Saturday, April 19, 2014

Keeping Vigil

If you have been driving--at least around Oklahoma--you will see at least one roadside memorial which has spontaneously sprung up in memory of someone who died in a vehicular accident at that point in the road.  Families and friends, bring flowers and memorabilia to the site to remember their loved one and to keep the memory alive.  Some families may even put up signs that say "drive carefully in memory of ____________" as a way of reminding others of the danger in that portion of the road.  It is a practice that has mixed responses and some feel these impromptu shrines should be removed. This, however, is not an uncommon practice in human history.  Many cultures have set up shrines and memorials of various varieties in memory of loved ones and as a way of keeping vigil.

Immediately following the bombing in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, a fence was erected to keep out those who might be curious to keep them from getting hurt, and to keep the crime scene from being tainted. Following the placement of this fence, people began flocking to Oklahoma City to see the destruction and leave flowers, mementos, and messages of hope at the fence.  Children came with parents and left teddy bears and toys.  Parents, who hugged their children a little tighter, left words of sympathy and prayers for peace for the parents who lost their children in the daycare.  For several months following the bombing people came from all over the world to bring a token (something to show their love and support) to the fence and left it there.  These items have been faithfully gathered up and preserved in the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Today, the 19th anniversary of the bombing, falls on Holy Saturday-the time between the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I wonder what kind of things would have been left at such a memorial for Jesus.  Perhaps a cup and plate?  Maybe coins or possibly figs?  What kind of words would have been spoken?  Who would have come to keep vigil?

Yesterday, we remembered the death of Christ.  Tomorrow we celebrate the resurrection.  Today we wait.  I am aware of the waiting that is being done by the loved ones of the bombing victims and all who have lost someone they hold dear.  They have mourned the loss of loved ones.  Through the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we can celebrate with them again.  Right now we wait.  This is why we remember.  This is why we spend time in grief and holding on to memories.

I always spend some time between 9 am and 9:30 am on April 19th each year remembering the day that time seemed to stop.  The unthinkable had occurred just a few blocks from me.  A bomb in the heart of Oklahoma City--where it seemed so safe.  Days after the bombing I drove through Oklahoma City on a different route than I used to take.  Streets were blocked off, there were armored vehicles everywhere, a makeshift morgue was set up.  It reminded me that there were those in other places--in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Korea, in Europe, in Soviet states, in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, in Palestine--those who had to live with a military presence because their lives were disrupted by explosions, war and violence.

For 19 years I have been remembering, because I was there that day.  No, I did not lose someone close to me, but because that was the day I truly realized how much suffering was in the world.  I realized violence before this, but that was when suffering was made known to me.  So for 19 years I remember not just those lost on April 19th in Oklahoma City, but all human suffering around the world.  People who were killed needlessly in violence, those who grieve for them, the anger and resentment that naturally comes from profound loss, and all who stand aside and watch from the outside looking in.  Just like in Palestine on that eventful day so long ago when those who followed a radical teacher watched the whole of human suffering in one moment on a cross.

May you remember this Easter Vigil human suffering in all times and in all places, and may it so profoundly shape you that you pray--not only for yourself, not just for those who were lost or who lost someone, but for everyone. Amen.

We remember those who were killed, those who survived, and those whose lives were changed forever.  Mission of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fragrant Love

John 12:1-11 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

As Mary watched her friend and teacher sitting in her house talking with their friends, sharing a meal, and teaching about a kingdom without walls, perhaps she wondered, "why would he do all this?"  Then a stark realization came to her, "they are going to kill him."  There had been grumbling among the religious leaders about the audacity of bringing her brother back to life.  "It is blasphemy!" they said.  They were calling for witnesses against him, but Jesus can't die yet.  He is so full of life.  He has so much to do.  There is so much Mary wants to learn from him, but even as she thinks this, she knows that his death is certain. 

