Grandma

I’ve always known I was a lot like my grandmother, Duddie Lalley. Or maybe I just hoped I was. Her passing this week has been hard and beautiful at the same time.

As a child, I loved exploring her home–her bright pink lipstick in her neatly organized vanity, her closet full of fancy clothes and colorful shoes, her house full of Asian and European decor from her many travels, her linen closet carefully labeled with sheets for each bedroom (which made for great hiding spots), the Lorna Doone cookies that could always be found in the bread drawer, the exciting toys we didn’t have at our house like Mr. Potato Head. It was predictable and stable to be in her space. Everything was in its place and everything had its place. Grandma was always kind but firm with us. She did her share of grandma spoiling–beautiful dresses from London and kimonos from Japan that Tara and I found much more desirable than our usual wardrobe of hand-me-downs from cousins–but she consistently reminded us that good manners were important.

Trips to Naples are among our family’s best memories. Grandma taught us how to find the best shells, what to order at Pippins, how to shuffle like a real card player, how to make the best key lime pie with only 4 ingredients, and to appreciate the beauty in a pelican.  She modeled creativity with her needlepoint and lifelong learning by spending much of her time reading on the porch.

As I grew, I began to appreciate her intellect. I learned she had a Chemistry degree. In a time when women were not encouraged to be educated, she pursued a field typically dominated by men, graduating from College of Charleston in 1946. She was also a lover of history. Since college, each time I visited I would borrow books about foreign lands, The Cold War, and even about our own family fighting in the Civil War. After I moved away, we would write to each other. She would write me thank you notes for my thank you notes (as grandmothers do), she would tell me about her bridge games and New Years Eve parties that ended before 10PM, and I would tell her about my travels, new jobs, and friendships. I love having a record of her neat yet loose penmanship (or is it penwomanship?). Sitting in the armchair in her living room at Brightwood, we would talk of history and travel and politics. I will treasure those visits and her wisdom.

I was with her on her last visit to her home in Naples, Florida. Her nurse Sharon told me that everyone wanted to be Duddie’s caregiver because she treated her nurses with such dignity and respect. She was like that with all people. Her southern roots shone through in many aspects of her being, especially her cooking. However, she did not have to teach us how to treat people, she modeled it. It made me proud and teary to hear that others noticed this quality in my grandmother.

One month ago she was at our wedding. Like the rest of Baltimore, her home did not have electricity, and therefore AC, so attendance proved difficult for her. But she was there. I’d like to think she held on to life just a bit longer to be there. I’m honored to be reading the same passage that was read at our wedding from Revelation 21. It reminds me that there are beginnings and there are endings to all things, and every beginning is also an ending just as every ending is also a beginning. I know this is not new information, but it is fresh for me today.

 Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

 Image

Ann Dudley “Duddie” Lalley, volunteer

She volunteered at Keswick Multi-Care Center and the Junior League of Baltimore

By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ann Dudley “Duddie” Lalley, a homemaker and volunteer, died Thursday of complications from a stroke at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. She was 86.

The daughter of a civil engineer and a homemaker, Ann Dudley Field was born in Rochester, N.Y., and spent her early childhood years in Winchester, Va.

After moving to Memphis, Tenn., where she graduated from high school, she began her college studies at Rhodes College in Memphis.

When her father was named city manager of Charleston, S.C., she transferred to the College of Charleston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1946.

After graduating, Mrs. Lalley moved to Baltimore to take a job in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

While working at Hopkins, she met her future husband, John S. Lalley Sr., who worked in the blood bank.

“She told a story about how he wanted to spend time with her and would ask if he could practice his phlebotomy skills on her,” said a son, Thomas B. Lalley of Towson.

The couple married in 1950, and Mr. Lalley, who left Hopkins in 1952, went to work for what was then Peterson Howell and Heather.

Mr. Lalley, who later became chairman of the board and chief executive officer of what became PHH Corp., died in 1994.

Mrs. Lalley, who had lived in Ruxton and on Caves Road in Owings Mills, volunteered and was a longtime board member of Keswick Multi-Care Center and volunteered with the Junior League of Baltimore.

