music, and their friends are all far more influential with the young by the time they hit Middle school, than are their parents or school administrators.

Increasing technology facilitates isolating oneself in a self-selected echo-chamber of voices, many quite dangerous and with malign intent, and validating one’s darkest ideas. Bonus: every one of a teenager’s flaws or mistakes are instant gossip fodder for their friends and enemies alike, via social media.

And we have guns, guns everywhere, big guns, readily available. Guns designed for the military, guns with high-capacity magazines which together permit rapid firing and achieve high body count in the hands of one bent on destruction. We have all these guns because a terrorist organization, the NRA, spreads so much money around the state capitols and the Nation’s capitol that they’ve created an impenetrable wall of cash between our elected officials and anyone who dares suggest meaningful gun reform. You can see how much your elected officials have taken from the NRA here. Over the last 40 years, the NRA has grown from a responsible gun enthusiasts’ group to a dangerous, far-right political lobby.

It is impossibly complicated – so much more complicated than I can express here but, here is the deal, folks: It is ABOUT GUNS. While I believe it is profoundly complex, this problem we have of disaffected boys shooting up their schools, involving a mixture of mental health issues, having nothing larger than themselves to believe in, a cynical culture which values money, power, and guns more than them or our consistently underfunded educational system, Districts with “zero tolerance” policies which do not take into account the individual student, and much, much more. But ultimately, if Nikolas Cruz went to his old High school with a machete or even a hand gun instead of an AR-15, there would be many fewer dead, maybe none, today. Without that AR-15, someone might have had time to help Nikolas Cruz.

After Sandy Hook, after Mitch McConnell filibustered against meaningful gun reform, America should just admit that it values the right to possession of military-style armament more than it does it’s children.

But I guess a little child shall lead the way: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are marching on their State Capitol even as I write this, and students from all over the country are going to be marching on Washington next month. They watched as their peers and teachers were gunned down and they have had enough.

They deserve better, and they will show us the way.

They’ve renewed my hope on this issue. Thanks, kids. I see you. I am with you.

#ParklandStudentsSpeak

Ash Wednesday’s Angel

She was slender, in a coat too big for her and with a mop of dark hair in need of a good brushing. She might have been a small ten year old, and it was clear English was her second language as she handed me a note and asked, “Please you help?”

Paul’s eyebrow rose above the frame of his glasses as I took the folded scrap of notebook paper, soft and with a small wear-hole forming in the middle from many foldings and un-foldings. To paraphrase the contents, someone was ill, they needed a place to stay, any amount of money would help.

I hadn’t been approached by a child begging since visiting Rome in 2000, where I’d been warned to avoid getting swarmed by Roma children. So it seemed incongruous to encounter one at Firehouse Subs on Ash Wednesday, in Frisco, Texas, USA.

“Where…?” I started to ask the girl, and she gestured out the door where I could just make out the figure of a woman and two smaller children. I gave Paul the note, and he returned it unread to the girl, his eyebrow now approaching his hairline as he saw me wavering.

“Do you have any cash?”

“Some.” The eyebrow descended, he was now regarding me with wry amusement. He handed the girl the $10 in his wallet. She scampered out the door, and I watched as the woman sent her into another fast food place in the center. I didn’t recall seeing her approach anyone else in Firehouse; something  has brought beggars to me since I was old enough to earn money.

“You’re a good person,” Paul told me.

“‘…without knowing, some have entertained angels….'” I paraphrased, badly.  “All I did was give a little girl $10 of your cash while stuffing back a Hook & Ladder Fully Involved.” We bused our table,  and made it through the door of church with two minutes to spare.

The readings were long, and I thought someone should have had a glass of water for Jan, who did a beautiful job with the Old Testament and the Psalm. But Isaiah had me repressing a giggle and it was my turn to launch an eyebrow pointedly heavenward at Paul:

…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, cover them….  if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted then your light shall rise in the darkness….

“Ya know,” I whispered at Paul, “I cannot remember another time when God sent a specific scriptural reinforcement quite so soon. God must really love you.”

