Tuesday, September 22, 2015

25/52 :: incense.

"There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." 
- Leonard Cohen

"Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation — an aroma redolent with life."
- II Corinthians 2:15-16, The Message


Whenever people ask why we have chosen Anglicanism, I am tempted to tell them it's because of the windows. 

The church is surrounded by them, at least eight on each side. And they're big windows, too, not yet filled in with stained glass. Jordan is beside himself, waiting for meaningful mosaics to replace the clear, but I am crossing my fingers the church will somehow change their minds. Maybe the money they need won't come, or maybe it will be earmarked for something else. Without the windows, I won't be able to see out, won't be able to touch the blue sky or glimpse the wind.

Nature, I think, might be the best iconography of all. 

It's the second service when it happens, when the sunlight hits the windows just right. The incense floats in the air, and it smells like potpourri, and I'm not always sure I really like it, the perfumed smoke filling the air.

But then I look up.

No one has explained it to me this way, but if someone were to ask me why incense, why use it in worship, why fill the sanctuary with its sweet aroma, I doubt I'd remember its historical significance, its presence in ceremonies since almost the beginning of time. I think I'd silently point to the windows.

There, as we sing and pray and kneel and commune, the incense mingles with the light. Its particles float in the air above us, and I wonder if it's as close to the tongues of fire as we will ever see. The incense dances, and I swear it's as if the Holy Spirit has entered the place Himself.

And of course, you don't need incense to see the Holy Spirit, to feel Him working and breathing and moving in your life. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it helped. So few things about my faith are tangible. I believe in things unseen, and the invisible gets hard, day after day.

But every so often, on a Sunday, I can see what I believe. And it floats in on the windows, and the scent follows me home.

Monday, September 21, 2015

24/52 :: jane.

She is a stately woman, the kind you think doesn't exist anymore, except maybe in Britain. She is tall, or at least feels tall, and naturally thin. Her hair is the grey I get a little envious of; she's the kind of woman who I'm confident has never had to worry about coloring her hair, the kind you can't imagine with anything but the crown of glory in her possession now. 

The pillow comes with her, though I don't really know why. She carries it into the shop, up to the register, and I like to pretend she uses it to make herself sit taller in the pickup truck she drives around; the pillow somehow contributes to her stateliness, which is really a testament to who and how she is. 

She comes in every couple of weeks to order a new mass market paperback with a pun in the title -- something about knitting or sewing, with a little bit of murder thrown in for kicks. 

A friend brought her into the store once, back when she was just a tourist in town. She wandered the shelves and was friendly, asking questions about Thomasville and what it's like to live here. The next thing I knew, she'd moved to town, in part, she insisted, because of the bookstore. 

I'll happily take credit, because she's quickly become a shop favorite. She's one we never mind seeing walk through the door; she picks up her books, maybe places an order for another. She mostly pays with a credit card, and the other day, I noticed she signed with "Rev." in front of her name. 

It's really not that surprising at all, stately Reverend Jane in her pickup truck. I've come to expect no less around here. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

23/52 :: armadillos, the civil war, and life in the south.

Armadillos float. 

I know this, because when I was 10 years old, my parents moved our family to the country. We weren't far out enough to have horses or a PO box, not far enough to even change zip codes, but it felt like the country to me, with a couple of acres, a pond next door, and belligerent frogs singing me to sleep every evening. 

There were trees, too, as there are everywhere in the South. Oak trees can be massive, monstrous things, and when they're cut down, they are perfect as bridges and balance beams. Those mighty oaks provided me and my brother with ample opportunities for imaginative play. Of course, we didn't call it imaginative play; it was just what we did most days. Those trees came down, and Chet and I ran around for hours, pretending to be captives in the Civil War we'd read so much about. I can't remember what side we were on, but I'd suspect the Union. Chet had a thing for Ulysses S. Grant, and even back then I think we were both a little confused about our Southern heritage.

It wasn't long before we needed a new companion to spice up our reenactments. Unfortunately, fellow 10-year-olds were few and far between out in the country, and it was a rare number indeed who were willing to fight against the Confederacy rather than kick a soccer ball into a goal. Chet and I ultimately had to compromise when other kids were involved; we put a pause on our battles and instead rode bikes or dominated the basketball court. (I beat a neighbor boy once in one-on-one, and that one act alone led to years of believing I'd one day play in the WNBA -- all five foot two of me. Confidence was never my problem.) 

So we started riding bikes with Brian. I have quite a number of fairly traumatic bike stories -- don't we all? -- but I will never forget running over the armadillo. We were off the road and into a ditch and onto the armadillo before I really knew what had happened. We may not have run over him so much as into him, but whatever we did, we caused some damage, enough where we thought we'd killed him. The jury's still out, and as I near 30, it's hard to know what I've imagined and what I haven't. 

My mind remembers this much, though: We couldn't leave that armadillo in the road, despite the incredible number of armadillos who die in the road every single day in our part of the world. We were kind-hearted children, or maybe just curious, because we were determined to bury him. Three kids and a shovel don't make much of a dent in the Southern dirt, but the pond in our neighbor's yard seemed as good a grave as any. 

I was 10, and scrawny -- neither my brother nor I was made of much muscle back then. But together with Brian, we picked up that heavy, ancient armadillo -- all armadillos look ancient -- and we walked him to our neighbors' yard. He was, somewhat surprisingly, even heavier in death than he had been in life, and it took all three of us to count to three and toss him into the pond. The poor armadillo never knew what hit him, never heard his eulogy because we never gave him one. 

