Friday, September 29, 2006

Derrick and the Mom Who Yells

Tuesday and Friday mornings are a team effort at the Smith House because these are garbage pickup days on our street. We must be among the first houses they come to because they're always here really early. David's always wanting to be at the office early and it's a sprint of breakfast, clean socks, coffee making, trash can and out the door!

The past two days we've had trash pickup, I've been on the front porch throwing the last of the trash into the can when a woman and her children have come walking down the street. I first saw them a few weeks ago during one of my walks with Corduroy. Their family is a little boy about 6, a little baby girl about 14 months and their mom.

The thing is that every morning, the little boy is lagging behind the mom and the baby girl and the mom is SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS at him. He's a little bit nerdy. He's got thick glasses and he looks like his hair could stand to be washed and cut. He wears a Birmingham City School uniform that looks a little rumpled. He looks shy. He looks at me out of the corner of his eyes as he walks by. He doesn't smile, but I don't think it would take much to get him to.

I know his name because the mom will say things to him like "Derrick, if you didn't drag your damn feet all over the house, you might have been able to get some breakfast, but you don't get any because you're too slow!" or "Derrick hurry up. If you weren't so damn stupid, you'd be ready in time."

This morning, Corduroy dog heard the mom yelling and she ran out on to the porch and barked. Loudly. And growled. It scared Derrick, but I think what Corduroy meant to do was to scare the mom. If we had one of those dog-bark/English translators, I think Old Cord Dog would be saying something like "Bitch, if you don't shut up, I'm going to eat your friggen face off." That's what I like to think of Cord Dog.

My prayers these days go like this: God, please let someone at school make sure Derrick gets some breakfast. God, please let someone say something kind to him today. God, please let him get a bath and a haircut. God, please make sure that Derrick gets some love from someone today. God, please do something to make his mom's life less overwhelming. God, let me know them better so I can do something. God, show me what to do..

I guess what bothers me most is that there is really nothing in the world I'd rather have than a little boy or girl. This woman has both and she doesn't seem to want them. But I want them. Especially Derrick. I'd let him eat breakfast twice every morning.

The world is an unfair place and it's hard to understand sometimes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Lord, have mercy on me! I cannot burn."

I've just read about Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, the English bishops who were martyred in 1555 during the rain of Bloody Mary.

I wept.

I didn't weep because they were martyred, I wept because as a Christian, I am not fit to occupy their heaven. I have neglected the scriptures for which they died and I have often forsaken the fellowship of believers. My brothers and sisters all over the world face death for their faith and I argue for my right to use the "f" word and drink beer. Such pitiful arguments among such pitiful Christians should shame us all into silence! YET WHY DO I CONTINUE SPEAKING?

Foolish me. What have I believed myself to be? I should heap ashes and dirt on my head and sit under a paper bag and lament the great sin of complacency that entangles me. These men are not worthy of earth and I am not worthy to be called "Christian" alongside them.

I am ashamed of my sin and I am ashamed of the opulence with which I surround myself. Oh to have done with lesser things! Oh, the legacy of which I cannot even conceive!

Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Here's something

Here's something I read today:

When these old racist republicans [basically, our grandparents] die off, I'm going to be happy about it. each moment one of these people passes away, the world is quietly becoming a better place.
(My feelings on this issue are complex, and are definitely connected to baggage I have with bullshit sentiments about american history, american morality, and more personally, hatred I have for my grandparents. All attempts to be helpful and reasonable with me on this matter will fail. Thank you.)

Maybe I should have just replied to this directly, but I didn't want to come off as being either helpful or reasonable, so I'll just post it here.

Mostly, it just makes me miss my grandparents. I never really knew my Texas grandparents, and that's my loss. My Virginia grandparents were drunkards and bootleggers, but they were my family and I miss them every day of my life. I am less now that they are gone. They represent a part of my history that I'll never get back and my grief has not be satiated with time. The world is not a better place without them. Not in any way. My world is smaller now. Whenever I see a little old lady in the grocery store, I miss them.

