December 2009


Advent means coming

Longing, waiting, watching, joy

Jesus comes today!

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The winter wears long

Wet, cold, dark, no end to it

O sun, come out soon!

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Sing to God, my soul!

Impossible dreams come true.

Let it be so, Lord.

(from Luke 1:46-55)

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A harvest of joy

Waiting to be bundled, shared

No weeping in Zion!

(from Psalm 126)

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

Please note: There will be no post next week. Have a blessed Christmas!

Every year, Mississippi State hosts a holiday bazaar in the main gym of its Sanderson Center. I happened to be there on one of the days of the event, walking the track, which is elevated above the gym and surrounds it. As I walked I looked for flared_smallmy friend Whitney Avritt, who, among other things artistic, designs and sells her own pottery. No Whitney, but plenty of other vendors selling everything from purses to pomegranate this and that, from Christmas ornaments to crosses.

It was the latter that captured my attention. We collect metal crosses, painted crosses, ceramic crosses, buying them on vacation in the Southwest or the mountains, valuing them much more than the T-shirts we used to get. So, I wondered as I walked if any of the booths had something I might take home. Nope. In fact, just the opposite. Most of what was offered was pretty tacky, and one in particular: a flared cross (the shape at right, in a pendant) done in a zebra print.

Zebra print! Now the cross was no more than a flashy, trendy fashion accessory done in the same faux animal skin that you can have on your carry-all purse or your one-size-fits-all blanket with sleeves sold on TV and now in stores everywhere. Yeah, yeah, I know the cross has been made into jewelry of all sorts, including those pectoral crosses that clergy like me wear to adorn themselves when leading worship. But at least those items are tasteful. This horror was cheesy and cheap-looking.

On the scale of offensiveness, a zebra cross is not anywhere near as awful of one emblazoned on the shield of soldiers sent off to kill Muslims in the Crusades or one burning in the yard of a black family. But the cross done in a trendy print also does dishonor to the act of the One who died on a Roman instrument of torture. I have to wonder if we even know what the cross means anymore.

The cross is beautiful as the ultimate act of human and divine love, but not as the ultimate fashion accessory.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

Today is the 25th anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s passing. Her name was Viola Page, and she died on her birthday in 1984 at age 78. Not very old at all, but she had had a hard life.

Grandma was born in the first wave of what became known decades later as “the greatest generation” (Tom Brokaw) and which Strauss and Howe refer to in their taxonomy as “hero,” a classification shared by today’s Millennials (b. 1982-2000). Though she didn’t work in a factory as a “Rosie the Riveter” or go overseas during WWII as a nurse or in some other role open to women at that time, she was indeed a hero.

Stricken with severe arthritis at age 28, Grandma Page nevertheless raised and supported five children—Leslie, Bob, Jimmy, Nancy, and my mom Grace—practically on her own. She became a seamstress, making clothing and doing alterations for wealthy women, working despite the pain in her hands.

Grandma was particularly sturdy, as heroes are, able to make it through anything, whether tragedy, heartache or poverty. But all those things happened even before I was born or when I was quite young. I remember her not so much as especially strong but as especially loving and welcoming. Some of my favorite times as a kid were spent at her big, rambling old house on Madison Street in Albany, GA. The wraparound porch and the big back yard were perfect for me to play on and in. Her pot roast on Sunday, when we always came to visit, was outstanding. (When my friend the late Mark Heard penned his classic tune “Dinner at Grandma’s” when we were in college, I thought of those meals.) Yes, there was no hot running water, and the place was dark and sometimes chilly; it was next to an alley and behind a car dealership. But what does a kid really care about that?

In Grandma’s later years, my late sister Carol Ann and I tried to do what we could to bring comfort to her in her pain. She loved Carol Ann’s singing and my reading, so we made a tape, which Mama still has, I think. On it was the text below, which I also read as both minister and grandson at her graveside. It’s so beautiful and full of hope that I think I would treasure it even without the memory of what it meant to Grandma. But I cannot read it when it comes around in the lectionary or whenever without thinking of her and praying that one day all who are stricken with pain as she was may indeed mount up with wings like eagles.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:27-31).

© 2009 Tom Cheatham