. . . Life is complicated.
. . . Having said that, I wonder -- isn't that a simplistic thing to say? Shouldn't a sentence about life's complexity be labyrinthine, choked with clauses, and riddled with cogent contingencies?
. . . Probably so. But if I write that way, you may be the only one who reads it. The other readers of this missive will be so put off they'll only skim this letter.
. . . You, of course, enjoy dense paragraphs. If I were only writing to you, you'd see paragraphs heavy with the sweet honey of multisyllabic modifiers and sentences shot through with delicious commas, semi-colons, dashes and colons. But you must think of the other readers and I must start again.
. . . Life is complicated. That's one of the things that makes it both difficult and rewarding.
. . . This wasn't the message heard recently from the pulpit at St. Anne's Church in Annapolis, Maryland. What the Rev. Ann Burts had to say was that life should be lived simply, with the bare necessities.
. . . Ann's sermon was well-crafted, clear, concise, personal, and well-thought out. I enjoyed it but didn't agree with the notion that we can live simply or were meant to.
. . . The sermon was based on the gospel story of Jesus sending his disciples from town to town with no money, food, drink, or even a change of clothes; nothing but their cloaks and sandals. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing so that they would rely on God for everything.
. . . Ann's sermon was that we should travel through life in a similar way; that we should travel through life stripped of the past, having shed all the psychological baggage that hangs us up and slows us down.
. . . This is impossible. Or rather, I don't think that's the way God works. God doesn't get rid of our bad stuff; instead, it's redeemed.
. . . Suppose someone was ignored in childhood and grew up expecting to be ignored always. For a long time, they might be silent, holding it in, figuring no one would listen. Or they might become painfully insistent, forcing everyone around them to listen.
. . . This, perhaps, is a kind of psychological baggage Ann was talking about. But the way God works (as if I knew) would be to change that baggage into something good. Instead of being silent or insistent, a person with this baggage might become an author, a musician, or a painter -- someone who still has a neurotic need to be heard but someone who people actually enjoy reading, hearing, or seeing.
. . . Of course, I'm not talking about myself. I had my parents' attention all to myself for fourteen months before my oldest sister came along. If she stole that attention, I'm sure it didn't affect me in the slightest. Neither do I bear any ill-will toward her, selfish brat that she may have been. She'd sit in my chair, change the channel on the TV, and refuse to stay on her side of the car when we took trips. But I always treated her with love and respect, the little twerp.
. . . Of course, I'm simplifying Ann's sermon to the point that anyone who was there would hardly recognize it. At times I was moved, especially when her sermon encouraged us to trust in God as we travel through life.
. . . One thing Ann didn't talk about were the people the disciples met who provided for their needs. Who fed the disciples and gave them drink? Who gave them shelter? Certainly not people who had stripped their lives of all possessions.
. .. My wife and I drove to Annapolis a week ago with no change of clothes, no food, and no drink, confident we would be provided for. We were.
. . . We were met of St. Anne's Church by a man we had never met, a second cousin of mine named Jeff with a yellow name tag. He and his wife, Cathy, treated us to lunch and took us on a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy.
. . . Everyone has eight great-grandparents. Jeff and I have two in common. That makes his mother and my mother cousins. In fact, they grew up two houses from each other with their grandmother in between.
. . . Jeff's mom, Huddy, [in photo in pink] joined us for lunch. If she and I had met before, it was when I was very young, when I was too busy dealing with my uppity sister to remember anything.
. . . Huddy says she has lots of stories about the Lugenbeel family. I heard a few. One thing she said was that in World War I, the Lugenbeels here in the U.S. told people they were "Swiss" because being German wasn't very popular.
. . . Huddy also told me something about my grandfather, Roger Lugenbeel, her uncle, someone I can't remember meeting. During the Depression, Roger left his family to work in Florida and never came back. My grandmother, Gertrude, the only grandparent I do remember, raised her two daughters by herself, a single mom in a hard time.
. . . What I didn't know about my grandfather was that he's buried with his brother in the same grave. As they went through life, Roger's brother looked after him. So, when Roger died, estranged from his wife and children, he was buried on top of his brother, one idea being that the brother would continue to look after Roger "in the afterlife." At least, that's the story I heard.
. . . Does this sound like family baggage to you, the kind people carry all their lives? Me, too. It makes me wonder about my family, how their decisions and character affected my parents' decisions and character, and still affects my own. It makes me marvel that so much has already been redeemed. It makes me look forward in expectation to our story's continued telling.
. . . If it's baggage, I'm carrying it all the way to the end of the line.
My cousin Jeff (left) was saved in Bermuda by the Bernard, standing behind him. Their wives, Cathy and Lilly, are on the right. I haven't heard Jeff's conversion story, but thugs in Bermuda were ready to thrash him and perhaps kill him when Bernard intervened.
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