Above is a fabulous picture of Lynne Bryant (crowned) and her beloved sister, Melanie in about 1963. Lynne says, “This is for a Baptist girls club which helps young ladies to grow in the Kingdom of God. Melanie received her “Maiden” award that year and I received the ‘Queen’ award. See her shining eyes and mine closed!”
I’ve known Henry and Lynne Bryant through all the years I have been at All Saints’—not well but I knew that they quietly did good at the church and in this world and raised their kids to be strong and good people. Lynne told me this summer that her sister had become very sick very fast. Here is the story from Lynne with some gifts of courage and grace for you, I promise.
“My sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma—an aggressive,invasive form of brain cancer in July. In September we began daily trips to Georgia Radiation in Augusta, GA, so that she could receive 30 radiation treatments.
The first day there Melanie was able to hobble in using a walker. To our surprise the door popped open and a man welcomed us to the center. He seemed to be there every day. We thought that perhaps he worked there. About three weeks into the treatments, he came over as we sat in the clinic and introduced himself as “Allen.” We never found out whether he was Mr. Allen or Allen something else.
It seems that Allen had been an instructor for the US Army and had taught boxing to all the recruits. He said to Melanie, ‘Missus, I always tell the men to keep the gloves on and keep fighting ‘cause if you take the gloves off and stop fighting, it means the fight is over. So Missus, keep your gloves on!’
Allen was there the day she finished radiation and posed for pictures at the ringing of the bell ceremony traditional for radiation patients.
It turned out that he had fought cancer the year before and volunteered at the center as many days as he possibly could. Allen was unaware that he was actually one of God’s angels sent to give people hope.
Another one of the regulars—Jim- introduced himself while Melanie was in the treatment room. He told me the story of how his cancer had come back twice and this was his last chance with a second round of radiation. I told him that I was so sorry. “Oh, no!” he said. ‘God’s got my back. If he doesn’t heal me here, he will heal me up there (pointing to Heaven)!’ He walked down the hall repeating ‘God’s got my back!’ Jim was another angel for me.”
(Did you know that ‘angelos’ means messenger? An angel in our tradition is a messenger from God telling us God is with us and those we love and that God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is just what we want, when we want. And sometimes the answer is not what we want but something deep inside us shifts, so that the situation does not change in the way we want it to, but we change. We change. And we trust. And that makes all the difference.)
“Melanie died in December, 2016. God’s got her back.”
Lynne says “God’s got her back.”
Even in the aftermath of great loss, Lynne said to me and writes to you that God has got her sister’s back. Sometimes it causes me to tremble—the troubles people go through, the kindness among strangers, the pain of loss, the power of hope, the trust that God has our backs. This matters so. Thank you Lynne and thank you saints.
This blog post will be totally boring if you are not on Facebook or other social media, but around this block, a lot of us are Facebookers. And I think some of us are struggling to define how to use it without getting used up. I for one hate conflict. Hate it. However:
What do I like on Facebook? I like posts of good writers I don’t know about. I like reading about Mississippi. I like it when I see somebody’s trip to a place I will never go or their new baby or grand-baby. I like keeping up with faraway friends and parishioners. I like hilarious cat videos. I like cartoons! The Facebookers I follow come from their own life experience and also run their Facebook page according to their own core values. I like complex and tender posts, for our lives are complex and tender. With permission from the authors, here are some starting with a simple and tender example which happened just two days ago:
On Wednesday, Dottie Miller wrote that she and Jamie lost their beloved Bitsy and that their pain was very deep. Friends called and wrote and facebooked and comforted. They didn’t have to tell people one by one
Also Facebook can help with gathering all points of view, with agreeable disagreement. Sam Buice is the priest in charge up at Grace-Calvary, Barbara Brown Taylor’s old stomping grounds and he is one of my favorite priests and an effective Facebook gospeler, Here he is pictured with some of his favorites – BBT, baptism, and his Harley!
Last month, I noticed Sam asking this question to his Facebook friends and he has a bunch: “Why currently are you upset? If you choose to respond to this post, I ask that you respond by talking about yourself. Say more about what is upsetting to you. Refrain from making assumptions or statements about the “others.” If you are posting to my page, I will feel free to delete comments that I deem accusing or hateful or not on point.”