I miss you O'Bryants, Russells, Andersons & Gambles, Normans and Russes and Beards. I'm so glad you were here and you weren't even Republicans.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Southside Walkabout

This afternoon, Corduroy Dog and I went for a walk. It was a beautiful day. I'd say fall is on its way, if not already here. We walked down 16th Street and then down the mountain toward Five Points. At Mellow Mushroom, we saw M.J. who works at Golden Temple. I like M.J. I'm not sure she really knows who I am, but she is always acts like we're old friends. She's from Michigan. She is a lesbian. Some people ran out of Mellow Mushroom to cuddle Corduroy. She loved it.

When we rounded the corner, I saw a homeless man. (The vast majority of the homeless in Birmingham are African American. I do not know why this is true.) He had crooked legs and I prayed a blessing for him. He said "That's a pretty dog and a pretty woman, too." Then, he walked in an alley. I hope he sleeps in a safe place tonight. He was about 70 years old.

Next, we crossed 19th Street on 11th Avenue. A Birmingham City police officer almost ran over us. His siren was blaring. Corduroy Dog didn't budge. She's a good old girl and I bet she would have been a great police dog or a guide dog.

The trees on the mountain are thinking about changing color. The light was sharp and crisp. I love late afternoon sunlight.

We walked home on 11th Avenue. David came home and called us to find out where we had gone. He came and picked us up. When Corduroy saw him, she ran and jumped in his Jeep. She knew just what to do. I love her.

Today, I felt like a part of my community. I felt grounded. I felt home. My heart cannot hold my hope for this city.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The long road up from where I've been...Part One

I'm a feminist. These days, everyone is. My feminism is a journey over the mountain and through the woods right back home to grandma's house. Literally. Well, literal in a figurative kind of way. This is the story of my Feminist Bent and how it showed Jesus to me.

Ten years ago, my Feminist Bent (let's just call her Mabel) was a reaction. She was a fierce little knee-jerk response to That Guy. Do you know him? He's the man propelled by some hard-working invisible engine to keep everyone inside the lines wherever he goes. He's the teacher in my Christian school who accidentally taught me that women don't ask questions in Bible class. He's the Christian who uses "Women's Issues" as the ultimate litmus test of Orthodoxy. I've always known him. Everywhere I go, he goes, too. Sometimes, he brings a few feeble-minded females along with him and together they preside over the Kingdom of Superfluous Prudence and Unnecessary Discipline. Lately, I've noticed my ability to pick him out of a crowd and I wonder how much of that is wisdom and how much of that is Mabel on the warpath. I'm not sure.

Mabel probably cost me a lot of second dates with a lot of the RUF boys who asked me out in college. Suffice it to say that I'm pretty okay with that.

Mabel and I continued along together until I found myself out of college and back in Birmingham. I started going back to the church of my youth and joined the Swingles Group there. I saw That Guy everywhere and I realized that he was the only available candidate on the marriage market. I decided then and there never to get married, but I also started to put my hand over Mabel's mouth in Sunday School. She's patient, though. She waited me out. Ironically, enough, all Mabel needed was the love of a good man, and when I married my Prince in 2003, Mabel was my maid of honor. (Now, she's Mabel Lewis-Smith.)

Mabel had a growth spurt when I became a wife. I realized that That Guy had taken away the beauty inherent in caring for a family and loving a husband well. A wise woman told me just last week that women love and care for people automatically. It's just who we are. But when That Guy takes advantage of us, we trade what God gave us in exchange for self-protection. It's a sad thing because it robs our entire community of the strong feminine influence it needs to function well at a basic level. My wise friend made eloquent the rudimentary musing I'd been chewing on for years.

I realize now that That Guy is the reflection of Evil in our society. Not that he's the devil, but don't you know that Satan can get inside our heads and ride our sin around like a tricycle if we let him. That Guy is as manipulated as manipulated can be. Satan has never been a big fan of women. In fact, Satan has attempted to destroy us since the we've had the word for "woman." You don't even have to believe me, look around. The city is full of destroyed and exploited women.

But I'm starting to realize that underneath the Sauron-like gaze of Evil, Jesus works in the lives of women in this city. Silently, his helpers move like the mice chewing Aslan's ropes to make a better place for the battered and abused women of the world. And through them, he works in me, too.