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday To Go

It finally happened: I stood on a street corner for God. Three of ’em. No sandwich board declaring The End Is Nigh, but still more evangelizing than I am comfortable with generally. Fortunately, I had my camera to hide behind.

There we were: three women waving on a street corner, one fully garbed in priestly regalia, beside a folding easel with a bright purple sign announcing, Ashes to Go. Busy people with places to go whisked past us in sedans, minivans, work trucks, and SUVs, and we wondered what lives they carried with them. I said more than one silent prayer for a driver who seemed particularly preoccupied, or grumpy. And the ones eating while dialing cellphones down Coit around 11:45 a.m., Dude, you know who you are and that call can wait. Just sayin’.

Most drivers were unmindful of us, but not all. There were a lot of smiles: puzzled, amused, delighted, approving, cordial as in, look at the crazy ladies but they make me smile, and they almost all came with a friendly returning wave. They came from guys in construction hard hats or dapper driving caps; women in hijab; firefighters, cops, and people in scrubs; guys in delivery trucks who tooted their horns Hello.

Black faces, White faces, Asian faces, Brown faces. All kinds of faces and many distinct styles of wave.

Mother Leslie offered prayer and ashes to all who asked, those in fine cars and those in ones with better days in the rear view mirror.

It’s a new thing, this Ashes to Go, and I know there are those might find it…. awkward. A bit irreverent.  But I say to them, not so long ago I was a working mother who just had no extra minute to carve from the hamster wheel that was my life for the full church service at the end of a work day which left me feeling like an over-cooked noodle,  yet I still yearned for the connection to my faith the observance of ritual and sacraments provides. And it occurs to me that Jesus spent very little time in the Temple, and there is a kind of fruit that might be planted only by non-traditional means. Or maybe it’s a return to tradition? Hmmm….. something to ponder this Lent.

The Cat’s Social Contract

When Paul speaks for our horrible cat, Ivan the (recently) Terrible, he does so in the voice of Stewie from Family Guy.  My internal voice for Ivan has become Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, complete with voluminous Roommate Agreement and it’s many Amendments, all written without our input or agreement.

It may be unwritten but, like Duke’s mayonnaise in the Deep South, there are things that shouldn’t have to be written down. One simply knows, and Ivan’s Social Contract with us is one of those things.

Full disclosure: I am most often the one in Breach of Contract. Damages are almost always forthcoming, both Compensatory and Liquidated.

When Ivan adopted me as The Human He Mostly Tolerates, his first change to our Social Contract was the Wee Hour Snack Amendment. In the early days when I was attempting to civilize Ivan, I bribed him shamelessly. In a spectacular example of Student becoming Master, Ivan quickly identified my insomnia as a weakness he could exploit. Thus Ivan will, a few times a week, launch Stage One: a series of plaintive meowings down the hallway to our bedroom (the small hallway aiding amplification). If I have been so heartless (and foolish) as to ignore what is clearly a starving feline nearing death, using his last gasps of breath to beg for a scrap, Ivan proceeds to Stage Two: I am Adorable, Why Won’t You Feed Me? This involves two minutes of wheezing and purring directly below where I am attempting to sleep, this being my signal to shove the dog over to the middle of the bed, creating enough room for Ivan to jump up and nestle down into the warm semi-circle I have created with my body for his specific comfort. Stage Two can go one of two ways; if he is feeling benevolent and not inclined to hold me to the letter of my contractual obligations, he’ll purr us both back to sleep for a couple of hours. More frequently, there is a combined purring and furious head-butting of whichever of my body parts he can get to, an arm, a foot, my face. Should that fail, should I fall so into breach that I remain unresponsive to his plight, his remedy is simple and deployed without hesitation or sentiment: Damages. Marching across my head to the night table, Ivan begins knocking the contents to the ground.

IMG_3100 (2)Mission: Accomplished.

The Litter Box Amendment is newish. As he enters his senior years, Housekeeping has become important to Ivan, and who would have guessed, what with the chaos and mess of his early years? Nonetheless, should I fail to scrape the litter box twice daily, Ivan is a persnickety customer, availing himself of the aforementioned Liquidated Damages to drive home his point. *In the voice of Stewie, “Oh, think you were clever removing the bathmat? How did you like that puddle in the middle of the bathroom floor at 5:00 a.m?”