Sam started by describing in civil terms the national issue (sudden refugee ban) he is upset about and others described what they PERSONALLY were upset about from all different angles. He curated his post so that it did not become vicious or goofy, but it was quite diverse and enlightening. Never assume you know why others act, vote, speak the way they do. And don’t assume that social media always separates us; sometimes we understand one another through social media, maybe for the first time.
My own Facebook page is not an opinion forum, nor, please note, is it the parish page. It is as I say below one of the public rooms of my heart.
What I want to read and share is authentic life and thought and story, not riled up stuff. Jerry Byrd gave me permission to share this very moving post about his twin brother who died three years ago. Yes, Jerry is advocating for a particular issue, and he is doing it from the depths of his life.
Here is Jerry’s post from last week:
“This is what death with dignity looks like. It came courtesy of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is another name given it. The picture is my twin brother Jim in Hospice Atlanta. I took it on Jan. 30th, our birthday. That’s why there are flowers. My sister who lives in another city had sent them. I wanted her to see how pretty they were. Just 24 hours after I took this photo Jim would be dead. Today is the 3rd anniversary of his death.
Do not think that I post this for sympathy. Do not think I’d ever make the decision to post something this intimate lightly. Do not think I post this out of mourning. I do on a continual basis mourn my twin though. Why do I post this then? Because Jim would want that. I know this because no one knows a twin like his twin. Jim would want me to use this image to make the statement that society without health coverage for all is no society at all.
He died after fighting the spread of cancer for close to 3 years. At his diagnosis he didn’t have health insurance. It goes without saying that this pre-existing condition would have blocked him from having any health insurance. Try to imagine the trips to the emergency room without it when I’d have to take him there in the middle of the night due to the pain and infection and fever that his illness brought him. Try to imagine his rounds of chemotherapy without it. Try to imagine his many visits to the oncologist without it. Try to imagine hope without it. Try to imagine someone you love and consider irreplaceable finding themselves in a health crisis and unable to get health insurance. It could happen to anyone anytime.
Why do I post this then? I want you who might have similar stories to post those stories. I want you to give a face to the idea of healthcare as a fundamental human right. Our elected officials are debating whether some get health care and whether some do not. I post this to ask that you contact your elected officials and let them know that healthcare can’t be a luxury for just a few, not in a civil society.“
Thank you Jerry.
Now Here are some important and timely words, versions of which I have seen from a number of people lately: “I posted a picture earlier today which I am not sure was a true representation of reality. I have removed it from my page and apologize to anybody who saw it.”
YES!! YAY!! People of all political persuasians are spotting FAKE NEWS (shows up from everywhere, sometimes called “click bait”) and taking it down. People are curating their pages to reflect their lives! You don’t have to leave stuff on there you don’t want!
Finally Brian Barefield’s post from New Years Eve is literally lifegiving since he had very recently almost died of a massive heart attack. He moves me to my toes and gives us our marching orders. Here’s Brian:
Bear with me here as this is stream of consciousness and it’s long for me, but it’s New Year’s Eve… the conclusion to a very traumatic year for many, myself included.
This past week, I was able to take part in something that was new to me. While I work with trauma in aviation as a peer counselor, being on the opposite side of the proverbial table was a new experience. A dear friend who is a trauma specialist guided me through a unique trauma therapy session to help with mentally and emotionally processing all I went through during my heart attack. What I discovered was that the most traumatic experience of the entire ordeal was the sense of loneliness I experienced. By loneliness I mean deep existential loneliness full of dread. Not only was I facing the possible end of my career, I was, for all intents and purposes, staring death in the face. When I looked back on those 14 or so hours before they finally figured out what was going on my faith didn’t seem to inform that bleakness. All I felt was a terrible, hopeless solitude. Where was meaning in the experience?
What I have realized is that meaning was found in those who rushed to my side the moment they found out there was a problem. Meaning was found in those who cared, those who sacrificed their time and convenience to stop and just be there with me. People like Bob Tick, Ed O’Halloran, Pat Brown Bruce Garner, my father who dropped everything and drove 3 hours to be by my side that night, and my mother, who did the same early the next morning.
That terrible night when I would be awoken multiple times from my drug induced haze (administered by the hospital) by my heart turning somersaults in my chest in that dark ICU room, I would literally reach out looking for someone, anyone, for support, and there was always a hand of someone who cared that grabbed mine.
