Monday, March 25, 2013

Rejoice...

This photo recently showed up on Facebook. These are my siblings. Five of us, born between 1954 and 1969. We span two generational cohorts and are spread from DC to Saint Louis. We aren't often all together. This was taken at a wedding in 2007. Life has dealt each one of a crazy hand in various seasons of life.

We have a lot of differences...but we have genes in common. Cell memory is important, and I believe we are linked to our kin by deep bonds that we don't always recognize. One of our deep bonds was the complicated dynamics of parents. Below is the reflection I offered at my day's funeral in 2010. When I ponder rejoicing, one of e first things that comes to mind is the gift of roots...


When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us."

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me."

You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor...

Recently, dad and I had a short, intense and deliberate exchange about what we believe. In these last few months, I felt really CALLED to ask him about what he believed...about his experience of God and creation that shaped who he was and how he lived his life. What I have come to realize over the last several years is that I did not get to be the person that I am by some mistake or by some chance or by any work of my own hand. I am fabric spun from the threads that I have been handed down by my father and mother and their fathers and mothers, and their fathers and mothers. And in these past few months, I knew that a primary source for understanding this was slipping away. A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.

I want to share with you not just some of the things that dad said about what he believed, but also the beliefs that he shared through his living out loud - the things I experienced, the things I know at a deep cellular level because they are so much a part of the way I was raised.

Of course there are the ordinary, everyday reality things, something I recognized as we drove across I-80 on Thursday - a merge on the highway is an "ooze" (although dad was not prone to "oozing" on the Dan Ryan), trees are shaped by the prevailing winds, cold-fronts arrive with brilliant blue, clear skies. I am pretty sure that as I walk through every day of the rest of my life, Dad will be right there with me speaking his knowledge of the world directly into my soul.

But there were also big ideas I take away from Dad's life.

Experience matters. Dad understood that the background for any relationship was never static. And dad kept growing into that new space, those changing circumstances, the new rules of engagement. Dad learned to love people and life as it presented itself. He grew. He was a lifelong learner, perhaps most evident in his relationship with his kids. He came to embrace each of us for who we were and who we were becoming.

Relationships matter. There is an uncomfortable passage from childhood to adulthood for the "parent" and the "child." Parents can wield the power to be right "because I said so" only to a point. And as dad aged and grew he also knew very well that sometimes he was wrong...or at the very least that he had possibly made a person feel like they didn't know. And so he would call..."hey, the last time we talked, I feel like maybe I hurt your feelings..." He modeled humility in that space.

Truth matters. We live in a funny time where facts and truth are sometimes at odds. Truth is not black and white, not always "definitive," but truth is tested by our experience and wisdom and relationships and truth can become part of our story. Dad held powerful truths. He believed in a God beyond our comprehension - in his own words, "My vision of God is of impossible infinity: impossibly large and impossibly small." He believed we tripped up badly - individually and institutionally - when we tried to comprehend God's power and bigness and Lord help us if we try to cash in and use that power and bigness for our own gain. And he believed that God's power was gentle. God is not vengeful – we create heaven and hell for ourselves and one another. If he believed in Armageddon, he believed it would be borne of our own self-serving destruction of God's creation. Dad believed that we are called to emulate God's love in the way we love others. Unconditionally. Without price or judgment. Perfectly. And truth be told, he held some much simpler, earthier truths. Snickers bars are best frozen. Ice cream is best when bitten with your teeth first. The Easter Bunny hides candy, not eggs. My father's wisdom was and continues to be like that of Solomon - practical, lived, revealed, ordinary. To everything there is a season...and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die....a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance...a time to keep silence and to speak, a time for war and a time for peace. Knives are sharp, fire is hot, death is inevitable. These are basic truths. Not good, not bad. Just true. Mostly, life gives us what we put into it. And sometimes there are great tragedies. And sometimes there are great mysteries. And sometimes there is great joy. And it is - all of it - life.

My father is not in that casket...he is present in this room. He is in the very fabric of each of us gathered here. His legacy resides in the way we carry on from here - knowing that experience, relationship and truth matter not just to our own experience, but to our shared experience with the world.

"A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me."

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