We’ve managed to create a couple of Clauses in our favor, such as the one Concerning Lunch Meat, subsection 3. When I crack open a plastic box of lunch meat, Ivan comes in from the yard so I can close the door and, in return, he gets a bite. Roast beef is his favorite, in it’s place he’ll take turkey over ham. Like Chewbacca, he’s generally thinking with his stomach, and we’ve learned to exploit this to our advantage.

Our old dogs across the Rainbow Bridge had their own short Agreements with Ivan. Were they written they would have contained one line only: Let us mutually leave each other the hell alone. Lucy tried to warn Tasha when we moved in, but Tasha made friendly overtures, all rejected. It took her a week, but she joined the social contract of Ivan.

Despite my council, Blanca seems unwilling to enter into any such sensible Agreement. It reminds me of the time the telecom company I worked for was requested to quote on a $5 million dollar job at a time when we really needed work, and the executives got stupid and greedy and responded instead with a $330 million dollar “total network solution”. All Blanca’s bouncing and prancing and gifting of  balls means about as much to Ivan as the advanced software features meant to a company just trying to keep their backbone network from crashing quite so often. Despite several postmortems and fishbone diagrams when we lost the bid, those execs just didn’t get it – what they proposed was so awesome and exactly what the Customer needed! Why couldn’t they see it? Blanca doesn’t understand Ivan’s rejection of toys and play and an unfair portion of her own dinner but, unlike the execs, I think Blanca might eventually learn to give the Ivan Customer what he wants.

Blanca and I both understand this is where the furry little demon has us: the beauty of unwritten contracts is one would never agree to any of it if one saw it written down.

POTUS & Archie Bunker’s Toilet

It was a more innocent time, my childhood, when Jane Russell could only display the Platex Cross Your Heart Bra on a mannequin; it was a big deal that we heard the flush of the Bunker’s toilet; when a married couple must be shown to each have one foot on the floor in the marital bedroom (which contained twin beds). Some things were and still are illegal and other things, like underarms and Archie Bunker’s toilet, were considered crude, and either not permitted out of good taste, or played for cheap laughs. Both the extreme opinions of the far-right, bigoted Archie and his equally extreme, but far-left-leaning son-in-law were skewered by brilliant writing week after week; Archie’s toilet was daring for being heard at all, an extended fart joke. A much more innocent time.

Some firsts aren’t groundbreaking, or desired. This morning, mothers watching the news are shielding their children from anchors throwing around the word “shithole” because they are quoting the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Now, I am no prude and anyone who has talked to me for oh, maybe three seconds, knows I can turn the air blue. It’s not the language I object to; it’s who is saying it it, the context within which it was said, and his obvious, willful ignorance of History and breathtaking thoughtlessness of the world-wide implications of his every aside and tweet. How is it he doesn’t get that? Or, as I suspect and worse, he doesn’t care because this is him:  racist, misogynist, xenophobic in the extreme. Every day it is some new, crude, backwards-thinking embarrassment.

I am descended from people who came from places that, at the times they fled them, probably seemed like “shitholes”. But that did not mean my ancestors were ashamed of their origins – how could they be, when those places made them who they were? When those places gave them the very strength upon which America itself is built? People strong enough to leave a hopeless situation, strong enough to build entire new lives and a country, too, strong enough to send into the future tax-paying citizens like me.

I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Lebanon, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, China, and Ireland. All were hard-working, and many were far better educated than I. To insult their homelands is to insult them.

When I look back at the TV of my youth, I am glad that the more ridiculous rules have fallen away; however, we currently have a Chief Executive with none of the governors over his behavior most sane people employ when in society, let alone anything like class or discretion. Every day his boorish, frat-boy behavior brings yet another new low, from bestowing ridiculous nicknames on world leaders, his insistence on propagating conspiracy theories despite empirical evidence disproving them, to the infantile Twitter battles with which he seems to start every day. He diminishes our good name with every waking hour, even as his robber barons strip healthcare  and food stamps from children and re-write tax code to increase their own wealth. Drain the swamp? Puhleeeze. He’s only added alligators.