Mrs. Lalley later moved to Cross Keys and for the past decade had lived at the Brightwood retirement community in Lutherville. She also liked spending winters at a second home in Naples, Fla.

She enjoyed entertaining family and friends, sailing, and playing bridge, golf and tennis. She was also an accomplished needlepoint worker.

Mrs. Lalley was a communicant of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane, Owings Mills, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

Also surviving is another son, John S. Lalley Jr. of Ruxton; a daughter, Nancy L. Rueckert of Ruxton; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Books and Friendship

“You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words…Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling…of that something which you were born desiring?”

CS Lewis

After Christmas…

My dear friend Anna is starting her career as a pastor in Raleigh. Although we were friends in college, it seems we’ve become better friends the past few years over the internet. We have gchatted our hopes, fears,and confusions over race, gender, the gospel, relationships…She’s a dear and loyal friend who cares for me well and directs me to thought-provoking articles, books, and ideas. Hear (or “here,”) her words about how to carry Christmas with us all year long. 

 

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Luke 2:22-40

[Preached January 1, 2012. Raleigh, NC.]

Today, on this first Sunday after Christmas, we’ve reached the end of the dramatic first two chapters of Luke’s gospel where we’ve been making our liturgical home now for a couple of weeks.  We’ve walked through the story of Jesus’ birth, gathering around the manger with the likes of wisemen and shepherds to catch a glimpse of the infant Savior.  And though many of us are a little holiday-weary and probably ready to move on from Christmas and into the stories of Jesus’ ministry, our gospel writer won’t let us move on quite yet.  Signaling in his own way that the story has really only just begun, Luke gives us one more opportunity to gather around the Christ-child in adoration, only this time there’s no barn.  Listen now for the word of the Lord as it comes to us from Luke, chapter 2, verses 22 through 40.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”  Here ends our reading. Thanks be to God.

It had been a long, hot summer.  Almost unbearably hot.  It was that kind of summer when the heat hangs around you like Spanish moss hangs off of trees in Charleston, so thick you almost feel like you could get tangled in it, and when you can never seem to slake your thirst.  The weatherman, much to my offense, had been as cheerful as ever as he had chirped over our car radio that we’d almost certainly hit 107 degrees by mid-afternoon.  Our air conditioner had quit, so we had cracked the windows open.  When we got there, the five of us drowsily peeled ourselves out of the car and rolled in like we always did, Len wiping the Jersey grime off of her glasses and Ted begrudgingly putting on a tie at the last minute.  Once those among us who relied on caffeine as much as prayers to get through that summer had iced coffees in our hands, we poured ourselves into the tiny chaplain’s office to receive our lists for the day, and then we scattered to our various domains.  I always started the same way – down the hall and to the left, through the Pediatric ER, then back again down the hall and into the elevator to make it to rounds in the ICU and then down the hall to another of my assigned areas, if the morning allowed for it.

On that particular morning, the elevator was slow in coming, and so when it finally did arrive, it filled quickly and to the brim with families and medical professionals.  Once we were all inside and someone had punched those little light-up buttons for all of us, we heard a voice calling out. “Hold the elevator?!” So someone stuck their arm out against the automatic door, and as it recoiled, a vortex of a man with tousled hair and a crumpled plaid shirt bounded into the elevator with us.  His tan satchel, strapped diagonally across his chest, was stuffed to the gills.  In his right hand, he was carrying two Jacuzzi-sized coffees, and somehow, a bag of bagels.  And in his left, an empty infant carseat.

Against all hospital elevator-riding etiquette, we made eye contact.  And then he glanced down at my badge and I smiled at the carseat.  “It’s a girl,” he said.  “What wonderful news,” I offered in response.  “When was she born?”  “Very early yesterday morning,” he twinkled back at me, balancing the coffees against the wall now.  “We’re taking her home today.”  And then the words he had just spoken visibly dawned on him like the personal headline they truly were.  “Wow,” he said.  “We’re really doing this, chaplain.  She’s actually here.  All this waiting, and all this planning and anticipation, and she’s here.”  He paused reflectively, and then with equal measure of joy and terror he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I can’t believe she’s ours.  What are we supposed to do next?”