Mary spots the beautiful alabaster jar sitting in the alcove across the room.  She purchased the costly oil knowing that their family will need it someday, but perhaps....  There was conversation and food.  Martha was busily serving.  Lazarus was quietly sitting off to the side.  People were still not certain what to do with him; it was shocking to think that only a few days ago he had been dead.

Walking through the crowded room without anyone even noticing her, Mary retrieved the jar and came back to Jesus' side.  Without thinking too much about her next actions, she broke the seal on the jar and knelt at Jesus' feet, pouring the fragrant oil lavishly over his feet.  She became aware of tears falling and mingling with the oil.  The oil seemed to multiply.  Having no towel or cloth, she began to wipe off the excess with her hair.

The fragrance of the oil floated through the air.  Those in the room began to cease their conversation as Mary's actions became apparent to them.  Looking up, she noticed the people in the room were  watching her.  Then she looked at Jesus who was watching her with the eyes of pure love.

Judas, the reprobate and thief, was the first to speak.  Mary cringed as his voice thundered in the rafters of their small home.  “What are you doing?  You have been holding out on us,” he said accusingly.  “This is really expensive stuff you are wasting all over his feet!  Why was this not sold, we could have used the money to help the poor,” he said slyly.  Although she despised Judas, she wondered briefly if that was what she should have done with the ointment.  A moment later, still wiping his feet she shakes her head—no!  She did what she should have done; she anointed Jesus preparing his body for whatever the future may hold.

Mary glances up to see what Jesus would say.  Jesus is staring at Judas harshly.  When he does speak, the anger in his voice rivals the volume of Lazarus’ previous outburst:  “Leave her alone!  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial,” he shouted.  The people in the room gasped.  His voice softening, he looks back to Mary who is trembling now from the sheer adrenaline coursing through her.  “You always have the poor with you,” he says softly, “but you do not always have me.”  Although his words bring her sorrow, Mary feels affirmed in her gesture and heedless of everyone else in the room, she meets his eyes.

How often do we risk ourselves out of our deep love and profound gratitude for Jesus?  Are we worried about what others might think?  Do we second guess our own joy?  Perhaps, we are not profoundly grateful.  Just as those who only followed Jesus around hoping he will provide them with bread again, we are discontent with what we have and are looking for more.  We may ask, “What has Jesus done for me lately?”  Just as those who wanted earthly bread which will only leave us hungry again, we miss the blessings that are much deeper and much more sustaining.  Mary was profoundly grateful and willing to respond with profound generosity. 

Monday, February 24, 2014


Spring is coming!  Spring is coming!  Of course, for many parts of the country it is a bit too soon to rejoice in the coming of Spring, but here in the central south US we are seeing robins!  I love to see the robins show up, because even if there is a nip in the air or a chilly rain, you just know they know something you don't--warmth is coming!
In Spring we see the days begin to lengthen and the sun decide to stick around a bit longer.  We have days that are so warm, you are tempted to pack up the turtlenecks and the parkas, and bring out shorts and flip flops.  Ah!  Can't wait!
I am one of those who need to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and love to experience the rebirth of the earth.  However, after the wintery season we are just now coming out, there have been dire warnings floating around the internet for the first person to complain about the 120 degree weather that is inevitably coming.  
Part of the coming of Spring is the holy season of Lent. It is the time of year we reflect and remember, we repent and look toward the resurrection.  As we celebrate the rebirth of the earth and the change of seasons, we remember the new life found in the resurrection.  Happy Spring!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thoughts for a New Year

I have heard people talking about making a New Year's resolution for as long as I can remember.  I have even made a few myself--be more organized, exercise more, have a more structured time of devotion and prayer--and each time I tend to start strong and finish...well...with a whimper.  However, these efforts have not been a fruitless endeavor.  Although my original organizational skills that I meant to keep up with didn't last long; over time I realized that I have become a bit more organized in certain areas of my life.  And even though my original fervor in structured prayer collapsed like a house of cards, I have developed some practices that have stuck with me over time.  I'll leave the topic of exercise alone.  

