Accident

    The car in front of her suddenly stopped. She ran into it; her car was totaled. She was glad not to be hurt more than she had been—bruises, confusion, perhaps other things; I think she had been hospitalized for a bit. How did it happen? “The driver in front of me dropped her cell phone and hit her brakes.”
    I didn’t have the heart to say it, but I thought: maybe you were driving too close?
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    There are things more important than parsing out fault, although that has its own importance. At least she was alive and, as far as I know, so is the other driver. Sometimes they aren’t.
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    You can imagine a scene. Two people in the car, angry with each other over a matter that’s been between them all afternoon. He’s a teenager, unwilling to do something; she’s the driver; they’re going back and forth, relentlessly. The thing that’s bothering them is not a big deal, it’s the usual sort of thing that gets into families.
    And then the unexpected car in the middle of the intersection; there is no time to react, no way to avoid the crash.
    Afterwards, they are so glad to be alive. The other driver isn’t.
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    You would not want your last words to someone in your family to be words of anger. But we never know: this might be our last conversation. So the Apostle writes, “Be angry, but do not sin.” He continues: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I take him to mean that there is a place for anger, but there is also a time to put it to bed.
    You can imagine parent and son leaving that accident with a new perspective on their disagreement. I can be angry with someone I love, but I need to be sure that person knows the love and not only the anger.
    In the meantime, may we drive carefully, courteously, and without phones.
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    Out & About. This Sunday, February 4, I am teaching on the Song of Songs at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas. The class is at 9:30 a.m. The following Sunday I will be preaching at the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services there.

Standing

My wife was charmed: whenever she walked into a room, the boy choristers would stand.
    This was at the choir school of Saint Thomas Church in New York City. We lived in the choir school for several years. Because of her disability, the headmaster extended to her an invitation to eat with the boys from time to time. Sometimes she would be late to arrive. Walking into the refectory, moving to her spot at a table, the boys already there would stand. She would smile. They would all sit.
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    I was charmed too. Older boys whose voice had changed would serve as acolytes. They would be sitting in our verger’s office, say, when I would enter with a question about the upcoming service. They would halt their conversation and stand. “Thank you,” I would say.
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    To stand when one’s elder enters a room, or to stand for a woman, is an old-fashioned way of showing respect. It also raises everyone’s dignity. If you stand, you acknowledge the dignity of the person who is before you. At the same time, you show you have such dignity yourself as to recognize it in others.
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    Such actions are outward signs of inward reality. What we seek is inward character that manifests respect in courageous and self-denying action.
    Peggy Noonan has written that the common thread in all the recent stories of sexual predators is “The men involved were not gentlemen. They acted as if they’d never heard of the concept.” She then samples some definitions. I particularly liked this one: A gentleman “does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.”
    “America,” she writes, “needs more gentlemen.” We need more people whose respect for others transcends their immediate desires.
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    Back to standing: it is the posture of attendance, of being available for service. At the Last Supper, Jesus stood to wash his disciples’ feet. We serve one another with such signs of respect. Those with authority are to lower themselves in service, and thereby elevate others. After washing their feet, Jesus told his disciples they were to do likewise with one another.
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    In my time here in Dallas, I have been impressed by the widespread use of “ma’am” and “sir.” Where I used to live, such words were used ironically, if at all; they would create distance. Here their widespread use is a sign of respect, of lifting up one another to a dignified, common level of human address. They don’t feel formal or off-putting, but rather leveling and uplifting at once: they show us as equal possessors of human dignity, mutually acknowledged.
    Yes ma’am, we need more of that.
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    Out & About. This Sunday, January 28, I am preaching at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas, at the 8am and 10:30am services. At 9:30am I will continue the class on the Song of Songs.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."