...more about that later. The laundry is calling my name.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Panda Family

My September 11th Story

I didn't come into the office that morning until the first tower had already been hit. All of my coworkers had gathered in the conference room around the television and were watching footage of what I thought was a Cessna plane flying into Tower One. I don't remember what I did the summer of 2001, but in the summer of 2000 I spent a week and a half in NYC. I remember driving over the Manhattan Bridge and having the driver of my taxi say "Those are the Twin Towers. It's the World Trade Center." They were beautiful. Shining in the sun. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. I had written an article the week before and I had interviewed a man who was an iron worker on the Twin Towers. I always wondered how it affected him.

As we watched television and saw how the reporters struggled to identify what had happened (Is this an accident?), I realized that it wasn't a Cessna, but a commercial airplane. It seems that as soon as I had that realization, the second tower was hit. The realization was clear: This is not an accident. Someone is doing this on purpose. There was a collective gasp as we started to see people jumping out of the flames to the sidewalks below.

I called my dad to ask if this was the end of the world. By this time, I'd heard about the Pentagon and Flight 93. I thought that the Pentagon was being bombed. Daddy, they're bombing the Pentagon! I called my best friend Karli, Karli, is this the end of the world? The boss wouldn't let us go home, so for the rest of the day, I sat at my desk and pretended to work. I asked my boss if we could pray together. She said no. (Ironically, because many of the women I worked with went to the same baptist church. Actually, the wife of the head of the Southern Baptist Convention and his church organist were the number one and the number two people in the company. I remember wondering if you can't turn to your religion now what point is there in having your religion? I think that's shameful. I want no part of that religion.)

I went home at lunch, turned on the television to watch the coverage. I went to bed at night for a week with the television droning in the background.

I realize now that in a way, it was the end of the world. But I'm shocked that we're still here. That we haven't been attacked again. In the years between 2001 and 2006, I got married, bought a house, got a dog, dug a garden, saw my nephew graduate from high school, saw my two best friends have babies, found a new church home, and made plans for my future. My future. I really didn't expect to have one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Less We Say About It, The Better (just make it up as we go along)

Sometimes, I have Nervous Breakdowns. It's usually good because it indicates a growth spurt (of a sort.) I don't want to write about my day, but I would like to share these lyrics. This is Naive Melody. I can't decide if I like the original Talking Heads version or Shawn Colvin's cover. Either way, this is kind of where I am today. And that's a good thing - that's sort of bad.

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing

I got plenty of time
You got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight . . . say goodnight

Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - you lifted up your wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time Before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be . . . where I'll be

We drift in and out
sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head......

Friday, September 01, 2006

Poverty Soul Fusion

These are the people in your neighborhood! Mister Rogers with Owl and the Trolley, by Dana Ellyn (I'm not a big fan of the fire in the trolley. I love Mister Rogers. He's part of the fabric of my childhood.)

Affluence separates people. Poverty knits 'em together. You got some sugar and I don't; I borrow some of yours. Next month you might not have any flour; well, I'll give you some of mine. Ray Charles

I'm going to come clean and shock you all: I've never been poor. I've never been rich, either, but even by American standards, we do okay. So, of course, like every other white middle class churchgoer, I'm forced to think about poverty in terms of spiritual defficiency. Perhaps that's ok in this instance.

How many times have you found yourself sitting around a table with friends, a few drinks starting to roll around inside you, when someone says something to the effect of "I try not to, but I SNIFF GLUE!" Suddenly, all eyes go to that person and everyone can identify. (Of course, it isn't about the sniffing of the glue, it's about sharing something inside you that's embarrassing and potentially shameful.)

We bond with eachother over honest dialogue about our shortcomings. We bond over our poverty, not over our wealth. Have you ever had a conversation with a rich person who only wants to talk about money? I have. It stinks. I don't think it's because that person was any more greedy or pretentious or materialistic than I am. I think it's beacause really rich people have a hard time managing anything else. I almost feel sorry for them. (Notice I said "almost." I'm not that free of vice.) We gather all of our shiny toys around us as if to say "Hey! Come and play with me!" But what we end up doing is pushing others away. That's sad.