In the emptiness of that solitude of experience, even there I was never really alone. My personal faith didn’t prove just a mirage. You see, my faith stresses the importance of community, of togetherness. It says we care for each other, that the American ideal of individualism is largely hokum. We share, we communicate, we give ourselves to each other; we offer ourselves fully. Meaning, God, whatever you want to call it was there that night for me in those who cared for me and sat that awful watch by my side. As alone as I felt, the miracle of connection, of community, got me through (with the help of many doctors and nurses).
With all of that said, and being that it is the conclusion of an incredibly divisive year in the aggregate, I guess I’m saying I found meaning in that senseless experience in my community of friends and family. We are all we really have in this crazy world with all its ups and downs. My hope is that you remember those around you who care for you, who believe in you, who love you. Grab hold of them and dear God don’t let them go. No matter what the coming year holds, the one thing certain is that we have each other, and the bond that living and loving for each other creates between us is stronger than the darkest night; it’s the only real strength we have. Love those who love you; love and laugh and cry with them. Believe in them and hope with them. Hold them close and know that everything, no matter how dark, will get better, and the good things will only get brighter, stronger, more resilient.
Happy New Year friends!”
Thank you Brian, and thank you all around this block for being there for each other. Whether you Facebook or not (and if you do and it is eating up too much of your time, you might consider doing a Facebook fast for lent – I might!) Just know how beloved you are in the “vast reaches and endless memory” of eternity.
One of our darling littlest cherubs came up to me after the Nine O’clock service on Sunday and whispered, “Why’d you cry in church?” She had on a fabulous purple dress, much more fabulous than this one but you get the idea:
I said something like, “Because (as happens at All Saints’ every year on this MLK Sunday) the ladies of the Singing Sisters of Ebenezer sang songs I love and it made me cry.” And it is true, I love spirituals, and this past Sunday I loved the old songs and the power and beauty and dignity in the faces of the singers. Here are the Sisters leading the congregation in” Blessed Assurance”
At my ordination almost 28 years ago, the very same Laura English Robinson who directs the Singing Sisters sang “This Little Light of Mine”. , and here she was—same holy space, beloved people, same hopeful song—all these years later!
I was overwhelmed by the pain and joy of history—my own history, All Saints’ history, Ebenezer’s history, Martin Luther King’s history, our country’s history—and tears started sliding down my face and never stopped. I re-membered (put back together) a lot, which is what Jesus asks us to do in every eucharist—”Do this in re-membrance of me.” Re-membering is huge. And sometimes grievous.
People who are grieving have sometimes told me “O I can’t come back to church yet because I am afraid I’ll cry like a baby.” May I gently question this reasoning? Is crying in church a bad thing? What are you supposed to do in church? Put on a happy face? I don’t think so. Now I must admit, weeping in church when you are trying to offer communion is a little over the top! And also very human and around this block we are very human—all sorts and conditions! This fully human-ness is the gift in Jesus Christ we have to give one another and to the world.
Everybody has to find their way to have more abundant life. About two months ago, my husband talked me into trying TWITTER. Not to tweet! But to get a sense of how news and experiences and emotions of all kinds move around this world in 140 character waves which can gather and become combative or healing (sometimes both) forces of nature in and of themselves. I tried if for a little while and realized, nope, this tweeting thing doesn’t work for me. I jump to conclusions or I dismiss something someone says just because that person tweets it or I get mad or sad (more often than glad) in ways that are not lifegiving. Basically tweeting is too often a snarky medium. Instead give me just plain old conversation. Give me that little girl coming up to me and saying “Why’d you cry?” Our questions, our very differences, when gently offered help us connect. It’s true! So no more twitter for me.
Back to crying in church … yes I cry in church. Not all the time though, come to think of it, I cried solid in church for about six weeks after my father died in the fall of 1996.
As I grieved for my father so many years ago, my fellow priests took on all the public roles in the liturgies and I hid in the choir loft amongst all those red-robed cherubim who just kept on singing gorgeous music. I cried for my beloved father who had in fact peacefully lived out the length of his days and surely I also cried for the accumulated trauma of all the deaths I had known and of course I cried (though I didn’t sense it) for my own death to come. For every mourning is also a mourning for oneself. I cried week after week. And then eventually, cried out, I healed and in time stood and took up my life and my work again.
Cry in church any old time you need to. Or even better laugh! Around this block just let us be ourselves before God and love ourselves and our neighbors in our full humanity and see what blessings come.