There wasn't really anything kind about what we did. There was a little remorse, but mostly, I thought about the David Letterman skit I'd seen my uncle watch on television: Will it float? 

It did, and a few days later, our whole block smelled of death and rot. A fitting backdrop, really, for all that imaginative play we went back to doing. 


*Armadillo image by Tom Hardwick

Thursday, September 10, 2015

spoken in the shop, vol. 24.

On kids say the darndest things
"Mom, I'm not sure if you know this about me, but food makes me dance."


On bookseller/customer relationships
Customer to bookseller: "Maybe we're reading soulmates."


On mother knows best
"Seriously, if I didn't think my girls would be complete a-holes, I'd totally bring them in here."


On yes, absolutely, couldn't agree more
"Stanley Tucci has a cookbook? You know, for a short, bald guy he's pretty hot."


On opinions
"I'm buying this book, but I really don't like the illustrations. Will you let him know?"


On irony
Customer: "Could you guys order a book for me?"
Bookseller: "Sure, what's the title?"
Customer: "It's called Codependent No More, and I'm going to need two copies."


On graciousness and gifts
Customer: "My friend said she left something here for me."
Bookseller: "Okay. What's your name?"
Customer: "Anna."
Bookseller: "Oh! Yes." Hands over envelope. "Here you go!"
Customer, disdainfully flips over envelope: "Well, I guess this is one way to get me off her back."
Bookseller, helpfully: "Um, it's actually a gift certificate."
Customer: "Oh."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

22/52 :: finding a place.

Last month, after seven years, my mom resigned as the children's coordinator for the church I attended for most of my life. My parents have both devoted remarkable amounts of time and energy into this church, sharing their passions with people in ways I can only dream about, and as their daughter, I had the privilege of attending an appreciation banquet in my mother's honor a few weekends ago. 

My parents, being my parents, have little to no need for recognition. They're some of the most humble people I know. But their humility doesn't excuse ingratitude, and my mother long ago taught me that part of gracious behavior is accepting grace, as well as giving it.

So two weekends ago, I sat at a table and listened as dozens of people told my mom thank you. I listened as they became tearful over the impact she'd made, sometimes without even realizing it. I listened, and with each person -- no matter their age or gender -- a pattern became evident.

In coordinating a ministry for children, my mother helped grown-ups find their place in church.

That legacy alone is admirable.

As Jordan and I search for a place to call home in our faith, I've occasionally been astounded at just how assertive we've had to be in order to find even a small space. At large churches, our gifts sometimes aren't needed or required; we're barely making an impact. At smaller congregations, our peer group is entirely absent, and the roles we'd fill almost feel too large, too daunting at this stage of our lives. I've wondered if perhaps the reason my generation leaves church in droves is at least in part due to a lack of purpose and place.

In our careers, Jordan and I utilize our gifts and are contributing members of teams that need us. We have important roles and duties to fill. Without us, our places of business wouldn't function. We'd need to be replaced. In church? Not so much. Jordan and I go to church because we like it, because we feel called to it, because we were raised this way. But I don't think we go -- right now,  anyway -- because we are needed.

And that's okay for now, but long-term? I think it would hurt.

Sitting across from my parents two Saturdays ago, I remembered how often the two of them would comment about the unique friends my brother and I made growing up, how we seemed to be drawn to people who were just a little bit different. (In my case, the nerds. In my brother's, the wannabe skateboarders and punk rockers.) My parents seemed baffled by the wide variety of people we would bring home to dinner, and today? I think that's hilarious.

Because my parents found places for people, too.

Places for the 80-year-old man who someone else might have considered a "has-been," someone whose gifts might have seemed as if they were no longer needed. My mom took him, gave him a shepherd costume, and turned him into King David. At the banquet, he spoke about that role with pride, informing my mom that by making him King David, she had brought Scripture alive to him. He practically begged her to let him play John the beloved disciple.

A quiet -- and brave! -- teenager stood up, and she told my mom that thanks to children's ministry, she and her peers had, over the years, become a family. They'd grown up together, learned the Bible together, and now they were bonded for life. Another woman spoke about her move to Tallahassee, about her struggle to find her place at a church that already had women who threw showers, women who cooked meals, women who taught preschool. Where would she go? My mom saw her gifts and put her to work, and I think that's something really special.

Converse with a Christian right now, and you might hear a lot about the Republican presidential candidates. You might get an earful about Kentucky, or gay marriage, or gun control, or how the world's going to hell in a hand basket. 

I wonder if anyone would talk about belonging.

My life at The Bookshelf is filled with interactions with the public. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I am surrounded by people. And some of them are happy, and some of them are sad, and some of them are lonely. We're all a little broken, and we're all looking for a place to belong. That's what I've learned in four years working behind a counter, because believe it or not, some people come to The Bookshelf looking for a little bit of home.

Churches have an opportunity, now, to create places for people. Turn on the news or to the person next to you on the bus, and you'll see: People are desperate for a place to belong. I could be wrong, but I think it's our job to find places for people, because He made places for us. Churches might begin to grow if they realized just how important belonging can be.

I wish you could have been with me at the banquet for my mom. It might not have meant much to you, but it meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to see that the hospitality my mother created at home extended to her work.

She created a place for me and Chet to call home, and in children's ministry, she did that for the kids, but she also -- perhaps unintentionally -- did it for their teachers, for the grown-ups who needed a place, too. That's what we're supposed to do. It's what we probably could all do a little bit better. I think it might be our calling.