Perhaps it is the question that is on our minds in these days after Christmas, as we’ve hauled our trees to the curb and swept up the tinsel and the glitter they’ve left in their wake on the living room floor.  Now what?  And it had to have been on Joseph’s mind, and Mary’s, too, so many years ago.  Now what?  Now that the pageantry of Christmas had passed and day had dawned on his ramshackle birthplace, obscuring the twinkle of the brilliant Christmas star, and the singing of the angelic hosts was no longer ringing throughout the skies, now that those three foreign dignitaries – those wisemen – now that they have paid him homage and left their gold and their frankincense and their mhyrr in a sparkling pile at the foot of the manger to return to their homes by another way, now that the shepherds had taken to the fields again to reunite with their flocks, now that the manger had been returned to its ordinary use and the animals had quieted their braying adoration of the Christ-child, now, when the Angel Gabriel was nowhere in sight, when it was just the three of them – Mary, and Joseph, and the infant Jesus, and the signs of Christmas had all but disappeared, you have to believe that the exhausted holy family must have looked at each other and said, now what?

Gabriel hadn’t really given them much instruction about parenthood beyond what they were to name the child.  And so, relying on the sturdy traditions of their faith to guide them, Mary and Joseph did what most pious, law-observing couples would have done in their day.  They went to the Jerusalem temple to perform the ritual acts called for in the law of Moses after the birth of a child.  They brought two small birds for sacrifice, in order to mark their son’s birth with a sign of their willing obedience to God as parents.  And the child was named and circumcised – that is, marked as a precious member of God’s covenant community as so many had been before him.  And Mary, who would have been ritually unclean after giving birth to her son, went to the temple to be purified as was called for in the law, so that she might rejoin the normal rhythms of worship and community and life with God along with her family.  In other words, Mary and Joseph, after being swept up into months of miraculous disruption, went about the more ordinary business of faith.

But what they quickly came to find out, like my friend in the hospital elevator on that hot summer morning, was that the birth of their child had radically transformed the ordinary as they had known it.  There would be no getting back to normal.  Because of this child, theirs would be an altogether new normal.  What Mary and Joseph learned that day in the temple was that the miracle of Christ’s birth wasn’t over.  It was just beginning, and his new life brought with it hope and a future, not just for them, but for the whole of creation.

At least this was the message on the lips of the two excited strangers that met them in the temple.  Can’t you just see it now?  We’ve all been around when a new baby makes his or her social debut.  Babies have an innocent, but strong power to command the attention and focus of almost any room.  But rarely are they scooped up and claimed by strangers as their own, a sign of God’s favor specifically for them.  But this is precisely what Simeon does when Mary and Joseph set foot inside that temple with Jesus in tow.  Now, though Luke doesn’t explicitly call him one, we can be sure that Simeon was a prophet – you know, one of those people who have the gift of seeing God at work in the world, and helping others to see it, too.  Simeon was a prophet who took one look at the face of the infant Jesus and saw the very face of God, right there with him, in the flesh.  Immanuel.  After a lifetime of waiting.  After a lifetime of longing for the consolation of his people.  And so scooping up the infant Lord from his mother’s arms, Simeon begins to sing loud praises to God. “Master,” he sings, “now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.” And soon enough Simeon is joined by another prophet, the elderly widow Anna, who had known grief first-hand and who had spent her life hoping and longing to see the redemption of Israel.  And these two elderly prophets, who while the drama of Christmas was unfolding around that manger in that far away place were in their own ordinary corners of the world waiting and hoping for the good news of great joy to reach them, together they begin to sing of God’s promised peace.

And, according to verse 33, Mary and Joseph were “amazed at what was being said about” their child.

Simeon and Anna.  Two strangers.  Two witnesses, who embody the hope of a whole people who had come before them, who sing about the trustworthy promises of God. Two prophets, whose words remind us a lot of those familiar words from the prophet Isaiah we hear during the season of Advent, words of comfort and hope originally addressed to a nation in exile.  Isaiah writes to the exiles, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?…Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:28-31).  Isaiah writes, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19)  And we hear Simeon echoing the theme, “Master, my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.  He’s really here.  I can’t believe he’s ours.”

