Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Anniversary # 54

54 years...where did they all go?
I am not sure at all.
The journey started one Sunday night in Louisville, Kentucky 
  at Mario’s Pizza place.
The prettiest girl I ever saw.
I still remember what she had on.

That October night was already beginning to get chilly.
It was a dark green two-piece dress.
And a smile and laughter that just brightened that candle-lit room.
Almost three years later on a night so cold the temperature 
  dropped well below freezing—we got married.
Our two-day honeymoon at French Lick was wondrous.
I found the bill the receipt the other day--$57.30 
  for two nights—all meals included!
I dragged her back to a two-room apartment at the Seminary.
Somebody had given us a black and white TV as big as a refrigerator.

54 years...where did it all go?
I am not sure at all.
But through it all she was a trooper.
Still is.

But that first country church was a test of all tests.
She endured, like Dilsey in “The Sound and the Fury.”
A twenty-one year old preacher’s wife?
She hadn’t signed up for that.
But she trooped through it all.
Pregnant and teaching third-graders a subject 
  she knew nothing about.
Learning to be a Mama and a wife and a preacher’s sidekick 
 and away from home for the first time in her life.
They loved her in that little church.
They loved her playing the piano and directing their little choir.
They loved, even then, that she broke all the preacher’s wife's molds.

54 years...where did it all go?
I am not sure at all.
But she was a good Mama to two redheads 
  and tried to keep her preacher-husband on kilter.
She took more casseroles than she could count.
She sat through more sermons than she wished.
She endured more poor music than any Christian ought to hear.
She taught music everywhere we went.   
And the kids loved her.

She listened and nudged and laughed and propped me up.
I remember Katherine Hepburn saying of Spencer Tracy: 
  “He was my knight in shining armor.” That just about describes her
   as anything I know. 
Women can be knights too. 

And here we are—54 years later.
I sometimes wonder if that snowy candlelit night
 she had known all that was ahead if she would have run out 
  of the church screaming instead of the "yes" she said.
She did—and, even despite it all, I think she still would say yes.
At least most days.

So—even though I do not rightly know 
   where the 54 years went
I do know this.
I am grateful as any man could be for all she is and all she has done for me.
So—here we are in our seventies—me almost on the cusp of eighty—for God’s sake.
And still my cup runs over every time 
I stop and remember.

"Selma" Takes Me Back

photo by chloeloe /  flickr

The movies, “Selma” triggered all sorts of memories in this Southerner's life. Taylor Branch, who has chronicled the turbulent, courageous days of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties says of Selma: “Selma will engage the world’s conscience, strain the embattled civil right’s coalition, and embroil King in negotiations with all three branches of the United States government. It will revive the visionary pragmatism of the American Revolution.”

Selma is just one chapter in that wondrous story of a people who risked everything for the right to vote. Before the movement, only a small handful of black citizens could vote in Lowndes County. The movie tells of the struggle to gain that right.

But as I watched the film, they told the story of this white preacher, James Reeb, who heard the call of Martin Luther King. Dr. King challenged people across the country to come to Selma and stand with those black folks who were denied their basic right to vote. Reeb's name brought back a memory. Outside the dining room at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey I remembered a plaque I would pass again and again. The engraving said: “In memory of James Joseph Reeb Class of 1953.  Fatally beaten at Selma, Alabama March 11, 1965.” And then the words: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Reeb, like thousands of others responded to the call to come to Selma.  His first evening in Selma he was bludgeoned to death by a man with a baseball bat.

Reeb was only one of many, black and white that gave their lives to this great cause. Seeing James Reeb murdered on a street in Selma, reminded me of another sad civil rights story.  Some time ago I visited the Gethsemani Monastery in Bardstown, Kentucky. A friend said, “I want to show you something.” And we walked through the woods, perhaps half a mile or more.  And we came to this plaque.

Beyond the plaque was a sculpture of the three sleeping disciples. But as my friend and I moved up the hill we came to this powerful life sized statue of Jesus agonizing in the Garden. They called these pieces: “The Garden of Gethsemani.”

