It took time to understand that a liberal Midwestern city like Madison has its own scalding injustices and inequalities, all the more invisible for the city’s self-regard. And it took time to understand that these are all parts of one whole. The state made the university, and the university brought the world to the state. The city was open to migration but not to integration; it kept all the old farm-town rituals of minimization and self-effacement but put them in a new political and cultural key.
We grow accustomed to each other in a peculiar way, beyond excellence or inadequacy or anything else. God brought us together in the exemplary and characteristic way God acts in the world–through the ministry of the Church–and that forges a unique bond. Rupturing it, and forming it anew with new people, is a much weightier task than I’d been able to imagine when the bishop laid his hands on me and I knew only the pure and shiny farewells of the perennial student.
If I’d been given advance knowledge of how this would go–all the medical stuff, the sick nights, the background hum of destruction–when we were asked to take her, I honestly don’t know what I would have said. So it’s a mercy that I didn’t know, because as hard as it’s been, I don’t regret it. She is barnacled to me for everything from bedtime to bathroom trips to doing kitchen chores. I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes resent this, especially now as I am trying to make my peace with her departure from our home. “Please don’t need me like this,” I mean to say when I just get frustrated.
It’s good to have projects. It’s important to expand oneself with tasks that go beyond the boundaries of daily needs. And it’s hard to live with only the exigency of the moment. Closer and closer it comes–the meal, the sermon, the meeting, the Wednesday night Lent worship talk, the coughing that pierces the night, the shopping for baseball gear–like the secret police, narrow escape after narrow escape until the knock comes before you’ve had the chance to slip out the back door.
There I was, an hour early in my new dress shoes and business-casual ensemble, wanting to present every bit of the serious and patient foster dad from the suburbs I wish to be. I am always mindful of the stigma that can attach to foster children and foster parenting, and I would do nothing to legitimate that stigma. This child’s excessive exuberance or vocal exertion will be, to me, merely the rough poetry of childhood; my own role will be sober and affectionate, savoring nothing of mercenary or needy motives.
But the sheer accumulation of vastness joined to the repeated elements of praise and the ever-evolving list of intercessions gave me a humble, grateful perspective on my faith and life that I could not have otherwise known I was missing. As I reached those last few chapters of City, where Augustine talks about the play of light on the sea and the consolations of this life of punishment that merely prefigure the glories to be revealed, I felt something like grief at being parted, at my prayer and hearing going on to a new companion.
And honestly, at first blush I was not sympathetic to Augustine’s self-reproach for watching the lizards and the flies. Let yourself watch the animals, my dude. But as my week away from home and church drew to a close, and I thought about that narrow gate through which I had allowed any diversion to come and how eagerly I wanted to go find those diversions anyway, however pointless or even annoying they might be, I started to understand him better.
[I wrote this in 2011] At a church council meeting a couple of years ago, we found ourselves discussing friends and neighbors of our city church and their prospects for eventual membership. One neighbor in particular seemed like he should really be coming to church because, as someone observed, his brother is a Lutheran pastor. […]
[Note: the date of the issue is incorrect. I wrote this in 2011] I have made two visits to St. Augustine’s House in Oxford, Michigan. The first was in 2006, after my second year of divinity school and my summer clinical pastoral education unit with a hospice care provider, and before my endorsement interviews and […]
However gauche it may be in clergy circles to say it, I loved my seminary experience. From the summer intensive course on New Testament Greek before my first quarter at the University of Chicago all the way to a course on John Calvin that concluded my last, lagging Lutheran year at LSTC, I enjoyed myself […]