“Everybody bleeds red.”

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Sydney Cleland fell down this week around her home block, and told me the story.  Here’s Sydney:

“I’m taking my morning walk through our affluent, mostly white residential neighborhood when I trip on uneven sidewalk and make an undignified face plant in the grassy median. Rolling over onto my back, I lay there to collect myself. When I open my eyes, three workmen I’d just passed are standing over me. Two are black and one is white. The white man kindly asks if I need water and retrieves my phone from its landing place. One of the black men leans in, asking if I am okay and if I know my name. I say my name and that I’m okay but could use a hand up. Without hesitation, he extends his hands and helps me stand. Then, this: the white homeowner comes out her door, and before she opens her mouth the black man who has just helped me throws up his hands in the surrender position and says something like, ‘Didn’t do anything! Just helping out!’


I think I hear a humorous tone, but I’m not sure. Everyone freezes for a second. The image of Charles Kinsey of North Miami, hands raised, shot while helping his autistic patient, flashes into my mind, propelling me across the few feet between us to bear-hug this man, exclaiming, ‘No, no, no — of course you didn’t do anything!’ He looks surprised, but says, ‘Yes, just helping.’ As he turns away from my thank-you’s, he says, ‘No big deal. We are all humans, right?’

As a white woman, I cannot even pretend to understand what that black man felt or what went through his mind in the situation. But I do know how I feel. I am heartbroken that he needed to — even jokingly — protect himself from any misinterpretation of his kindness by raising his hands.

This story would have ended right there, except on the same day, I mention it to Martha, who wants an Around This Block story. She asks too much. She wants a photo of the Good Samaritan!!

(Here I am asking too much again.  I want you to tell your around block stories, too.)

What will I say to these men? Aren’t I making too big a deal out of this? Why don’t I just let the Samaritan go on his way? But I sense the story isn’t over.  So without a plan, but believing that cookies make any conversation less difficult, I pick up a batch.

Cookies always help conversations.

Tina, the homeowner, helps connect us.  The Samaritan has a name, Duncan. Here are Duncan  and his co-worker, Bear.

(A little plug for the Samaritan’s Company from the editor)

I tell him we had a “moment,” given recent events in our city and country, that we’ve experienced just a little thing, a small kindness connection, but that it feels big.

Turns out, Duncan heard me before he saw me. He didn’t know what had happened but he came running in response to the cry I don’t remember making. He tells me, ‘I don’t know about all this stuff going on, black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter. Black, White, Red, Yellow—everybody bleeds red to me. If that had been my mama or auntie and someone had just passed and not done anything, that would be terrible. I don’t see color; I just see someone who needs help.’

Duncan and I probably will not meet again, and that’s okay . We all have to start fresh every day. No one said it would be easy. Never has been, never will be. But we have to keep trying because, as Duncan says, ‘We are all humans, right?“”

Duncan, Sydney, and Tina, the homeowner having a moment

Thanks, Sydney for taking the time to tell your story. May the grace of your encounter multiply a billion times today across our land.  And may Duncan speak for all of us:  “I don’t get all the hate going ‘round in this country. We are all human beings, right??”

How will you be fully and lovingly human this day?  Sort of like these guys!?!

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Martha +



Let us Proclaim the Mystery of Faith?


Every once in a while, a stranger glides in to the cool and dark and peace of the church from the glare and chaos of the city and walks all the way up into the chancel and leaves an offering on the magnificent stone and snowy linen altar.

Blows my mind.  The power and humility. Can’t explain it so won’t try.

Wherever you are today, will you STOP and find a holy space—perhaps the altar built of memory and hope between your ears?  And make your offering?

Martha +


Cat Tales of Rescue and Resilience


This little guy was dumped in the parking deck yesterday morning.  We keep a cat carrier handy for just such an occasion (and also for trips to the vet for the rodent patrol staff.)

Beautiful Shakyra, a teacher at Bright Horizons, our block’s early childhood center, said “I’ll take this little one home for the night, and I hope I can keep him/her! But I’ve never had a cat! What do you do??”

IMG_1722(1) The altar guild chairs, Dana Aldridge and Susan Virgin, stopped to ponder with her.




Around this block, we know it takes a village to raise little ones.  And I can’t wait to get there this morning to see how things went! Did the kitten settle down?  Are the roommates okay with the surprise?  The story is still being written as we speak!

And me, O I have some memories. Twenty-five years ago, I took home a lost little kitten  with the same golden eyes.  Perhaps an ancestor?   Someone found her under a tree on our block.  This is Baby Angel, aka Babs, ten years into her reign.


And, O yes!! My roommate was totally shocked by her arrival.  And allergic.  A course of shots later (okay he is still taking the shots), Babs and Carroll found their way.


And Babs opened the door to new life in our house which continues rambunctiously to this day!

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Around this block, we know stories never end if  we pass them on!  Do you pass your tales of rescue and resilience on?  Generation to generation?


Communion with Hellfire Pepper Jelly!?!


For years and years, St. Helena’s and Covenant Community have gotten together on a summer day to make hellfire pepper jelly!  They will put the jars up for sale in the fall and all proceeds go to support projects for the wellbeing of women and children out in this sometimes hellish, fiery world.

The operation is outside because the fumes are CRAZY HOT!! Experience has taught the team that if you get the jalapeno pepper juice on your face, coat yourself with whipped cream and that will cool you down and take away the sting.  I bet somebody’s grandmother told them that, and now the healing is passed around and around.  Isn’t that lovely?