And I saw watched the film, “Selma” it dawned on me again that our struggles with race and unfairness are far from over. We thought all those hard days were behind us. Not so. We’re living in a strange time. Attempts are made all over this country to throw roadblocks which make voting harder and cumbersome.  Those that have mounted this new crusade say they are saving the ballot box from voter fraud. Evidence proves otherwise. Who would have thought after all the struggles, heartaches and the killings—that we would be fighting this battle of voting rights all over again.
I don’t know where this will end. As usual, the opposition to voting rights for all our citizens is powerful, determined and well financed. I keep remembering that plaque in Princeton honoring James Reeb. Selma brought back that winding trail through the woods in Kentucky and how the young life of Jonathan Daniels was snuffed out for this cause. And I remembered the statue of the three sleeping disciples and thought about its appropriateness for our time. But I cannot forget at the top of that Kentucky hill where the stature of the weeping Jesus stood. But I also remember what the Southern writer Faulkner told us, “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” I thank the filmmakers of “Selma” for reminding us of how far we still have to go.

photo by talia davis using words from her grandfather's
sermon after Selma march.

--RogerLovette /rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King's Birthday--Musings

"Freedom will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear...
Is a strong seed
in a great need.
I live here too;
I want freedom
Just as you."
--Langston Hughes, "Freedom"

This is Dr. King's birthday and I am trying hard to keep things in focus. Who would have ever thought after all we've been through we would still be fighting the old racist wars that have gone on in our country for years and years.

And yet here we are. The movie, "Selma" isn't just about once upon a time but still here and now. New barriers of all kind have been erected to make sure that makes it hard for many folks to vote. Historians in New York Magazine interview over 53 historians asking how they thought President Obama's presidency will be seen in the history books. You can read their responses in New York Magazine. Quite a few of these wise men who look at the long view have said so much opposition and downright hatred that this President has faced is due to the color of his skin. Many disagree. I really thought we had turned a corner with the election of our first black President. We seem to have moved backward instead of forward.

Yet we know that if Martin Luther King, Jr. had not traveled the hard road that he traveled--Mr. Obama would never have made it to the White house. I look round my Gym--half of those working out are people of color. Not all the doctors and school teachers in our schools are now lily-white. Why even our churches do not have Ushers stranding at all entrances making sure only the right people get in.
photo by Universal Pops (David) / flickr

I can remember when our football and basketball teams were all white. And the cheerleaders and the band and everyone in the stands except those selling pops and popcorn were white folks. I can remember my lily-white church and school and neighborhood. I never knew that on the other side of town in mostly run-down shanties the people that did our washing and kept our children and cleaned our houses  mostly lived on the outside of the American dream.

But Martin Luther King pricked out consciences and threw open the shutters and forced us to see what most of us white folks did not even know was there. And hard as it is today--we need to remember that we are not going back to those terribly racist days. They really are gone or they are going.

The world is having a hard time. We never had found those African girls kidnapped over a year ago. ISIS is terrifying. And to think that gunmen can march into a newspaper office or school and gun down children and adults is frightening. Policeman who turn their backs on the Mayor accomplish nothing. South Carolina legislators are trying to pass some legislation which would allow little children time to be taught how to use guns "safely" in school. Whatever happened to reading, writing and arithmetic?

On this birthday of the great King we are in a mess in a lot of ways. It reminds me of something I read years ago. Somebody asked this young man who worked with the homeless and the poor why did he do that. There were so many problems. There would be more tomorrow. How did he stand to keep doing what he did? I loved his answer: "T"s he only way I can stand it is to rejoice in the smallest of victories."

We need to remember that on this particular birthday. All over there are people of all ages that are participants in victories most of us know little or nothing about. One victory I remember this day was not so small. The day Martin Luther King came into the world. But the spin-offs have touched us all. Think back and remember the tiny victories that without which your life would have been forever different. And in our discouragement--let us not be overwhelmed by the darkness. We just might look around and find some ways that we, too can be part of these small but terribly important victories.

photo by yeimaya / flickr

--RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ever Write Out Your Own Obituary?