Like getting spectacularly drunk at the office Christmas party, it is going to take us a long time to live down the embarrassment and regain our reputation. We will have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously after Trump (so for women and people of color, it will be business-as-usual on steroids).

The first place we can make a significant dent in that drunken reputation is this November. We have got to turn the GOP out, and I mean all of us, we can’t just let Black Women carry the weight. White Women: wake up. This POTUS is no good for us or our children. Vote in your best interests, which means can you get healthcare? Can you afford it? Can you afford your birth control?  Go away, Bernie. You’re not helping. Tell your voters to vote for a viable candidate instead of whining and staying home and then complaining when the Village Idiot is elected President.

Democrats need to clear out the Old Guard and yes, Nancy Pelosi, that means you. Let’s hear more from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro. Here in Texas, I am supporting Beto O’Rourke to unseat Ted Cruz.

The GOP owns this President and everything he is destroying in his path, but it is up to all of us, together, to rebuild our Country and our Ideals – this is no less than a battle for the American Soul, American Identity. We must tell our elected representatives this behavior will not stand. Call your representatives today: 202.224.3121, register to vote, and come November, VOTE. It has never been more important. Words matter.

When someone demeans your place of birth as a “shithole,” it is a fair bet he doesn’t think much of you, either. But he misjudges at his peril. Say it with me, like Ned Stark, “November is coming”.

Weekend Coffee Share: Where do You Find the Holy?

IMG_1976 (2)We were walking out of Central Barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee, when Paul said, “Let’s walk around the front of the motel and see what it is.”

We’d driven past the sign on the way to the barbecue place, knew we should know the name but came up bupkis. Was is some old rocker’s momma’s name? None we could think of. Bo Diddly’s guitar was Lucille, so that wasn’t it.

It was dusk, and still. We walked around the front, and chagrined knowledge brought with it an abrupt intake of air. Oh, it’s the Lorraine Motel.

 

 We were on holy ground.

Before April 4, 1968, it was just a motel which accepted “colored” people as guests. I’m torn on the concept of the blood sacrifice but, in this case, I think something real and definitely holy happened when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s blood spilled on that balcony and his spirit flew away home to the Lord. No assassin’s bullet could stop what he had set into motion; he was doing the Lord’s work.

Standing in the hush of the courtyard, offering a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, no car disturbed us. Such a modest building, such a still, holy feeling on a late summer night.

I’ve certainly felt the holiness receiving Communion at Westminster Abbey, keenly aware of the thousand preceding years during which Christians worshiped there. The passage of time, a millennia, was no more evident to me than in the ancient glass panes of the windows in St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. I learned there that glass is a living thing, not as solid as we think, and the gravitational pull over a thousand years on ancient glass creates panes fatter at the bottom than top. What holiness has that glass absorbed over the millennia? How many prayers vibrate through each of those fat-bottomed panes?

I’ve also found holiness standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in a Redwood forest, beside the Pacific ocean, the hush of a Civil War battlefield, and in the motherly communion exchanged purely through eye-contact with an Italian woman while I was chasing my daughter across a foot bridge on the Tiber.

We’ve joined an Episcopal church plant, now officially a Mission, in Plano. While we grow and until we secure our own building we meet in an elementary school gym. There are student athletes painted on each of the four corners of the gym, and shapes painted in primary colors on the floor. Because we’re Episcopalians and choose our seats the first time we enter a particular parish and never change seats again, I have a yellow square at my feet and every week I think it’s a dropped Post-it and fight the impulse to scrabble at the tiles trying to pick it up. When we receive Eucharist from Mother Leslie, she comes down from the stage area on which our traveling altar is set up, and stands with the Bread on one side of a bright red line, we on the other. It pleases my OCD tendencies, I know right where to go, although about fifty percent of the time I’m also stifling a giggle thinking we will transport this decorative element to the physical church we build. Incorporate it right into the tile. The Holy Red Line of Eucharist. Does it make it less holy that I giggle? Well, I don’t do it out loud, so I don’t think so. I still feel the sense of communion with the saints, those gone before, those present, those to come.

gorilla la times_LIWhen Paul was a teenager and his family moved briefly to Maryland, his Catholic parish met temporarily in a school gym as well, but instead of student athletes painted around the walls like Resurrection has, glowering from behind the altar, keeping watchful eyes over the priests and congregation was the school mascot: the noble Gorilla. A twenty-foot-tall Gorilla.  Holy Evolution, Batman!