After the work of the morning, everybody enjoys homemade chicken salad sandwiches, chatting and happy and satisfied with the day’s output and the carrying on of the tradition. That’s when I took this picture, while they were clearing the table for the feast.Not everybody stood still to be  in it, but you get the drift.

Around this block, communion happens.  Way past ritual and doctrine, some of our holiest communions are  moveable, malleable, lovable feasts, this time with hot peppers,  whipped cream, chicken salad, and laughter.  Thank you Holy Spirit.



Do it Today.


Dr. Mary Lynn Morgan, pioneer pediatric dentist and human being extraordinaire, died yesterday, the same day I sent out the Around This Block piece about Ralph McGill, Judge Tuttle, and my father.  She was Ralph McGill’s widow.  Wasn’t she beautiful?  Her eyes were ice blue. She was a looker, figuratively and literally, a gorgeous woman, as you can see in this picture taken in her nineties.  And, too, she was always looking, seeking connection, though for many years she was  just about stone blind.  I am almost positive Ralph McGill deserved her. Here they are on their wedding day.

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I really truly deeply have been meaning to go see her at Canterbury Court.  Not just yesterday but for several months.  Didn’t get there.  I don’t feel guilty—a waste of time and energy—I feel  sad and  unfinished. The bishop laid his hands on my head and ordained me to the priesthood on April 4, 1989, but Mary Lynn and some other people actually ordained me over many, many  years of looking and listening for God together.

Here she is sitting in her room with her beloved Italian friend, Francesca. I took this picture three years ago.

IMG_2906Francesca will be bereft.

Today I will go see Francesca.  Today.  Yes, I will.  Who do you need to call, write, or see?

Do it today.

Martha +




What do we owe?

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I am the temporary, but happy occupant of the Office of the  Rector of All Saints’, a space I have known well and loved for close to thirty years due to having worked for Harry Pritchett from 1988-97.  I am not bringing in books or hanging stuff on the walls except for what you see above –  a print of a newspaper page which Reece and Phil hung over the fireplace for me. Thank you, guys.

I did not bring it to the Rector’s Office  because it’s beautiful but rather because it is a symbol of courage and faith which belongs in the same room where Judge Elbert Tuttle and Ralph McGill and so many other faithful saints pondered and prayed over their city and nation  with their rector in their day.

My offering is a copy of a full page 1968 Jackson, Mississippi newspaper ad, a Statement of Belief and Intention that about 100 citizens including my father signed.  It starts like this:  We believe in the essential worth and dignity of every human being and all that such implies.

The prose is not deathless; the sentiments are not daring unless you happened to live and move and have your business and your family and your being in Jackson, Mississippi in 1968. They were lawyers and business people, ministers and docs (my father),  and teachers and such – a lot like us here at All Saints’.

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My father, James Malcom Packer, MD

They put their names out there in public saying here we stand because we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to speak up for justice. The leader was a dry cleaner guy.

All of our citizens should work untiringly and unceasingly to bring out to the fullest the best in us in the way of kindness, compassion, friendliness and understanding that we may all progress through cooperation. We owe this to ourselves, our families, the oncoming generations, and the development of all of our talents. 

What do we “owe ourselves, our families, and the incoming generations?”  Where do you personally need to stand and act for justice? When do you need to stop being silent?

I am back at All Saints’ because I believe the people—layfolk and clergy—who came  before us answered the What is owed? question faithfully in their day.  And I believe that worshiping and being in their cloud of witnesses/company helps us do what we are called to do in ours.

Martha +

The Rope, the Tug, the Bell, the Ring

Gail Rogers is a  Rope-Tugger and Bell-Pealer

Here’s Gail …

“In the coat closet/belfry/storage room off the narthex, at the busy corner of North Avenue and West Peachtree, are the unsung heroes of our calls to worship. The bell ropes, battered but faithful (as are so many of us), hang there limply until called to life by energetic ringing of the bell or the somber tolling of the tolling hammer. Without the ropes there is no ringing. And without the tugs, what good are the ropes?


As a verger and an usher,  I pull on these ropes a lot and take them quite seriously. Initially it is a rather intimidating duty. I am always conscious of their importance in our worship life, so what if I do it wrong?  And I have done it wrong, and probably no one (except, no doubt, Bruce Garner) notices. Worship—corporate or personal—happens no matter our failures.

All Saints’ Shield next to Noah’s Ark in the FLOOD! (detail, “Baptism of Jesus” Window).  Get it? All Saints’ worships always! No matter the conditions!

I will never forget All Saints’ Sunday, 2009, the year after my mother died. The bell rang, and I burst into tears.  We had had no memorial service for her, and I knew that it was ringing to me, for her.

If you are a small child who has been asked to pull on the bell rope before a service, you know that if you don’t let go in time, your feet may leave the floor.  And those of us who ring the bell frequently wait for the “ghost” rings that happen a few moments after the peals have stopped. A sacred and mysterious duty indeed.”

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Gail Rogers retired nine years ago as Director of the Cobb County Public Library and has spent that time making a thorough study of ways to enjoy retirement. Traveling is a big part of this.  In her quieter moments,  she takes classes in centuries-old traditional Japanese silk embroidery.  And reads, of course

Thank you Gail for pointing us toward the gifts of the bells and for inviting us toward active, tugging faith.  Here’s a piece of a poem by Adam Zagajewsk  that reminds me, in these troubled times, of the Holy Spirit in their ringing.

 We’ll take refuge in bells, in the swinging bells,
in the peal, the air, the heart of ringing.
We’ll take refuge in bells and we’ll float
over the earth in their heavy casings.

                                    Martha +