15 August 2005

Through Canaanite eyes

Oh, to be heard. To be so honored as to be heard. To be deeply and "longly", if necessary, listened to. (Sorry about the grammar.)

For us whose lives revolve around the lectionary, the week beginning last Monday drew its inspiration from Matthew's version of a story featuring a distraught parent and Jesus*. She -- a foreigner, a Gentile, a Canaanite (also known as the Syrophonician in Mark's gospel+) -- wanted a hearing and he -- a Jew -- didn't consider her worthy of his attention. I feel Syrophonician today, Syrophonician -- minus the encounter, minus the being heard.

It isn't that I'm not trying to say what I so need to express, to form into coherent, balanced, orderly words, sentences and paragraphs what feels so urgent to me. And, it isn't that I need anyone to grant me anything extraordinary. That is, I am not expecting change of heart or mind, no reversals of decision. I simply want to be heard and acknowledged. Even a insult would be better than nothing at all. In Matthew Jesus ignores once, insults twice!!

Is there something specific going on? Is there a particular set of circumstances bringing me to this point of wordy-but-unheard frustration? Of course, there is. The immediate situation, however, isn't the real issue and doesn't deserve or require explanation. More important than what is happening with me (or not happening in this case) is the overall dynamic of speaking and listening. That authentic interaction which can make way for new understanding.

Jesus dismissed her. She persisted. She even outsmarted him. Jesus was changed and so was the course of history for that matter.

Maybe that's why we have such difficulty granting another our attention. Maybe we fear having to change. Maybe the possibility of being persuaded is so threatening that we have to pretend the speaker is nothing more than a pesky gnat buzzing around our ears. We go so far as to demonize the speaker. With labels and attitude we insulate ourselves from having to hear another way or to open ourselves to seeing to one side or another, to seeing beyond our own view.

I wrestle with two questions. First, while being heard is what I know I want presently, as opposed to changing anyone's mind, is that enough, would that be enough, in general, for most people? Would that actually do? Or, do we, in general, want our way? Would being heard, maybe not completely satisfy us but, give us some peace and allow us to move on? To accept the "no" and simply continue our lives?

Second, when the occasion presents itself and we find ourselves in the other role, the role of listening or not listening, how willing are we to grant our attention? How afraid are we to welcome the speaker? Do we have it in us to open ourselves to the other, risking having, kindly, to stand firm or having, gracefully, to admit the limitation of our point of view?

The month of August 2005 presents us the bones of Matthew and Mark's story on American soil. There is a ranch with a fence and a gate, behind which resides a well-known man, a powerful man. On the public side of that fence and gate is a grieving mother, a woman who wants to be heard. Is she being dismissed or insulted? Well, there's been no encounter to date. I suspect, were these two individuals actually to meet, neither one would be willing, or able, to alter their position. But, I wonder -- could they simply talk to each other, could it ever be that he would silently and without defense listen to her and, similarly, she to him?

Were they able only God knows what would happen.

*Mt 15:21-28
+Mk 7:24-30

12 August 2005

Trashy thoughts

Summertime means grass. Grass grows and then it requires cutting. Again and again and again. My memory allows me to retreat 45 years or so to the sights, sounds and smells of home at Brookgreen. That unairconditioned house, surrounded by acres and acres of grass -- from the arboredeum between the house and the walled garden to the slightly undulating lawns around the house itself -- was home.

It was never the same one of us children who heard them first, but the cry would always be the same: "Lawnmovers coming!" Something akin to M*A*S*H's Radar (choppers) or Fantasy Island's Tattoo (da plane, da plane). From the moment of the youthful announcement, their swooping, deafening arrival seemed to be mere seconds.

These days I get to push, or drive, the lawn mower! New to our present location is a stretch of well-travelled county road. There is a difference between mowing a lawn and mowing a roadside, I'm learning. The difference? The roadside is dangerous AND the roadside requires pre-mowing attention. Unlike the operators of the DOT's tractor-powered mowers, we pick up the trash before we set blade to blade, as it were. No shredded fast-food wrappers, mangled beer cans, chopped black plastic bags here on our watch.

But ... We are responsible for a mere 100 feet of roadside, give or take a few feet. Keeping it free of trash requires daily attention. The sad truth is that every roadside is trashed. From the wide swath of interstate to the remotest route.

