Saturday, August 3, 2013

I Still Remember

August 2nd would have been the Rev. Canon Lee Graham's 93rd birthday.  In a fitting tribute, the rector of St. John's remembered Fr. Lee at the Friday noon day service, the service which the late Fr. Lee used to celebrate every week.  We prayed for the repose of his soul, and we lifted up his widow, Betty, and his whole family.  I know they miss him.  We all do.

And some of us seem to get periodic reminders of how his presence in our lives moved us out of our comfort zones, and our natural tendancies to want to sleep walk through this life.   Such has been the case with me.  I cannot encounter some passages of Scripture, or certain psalms, or think of the phrase, "Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it" without hearing the voice of Lee Graham.  I cannot contemplate the actions of the Dream Defenders, and their ongoing peaceful protest of our racially-divisive laws without thinking about how Fr. Lee would likely have commented on this, and drawn upon Scripture to tell us in our comfortable place at St. John's why we should be stirred up... and out of our comfort zone... to care about this issue.

He was on my mind this summer as I read through Andrew Harvey's critique and position on who Jesus was, and how the Church, through its councils and concepts of Christ, have missed the mark... and in the process... also crushed the feminine presence inherent in God.  Each time something Harvey argued made me squirm, I had this sense of a miniture Lee Graham sitting on my shoulder, reminding me, "You have to question your faith!"   That's what he wanted people to do as he argued against the phrase, "You are dust and to dust you shall return."   He didn't want people to go as sheep to present themselves to a priest for the imposition of ashes without first asking themselves the question, "Am I dust?  Am I as worthless as dust?"  For Fr. Lee, the answer was, "No!  I am a child of God!" and he believed the Church put this practice of ashes on the forehead at Ash Wednesday as a means of guilt-tripping people.  If Andrew Harvey could have met Lee Graham, I think they would have hit it off!

I definitely felt his presence at the Eucharist this noon-day service when the phrase that popped out at me was how Christ, "stretched out his arms upon the cross in obedience to (God's) will..."  I thought about Fr. Lee, and the sacrifices he made in Alabama, and even in Tallahassee, in pursuit of racial justice, peace, and really making us live up to the promise to treat everyone with respect and dignity.  His stories of showdowns with vestries and others over the integration of the church, sometimes prevailing and sometimes finding himself the minority voice in a room filled with bigots, used to give me some comfort.  Like Christ, all of us who have ever stood up against the machine of "the majority" when it was necessary to do so in an effort to prevent the machine from rolling over a minority, know what it's like to be the one standing in front of that steam roller.  In this way, we, too, are stretching out our arms on our own metaphorical crosses, trusting in God, even if we are about to get nailed.  When I heard Fr. Lee talk, I heard in his stories similarities to some of my own.  I guess misery loves company, in this case.  

At his funeral, Fr. Lee requested that I read a passage from 1Corinthians: 

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 
 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?’ 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. 

I have read, marked, learned and inwardly digested this passage, especially that last line. In The Lord, my labor, my pursuit of justice and desire to see Love spread beginning with what flows from my own heart, will not be in vain.  Thanks be to God, and to Fr. Lee Graham.  

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