November 29, 2008

Blanche Emily Curry Loyd

The sermon I preached at my grandmother's memorial service on Saturday, November 29th, 2008.

We gather today to celebrate the life of Blanche Emily Curry Loyd. She will be remembered as a mother, grandmother great-grandmother, wife, friend and devoted companion. She was married to Howard for 36 years, and lived with him and their daughters Marilyn & Suzanne in a pile of places around the world. After my grandfather died in 1980, she met Carl, and Carl has been in her life and our lives ever since. Carl was by her side through thick and thin over the past 27 years and was a grandfather figure to all four of her grandchildren.

As Blanche lived all over the United States and abroad, she made sure that her daughters experienced the culture of where they were stationed at the time, living off-base so that Marilyn & Suzanne could be part of the larger community. She made especially sure while they were living in England in 1952 that Marilyn, at age 4, was well aware of the significance of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second, which happened not too far from where they were living. Suzanne was born just a few weeks after the coronation, and Marilyn still wonders why she couldn't go to the palace to play with Charles. They are the same age after all!

When they were living in North Dakota, Blanche & Suzanne got to spend a lot of quality time together while Marilyn was in school in Philadelphia and Howard was working in Biloxi, Mississippi. Every Saturday night, the two of them would polka to the music on the Lawrence Welk Show. And you know it had to be some authentic polka dancing since Blanche grew up in and around first generation European Americans whose native dance was the polka. That same, cold, North Dakota winter, Suzanne and Blanche got flu shots. The shots must have worked like a charm since they both got the flu and were laid up in bed for several days.

She was the Girl Scout cookie chair when her girls were active in the Scouts. Marilyn & Suzanne both remember the house being wall-to-wall cookies ever year. Blanche wasn't ashamed to call her self the "great scrounger" for things that the Girl Scouts needed. She knew someone would be willing to donate whatever they needed as opposed to having to spend the money on it. She was a supportive mother who always wanted to give her girls more, but was almost always home when they back from school.

Blanche was a smart woman, and she had high aspirations for her daughters. There was never any question that both of her girls would go to college. They not only graduated from college, but have earned advanced degrees. She took great pride in her children and her grandchildren, and she must have done a good job, seeing how well both daughters turned out, and in turn, how well all four grandchildren turned out. :) The success of her grandchildren, of course, would not have been possible had she not personally picked out her sons-in-law.

She took the Civil Service exam at age 20, and scored high enough that she was offered a job with the State Department in Washington, DC. The offer came in the mail only a couple of days before her brother Wilbur tragically died in a coal mining accident. Her father didn't tell her she couldn't go to Washington, but he asked her to stay in such a way that she couldn't say no.

She was also known for being able to throw a feast which could not be out-done. We had to have two kinds of Ba-tatoes, at least two kinds of meat (one of which was ham), at least three things from a casserole dish, the marinated mushrooms & onions, and a dish of black olives for Patrick & I. That was just for starters. Then there was dessert...

She and her favorite granddaughter, Emily, spoke the common language of earrings, always bringing each other earrings or compare their latest bounty.

One of the qualities of Mama B that I will always remember is that she was not afraid to tell you what she thought. She was rarely a warm & fuzzy character, and might have been one of the most blunt people I've ever known. Moment of truth: Raise your hand if you were ever on the receiving end of one of Blanche's opinions. To borrow a line from the late Jerry Garcia, she wasn't often right, but she was never wrong. I've told this story on more than one occasion, and my wife knows I'm going to tell this story even though she's back in Washington with our son. At our wedding, we were waiting around for pictures and while my wife was in pictures with her parents and grandparents, I went to say hello to my grandparents. My dad's dad shook my hand offered his congratulations, and my dad's mom gave me a big hug and said it was a really beautiful service. Mama B gave me a kiss on the cheek and a huge grin and said, are you ready for it, "I'm sure as hell glad you didn't marry that other girl you were engaged to." I wasn't quite sure what to say. Her timing was awful, but I couldn't disagree with her: I was glad I didn't marry that other girl, either.

The other memory I have of Mama B is of her determined spirit. Apparently, when she was a young girl, her mother wanted her to wear a particular dress for some occasion, and little Blanche did not want to wear that dress. So she put her hands on her hips and declared, “I’m six years old, and I can do whatever I want.” And the tone was set for the next 82 years. The “I can do it” attitude carried her through her Rosie the Riveter Days in World War Two and through the many moves while Howard was in the Air Force. I remember one Thanksgiving weekend about six or seven years ago in Knoxville, she watched from the front window as my dad and sister and I tossed a football around in the front yard. Next thing we know, she’s out there with us, telling us how she used to beat the boys in football games in her neighborhood. And wouldn’t you know it, she punted the football right there in the front yard. All because she said she could.

It would be easy to think of her death as the end; the end of these stories of her life and how she has impacted everyone in this room. However, we are a people of Resurrection. We know that death is not the end; it is merely the beginning of new ways to be a blessed and beloved child of God.