With my youth group the other night, I asked who had made a New Year's resolution and was surprised to find out that only one had made a resolution - to stop procrastinating - an admirable resolution.  Maybe I'll do that next year.  The rest gave responses such as "why bother?" "I don't want to disappoint myself."  And had the over all attitude that making resolutions is a joke - which I had to concur in some part. 

We then talked about making a plan for better habits.  We want to better ourselves, but we rarely make a plan to do this.  We talked about ways they could include growing closer to God as a plan for growing as a person.  

I must confess, I am not the one to give advice in this area as you have already read from my failed attempts at organization and exercise; however, I do believe in goals.  Goals are those things you work toward--sometimes with varying degrees of success, but failure only comes when you quit trying.  I can handle a goal.  Like a goal of incorporating more activity in my life.  I can be more active, but structured exercise is not my thing.  

This year one of my goals is to write more.  I have a very good reason for this.  I must write consistently to finish my DMin.  Writing something everyday, even if it isn't related to my project, helps to develop a discipline of writing.  This is my goal.  My plan is to write for 15-20 minutes each morning about anything.  You may see some of my writing show up here.  They may be thoughts that seemingly do not have any relevance to anything going on, but idle thoughts can sometimes lead to open discussions.  

May your New Year be one in which you set goals and grow as a person, because none of us has truly arrived.  Yet, many of us have sat on a bench along the journey thinking we have reached our destination.  So get up and journey onward and blessings for the road ahead!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving Thanks

The table is set with the finest, and the feast is laid; there is turkey, and sometimes ham.  Generally, you can find a selection of potatoes mashed, scalloped and au gratin.  Green bean casserole is always a favorite, and we must have buttery rolls, rich gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Often there are sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows browned and melting on top, and a variety of pies, pecan, pumpkin, and apple to name just a few.  We gather with family and/or friends, and sometimes even our pets.  There are parades and sporting events on the television to entertain us, and overall it is a time and a space to eat our fill and then take a late afternoon nap drifting away as some of the younger family members play games or just chat and catch up on life.  Thanksgiving is a time we stop and say thank you for the blessings in our lives.  And this is just one of many scenarios that are played out in America on the fourth Thursday of November. 

However, for many people, this is just another day.  For many there isn’t enough money or food to fully set a feast.  Maybe our family doesn’t get along, or we find ourselves alone.  Maybe there is a crisis going on and we find we are away from family, friends.   

One Thanksgiving Day when I was a child I remember watching two boxes of frozen turkey dinners, the kind in a little compartmentalized tray, slowly making their way down the conveyor belt at the grocery store checkout.  They were just right about eye level with me, and I watched as they slowly made their way to the clerk who punched the prices into the cash register, took my father’s money and placed the boxes in a paper sack.  I don’t remember much being said.  Did the woman think it strange that an older man and a young girl were buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day rather than having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with family? 

My mother was in the hospital, and while daddy took care of me well, he was by no means the primary caretaker of little girls.  Mom had many health issues when I was little, and from the somber tone, although I am sure I was not fully informed on everything going on, it seemed pretty serious.  I remember it was a cold, gray, drizzly day and dad was trying to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving.  The problem was it just didn’t seem like a festive day.  There were no traditions kept or relatives to see.  There were no dishes to do or ignore.  We had frozen turkey dinners and went to visit mom in the hospital.

Since then, I have given some thought as to the purpose of Thanksgiving.  Originally, it was a time to thank God for the harvest and for the settlers’ good friends, the Native Americans, who kept them alive in a strange new land.  It was a religious moment when we could give thanks as the scriptures instruct “in all circumstances.”  That day as a child, I remember my father bowing his head and giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies.  That day I began a journey that took years to travel of understanding how to give God thanks in all circumstances.