I want to introduce you to my good friend, Zelma Pattillo through this guest blog piece. She has had a great ministry working mostly with Hospice. But she is a fine preacher and wonderful writer. This article appeared in Perspectives, Baptist News Global recently. I share this great piece with her permission. Thanks, Zelma.

What happened on the way to my funeral

Facing a new year, many of us reflect on our lives. You may be shocked that I would suggest that we talk about death, but after years of training in pastoral care in seminary and Clinical Pastoral Education, and more than 18 years as a hospice chaplain, I am very comfortable discussing death.
Through the years, I have participated in many exercises that encouraged me to get in touch with my feelings about death, even my own death.Let me share just two of these with you:   
In a seminary class on death and dying, each of us was asked to fill out our own death certificate. I did fine with all the data except one: Occupation. With few opportunities for women in ministry, I became paralyzed with the thought that I might not be able to live out my calling as a woman in ministry — so I left it blank.
Several months ago, on a Wednesday night at church, we were asked to write our own obituary. Looking back over 76 years, I had a different perspective than before, because I had been able to live out so many dreams — dreams beyond my expectations. So I wrote the following with a sense of gratitude — and humor:
Zelma Mullins Pattillo was born near Wise, Virginia, on Nov. 18, 1938. She became  13th of 14 children in the Mullins household at Hickory Gap, birthplace of great, towering trees, and a few nuts. Her mother was deeply religious, strong and steady, and loved her family, making each of them feel blessed. Zelma’s father had a fun-loving spirit and made the purest moonshine in those parts — which was OK until he started dipping too much into his own recipe.
She started her academic career at the one-room Gilliam School at Hickory Gap, where Maude Collier taught grades one through five. In 1960, Zelma graduated from the university with a triple major in math, physics and history. The race to the moon was just beginning. Her math and physics profs suggested she should set a goal of becoming one of the first women in space;  she hesitated to tell them that she suffered from motion sickness, even when riding a ferris wheel!
A different vision kept tugging at her heart, one she first expressed at age 15: a call to be a “woman preacher.” She set out to break barriers in inner space, of closed minds, closed pulpits, and closed doors to women in ministry. This was not an easy journey. Like riding a roller coaster. So she buckled her seatbelt tightly, had her barf bag nearby, also blinders in reach when she had to block out negative voices in order to keep the goal in focus.
She earned the M.A. and M.Div. from the seminary, served in many part time and interim positions. At age 50, she became a full-time hospice chaplain at Baptist Health Systems in Birmingham, and retired at 68 as coordinator of a team of 12 chaplains. What a wonderful gift — a place where she could truly live out her calling.
Near the end, her family leaned close to hear her whisper the words of Maya Angelou: “Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now!” Oh yes, she did finally finish her autobiography, leaving many memories, and a little cash — at least enough to have her cremated and her ashes taken back to Appalachia. Zelma’s father and brothers had fished in the mountain streams and graced their family table with beautiful rainbow trout. Her request was to have her ashes scattered in those streams, saying: “Lord knows I’ve eaten enough trout; now it’s their turn.”

Zelma Pattillo

Zelma Pattillo

Zelma Mullins Pattillo, a Virginia native, is an ordained Baptist minister who has served as a hospital chaplain and for more than 18 years as chaplain and coordinator of spiritual care for a large ecumenical hospice ministry in Alabama. She also served as a staff member of churches in South Carolina and Kentucky. She is retired and lives in Birmingham, AL.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Amazing Grace--A Sermon

"I wonder what he charged for chairs at Nazareth
And did men try to beat him down
And boast about it in the town--
'I bought it cheap for half-a-
From that mad Carpenter.'

And did they promise and not pay, 
Put it off another day;
O, did they break his heart that way, 
My Lord, the Carpenter?

I wonder did he have bad debts,
And did he know my fears and frets?
The gospel writer here forgets
To tell about the Carpenter.

