You see when I was in my last couple of years of high school, we lived on the other side of a swing bridge that spans the Intercoastal Waterway. My school was less than two miles from home, but because it was on the other side of the bridge, I never knew how long it might take to drive to school. If the bridge was turned to allow large ships to pass, you might wait up to 10 minutes for it to come back around. (These days, there’s a big highway bridge that provides an alternative route from my parents' home to the high school, so the swing bridge is not nearly as big of a problem for travelers as it once was.)
Bridges. They make a real difference in the quality of transportation.
According to the NC Dept of Transportation, NC has about 13,500 bridges. We have all kinds of bridges here. We have bridges made from wood, steel, and concrete. We have highway bridges, street bridges and pedestrian bridges. We have suspension bridges, natural bridges, covered bridges, draw bridges and yes, even swing bridges.
Each year, 9,000 of those are inspected by certified bridge inspectors. And guess what? Roughly 40 percent of our bridges are "considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” Now before you go out and trade your Honda for a hover car, know that NCDOT states that these bridges are safe but will “require significant maintenance to remain in service, and limits on vehicle weights may be required.” The price-tag on the repairs? Upwards of $9.4 billion!
Bridges offer convenience, save us time, and open opportunities to us that would otherwise remain closed, but they require significant effort to build and once they are built, the work is not done. That’s when the ongoing task of maintaining the bridge begins. And that task never ends.
(Want the rest of the sermon? Here's the recording.)
“Charles! Has your grandmama seen that shirt,” The saying on the shirt was vulgar and far from appropriate for the professional and academic environment we tried to maintain at the community college.
“C'mon Ms. Lawrimore, don't do all that.” Charles spoke to me while ducking his head, not meeting my eyes. He wore his flat bill cap askew and multiple gold chains around his neck, and was surrounded by his peers who were also sporting the gangsta look.
I stepped in closer, standing a full foot shorter than Charles, and pointed up at him. “You go in that bathroom right this second and turn that shirt inside out; do you hear me? And don’t you let me see you wearing something like that again.”
“Oh c'mon Ms. Lawrimore, you don't want to make me do that do you?” He spoke softly, cupping his hand by his face, forming a slight barrier between him and his friends. I pointed to the bathroom; he shrugged to the others then slunk off to do as I asked.
Meanwhile, my boss had been observing the interchange. He appeared anxious and concerned as he approached me. “You can’t talk that way to guys like that, Aileen,” he said. “You don't want to make him mad. It’s no telling what could happen.”
About that time, Charles swaggered over, extended his arms, and turned in a circle to model his inside-out shirt. “Better?” He flashed his pearly whites and struck a pose.
“Yes,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. “Much better.”
He grinned and walked back to his buddies.
My boss had seen the whole thing. “How did you do that,” he asked, jaw slack, eyes wide.
“Oh please!” I said, “Charles knows I'm crazy about him. We're buddies.”
Really, it's just that simple. When we are in relationship with people, we can say things that we wouldn't, and shouldn't, say to those we don’t know.
And I think that—for the most part—is what happened with Paula Deen this week. Several of the comments she has made were made to people she knows really well—people who knew her character, her spirit, her heart. She said things that might sound threatening or offensive to anyone other than those she addressed. But I doubt her words carried the weight that we strangers have attributed to them.
Before this, I've never had much of an opinion about Paula Deen. I still don’t. Well, there is one thing. It’s this: I think some words should never be spoken by anyone. The f-word is one. The n-word is another. Let's agree to cut those from the American lexicon right now, okay? Good.
But you know what? Chef Deen apologized. She seems truly remorseful for the hurt she herself admits she caused. I get it; do you? I have said things that I later regretted. I've had to apologize; I've had to change; I've had to grow. And it's so awesome when people believe me when I say I really am sorry. Their acceptance allows me to become a better me.
So I'm not going to bash Paula Deen on Facebook or boycott her restaurants. Instead, I'm going to offer a little grace, assume there might be something I don't know, and move on. Because really, I have my own lessons to learn. I think I'll spend my energy on those.“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
With the conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I thought it appropriate to repost this from 2013.
"God in your mercy, hear our prayer."
One Sunday morning in June of 2001 as I listened to the pastor’s sermon, I found myself nodding in agreement to his timeless message. He spoke of the incomparable love of God. He used words like infinite and all-encompassing, unlimited and incomprehensible. And then he spoke of God’s specific love for each of us as individuals.
“God loves you just the way you are,” he said. “God loves you no matter what you do or who you become. You are a child of God and God’s love for you will never falter.” (Amen!) “God loves the broken, the desperate, the incarcerated,” he said. “He loves each one of these just like he loves you. Because just like you, they are children of God.” (It was one of many times I wished my church were one where shouting an occasional “Hallelujah” wouldn’t cause the membership to go straight through the pearly gates from pure shock.)
“That means,” the pastor went on, “that Timothy McVeigh is also a child of God. That’s right. God loves Timothy McVeigh every bit as much as God loves you and me.”
Whoa now. Hallelujah halted.
A little back-story. From 1988-1992, my husband and I lived in Oklahoma City and absolutely loved it there. (We’d be there still if we could find a way to move that state closer to SC where our parents live.) We’d been back in NC for less than three years the day Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children under the age of 6. Another 200 people were injured in this the worst act of domestic terrorism in US history. And while I didn’t lose anyone dear to me in the attack, this violence in the city I called home for four years hurt my heart. When McVeigh was identified as the terrorist responsible for the tragedy, I saw him as my own personal enemy. My bitterness grew over the years and when he was sentenced I felt nothing but relief that he was finally getting what he deserved.
Sitting there in the pew that Sunday, I was positively flummoxed. The idea that McVeigh could even deserve God’s mercy was—I confess—not something I was willing to concede. A beloved child of God? Timothy McVeigh? The man I’d come to appreciate about as much as I valued flesh-eating bacteria? That Timothy McVeigh? No way. Surely God loved me more than McVeigh.
Yep. It’s true. That egocentric notion actually settled in my mind. But even as my brain was forming this idea, I saw the ungodliness of it. God playing favorites? No way. I mean, really: if a mere human parent did that, who among us would condone it? Was I seriously ascribing that abhorrent quality to God?
My heart turned and God’s mercy washed over me (God’s like that—always forgiving, always drawing us back into the divine embrace). And as I sat there, drenched in the love of God, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to me. While Timothy McVeigh’s actions on April 19, 1995 were heartless and cruel, my hatred for him was not changing that reality. Instead, it was changing me—and not in a way that made me look more like Jesus. So, by the power of God (certainly not by my own strength), I forgave Timothy McVeigh: a murderer, a terrorist, and a beloved child of God, just like me. And just like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also
Colossians 3:13 (NRSV)
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