Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Date: September 11, 2014

The only person in the room

When I was a young girl, I was laying down on the couch for a bit of rest – perhaps I was sick or just not upstairs taking a nap. I recall laying there and picking my nose. I barely had the finger extracted from my nostril when my Grandma Mary took a seat on the couch. She handed me a tissue and said, “If you need to fix something in your nose, please use a tissue.” No one around us heard the conversation. She didn’t embarrass or berate me. She didn’t show disgust. She smiled and looked earnestly at me as I wanted to dissipate.

That was her mode of operation. Joy spoke loudly in hoots and howls of laughter. Fear and sorrow whispered with the quiet sense that it wouldn’t have the last word. When you talked with Maryann, while you had your hair in the shampoo bowl or were waiting for a table at the Plaza, you had the sense that you were the only person in the room. She could be sharing a Christmas celebration with 10 grandchildren and each of us firmly believed we were the most special to her.

In the old shop with her favorite granddaughter.

In the old shop with her favorite granddaughter.

We would visit her throughout the summer on a whim – we would just pack a bag and go home with Grandpa on a given night, pick up Rebecca on the way, and then stay for a few days, usually until her bridge club met again. We had one, maybe two nights with her, yet she insisted upon getting us to the IGA to pick out our favorite “breakfast food” (that’s cereal to the kiddos). Sometimes, when we couldn’t decide between Alpha-bits and Honey Nut Cheerios, she’d demand we get them both. She was ridiculously generous like that.

She could arrive at any given venue and find a friend. Complete strangers unleashed their life stories because she listened with intensity, firmly believing this person’s story mattered. Grocery store clerks knew when her grandkids visited and her Avon lady took her shopping. Everyone mattered to her.

At her funeral, as the preacher gave opening words, the front row started shaking. You could see her 4 boys as they tried to swallow bits of laughter. Moving down the row, one person told the next that Grandma Mary likely hadn’t made it to heaven because she had to stop and talk to all the people along the way.

I would love to harness my inner-Maryann in honor of her 95th birthday today. I want to talk to people and see their innate value – speak to them like they’re the only person in the room. I want to get over my social awkwardness when I’m in big groups of people I don’t know and begin authentic conversation with the person beside me. (Seriously, I’m a mess. I’m good when I know one or two people and I can work outward, but in brand new situations I’m a disaster. I have to talk myself down from hiding in the bathroom). As I direct and guide my kids, I want to use quiet words in close proximity, not shouting reprimands from across the room.

I want to be the kind of person whose kids come home to play cards on the weekend because they just want another evening together. I want to radiate the kind of love that draws grandchildren close, not because they want something but because they feel something in my presence.

I want to be a good friend. The kind of friend that everyone thinks they’re my best friend.

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From the Archives: What does 9/11 have to do with Jesus?

My FB feed erupted in people remembering a day that has been etched in our brain. We all recall where we were, who we were with and our reactions to the towers falling. Each year we turn our hearts and our memories to those closest to the horror and revisit their stories.

It’s a natural phenomenon, to remember and relive, even such horrific events. Our country bore a tragedy together which shaped us individually and as a nation. We tell one another, “Never forget” but do we know why? Not just to honor the victims, though they deserve a place in prayer and reflection. But I think remembering 9/11 goes deeper than a national holiday. I think our experience of September 11th exposed something we didn’t realize had anything to do with the message of Jesus.
After reflecting on Esther and Daniel, I let it sink in how they were living in captivity, mastered by another people group and government. I realized how within the story of the people of God lies a story of struggle against control and power and oppression. Being a 21st century American, it’s a piece of the Gospel puzzle that I – we – simply cannot fully wrap our minds around.
God begins his work with Abraham, promising him a nation and a land. A place to call home. A land where he would reap what he sewed, and would eat what he planted. Throughout the story of Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua the people of God journeyed toward what they hoped would be sovereignty.  Fast forward and they finally find themselves in the Promised Land. It’s good for a while, until the people forget God. So the Babylonians move in, take over and haul them out of their own country to be slaves.
All of this makes for great story behind a pulpit or on a flannel board, but I just don’t think we completely fathom what was happening. Another country, another king, marched in, killed a bunch of their men, tore families from their homes and their gardens and their schools and their neighbors, and took them someplace else so they could be servants. Even after the nation of Israel is allowed to return, remnants don’t make it back, such as Esther.
We were born into freedom. I’m not much of a flag waver, but I think those of us who follow Jesus owe our predecessors a bit more regard than what we often realize. And not just those who fought and are fighting; but a realization that we are living a part of the Gospel promise. 
American Christianity lacks a firm understanding of how the gospel of Jesus freed us not just from sin (though it did) but it paved the way to living free of a master. Unlike Daniel and Esther, we live free of fear from someone mandating we bow down to anything other than what we believe to be true. We are truly able to serve only God.
The events of 9/11 shook us because it introduced to our generation the concept that freedom is not a guarantee. We can be tormented and attacked. Someone could – and did – cross our boundaries and threaten the promises we often take for granted.
For the people of God, they lived 9/11 occurrences frequently. Some, for their entire existence, lived under a foreign regime. Don’t you suffer shortness of breath to think about what if Al Quida had won and conquered? What if bin Laden had somehow gained control? That same anxiety is what generations and generations of people woke up to each and every day. I’m sure somewhere, some still do. 
I believe imagining those situations will lead us in the direction of the fullness of what Jesus did. His entire life was under Roman rule. He spoke of power and authority and freedom and love because it was very real to his situation.
Nowadays we cannot fathom what he really meant because we have no collective memory of such a life. So we align our Biblical freedoms to that of freedom from sin, freedom from legalism and a very moralist vein emerges. And while those things are true (we are free from sin and legalism), it is also true that we are free from oppressive powers.
September 11th needs to remain “forever in our hearts” because it scratched an old wound we forget existed. But we cannot stop there: if we are living the hope of so many generations, a freedom from oppression, then what will we do with it?
Right now we take that freedom and argue about taxes and medical terminology. And while those discussions have its place, I believe followers of Jesus should get a bit more serious about using our place of privilege (much like Esther and Daniel) and go about the work of extending the Kingdom of God to others. And not just in a have-a-tract, say-a-prayer, have-a-blessed-day kind of way. And certainly not using a typical American, because-our-way-is-the-best-way approach. If the freedom from oppression can and did become reality, then we have to believe that the rest of what Jesus said could be true.
Perhaps we need to get serious about the things which continue to torment God’s beloved in the rest of the world. Perhaps our little city on a hill should shine its light into the evils that plague other places, rather than just sitting so cozy in our safe little haven. And not politically (because I firmly believe that God didn’t grant us freedom so we can occupy someone else), but living justly, loving mercy and walking humbly in the many large and small ways that can change lives everywhere.
**Patriot Day is a political, American holiday – no matter one’s faith belief. I’m not taking something that belongs to everyone in the US and saying it’s only for Christians. I am saying that those of us who follow Jesus need to also realize that the events of 9/11 have deeper implications. I’m saying that when we cry watching the footage for the 11th time it’s for a reason – and not only an American one, but a human one, one that Jesus spoke to. All faith beliefs belong to our occasion of remembering.
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