But that's just what I want to know
Ah! Christ in glory, here below
Men cheat and lie to one another so;
It's hard to be a carpenter."
          --G.A. Studdert-Kennedy 

Our pastor, Rusty Brock began a book study of the Gospel of Mark last Sunday. And he wanted me to preach on Mark 2.1-13 while he was out of town. I don’t know a better book to study during this season of Epiphany than this particular Gospel. Epiphany means light or manifestation. Wise men followed what? A star—and what they found in Bethlehem was more light than they ever imagined. There is an old play in which one of the characters says: “I came here seeking light in darkness—and stumbled on a morning.”

And the Sundays following Christmas are to help us open our eyes and see things about this faith business that we never saw before. It was the church’s great hope that here and there someone might just: “stumble on a morning.”

The book of Mark was the first gospel written. This gospel shed light where there was not much light. Somewhere around 64 AD we think the book came into being after the death of Peter and Paul. Not only their deaths—but many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ work were old and tottery or dying out. And if somebody didn’t tell the story in a few years it would all be lost.

Mark had heard many of the Jesus’ stories from Simon Peter. And so he saw down for all times a record of who this Jesus was and what he was about. Some say he wrote for a little struggling house churches weak as water. The central problem of the early church was apostasy—falling away. When times got hard, many turned away and went back to their former lives. Some that stayed were fighting among themselves. Some said you had to be a real Jew to be a real member of the church. Couldn’t be a Deacon if you did not have a Jewish heritage. Others said No. No—Gentiles don’t have to ride in the back of the bus. Some in those little church said that Romney should have been President. Jesus, they knew, was a Republican. Yet others said: You’re crazy Jesus voted for Obama.  He was a Democrat. Others in the church didn’t know what the squabbling was all about. So those little fragile churches floundered and fussed while the world sat back and watched. It was a hard time for the church.

This was the world in which the first Gospel was written. The book sheds light on what faith really is and what Jesus was really all about—and the church, too. Mark has no sweet little Jesus boy. There are no Shepherds or Wise Men and not an Innkeeper in the book. And Mark did not choose up sides on Republicans or Democrats.

Mark opens the Jesus’ story with Jesus as an adult. Jesus asks for baptism---just like we do. Mark wrote that he was baptized in the River Jordan. And then he went off to pray, just like we do. And out there in the wilderness he was tempted again and again—just like we are. The devil tried to get him to do all kinds of exotic thing. Just like we struggle with. Just wow them, Jesus and they’ll follow you anywhere. This Jesus didn’t do that.

What he did do was to call disciples. The weirdest collection you’ve ever seen. Just like us. He called Simon with his big mouth and his brother, Andrew who hardly ever said a word. Jesus did not go up to the Country Club or down to the College where all the influential people were. He called fisherman—Zebedee’s boys—whoever they were—James and John. Mending nets—of all things—doing servants’ work. He called them. Just like us.

photo by SummerSizzler / flickr
He went back home and taught in the Synagogue and the Chairman of Deacons whispered, “Just who did he think he is. Authority—we’ve got the authority.” Jesus ignored him. There was a man there with an unclean spirit—deeply disturbed—kept interrupting the services—and the Ushers were in a snit. What do we do? He won’t shut up--they said. Jesus healed the man. And Mark writes that word began to spread that this Jesus cares about people—even the crazy people.

He heard Simon and Andrew talking about how sick their Mama was and Jesus went to their little nondescript house on a little dirt road and healed her. He loved Mamas—even the bossy ones that lived in little houses.

Mark says that they lost him and found him praying by himself. Praying—the Savior praying. What kind of a Jesus prays and sometimes seems as desperate as us? Healing after healing. Jesus saw a leper, Mark writes, a leper. They had to live outside the gates. They would not let the lepers into the town—why they might catch something like AIDS or some other incurable disease. Jesus reached out and touched the leper. You weren’t supposed to do that. The Health Department was furious—nobody touched lepers—the Lord only knows where they got that leprosy. But this did not stop Jesus.

