Posted By Thomas Murphy on July 01, 2014
My family thrives on stories—the time that Momdestroyed all the smoke detectors in the house with a hammer to stop the beeping—the time dad packed everything for the beach but his clothes—the time that my parents crashed our Halloween party in college in disguise. The factual nature of these stories are much less important than their ability to tell the truth of a moment in our common lives. There are used fill in the details our personality, to give the straight edges of our souls the appearance of depth. Most of my family would agree; this sort of work is always up for interpretations. A nuance added here or there, perfectly added to change the entire flavor of verbal meal served right along side the holiday turkey. The festal foul burned because a new host for the occasion had to learn the hard way that 350 over 4 hours is not the same at 450 for 2 hours. Stories are the connective tissue of our relationships. I was thinking about this last Sunday when I heard the story of Hagar and Ishmael being cast out from Abraham’s family. I have heard this story countless times but for some reason this Sunday it seemed so much more tragic. I found emotionally I entered the story feeling the irrational jealousy, the mother’s despair, father’s love, and divine mercy—salvation through water. I was left thinking, what I am supposed to do with this story? I suddenly realized that at least part of my job as a person of faith was the caretaking and passing on of the stories about how God shows up in our lives. And it can’t just be the stories that are warm and soft, glowing with redemption, healing that comfort our restless souls. We also need the stories that make us uncomfortable because life leads all humans into phases of life that are supremely uncomfortable. When my Great Uncle was dying in his house in Spartanburg, South Carolina I was summoned to his bedside. Due to the early death of my mother’s father, he had assumed the role of patriarch on the Clark side of the family. So, a summons it was, and was not to be ignored. Our relationship had been under some strain for a while as a result of my ordination. “You’re working for the Episcopal Church that I no longer recognize as my own,” he declared. Entering his room, I was shocked to see how much he had diminished. The forceful, brilliant man brimming with charm seemed so small, rapped in his twisted bed sheets, sweat soaked from a restless night. “Thomas,” he said quietly. “Sit here.” He patted the bedside. I sat, mattress sagging, as he shifted quietly to make room. He grabbed my forearm and with a boney hand he pulled me close. He asked quietly if I would make a promise. Looking into his bright blue eyes, I paused, wondering what he would ask. I must have nodded because he began speaking slowly, with the precise cadence of a successful trial lawyer. “Promise me that you will help save the Episcopal Church.” I knew what he meant, familiar with his long winded rants about morality, modernity, and definitions of matrimony. Saving the church to him meant returning it to a memory so lacquered with nostalgia that he himself could barely describe it ; other than to point out what had changed. I started to answer him and then stopped. His expression was so filled with earnest affection. His eyes gleamed with the unchallengeable belief that his nephew had what it took to undertake the titanic job of saving an institution. My heart slowly filled with love. “I will try,” I said knowing fully what I meant. Then it occurred to me. Maybe trying to save the Episcopal Church really begins with simply loving a person with whom you deeply disagree. Each of saying and hearing what we needed to say and hear while gazing together into the eternal mystery of eternity. So, maybe I already kept my promise just by loving him deeply, simply because that’s what humans were created to do—to love. You see, I’m not sure. It’s just a story.