Tuesday, June 24, 2008

If Today You Hear: Epiphanies and the Everyday

In the pilgrimage that is life, the lessons we most need to hear at any give time are right there around us, if we but have ears to hear them. Each day, when I pray Psalm 95, remembering as I do so that the whole church (in many liturgical traditions, at least) prays that psalm with me to begin the day, I mull over the line which says, "If today you hear my voice, harden not your heart."

Sometimes the line strikes me as unnecessarily accusatory: who would refuse to listen, if You would only really speak to us? Isn't the problem with You and Your silence, not with us?

At other times, the admonition to listen makes me think of the ways in which God actually does speak to us all the time. And we fail to hear. Our ears just aren't attuned, many times. We want the voice to be a booming proclamatory one on the mountaintop, not the still, small voice of a little girl that Elijah heard in the cave.

We want God to bowl us over, not to be right there in the mundane, in the bread and wine, the water and oil, the muck and manure of daily life. In the friends who are faithful and the friends who betray us. In the flawed brother and sister who kneels beside us at the communion rail. Our ability to hear is thwarted, because we have installed screening devices in our lives that dictate how God is to speak, and who God is to be.

As I think of all this today, two recent tiny epiphanies come to mind. These didn't leap into my life from some high place. It wasn't an authority figure or a teacher who planted the epiphanic seeds in my heart, seeds that have sprouted only slowly in the last several days, as I listen for God's voice while brewing a pot of tea or trimming gardenias, hydrangeas, and chaste tree blooms to put into the vase for Sunday dinner.

As with most of the epiphanies that get under our skin subtly and shift our worldview decisively, these came from people right around me, from family. The first occurred in a conversation with my aunt several weeks ago.

My aunt is 80. When Steve's brother Joe recently said, with understated sarcasm, "She's just a sweet little old lady," we all laughed uproariously. Little she is, old she is, but she is far more pith and vinegar than honey. And even she wouldn't bat an eyelash in telling you that.

So. As we often do when we talk, she told me of her latest trials and tribulations with nature. The natural world is my aunt's sworn enemy. It's out to get her. Birds manage, somehow, to mess on her bathroom window--which is perpendicular, not a surface on which a bird can perch.

Cats leave tokens in her yard. No sooner does she have the yard raked, than the magnolia leaves of the neighbors across the street insinuate themselves into her yard.

Her latest battle with nature is a futile attempt to synchronize the date her yard is mowed (it's never set, but depends on the need for mowing after rain or the passing of time) with the mowing of the yard next door. Problem is, that yard never gets mowed--or so my aunt claims.

It did get mowed routinely when the house was in the keeping of an elderly neighbor who lived in the house about fifty years. That neighbor was fastidious about her yard and garden. Even when she was so stooped with age that she could barely stand, we'd see her out fiddling beneath her azaleas and camellias, picking up spent leaves, tidying the mulch.

When she died a year or so ago, the house went to a nephew, who moved in with someone my aunt calls "his partner." Two men. Two young men. One of these promptly went off on military duty. The other does not mow the yard to my aunt's satisfaction. She's almost convinced that he deliberately lets it grow to defy her in her futile attempt to synchronize her lawn work with his.

Consequently, she often has a neat yard (until the magnolia leaves intrude, and God help us! the odious sweet-gum ball season is just around the corner now), while the yard next door is shabby. This drives my aunt crazy.

As she told me about this, speaking of the man who owns the house and his partner, I arched my eyebrows and said, "Partner? What do you mean by that?" I had suspected that the men were more than roommates. I suspected that she suspected, but we had never discussed it.

She said, "Well, aren't they together? That's what I mean. Nothing else." To which I replied, "Well, if you mean what I think you mean by 'together,' then you could always retaliate for the non-existent yard work by reporting the soldier to the army. Isn't it your patriotic and Christian duty to turn him in for importing his lifestyle into the military?"

I was, of course, teasing. When you live with pith and vinegar, you approach most subjects elliptically, since the reaction to anything you say can be unpredictably volatile.

My aunt's response: "I have enough business to take care of in my life without trying to mind someone else's business."

This from a devout church-going woman. From a Baptist. Well, from a Baptist whose church has left the Southern Baptist Convention because of its narrow-mindedness, and has affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. A church that sponsors a food pantry, in which my aunt works every week.

Nonetheless, a heartland Christian from a church regarded by most of us as less than progressive on gay issues: my aunt could not give a flip about how other people conduct their sexual lives. And she is not about to get involved in judging.

She has enough business of her own to manage, thank you very much.

I propose that this is the authentic Christian approach to gay people and gay issues. This is what I mean in yesterday's posting, when I talk about how it is not going to be church leaders and leaders of church-affiliated institutions that break down the barriers for gay people. Those folks are hopelessly enmeshed in power and toxic systems of lies.

It's going to be "ordinary" Christians like my aunt who change things. By refusing to judge. By refusing to hate. By continuing to love the gay people they already know and love--even when we don't mow our yards to her satisfaction.

(And for the other epiphany, I will keep you waiting . . . .)


Brad C. said...

Bill, rather than have your aunt report her neighbor's partner to the military for being derelict in their yardwork, you should have her suggest, in her ever so southern genteel way, that having an untidy yard makes her neighbors very bad gays.

William D. Lindsey said...

Ah, the trials and tribulations of being poster-boys for all our gay brothers: we have to keep up house and yard while cooking fabulous meals and being unrelentingly witty, all at the same time.

I suspect that none of my aunt's neighbors could ever fill the shoes of the fastidious lady who previously owned the house. She set an impossible standard to follow, but one to my aunt's liking.

Enjoyed lunch, by the way!