Any more Thanksgiving is more of a secular holiday than religious.  A day off work, a day to feast, watch football and parades, a day to visit relatives, some you may never see (or really want to) at any other time.  But in my heart it will always be a memory of my father bowing his head over a frozen turkey dinner thanking God for God’s mercies.  This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to give thanks in all circumstance and to lift a prayer of petition for those who may not be celebrating as you might – those who are hungry or thirsty – those who are sick or in prison – those who live impoverished lives – those who are isolated or alone – those who need love or reconciliation.  Pray for those who God loves and many times we forget, and give thanks.

This originally appeared in my column of the November 2010 issue of The Corridor.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Tribute to My Mother

As I did with my Daddy, below is what I said at the celebration of my Mother's life.

My mother was born November 3, 1928—she would have been 85 tomorrow.  She grew up in Rockwood, Texas, which is little more than a ghost town now.  Mother would take me there when we would visit my Aunt Ludy Jane in a nearby town every summer.  We would go to Rockwood to visit the graves of her parents, Ludy and Rutilla Crutcher, and my mother’s brother, Gail, who died of polio as a baby.  We would stop at a store that had Big Red soda and Moon Pies, and Mother would visit and catch up on the local news while I had a treat.  

When she was twenty she worked at a five and dime store in Coleman, Texas.  It is at this store that Vernon Norris, my daddy, stopped by on his way through from California to Eastland, Texas where his family lived.  He met my mother, and asked her out for a soda after she got off work.  He journeyed on to Eastland, and when he got there, he mailed her back an engagement ring.  On February 25, 1949 at the age of 20, mother married daddy, and the following year she had my sister, Dorinda, and three years later my brother, Darrell, was born.  Mom and dad moved as work took him from the Houston area to Oklahoma when he was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base.  I came along when they lived in Midwest City.

Mother was primarily a homemaker, but worked outside the home occasionally as well.  She worked at what was once called Continental Plastics now Carlisle Food Service Products on Lincoln Boulevard.  She made Bains Marie, the round plastic food storage tubs, but for the life of me I always thought she said Bangmarie, and you know when you google that you cannot find it. 

She also worked at Dairy Queen (one of my favorite places), at Nicoma Park Junior High and other Choctaw-Nicoma Park schools and at Country Estates Elementary in the kitchen.  Yes, my mother was a lunch lady.  And in later years she was a private duty nurse.

We were raised in church.  I think I was born on a Friday and in the nursery at church a week and two days later.  When I was growing up it seemed to be just what we did on Sunday morning.  In fact, it was odd that one Sunday morning we got up and Mother said we were not going to church because she had a bad dream about Darrell.  As it turned out, he had been in an accident in Texas, and we left that morning to go get him.  She had those premonitions on occasions. 
When I was eight, I received this Bible, a Children’s Living Bible.  On the presentation page it says, presented to me by after which it reads, “love and prayers and best wishes, Mother and Daddy.”  And should I be confused as to who that is she wrote, “Edith and Vernon Norris.” 

She would always write in the covers of books she gave me.  I think Dorinda and I discovered our great love of books from her.  In the case of this Bible, which has seen its fair share of wear and tear as you can see, she wrote where to find scripture passages in her beautiful flowing script.  She had impeccable penmanship.  She also wrote this inscription:
“Sonja, always let God have his way in your life.  Hide his word in your heart.  Let your life shine for Christ always, and you will receive many blessings from God.”
What do you know, she was right.  Of course, me being me had to discover that on my own. 

The mother I had as a child is the mother I remember today.  The one who tucked me in at night as we said prayers.  Who I thought was the most beautiful woman in the world.  She was the one who for better or worse—and we had plenty of both—loved me and I her.

Today I envision the picture of my mother and daddy on their wedding day.  A beautiful young woman about to embark on the grand adventure that is life.  Not knowing what lay ahead, but she smiled that beautiful smile anyway.  She always did have a beautiful smile right up to the very end. 

My Sister, Brother, and I along with our families would like to express our appreciation of your thoughts and prayers during these past couple of weeks.  It has meant a lot to us and we thank you for your presence here today to celebrate Mother’s life.