And so at long last we come to our text in Mark 2. Don’t get scared, we’ll get out on time, maybe. And even if we don’t you tell our Pastor that the sermon was only nine minutes long. Chapter 2—what kind of Jesus? He taught in a crowded house of a neighbor—so many people squeezed in those little rooms that you could hardly breathe. And the strangest thing happened. There was in that village a paralyzed man. He couldn’t walk and had not worked for years. His wife had left him long ago. And he wanted to be healed—to walk and work. He wanted his old life back. And so four men—we don’t know their names—but they couldn’t get in the house. Too many people. So they slowly, slowly dragged the cripple man on a pallet up, up, up the steps to the roof of the house They tore a hole in the roof of the ceiling—and shingles flew in all
photo by Nick  Thompson / flickr
directions. And ever so carefully they lifted this crippled broken man down at Jesus’ feet. And Mark writes—when Jesus saw the faith of the four men—their faith—he healed the crippled man. This Jesus touched something so deep down in the hearts of those four men that they had to do something. They couldn’t just sit there with there fiddling their fingers. They brought their friend to Jesus. Mark says this Jesus draws feelings and emotions and actions out of people and they are never, ever the same. Jesus whispered so low that most could not hear him—even in that crowded room.” Take up your pallet and go home.” And the crowd—dumb-founded—just moved back—made a path through the crowd and watched this man with tears running down his face—as he headed toward home. And Mark writes that the crowd said: “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And so old woman at the back of the room, from Mississippi whispered, “Well...I never...”

If that wasn’t enough—Jesus walked along the road and saw Levi. Everybody knew Levi and they all hated him. He was a tax collector—and had gotten rich off the nickels and dimes of the poor people. He collected for Rome—but he kept more than his share. And what did Jesus do? He asked Levi to follow him and he did and it changed this man’s life. And Mark said it ought to change our understanding of the gospel. There really is a wideness in God's mercy.

And so Mark had written for the new converts and the fussy church and so many who did not know—he wrote down what they said about Jesus: “We never, ever saw anything like this!" Mark worked hard to tell us who Jesus was and what he did—and what he would do. This Jesus struggled as we all struggle...he called unlikely people—as unlikely as some of us. He cared about somebody’s old sick Mama who didn’t have a dime. And the disturbed and the depressed found more than they ever realized or hoped or dreamed. They kept saying: “We never saw anything like this!”

And Mark, God bless him summarized it all up in a prelude for all that would come:

“That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city gathered round the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1. 32-34)

Do you think, here is this room, today of all days, somebody here has been touched much like all those that Mark wrote about. None of us are left out. And contrary to popular opinion none of us are left behind. Not even the mean ones and the crippled ones and the depressed ones and the cheating ones and the lonely ones and the ashamed ones that carry their shame like a burden on their backs. We’re all there. Each one of us. Do you see your face? Can you find your name? We're all there—every one of us.

Touched by this Jesus.  Touched by his amazing grace. “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  And this, my friends is why we come. To be reminded over and over again.   “We’ve  never seen anything like this!” And this is why we are here.

                              (This sermon was preached Sunday, January 11, 2015 at the First Baptist Church, Clemson SC)

                                                 --Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Does God Still Speak?

photo by hayespdx / flickr
"The...words that God speaks to us in our own lives are the real miracles.  They are not miracles that create faith as we might think that a message written in the stars would create faith, but they are miracles that it takes faith to see--faith in the sense of openness, faith in the sense of willingness to wait, to watch, to listen, for the incredible presence of God here in the world among us."
  --Frederick Buechner, "Message in the Stars", 
       The Magnificent Defeat

Yesterday I posted a blog post about a pastor that said he heard God speak to him on the eve of Christmas and told him to change his Christmas Eve sermon. He was instructed to revise the Ten Commandments.

I don’t want to talk about this preacher—but I do want to talk about hearing God speak. Deep in my heart I believe God speaks to most of us—if not all—through the still, small voice that Isaiah talked about. Not in the earthquake or the fire—nothing spectacular—which I believe was what the temptations of Jesus was all about. No. God comes to most of us if not all in a whisper that we can easily miss if we are not careful.