Because we’re a church plant and mobile, there is a resolute group of faithful who load a truck and roll in carts of holy apparatus into the gym every Sunday. They reminded me of establishing the Intent of a contract when things got litigious, because seeing my brethren pushing in the Hospitality cart every single Sunday, I realize afresh that it’s not places but people who bring the Holy. It’s the Intent.

Some years ago I made this connection: the people are the church, the church is the people. Paul and I went to Convention in Fort Worth once and were lucky to hear Katharine Jefferts Schori speak, but also heard moving testimony from members in the Fort Worth diocese who had been put out of their parishes, their land, their church homes, when the former Bishop left the Episcopal Church USA, taking church property with him/them. They spoke of how demoralizing it was, at first. Several told of something else, something completely unexpected that also happened: shed of their property and holy “things”, they found they had a new flexibility. Missions previously considered untenable gained new traction. What seemed at first displacement became instead agility, and they found it worked to their advantage in rendering aid to those in need of it. What they thought lost had never been so, because the Holy hadn’t been contained exclusively within the buildings, any more than the ancient Israelites had contained it within an Ark. It isn’t something that can be contained in a building, or lost when the tenants are evicted.

It had been in them, all along.

 

All Women Have Weinstein Memories

The Harvey Weinstein revelations this week have been a particularly loathsome example of the hurdles women still face professionally but for me, it hit rather surprisingly close to home. It brought up a memory I guess I’d have to say I repressed, as it was days in before I realized, standing in my kitchen and listening to one of the accounts, that my visceral reaction was more than just my increasingly ardent feminism being offended. An incident I hadn’t necessarily forgotten, but had minimized in the way women do to these things, returned in glorious technicolor.

The memory returned, whole, connected, and with all the original revulsion, rather than the pale fragments I had allowed at the surface consciousness level for the intervening years. That I would only ken the wrongness, the vileness of an event thirty-odd years later speaks, I believe, to how endemic misogyny still is in our society and why women are 100% over being told to “Smile”.

I was 18 – literally, I had turned 18 years old the proceeding week – when I was asked to meet with the head of the modeling agency I’d signed with. He was the owner of the agency and at least forty years my senior.

He told me how pretty I was, though not pretty enough for high-end, cosmetics company work. “The girls who get those jobs are perfect,” he said and while pretty, I was not “perfect”. At 5′ 7″ I was too short for cat-walk, but ideal for catalog or calendar work. They didn’t mind “curvy” girls, he said, though losing a few pounds would only help me. Thanks to existing on one salad a day, I weighed 115 pounds at the time.

Carole at the Beach1 (2)
This is what Not Pretty or Thin Enough looked like circa 1980

The bottom line was he had the power to give me a career. He found me attractive enough that, despite my obvious deficits of imperfection and 115 pounds distributed over a 5′ 7″ frame, he’d happily further my career if I’d sleep with him. He could provide cocaine, if that sweetened the deal.

I would like to say I didn’t think about it at all, that my morals were such I turned on my heel and left in high dudgeon, but I’d be lying.

What I did think, for a maybe a nanosecond was, It would make everything so much easier. How bad could it be?

But then, completely unbidden by me and surely born by the voices of what President Abraham Lincoln referred to as “our better angels” came a solitary thought: but then I’ll never know. I made some lame excuse about not thinking of him in that way, but more like my Uncle Harry, and (of course smiling!) uh, thanks for the offer… and I beat feet out of the office. I never went back. Thus ended my modeling career.

There are concepts it is difficult for even an intelligent teenager to fully comprehend. On one hand, I could sleep with an old, ugly, and clearly immoral man and have a lucrative career. On the other, I’d never know if the career was earned or given as payment. With the black and white thinking of most teenagers, I thought accepting his offer would confer upon me a particular label: Prostitute. It never occurred to me to label him: Predator. I did know I had little power in this exchange, that my attractiveness to him was currency with a definitive expiration date, the date the next barely-legal girl he wanted to sleep with arrived.