And that is, indeed, what he is.  He is here, and he is ours.  A light for revelation to the Gentiles, a light that the darkness cannot overcome.  That was our Christmas proclamation a week ago: He is here!  A light shining in the darkness. The revelation of God’s grace.  Not in some twinkly, fictional dream world.  But in this one, our very real world.  Mary and Joseph’s world.  Simeon and Anna’s world.  Our world.  The same world that the apostle Paul says “has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves…[who] groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). Simeon and Anna proclaim that Christ has come to them, and if to them, then to us, too, and that, my friends, is the good news of Christmas that simply cannot be contained by December 25th, but is strong enough to carry us into a new year with hope.

By including the story of Simeon and Anna’s encounter with the Christ-child in the first two chapters of his gospel, it is almost as if Luke is taking his readers by the shoulders and begging us to open our eyes to this good news in our own time and place.  “God is doing a new thing – do you not perceive it?  God is a God who keeps promises, who remembers those who are longing for a vision of peace, who are searching for the possibility of a life that is stronger than death.  God is a God who draws near to those in need of restoration, a God whose presence means that hope is ours, for grace has been born into this world, and when grace is loose in the world, things get shaken up.  The proud fall and the lowly are lifted up.  And the likes of Simeon and Anna, and you, and I, are all included in the story.  And Luke asks us, “Do you not yet perceive it?”  This is the mysterious proclamation of our faith – what happened then is happening now, in us.  It is new, and it is old, and it is a mystery, but it is sturdy, trustworthy one.

So what now?  It is the first day of 2012, a year that follows on the heels of one that in so many different ways revealed to us the radical fragility of hope.  And I won’t stand up here and presume to say what this year will bring, but I do know one thing.  We go into it holding the Christ-child, a vision of a world to come already here, beginning.  And that makes all the difference. Amen.

Some poems

One day at the beach this summer, I had an itch to write poems. So I wrote eight. The only problem is, I don’t know how to write poems. What makes a poem “good?” Here’s two of them.

Sea

There’s more below the surface than you let on

Deep crying out to deep

Gathering up, pushing through, pulling back

Rhythm, chaos; constant, shifting

Toad fish

Toad-like with your legs

Fish-like with your fins

You are polluting our space with your death

If I were fishing I would likely catch you

And be disappointed

Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a differene in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.  Amen.

Privilege Activity

Privilege Activity: I’m in Philly for a People of Color Conference, and yesterday we learned about this activity in a seminar. Reading through these statements helps me to see how much privilege I have, and how all of the “hard work” I’ve done has only been a small factor in getting me where I am today. 

Purpose:  To provide participants with an opportunity to understand the intricacies of privilege.

Time:  1 ½ hours

Materials:  none needed

Facilitator Notes: 
This is a powerful exercise and should be thoroughly processed.

1. Participants should be led to the exercise site silently, hand in 
    hand, in a line.

 
2. At the site, participants, can release their hands, but should be 
    instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder in a straight line without 
    speaking.

 
3. Participants should be instructed to listen carefully to each sentence, and take the step required if the sentence applies to them.  They should be told there is a prize at the front of the site that everyone is 
    competing for.

Sentences:

If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.

If your primary ethnic identity is American, take one step forward.

If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If there were people of color who worked in your household as servants, gardeners, etc., take one step forward.

If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.

If your parents were professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.

If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one stop back.

If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.

If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.

If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.

If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.

If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.

If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.

If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.

If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.

If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.

If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.

If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.

If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.

If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.

If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were paid less, treated fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.

If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.

If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.

If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.

If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.

If your parents told you you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.

Processing:

Ask participants to remain in their positions and to look at their position at the site and the positions of the other participants.

Ask participants to consider who among them would probably win the prize.

Suggested questions for processing are:

1)  What happened? 
2)  How did this exercise make you feel? 
3)  What were your thoughts as you did this exercise? 
4)  What have you learned from this experience?5)  What can you do with this information in the future?