But one of my favorite stories of God’s speaking is the Preacher in Kentucky that came to the Deacon’s meeting years ago. True story. It was the day before air conditioning was not everywhere and the preacher wanted his church air-conditioned. So, sitting in a circle he told the Deacons that night that God had spoken to him and told him that they ought to air condition the church. There was a great silence around the room. And then one old crotchety Deacon spoke: “Well, we ain’t gonna do it. God has not spoke to me about air conditioning and until he does—there won’t be no air conditioning in this church.” And The Deacons said the Benediction and went home.

And anytime I hear some Preacher, especially tells us what God has told him—I remember that story. 

                              --RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Ten Commandments Revised by a Pastor in South Carolina?

photo be John Taylor / flickr
A friend of mine sent me this story and wanted to know what I thought. It seems that a Pastor down the road in Anderson South Carolina has purported to have heard God speak directly to him on the eve of Christmas. I always get a mite suspicious when some preacher lets us know what God said to him. I never heard God speak directly to me. Maybe I’m not spur-itual enough. I have felt the moving of the spirit or I would never have spent my whole life in the service of the church. I have been touched, warmed and felt the presence of God from time to time. And sometimes I have taken off my shoes because the ground on which I stood was holy. But God never called me on the telephone.

So—my suspicious hackles made me wonder what was going on here. Seems like this pastor of what we call (I hate the term) mega-church—Perry Noble told his Christmas Eve congregation that God spoke to him personally and told him to change his Christmas Eve sermon. Well and good. He supposedly grabbed his pen and spent ten minutes on the sermon. Not so good.

What God told him was that the Ten Commandments weren’t really commandments at all. (This was on Christmas Eve?) The Pastor had been to Israel and met this born-again Israeli driver. The man told him that the word, commandment was not really a Hebrew word. The Reverend took this Israeli driver’s word as fact. He never checked a commentary. He never dug into the origin of the Ten Commandments. He must not have known that. So he builds a case for calling the Commandments Ten Sayings at best. He also said they could be called Ten Promises.

Consequently God told him to revise the old words--Commandments to make them more palatable to nonbelievers. So he followed God’s orders.

This was his Revised Standard Version which he said came from God:

1—No other Gods—translated: You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.

2—No images—translated: You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.

3—No taking Lord’s name in vain—translated: You can trust in a name that’s above every name.

4—Sabbath day keeping—translated: You can rest.

5—Honor parents—translated: Your family does not have to fall apart.

6—No murder—translated: You do not have to live in a constant state of anger because you will be motivated by love and not hate.

7—No adultery—translated: You do not have to live a life dominated by the guilt, pain and shame associated with sexual sin.

8—No stealing—translated: I will provide.

9—No false testimony—translated: You do not have to pretend.

10—No coveting—translated: I will be enough.

The Ten Commandments have been called: “The Magna Charta of the Social Order." The commands of God are sprinkled all the way through the Bible. Check out any Concordance. Page after page lists the places you will find Command or Commandment in the Bible. The word commandment means mandate or charged with responsibility. The Hebrews talked about The Ten Words—and Word was a monumental thing:When the Lord God spoke great things always took place. The world was created.The Red Sea rolled back. A baby in an out of the way place would change it all.

Later the word, commandment was associated with law. In Exodus and Deuteronomy we read where God somehow spoke to Moses and gave him the glue that would hold the community together.And some of those words can  be found in other cultures and faiths.

This attempt at revision reminds me of a story Lloyd Douglas, the writer of another day told. He had a friend who was a violin teacher. One day Douglas asked him, “What’s the good news for today.” The music teacher went over to a tuning fork suspended by a cord and struck it with a mallet. “That is the good news for today.” He continued, “My friend, that sound is an “A”. It was an “A” all day yesterday. It will be an “A” all day tomorrow, next week, and for a thousand years. The soprano upstairs may warble off-key, the tenor next door may flat his high notes, and the piano across the hall maybe out of tune. Noise all around us, noise; but that, my friend is an “A”.

