Robert “King” Carter’s grave marker
(photo by Beverly Davis Valcovic)
My seventh great-grandfather owned hundreds of slaves in colonial Virginia. He was a man so rich and powerful that his nickname was “King.”
His accomplishments were many: acting governor of Virginia, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, rector of William and Mary College. His descendants, according to the current website for the church he built in Lancaster County, Virginia, “include three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two presidents, eight Virginia governors, General Robert E. Lee, a Supreme Court justice, and more than 20,000 other descendants” – among them, of course, myself.
In addition to his civic achievements, he also served for more than 40 years as vestryman and church warden for Christ Church Parish, which still exists, but only as a museum. The epitaph on his tomb there, translated from the Latin, describes “an honorable man” of “noble endowments and pure murals,” who “upheld equally the regal dignity and the public freedom” and was “possessed of ample wealth, blameless acquired.”
I don’t know much about tires. I do know that when you see a tire that’s very low on air and has a big bubble on the side, that is not a good thing. I also know that driving a long distance at highway speeds with two mismatched tires on the front of the car and a tire pressure indicator glowing bright orange on the dash is not a good feeling.
I’ll spare the details, but both of those things were part of our recent drive to Washington DC for lunch. Yes, I do know that people don’t ordinarily drive 360 miles round trip for lunch, but we had this opportunity for a brief visit with the daughter who lives in California, and we took it.
Now we’re back and we have new tires on order, to be installed tomorrow by our local service guy, who knows us by name, and whose family was taking care of my family’s cars long before I arrived on the scene. I anticipate that when I see the size of the bill for four new tires, I’m going to be asking myself why I didn’t just go ahead and buy a whole new car. But I trust him, and I feel well served.
Somewhere in South Jersey, there’s another tire guy who served us well. I know his first name only, because that’s the name of his business. He kicked us ahead of all the other cars in the shop to install the tire we needed so we could keep going and keep our lunch date. And his bill was unbelievably low. So maybe those two things balance each other out.
Plus time with someone you love so much: Priceless!
Help wanted: Coffehouse, or church?
“We Are Hiring! Are you a barista? Do you love making coffee? Can you work quickly under pressure & still be a nice person? Do you like working with people? Do you have impeccable customer service skills?”
I have a little Starbucks Verismo machine in my office, and I get hit up for coffee as often as I’m asked for spiritual advice. So this sounds like my job description pretty exactly. Maybe for my fifth career ..
At the heart of the city, in the midst of such busyness, a moment of quiet. What you can’t see in this picture is the little girl who’s quietly leaning against the woman on the bench. After they’d been sitting for a while a young couple arrived, and the girl jumped up to greet them. Caregiver? Grandma? Evening handoff? I only know that for a little while, they were at peace.
Doctor’s office, medical history. I can trace the arc of my own life through the questions they ask, these chroniclers of my genetic inheritance. For a long time the main object of their interest was my mother and the benchmarks of women’s health. Over the years their focus shifted from childbearing to her bones: Did she lose height? Were there any hip fractures? Now the questions have shifted again, to my father: the early heart attack, his AFib, the valve that had to be replaced. I see that they’re wondering if I might have his heart.
My first thought: I hope not.
But no, that’s not true. My dad had a big, kind and loving heart; anyone who knew him would tell you that. So please, yes, let me have my father’s heart.
(I don’t, by the way. Have my father’s heart, at least in a medical sense. The other is something I’m working on.)
Reminds me of the fable sometimes attributed to Cherokee tradition, that we each have two equally powerful wolves at war inside of us: one peaceable and good, the other evil and angry. Which one wins? The one you feed.
Wonder which this was.
What is your most basic prayer, the one that’s always there in the shadows and will come forward any time if you let it?
For some compulsive reason I’ve set myself the task of consolidating all my old blogs in one place. Remember blogging? There was a sense of anonymity, which allowed for a certain freedom. The fact that it was online tended to override some inappropriate sharing and reinforce some standards of good writing. And there were communities of bloggers, which made it feel a bit like group spiritual direction. (Sadly, I haven’t found a reasonable way to preserve all the comments.)
At any rate, going through this stuff has given me some perspective on how my own most basic prayer has evolved over these years, from “show me the way,” to “get me through this,” to “make me enough.”
There’s a part of me that hopes that knowing your basic prayer, which is to say recognizing exactly what it is you need the most, is a sign that you’re halfway to it.
Sermon prep: Friends, please help me out. This is my backpack for the journey of life, which I’m planning to use as a sermon illustration this Sunday when we bless backpacks for back to school. What do I need in there?
Examples: Bible, just because … Book of Common Prayer – not only because I need to pray, but because we need to pray together, and how else can we make sense of the good book except together. Food for the journey – might look a lot like communion bread. Sunscreen because you know you’re supposed to wear it. My camera because, well, this is me we’re talking about.
Etc. – what else would you add to my list?
* And by the way, this is actually the backpack that got me through the weekly commute from Bucks County to New York City for seminary. Unzip the expansion and you can fit a week’s laundry in there. Plus a laptop. Plus some books (not the Hymnal 1982 Accompaniment Edition, though). But you’d better be strong, oh lordy, you’d better be strong.
Sermon prep: Pondering what it means to take up your cross and follow, I stumble across this quote, which was included in a letter I sent to Sunday School teachers a few years ago:
… if faith only heals and energizes, then it is merely a crutch to use at will, not a way of life. But the Christian faith, as a prophetic religion, is either a way of life or a parody of itself. Put starkly and with echoes of the Epistle of James, an idle faith is no Christian faith at all.
Sitting at the lab early this morning, waiting to have blood drawn, a patient more than a chaplain, I’m approached by an older woman who veers in my direction on her way to the door. “Are you Episcopal?” she says. This is a first; never have I been so precisely identified by a stranger. Usually if anything I’m taken for a Roman Catholic nun, which is fine with me, though I’ve never seen one in a dog collar. I tell her I am, and she reaches toward me, and asks me to pray for her. The warmth of her hand; the pain in her eyes. Her name is Lillian.
A minute later, still feeling that warmth, I’m informed that my collar is hanging half off; in my early departure, I’d failed to connect the back button. Which actually is an improvement over all the times I forget to put it on at all, and have to go back.