Like most women I took the guilt upon myself, thinking that to sleep with this troll would make me a whore, rather than the truth, which was that offering young women cocaine and a career to sleep with him, made him an exploitative libertine, a predator, and morally reprehensible. It was his moral character on trial, not mine. And lest anyone take the mistaken notion that I condemn the women who made different decisions, let me refute that right here and now. It is always the predator who is in the wrong.

It is so endemic in our society that I had almost forgotten the entire, slimy episode. Oh, through the years people have occasionally asked why I hadn’t pursued the career, and I tell the more or less true story that my parents moved out of state and I chose to stay in California, and waiting tables was more immediately lucrative than hoping for a career in modeling to catch fire. Even through the many years since, I told few people about the meeting with the agency owner because then as now, who would believe me?

My life has not been glamorous or wealthy, but it has been rich. I have not known fame or fortune, but I have known love, friendship, loss, joy, motherhood, so many things, good and bad, that make an excellent life.

But, in the wake of yet another scandal involving a powerful man using women by threatening their careers, hearing people say, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner? Why did she smile in those photos?” makes my blood boil. These are questions men never face, because the power differential still tilts heavily towards the masculine. Women have smiled long enough for our place at the table.

For every Rose McGowan or Gwyneth Paltrow, I expect there are at least 100 other women, standing in their suburban kitchens recalling similar circumstances that left them remembering either a choice to walk away and the loss, personal and/or financial of that decision, or remembering an event that left her feeling dirty and used, and questioning her own talent and ability. This extends far beyond Hollywood. I had subsequent, uncomfortable episodes with male employers in Corporate America, just nothing so egregious as the modeling agency. I know I am far from alone. I have legions of sister-company.

To my sisters I say: it isn’t us who are dirty, we are not responsible for the immorality and predatory behavior of others. Let us support each other, vocally, and remove the conspiracy of silence once and for all. Let us embrace our sisters as they come forward, let us form a protective circle around them, let us assure our daughters they will be believed and we are their advocates. Finally, let us shout a collective, ENOUGH!

An (Extra)Ordinary Man

We were serving hot dogs to homeless people in Columbia, South Carolina, when I overheard a scrap of conversation. I had observed that Arthur knew almost all of the homeless we served that day, but chalked it up to frequent participation in this particular ministry. But it was more than that, it was one of many reasons the death of this particular, (extra)ordinary man will be felt throughout Columbia and beyond.

On the surface, one might be forgiven thinking the only thing extraordinary about Arthur was that he was a Black man married to a White woman, and part of a largely White Episcopal congregation. One would be forgiven for being very, very wrong.

His and his wife’s, Jennifer’s, smiling faces were probably the first two Paul and I saw when we walked through the door of St. Simon and St. Jude Episcopal Church in Irmo, South Carolina. We quickly realized if there was anything going on at SSSJ, Arthur was sure to be involved. He and Jennifer greeted one and all, making newcomers like us feel welcome, and passed out the service bulletins; Arthur passed the collection plate, ushered, and I was lucky enough to teach Sunday School with him a few times. He served our Vestry and the community tirelessly.

Above all, he doted on his girls: Jennifer, his wife, for whom he was a calm, gentle rock through cancer, their three daughters, and the baby grandson for whom he would have been the perfect model of what it means to be a man.

At every event, Arthur was there long after it ended, never leaving until the last chair was stacked, the last bag of garbage toted out. On the Vestry he headed the Outreach Committee, and feeding the homeless of Columbia was something we were privileged to do once a month or so. It was a particularly special ministry for my heart; I’ve written about it here. While I was serving, I overheard that little bit of illuminating conversation about the homeless, and it shone light for me of who Arthur really was as a human being.