I saw the Milky Way last week while Carroll and I were resting on a dark island. Sometimes dark places are the very best places to see the light, and what a miracle is the Milky Way, this great swirling river of stars in all stages of birth and life and death and rebirth. Sort of like us.
Did you know that we on “this fragile earth our island home”are part of the Milky Way? So even though the Epiphany symbol is a single giant dazzling star lighting the way for the wise seekers to the stable, I believe a whole Milky Way of stars await the seekers around this block.Just open your eyes and ears and heart and You Will See God. That’s the Epiphany Challenge and Promise: God will be manifest for you, in you, through you. Yes!
I offer an Epiphany/ Milky Way story I watched unfold from right before Christmas until, well right now!
One day I got a call from our old friend Doug Hales who was the Business Manager at All Saints’ WAY, WAY back in the day in the eighties and nineties. He went on to get his PhD and teaches Supply Chain Management at the University of Rhode Island, and he travels ALL over the world to teach folks in other countries. Here’s Doug in Taiwan, one of the places he’s texted me from in the last three weeks
Doug got in touch because he had heard that Marian Murphy, the Head Sexton of All Saints so many, many years ago, had had a massive heart attack. He reached across the world and connected us to a person in trouble right down the street from the church at Emory Midtown.
I saw Marian—not conscious. Doug and I texted back and forth. We checked on her again, barely conscious. I forgot Marian in the craziness of Christmas services. But across the world Doug did not. He kept up with her and her family and was as constant as the stars because he knew she needed a friend.
When I did remember Marian, I could not find her. I thought Uh-Oh, I really thought she had died as she was so long in the ICU. I texted Doug, this time in Taiwan. He WAS RELENTLESS with the hospital tracking system and found her after three tries (!!!!) moved into a step-down cardiac room. We had tried but given up; Doug never did. Friendship matters so much! A friend in need is a friend in deed, and that is totally scriptural (See the Good Samaritan!)
The morning Doug found her, Rich Winters, one of our affiliated priests took the eight o’clock for me. Rich and the other priests who call All Saints’ home are the best. I cannot imagine making it through this interim time without them.
So at the New Years’ morning 8:00, Rich took the flock of 99 (actually, I think 18 !) and I walked over to the hospital in the cold and rain to find the lost sheep. And here she is!
Back in the day, Marian taught all of us at All Saints that every job matters, and that keeping All Saints’ spaces beautiful and clean is a holy ministry as much as teaching a class or playing the organ or preaching the sermon. Marian reminds me of Brother Lawrence who taught that “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Marian taught us to do every little thing right, and O boy, she got after us when we were careless and messed up tidy spaces for no good reason!! For such a little lady, Marian has a big roar!!
Here is the newest sexton at All Saints’, Earle. Earle has a legacy of friendship and good work to live into and he has the best smile in the world!
We live in a veritable Milky Way of blessings, of God’s presence manifested in us, among us, through us. When you are feeling like your way is dark and unclear, remember Doug and Marian and all us Saints, and let the light of compassion guide your way to the next friendship encounter. For after all, as Rilke wrote and Jesus taught,
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives Everything became a You and nothing was an It. W. H Auden
Yes, W. H. Auden, this Christmas Eve, “everything became a You and nothing was an It!” I loved this Christmas Eve the best of all my years of priesthood. Gorgeous music, flowers, mostly smooth liturgy, beloved people—friends and strangers. Okay, one of the greeneries caught a little bit on fire at the One o’clock, and we had a tiny little throw up moment at the Three! The good news of great joy still came to us! (Though it did take this 69 year old two days to recuperate!)
Around this block, it goes very very quiet the next eleven days after the first Eve of the first day of Christmas . . .
There is NO PROBLEM getting a parking place. There is just quiet, quiet, quiet.
There is no line to get in and no friends to hug, no children to exclaim over. Below a lady walks her chihuahua which is nice but not miraculous. Is Christmas over?
No Indeed! Christmas is not over! We are just catching our breath.
For instance, on the Third Day of Christmas here is Johnathan Davis, Executive Director Shepherd of the Covenant Community.
Below may be a little doorway on the North Avenue side of our block that you don’t recognize, but it’s a holy stable. Around this block we host ten 12-step meetings a week. Up these steps, people help each other find their lives and their personhood. Shepherding is always a community project.
And LOOK! Threads will open tomorrow just like always, because great kids deserve great clothes!