Blanche Emily Curry was washed in the indissoluble waters of Baptism, welcomed and marked as one of Christ's own nearly 88 years ago at Zion Lutheran Church in Frackville, PA. That promise of God's presence was with her in Pennsylvania, the Philippines, Guam, Kansas, Louisiana, England, North Dakota and right here in Macon. It is a promise that Jesus made to his disciples and that the Apostle Paul echoed in today's readings. And the promise of a close and abiding relationship with God is that our hope is not in this life, but in the life to come. Just as Blanche is no longer with us in person, we can be reminded of her presence and impact in our lives. We can see a little bit of her reflected in all of us who are gathered here. And we can give continual thanks to God for all that she taught us and all that we will continue to learn from her.

May we remember not only Blanche, Mother, Mama B, but also the gifts God has bestowed upon each of us, and may we continue to be the light of Christ that the world so desperately needs to see.


November 23, 2008

The Real War on Christmas

Somewhere in my early to mid-adolescence, I came to dislike Christmas. I don't begrudge other people's love of it (especially my wife who would start listening to Christmas music the first chilly day of September), and I'm certainly glad to attend a holiday party. It all has to do with the commercialization of one of the pinnacle points of the Christian tradition.

I promise I am not a Grinch or a Scrooge about Christmas. I think the Nativity of our Lord is tied for first as the most important day of the Christian year. The Resurrection is the other. You can't have one without the other.

What has really gotten me lately is the faux controversy around people, mostly in the retail world, saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." In all honesty, I don't care. Say thanks for keeping your company in the black, tell me to have a nice day, tell me go jump in a river. I really don't have a dog in the "fight" over why retailers don't want their employees to say, "Merry Christmas." And if the sales person is not a practicing Christian, then they have all the more right to not wish a Christan blessing upon someone they don't know.

There is some fear that by not wishing people "Merry Christmas" that we are degrading a Christian observance and therefore Christianity.


Some people think that because a city council won't allow a nativity scene or a Christmas tree, there is some attack on the Christian faith.


First of all, I'm of the belief that a civil government shouldn't allow a display of one belief without a display for all the relevant religions. Second of all, the use of the evergreen tree was stolen by Christians from pagans. So why are we getting bent out of shape over a pagan symbol. By I digress...

Here is my main thing. As a Christian, I find it appalling that Christmas is promoted so early. The CVS near my house had Christmas decorations out on November 1st. (Thanksgiving, anyone?) And it is even more egregious that our economy has come to rely on this season to balance their books. Those who think that America has turned its back on God need to look no further than the gross commercialization of Christmas.

Advent is a season of the church year that we prepare for and are reminded to make room in our hearts and lives for God's coming to the world in the flesh, and to re-prepare for the ministry of Christ Jesus. This is a momentous occasion. It's huge. The birth of Christ is the cornerstone of our faith, and we belittle it by putting out garland and candy canes and all sorts of CRAP that has nothing to do with Jesus or God.

Christmas is not about trees or gifts. It's about the Word made flesh, dwelling in our midst, calling us to a closer relationship with God. This is not something to trivialize with shopping or trees or songs about snowmen.

As we approach the holy season of Advent, I pray that we will be able to prepare our hearts and minds on the incarnation of God into the world. I hope that all who claim the name of Jesus as their Savior will focus first on the gift God has given to the world and much later on what gifts they will give other people.

November 5, 2008

Congressman John Lewis

I mentioned the John Lewis video in a previous post. Here he is talking on ABC News last night.

Change has come to America

I don't even know where to begin.

At 11:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News called the 2008 Presidential Election for Barack Obama of Illinois. I have never been more proud of our country. I heard John Lewis (D-Ga) speak. He got choked up as he talked about marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about how many barriers we've knocked down just to get to this point.

Emily & I toasted with a glass of champagne as Wolf Blitzer and Keith Olberman made it official. (I was checking both channels, of course.) And I had to check with ABC, CBS, and Huffington Post to make sure it was real. (HuffPo naturally called it when Obama crossed the 200 mark.) The celebrations around the country and the world reminded me of the last scene in Return of the Jedi.

Emily was still feeding Oliver when the networks called it and when Senator McCain made his gracious concession speech. But I was holding Ollie when Congressman Lewis was speaking on TV, and I told Ollie all about who John Lewis is and who Martin Luther King is, and why this moment was so important. And more importantly, how amazing it is that Ollie has been born now and will always be able to say that he was born three weeks before our wonderful nation, and indeed the world, changed forever. Tears streamed down my face as I held on to him and watched the world change before our very eyes.

I swelled with pride when I filled out my ballot on Tuesday morning. I took very careful measure to mark the line for Barack Obama & Joe Biden. What an amazing moment!

In case you have not seen Obama's address to the throngs of people in Grant Park last night, here it is:

I offer this prayer for President-Elect Obama from the Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend this nation to your merciful care,
that being guided by your Providence,
we may dwell secure in your peace.
Grant to the President of the United States [name],
the Governor of this State, and to all in authority,
wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness,
and make them ever mindful of their calling
to serve this people in your fear;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen. (BCP, p. 824)

God bless America!