Because he worked for the City of Columbia, with the Forestry Dept., Arthur was out and about Columbia every day, and my eavesdropping clarified that the reason he knew all the homeless we fed that day was because he saw them far more often than the once a month I showed up. He was helping them all the time. He knew their troubles and histories, their worries, and who was missing – he’d ask after them by name, like a tall, gentle shepherd, noting the sheep who strayed from the fold.

He was the very best kind of man: faithful to his wife and God, devoted to his daughters and grandson, a good friend, ever willing to lend a hand, hard working and honest. It wasn’t a flashy life, not (on the surface) an extraordinary one but, for me, it was an inspirational life, and cut too damn short.

When I woke this morning I rested my head on Paul’s shoulder, thinking of Jennifer who will have to adjust to the empty space beside her, and I gave thanks for my own, (extra)ordinary man. They are gifts, these good people who walk into our lives and love us, despite ourselves.

I will never understand why bad men flourish while good men, answering work’s call in the midst of a very real storm (Hurricane Irma), die. For now, I am clinging to my faith that all the ripples Arthur sent out, through all the lives he touched with his particularly graceful brand of kindness and compassion, will send his memory on, out into the Universe through their own acts of kindness, bravery, and above all, Love.

Arthur HS 1
Arthur Strudwick – an (Extra)Ordinary Saint

Rest in peace, Arthur. I am glad I knew you, if only briefly, and I will pray for your beloved girls. May light perpetual shine upon you.

#WeekendCoffeeShare: Contemplating the Power of Prayer, and a Road Trip

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Gratuitous sunflower because I love them.

 

If we were having coffee, we would be out on the patio enjoying the morning, as our temperatures in North Central Texas have dropped and the mornings have been spectacular.

Over the first cup, I might ask if you’ve spent any time in prayer this week, however you pray, given all the various storms of every kind rocking our poor, tired old world; I would tell you that I prayed a lot this week.

 

python whacking monksFunnily enough, just this morning our Vicar sent out a test of our Spiritual Gifts and one question asked how comfortable I’d be “in constant prayer”. In my head, I saw myself dressed in sackcloth and ashes a la Monty Python. Then I thought about how one really can be in constant prayer, in terms of noticing the need and the beauty in Life, both with thanks and supplications, as the need arises. In fact, it’s easier than saving them all up for one big, massive discourse at the end or beginning of the day, at least for this Christian. Eat the elephant one bite at a time…. and it helps shake me out of the doldrums, acknowledging the beauty and blessings liberally scattered throughout my life. I might wonder if you, also, got yourself so tangled in the hurts and annoyances of Life that you occasionally need reminding how fortunate you are? Because I surely do.

If we were having coffee, I’d confess that I actually admitted I needed some prayers this week, like, for me. I had myself worked into an obsessive mess about some Adulting I needed to do involving standing up for myself, something hard for me, which most people might find surprising. Anyway, I am luckier than most because I belong to a huge circle of ordained and praying women and so I finally surrendered, reached out and asked them for prayers. Prayers just for me and my (comparatively) insignificant problem. And you know what? All those RevGals got to praying, sending it flowing my way and immediately I could feel it, the weight on my heart lifted, and what once seemed unmanageable became, if not cured, at least tolerable. And that’s all I really needed at the moment, respite, so I could put it into perspective.

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But, on to the second cup and more cheerful topics: Paul and I are planning a road trip. Yes, yes, I know, neither Paul nor I really like road trips, we are airplane people really, but this trip is to Chicago to see my daughter and deliver my old wedding china.

Truth be told, we’ve moved four times in two years which has left zero time for fun trips, so driving the china to Chicago might be a wee bit of an excuse to have some fun. We’re breaking up the drive, allowing us stops in St. Louis on the way up and Memphis on the return. We’ll be sampling the barbecue of both places, even if we know they’ll never measure up to Texas barbecue. And I’ve already started organizing the camera gear, thinking of all the photographic opportunities awaiting me.

If we were having coffee, I’d be grateful for our safety. There is incongruity, or at least cognitive dissonance, in planning a trip of pleasure while knowing millions are in danger of losing all they have, so if we were having coffee, I’d ask you to say, in whatever way you pray, a little prayer me and Paul, for ease of mind and traveling mercies, and ask you to also offer up a big one for all those in harm’s way.