Now, I can type this while tisk, tisk, tisking myself into a state of disgust about all those people. The sadder truth, beyond our roadsides, is that we're ALL trashy. If you could see the loads of stuff we haul to the dump every week from this house, you would be amazed. Yes, part of it is set for recycling. But, we are typical of our society, a society that considers almost everything we own and use to be disposable. We purchase stuff we don't need, tire of it and it ends up cluttering our homes, relegated to a rented storage unit or deposited on a landfill. And we do it over and over and over, as we search for something we certainly won't find at the bottom of the shopping bags we drag home. Never ever. Promise.

Back to our roadside. There's something I wonder. The cars from which the trash is tossed. Are they clean inside?

09 August 2005

"Not bad"

Well, I think that's what I heard as the shuttle came to a stop this morning. The television announcer, however, was talking (endlessly), so what I actually heard and who said it is unclear. But, the landing was better than not bad.

As I moved into the day following the homecoming of the Discovery, my mind has stayed focused on the shuttle program, remembering the first landing while I was in highschool, remembering where I was when the Challenger was destroyed at its launch, remembering that morning two and one-half years ago when the Columbia was lost as it reentered the earth's atmosphere. That first landing was mid-morning and my father had arranged for the Brookgreen crew to make a delivery to the house, so everyone could watch. When the news came about the Challenger, I was giving a slide show on historic Columbia to a garden club. February 1st I was leaving my brother's home in Richmond and my nephew came to the street to ask us to return to the house.

Funny, how I don't remember the routine launches and landings. Tal and I were surprised to learn this morning that today's landing was the 50th at Edwards Air Force Base and the 114th total. So, does that mean there have been 116 missions? 116 ...

I'm not kicking myself, just wondering. Not noticing the vast majority of the shuttle missions seems to me to be a bit like not noticing each and every automobile on the interstate. We're all focused on different things. But, how many of us have been in that interstate traffic and have found ourselves reduced to a crawl. It turns out to be an accident on the other side of the road and the slowdown is only because the drivers passing by had to take a moment to look at the accident. Is my remembering the nonroutine space shuttle missions that same sort of thing? Rubbernecking the accident on the other side of the interstate? I hope not.

Today's landing was better than not bad. They did make it look routine, though, didn't they? Maybe I could look at the routine of life a bit differently. At least from time to time. Maybe I could claim some of those routine moments in the same way I do those terribly or wonderfully memorable ones.

02 August 2005

School buses

The first week of August has arrived much too soon. The first notable thing I encountered this week (and month) have been buses being moved into position for the beginning of regular routes. I imagine drivers being taken to some gigantic parking lot somewhere, wandering among the hundreds of vehicles parked row-on-row until they find the specific one assigned to them, settling in the seat, latching the seat belt, starting the engine, taking a deep breath and setting out for home. That drive, I daresay, will be the quietest one until some day in May 2006.

Tal and I have been home from vacation just under a month. Since that homecoming, the Church of the Ridge has lost a long-time parishioner and a baby has been presented for baptism. Since that home-coming, I've served as chaplain for Guest Period #4 at Kanuga Conference Center between Hendersonville and Flat Rock NC. And, before the end of summer -- that is, between now and Labor Day -- we'll board Carnival's ship Fantasy where I'll have the honor of officiating the marriage of my niece and her fiance before setting sail on a three day cruise with the other guests. (Do you hear the Gilligan's Island theme music in the background? I hope the term "fateful trip" does not apply when Tal and I look back on Labor Day weekend!)

If I'm truthful, I dread even consulting the calendar for September. Absolutely DREAD. I know without looking that traditional fall activities, from our immediate locality to the diocese and beyond, will resume their demands. I want to resist. Those activities bearing down may be termed regular, but I have to wonder if they're real, as real as this summer has seemed. Maybe I will resist.

Beginning next week the regular routine of school buses morning and afternoon will resume. Too soon probably. Ask the students and the teachers and you'll hear "way too early". I hope those who drive and ride those buses will find the real in and among the regular. Maybe, with intention, I'll be able to do the same. That is, while I resist.

Enjoy what's left of summer!