I Miss Them

Awhile back I wrote about a fellow I used to see on the Katy trail in the early morning. When I didn’t see him during Covid, I wondered what might have happened to him. Then he was back.
    But now he’s gone. He told me beforehand: he has moved to a home in the country. It was a good move.
    More recently, there was this couple. They are both retirement age, often walking early, even in the dark, with a large dog. The first time we talked was in May last year. They saw me with a Starbucks cup: it was the first morning our Starbucks was open again, and as it happened I had been led there either by dead reckoning or divine push, and indeed my cup was the first cup they served. You couldn’t stay, you had to order with the app, they brought it to you—but it was there.
    So I passed them, a couple with a dog that I had often seen, but we had never talked more than the passing Hi. “Starbucks is open?” they asked.
    Over the months we talked a little, sometimes, as the restrictions eased, in the Starbucks itself. He learned I was a priest. I learned he had been in the trucking business. Then one morning, not that long ago, he said they were going to Arizona. I said I hoped they enjoyed the visit. But no, the moving truck was coming.
    I miss them; there is now another little hole in my mornings.
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    There was another fellow, a few years ago. His walk overlapped my run, and it ended at the Starbucks, where he sat for awhile. I hadn’t seen him for years, wasn’t sure I remembered his name correctly, wondered the same questions. Did he get through Covid? Had he moved?
    A few weeks ago he saw me in another coffee shop—Drip, a local place—and came over to say hi to me. It took me a minute to put the pieces together. He was healthy, doing well.
    I still don’t see him in the mornings, but it’s nice to know he’s around.
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    Friendship is the most important thing in life. Which is why it hurts a bit not to be able to be friends with more people. There aren’t very many people that any of us can be friends with in the fullest sense. Friendship takes time.
    And yet, it is wonderful to be able to be friendly with people we meet. We greet them, we like seeing them, we know a wee bit about their lives. This too is important. I like to quote what Oliver O’Donovan says about “friendliness.” When we are friendly with people we are saying to them, in effect, that although we are not actually friends, if it should turn out in God’s providence (in this life or in the life to come) that we became friends, that would not be a bad thing.
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    Out & about. This Sunday, July 11, I am to preach at St. James in Dallas at the morning Eucharists (8am and 10am).
    Still more on Texas. Last week I wrote that the “America” in the final stanza of “America, the Beautiful” is somehow the new Jerusalem; it is obviously not the actual America whose cities are still dimmed by human tears. A friend wrote in response:”If indeed somehow Texas is in the New Jerusalem, does that mean God will have messed with Texas?” You can see he’s a good friend. But: “Heaven forbid! I suppose you would say that Texas will finally truly be Texas, not so much messed with but realized.” Yes! He goes on, however: “And surely Austin will be kept weird, but a better sort of weird. That is, truly weird—for particular particulars, if they be particular, can’t be everywhere.” He concludes that “Don’t mess with Texas” and “Keep Austin weird” are prophetic: “in the new creation, Texas will be at its most unmessed-with and Austin will be at its weirdest.”
    At least he didn’t say that Austin will be at “his” weirdest. But who knows?

Independence Day

Unlike Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, Independence Day is in the Prayer Book, a major feast (as is Thanksgiving Day) and so not something for us to be embarrassed about celebrating. It is a good and distinctively Anglican thing that our church has special forms set over to give God thanks for our country, for our particular country, and for the independence that our country has.
    The Anglican gift is to recognize the importance of the local, the given, of that which is ours.
    Part of Jesus’ message is clearly to challenge the local and given. With regard to families, Jesus says:  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. That’s from Matthew 10. But of course Jesus himself has a family; a major theme of the Bible is the importance of parents’ passing on the faith to children; the Bible calls for care for those who lack families (widows, orphans); families in the Bible are important even for single people (he setteth the solitary in families is a famous line from Psalm 68). But families are not the most important thing. Within families, alas, there can be enemies of Jesus: a man’s foes [may] be they of his own household. So it is more important to love Jesus than to love your family.
    The same is true of nations. The Bible is not against nations! God uses nations for his purposes; the people in Babylonian exile were told to pray for the city where they were; the Bible cares about government, and justice, and the provision of those things that are necessary for our life together. The Bible indeed cares about our particular civic identity. This is rather the point of nations (and not just individuals) going to Jerusalem in biblical prophecies of the end-times. Somehow in the heavenly city there will still be all those social identities that we have known. The heavenly city, Jerusalem, will somehow contain (for instance) Syria and Ethiopia and (I think we can dare to say) the United States, and somehow at the same time Texas, and even Dallas. These are not accidents that we will shed (like a snake shedding its skin) when, please God, we enter the heavenly realm. These are realities that will be redeemed at the very same time that we are redeemed.
    Just as within family, so within nations there are opponents of Jesus, and we therefore must have our loyalties correct. Jesus as well as says: He that loveth city or nation more than me is not worthy of me; he that loveth Texas or the United States more than me is not worthy of me.
    Yet with that said, there remains something lovable about families, even nations. And do you know? There is a way to look at your family and see that, perhaps quite surprisingly, it points to the holy family. Your mother, whatever flaws she may have, is some sort of pointer to Mary, and your baby, if you have a baby, is a reminder of the Child in the manger.
    And so with country. It’s the 19th century, you’ve come from the East, and you’ve seen the Rockies. You take out your pen: O beautiful . . . spacious skies . . . amber waves of grain . . . purple mountain majesties. But you know all is not right. You ask God to crown your country’s natural good with a brotherhood that stretches from sea to . . . sea. And for the sake of that brotherhood, may God mend thy every flaw. Whose flaws does the poem—the hymn—talk about? America’s.
    But then the focus shifts, and out come O beautiful, words of a patriot dream that sees beyond the years thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! Where are these alabaster cities we sing about? They are not in California; you will not find them in Colorado; they are not back East; they are not even in Texas. Our cities do not purely gleam; they are dimmed by many human tears. But this America, the America of the poet who dreams a patriot dream, this America has alabaster cities in which all the tears have been wiped away.
    She is seeing, of course, Jerusalem: the final stanza of “O beautiful, for spacious skies” opens onto a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem under the name “America.” As long as we love Jesus most of all, it is meet and right to love our land, our country, even as we pray for the revelation of its alabaster cities, for that great day when there will be no more tears.
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    Out & about. On Sunday, July 11, I am to preach at St. James in Dallas at the morning Eucharists (8am and 10am).

 

 

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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."