A Festival of Lights, or, Errors and Omissions

I’ve decided on a title for a book I haven’t worked on or looked at or thought about in months. Well, sort of, since I have two very different titles and they are the title of this small offering. At this point I’ll need to begin again, read all of my own words, and decide which ones are worthy and which ones are frivolous, self serving, which ones no longer reflect what I think to be true, that no longer shine a bright light on where I am. The point of the book was to let others know, who are in the process of confirmation or formation that this assault on their entire world is not an experience singular to them, many of us feel this way. Many of us are turned inside out and upside down, many of us come up from the deep waters of an experience like this gasping for breath and knowing Absolutely. Nothing.

I know nothing really, except a relentless pull to justice, even at the sacrifice of myself.

I had the final interview for a necessary component of ordination tonight, and have been sick, so am feeling the full sleepless effect of the prescribed steroids (though I sang, ever so gently, for the first time in two days tonight and felt my soul open and held myself back all at once… the trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers). I like the good doc who did this evaluation, he does his best, in a way that is not familiar with Episcopalians, or with our particular breed of deacons. When we had finished up the business we had about twenty minutes to just chat, and chat we did.

He told me about this amazing community organizer he knew who really helped him when he was first ordained to move from what had been a very urban life to a very rustic call in a very small town. We talked about the dangers of a small town, the pitfalls, how we must hold our friends close, our perceived enemies closer.

We swapped stories and facts, and I relaxed my upright band student posture, leaned into the couch and enjoyed myself.

He asked me what ministries I am passionate about, and I told him I love to feed people. He asked if I was being literal or figurative, literal, I affirmed. There is such a visceral sense of satisfaction in preparing food and then having people eat it. In getting to greet the people that you know, to endure the too tight hugs. To know that another meal or two has been checked off the list.

But I know that these small and seemingly wealthy Tri-Cities are not the place to begin to address the reasons behind why people are hungry, how our systems have failed them. So we talked about affordable housing. And he pushed back, he said the owners of the small local shops and companies want workers who will work for nine or ten dollars an hour, but that maybe they know that isn’t enough to live here.

Which I had honestly not considered before.

I had always seen these wages, this lack of affordable housing in our area (and believe me, there is a definite lack, and an endless time sucking-craigslist cruising WASTE)… I had always assumed it was so the owners could drive their Cadillacs and build new homes on the lakes, five or six thousand square foot behemoths full of windows, the better to sigh over a million dollar view and to keep tabs on the boat tethered at the dock.

And then my mind wandered as he spoke, it wandered to the large white vans I see every night at the same gas station where we stop when I drive my husband to work in one of these same shops. The large vans carry black men (and some women) from Muskegon to work jobs here, and then, as dawn breaks over the horizon, the vans carry them home. But not home here. Not within walking or riding a bike distance, this a distance too long to be covered in anything less than a car — or a 15 passenger van full of people who only want to work and so they clamber up into a packed van every night and are driven here.

But they can’t live here. Because no one can afford it. I can hardly afford it.

This is a problem I feel I can help with, a problem I can contribute to. We already have a group working on affordable housing, how can I help them? How can we end this homogeneous community that is only sullied at 10pm and 6am as a WHITE van carries workers that we don’t want as citizens through our streets?

How can I do this work and not be run out of town? Tarred and feathered? Blacklisted?

I’m not sure.

And I’m not sure I am afraid. I am not sure what I am afraid of anymore. Nothing and everything all at the same time.

There are some hills worth dying on.

A Festival of Lights comes from the Hindu tradition, and as I abhor the idea of appropriating other cultures, because I do not think that recognizing beauty and then sharing it counts as making it mine, I will tell you briefly what it is: The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.  Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed.

And Errors and Omissions are the times when you really screw up, and you have bit of insurance there to help you through that financial debacle. It is a special brand of insurance that businesses buy, just in case. And I think that a book of my own thoughts and those not included, and one filled with my own errors may embolden people to speak from the dark corner they live in, to come out into the light. Because, if we are honest and true disciples, I’d like to know which part of this is easy?

Because our entire population is not made up of lake house owning factory owners. The majority of our population consists of middle class folks. Think of the havoc we could wreak if we all rose as one. Peacefully denying pitiful wages and housing we can’t afford? What if we said that the men in those vans deserve the opportunity to live here, that their kids deserve the excellent educations our cities can provide?

What if, in addressing the systemic issue of low wages and high housing costs we could make a dent in poverty because the next generation could be more fully formed and educated and the cycle would shatter like a glass, bright shards spraying out in a damaging range of color?

What if, in addressing these things we could break the cycles of obesity because there isn’t healthy food at any market that is nearby? If we could break the cycle of jailing our youth instead of educating them?

Scary stuff here, but no one deserves a multi-million dollar house when less than 15 miles away there are houses that are falling down, poorly educated and hungry children. I am sorry. That is an absolute fact.

And so I must choose out friends and enemies, must know them and treat them both well, if I am to make any difference at all.

Scary stuff, but I am ready, almost, to lead you out.

One more thing that stuck out for me on the evaluation tonight was that some of the folks who turned in evaluations said that I need to do less. I love all of the people that I chose to do these evals, but what if we all chose to do a little more? What if we all decided to work for this, instead of watching while others muddle through? I don’t want to hear about how you don’t have time. I have two small children, I work full time, I’m  married and have a house to keep up with; if I have time, you have time. I cannot imagine what the world would look like if we all rose as one, even if it was only in one tiny corner of it.

I am afraid of all that can be, and awed, all at once.

I’ll see you out there, outside the doors of our historic nave. I’ll be waiting, I’ll know how you can help, what you can do. And we will make a difference, I promise you that we will.

It’s the story of one who turned from hating, the man who only learned to love when you where in his keeping.

Come with me. The chains were never binding.  All your grief, lost, at last behind you.

Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy…

Take my hand, I’ll lead you to salvation. Take my love, for love is everlasting.

And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.

Forgive me all my trespasses, and take me to your glory

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight that will earn you the right to be FREE. 

Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

When tomorrow comes.

I love you still, it will be hard, bloody and unbearable at times.  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But our love will sustain us, and we will leave the world CHANGED. We will join the fight and earn the right OF ALL to be FREE.





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