And of course even after the manger scene is put lovingly away, we still have our favorite donkey in the window! Remember around this block, jackasses are beloved, too! This is the window near where Carroll and I will be buried. We have lots of friends and relatives there already.
The theologian and poet Howard Thurman gives us our marching orders in this beloved poem. Please God may we live into this deep and abiding life.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.
Around our family Thanksgiving table—and TA-Da! here is that table and the decorator—the BEST THAT LOVE CAN BUY! Place cards (both sides) in bubble letters and newly learned cursive; pipe-cleaner twisty garlands and hearts of gold and brown; gorgeous fall leaves from our morning walk; sparkly ribbons and lots of poster paper and pretty markers!
Around our family table, we have a Thanksgiving tradition that I think a lot of y’all share one way or another. Our version is that we secretly write down three things we are thankful for and everybody has to guess who wrote what. This year our seven-year-old grandson gave thanks for Antarctica—he just LIKES it! One of mine was “beer”— I have no idea where that came from. I like beer but it’s not really one of my top three things on earth. Another thanksgiving for me was “choirs”—I do know where that came from! Thanks to Ray Chenault and Karol Kimmell (and also our little decorator’s choir-mistress, Julie, over at Epiphany) holy music swirls around in my head all week long—what a gift!
Sometimes the voices in our heads are just very little known folks to anybody else in our lives. Maurice Reddick’s voice in his head for instance! Here’s Maurice and his mentor and first boss, Ellsworth Staunton, III. Mr. Staunton was the Clerk of the Session at an old red brick Presbyterian church in Brooklyn where Maurice began his journey. Maurice says that over and over, Mr. Staunton would say“You can do this! You are doing a good job!” And he showed up when Maurice graduated.
Terry Kinton’s favorite voice in her head is her husband Richard!
Terry: ” Even though he is wheel-chair bound, he dreams about walking with Jesus in a garden. He loves the song, he walks with me and he talks with me. My husband always has positive view—”let’s look at it this way.” “Maybe God is trying to show us ….”He loves to see other people’s needs get filled though he has many, many health challenges of his including constant pain.”
Sometimes the voices in our heads are people from early days—school or early training with us. Remember this guy?
You can invite the best voices in your life to walk through the days with you. And GUESS WHAT?? YOU, I promise, YOU are a better angel voice for somebody else. Lisa told me about a life-giving conversation she and I had probably twenty-five years ago. She told me that my words had made a difference in her life. And that she was thankful for me. Isn’t that WONDROUS?? Believe me, there are people on this earth who have been given life through YOUR WORDS!
What about practicing thanksgiving every day—not just on the fourth Thursday of November? And I can’t think of a better place to start than giving thanks for the life-giving voices in our heads. Here’s a paraphrase of a poem from George Herbert (whose voice I treasure). Get it in your head and say it when you need some thanksgiving!
I’ve been asking around this block for people to tell me about the strong and life-giving voices in their head. Lisa Bell-Davis, our communications director, gives us Gramma! And friends, I’m taking Gramma with me every where I go these days! Here’s Lisa:
“I learned much from my Gramma, especially not to be afraid of hard work, but probably even more important, to laugh.This is the list of the 10 biggest things my grandmother taught me. I read them at her funeral, and those that knew her nodded yes at every one!
1. A good ham always makes the best Sunday dinner.
2. Never let international borders stop you from bringing plants and flowers home.
3. A lot of hard work never killed anyone.
4. If you don’t have a hairnet to wear to bed a pair of clean panties will do. (!?!)
5. The longer you keep moving, the longer you will stay young. (She never told anyone she was older than 39.)
7. Caviar may look like raspberry jam, but does not taste like raspberry jam.
8. Whenever possible, travel.
9. There’s no shame in a woman doing a man’s work, except maybe for the man.
10. And my grandmother taught me the Lord’s Prayer, as we were laying on our backs together in her bed, with our legs up in the air, bicycling for exercise.”
Anybody who has taken a gander at our Parish Profile, designed by Gramma’s granddaughter, knows the apple did not fall far from the tree. Strength is truly a pass-it-on, generation to generation commodity. And around this block, we TRULY know that DNA is only one of the ways that strength and zest for life get passed on to the rising generation. May God bless the Grammas – male and female, old and young, around our block. And may we each in our own way be a Gramma, too.