Of course the Commandments must be reinterpreted for every age. You might check out Chris Hedges’, Losing Moses on the Freeway. He hammers out what he thinks these commandments mean for our nation today. And the demands Hedges finds in the Commandments are hard as nails. But we do not alter or twist or change the basic meaning of the commandments. And any time you hear somebody talking about how God’s speaks to him or her you might just wonder what is going on. Somehow God spoke to Moses, yes—but I don’t think any Pastor today can revise what has stood for thousands of years. I am sure the Pastor in Anderson means well--but next time I hope, as the Scriptures say, he will test the spirits to make sure they are of God. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, Matthew

Today’s your birthday. And so much of it comes back. That cold frosty snowy night in Danville, Virginia when you came into the world. Red-headed. Rambunctious. Squirmy Lovable. You always said we didn’t have any pictures of you since you were our second child—you were wrong.

Everywhere we went people talked about Matthew. Remember, someone said, when you put that cape on and ran around the church like Superman. Remember driving your Big Wheels under a slowly moving car—that was scary. Remember when your Daddy smoked a pipe and you wanted me to breathe smoke into a bottle as you yelled: “Jeannie in a bottle.” Remember your loving Ernest Angley and thought he was on a comedy channel. Remember moving to Clemson and driving down the main street for the first time and wondering: “Where’s the town?” And I said, “You just saw it.” 

 Remember how proud you were with the Clemson move because the church had “nailed-down seats.” Remember your being very impressed with the church’s sound system and leaving me a note on the pulpit that read, as I stood up to preach: “Daddy, tell everybody I love you over the microphone.” Remember that Christmas Eve service when you set fire to the church bulletin during the lighting of the candles. Remember the Birthday you gave your Mama a card with a picture of a snowman on front that said: “To my God-father at Christmas.” Remember your baptism that night with Paul Caffrey and Matt Maddox in the swimming pool because somebody forgot to fill up the church’s baptistery.
Remember the banners you helped create that still hang in the Clemson sanctuary every Christmas. Remember Brenda and Liz and Art and Governor’s School and the North Carolina School of the Arts. Remember the Art Institute in Chicago and how we hauled your treasures up to that terrible apartment on the Church van?

Remember working hard at Ann Sathers Restaurant. Remember being selected to spend that summer at Yale where you really discovered photography. Remember writing us and saying you met a guy named Mark. Remember finishing college and working at Habitat and meeting Jimmy Carter and him calling you: “Mat-chew.” Remember the glorious paintings you did and the one especially of your Grandmother. She said: “It makes me look like an old woman.” Remember the painting you did of your Mama’s and later your sister’s house on Tenny Avenue?

Remember your hard struggles with trying to figure out who you were and the letter you wrote us in Memphis? Remember returning to Chicago and Mark and a whole new life. Remember Tony Stone and being in charge of their Getty photograph collection. Remember your Bed and Breakfast with Mark and Carolyn and how you helped put it on the map. Remember leaving that job to become first a consultant for B and B’s and then becoming a photographer for B and B’s and traveling all over.  Remember we never ever knew where you were.

Remember my 70th Birthday when you and Mark gave Gayle and me plane tickets to Italy—and said: “We’re going with you and you did: to Rome and Florence and Venice. Remember moving to Philadelphia and redoing your old row house on Catharine Street.

Remember your two wild semi-feral cats. And trips you all took to so many places that it makes me dizzy. Especially the last one to the Amazon where the woman running the place casually said there was a Tarantula bed under the bedroom you slept in—and as an aside saying the bats that fly in your room at night won’t hurt you.

But my favorite memory may be that morning  by the fireplace where, after 25 years—you pledged your love in marriage to Mark. And the next day when we drove way up in the mountains and fifty people from all over came together for two fun days to celebrate your 25 years as partners.
You and your sister have graced our lives and we don’t know what we would do without you. Thanks for being “borned” that cold, snowy night in Virginia and helped to make these years as special as they have been.

Happy Birthday, Matthew. We love you. Daddy and Mama.