Grandma’s Hand Rev Kevin Tisdol (I dedicate this sermon to my grandmothers) This is the second Sunday in Sunshine Cathedral’s Creationtide season. Last week Rev. Anne talked about our obligation to be good stewards to our planet and this Sunday is “Humanity Sunday” which means that every single one of us is part of this […]
Rev Kevin Tisdol
(I dedicate this sermon to my grandmothers)
This is the second Sunday in Sunshine Cathedral’s Creationtide season. Last week Rev. Anne talked about our obligation to be good stewards to our planet and this Sunday is “Humanity Sunday” which means that every single one of us is part of this discussion.
What is it that makes us human? Part of it is as humans, we have the ability to show a wide range of emotions; and for me the strongest of those emotions are love, compassion, and empathy. For me, there can be little love or compassion without empathy. To learn how to better understand what our fellow travelers on this little blue marble hurtling through the cosmos are feeling is the essence of being human. “I feel your pain” cannot simply be a catch phrase that allows us an out when listening to another’s trials and tribulations.
Our humanity should demand that we listen, process, and then walk for a few moments, yes, walk in that person’s shoes.
Empathy is something that we will spend a lifetime perfecting and, if we are lucky we won’t have to do it on our own. Our teachers may be our families of choice, our friends, or, our greatest lessons in empathy may come from complete strangers. In one of our readings today, Paul reminds the Philippians to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility be mindful of others . . .” It often takes an amazing amount of love to let go of one’s self to be mindful of others; in Paul’s example, Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Roman government is an example of such love.
Paul’s is but one example of how our humanity can be defined. Many of us know someone whose life, the way that they live, clearly shows humanity in action. I have been gifted with three great examples.
Today is National Grandparents Day and in light of today’s holiday, I’d like to share with you the lives of two of those women, my grandmothers, who shaped my humanity. I’ll save the third, my mother for another time, suffice it to say for now, that I am, in action and deed, my mother’s child.
As I grew up, I was fortunate enough to know 3 of my 4 grandparents and I also knew my paternal great-grandmother. Each of them, in their own way has molded me into the person that I am today. While my maternal grandfather was a force bigger than life, it was the women in my life that taught me how to mindful of others.
My mother’s mother, Grandma Edith, was the kind of person who could be both charming and cutting at the same time. My mother once told me that my grandmother could cuss out a person, have that person thank her and then go home before they realized that Miss Edith had cussed them out. As I got older, I better understood that she had to learn how to express herself in a non-threating manner while maintaining her dignity, oh, and keep her job. Grandma Edith worked for years as a cook for a family that allegedly ran a major crime operation. She had to see and not see so she learned how to get her point across with humor – a lesson that, when I remember, sometimes saves my neck.
The most important lesson that Grandma Edith taught me was to never discount things that people tell you. Way back in the 1970’s, when I was a teen, she told me that I was going to be a preacher. I laughed, she simply smiled and told me to “wait and see.” Every time I think about her prophesy, I think of another great prophet, Mel Brooks.
Because I cannot tell a good joke to save my life, I will distill his skit to its basics. Brooks plays a character called the “2000 year-old man” and at one point he talks about how his parents would visit but would never enter his cave (remember it’s over 2000 years ago). Well, he vowed to never be like his parents and when he visited his children, he would go inside their caves for a real visit. Well, when he visited his children, he did just as his parents did and stayed outside of the kid’s caves. When asked why, he said,” we mock the things we are to be.”
We mock the things we are to be, indeed. In 1997, 6 years after Grandma Edith’s death, I preached my first sermon and at the start of that sermon, in my mind’s eye, I saw her smiling. The Psalmist asked, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, O God; mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made us divine and crowned us with glory and honor.”
Grandma Edith saw the omnipresent God in me and knew that as I continued my journey, I would be able open myself up and feel God’s presence, a presence that is always there, in all of my life because “there is not a spot where God is not.”
My father’s mother, Grandma Annie, was a single mother when such things were much rarer than is true today. She and my grandfather never divorced but they lived separate lives, Grandma Annie in Brooklyn, NY and Grandpa Otis in Waterbury CT.
With the help of her mother who we affectionately called Granny, Grandma Annie found a way to raise two boys with little help from their father. Those two women’s hands molded Annie’s boys into men as best they could. I can only imagine the obstacles that 1940’s and 50’s society placed in my grandmother’s way.
Here she was this fiercely independent, strong-willed Negro, yes, in proper company, we had “graduated” from Colored to Negro, this Negro woman trying to make a living while having to explain at every turn why she did not have a man to take care of her. I can imagine the pain that she had to endure as her worth was, time after time, as Michael J. Fox put it, “assaulted, vandalized, and cruelly mocked.” I can imagine the tears that she shed in the privacy of her bedroom. I can also imagine her digging deep into her personal faith and shaking off the words of hate from those who did not know her; digging deep and telling herself standing tall in the face of all obstacles, digging deep and saying in a clear and unwavering voice, “My dignity is not for sale and you cannot have it, ever!” Grandma Annie knew her worth and her life epitomized the greatness that is all of us.
I remember Grandma Annie as a woman of great honor, she read her Bible daily and I watched as she wrestled with it as she attempted to have its words give meaning to her daily life. Most of the time she succeeded and, I think that because of this, she was never judgmental and she was always willing to listen to us and share her thoughts when asked. I think her natural desire to find understanding was why so many of her younger relatives chose her 8-room shotgun apartment as their launching pad to go from childhood to adulthood; they felt safe and knew that Grandma Annie would be there for them if they felt themselves slipping. When I moved out of my mother’s home my first stop was Grandma Annie’s home. Of course, it had to be.
The women in my life are the threads that sew my life together; this is the simplest way I have to explain my understanding of humanity. Love, compassion and empathy are all that we have to offer to the world. As I acknowledge the most influential people in my life, I have one final thought, one that I would like for you to ponder and take home with you.
My grandmothers were born in the early 1900’s. When they were born, women did not have the right to vote; as they reached adulthood, Blacks were still not afforded basic human rights; and because they were Black women and they had to work to support their families, Grandmas Edith and Annie could only do certain menial jobs often for long hours and at the lowest wages possible.
That was then and I cannot help but express my frustration that, in the year 2015, women continue to lag behind men in so many critical categories. I hear talk about glass ceilings and think that it’s more like solid concrete encased steel vaults that our society still uses to subjugate the humanity of too many women.
Examples abound. In this political season where each of the major political parties has a highly qualified woman contending for their party’s nomination to run for president, too often we hear their male opponents talking derisively, not about the qualifications of their fellow candidates, but instead some of the men attack the woman’s age, her looks and her attire. Really? I mean, really? Have we not evolved from this misogynistic world view? Folks, we’re over 2 millennia out of the 2000 year old man’s cave and it’s well past time to evolve.
This, my sisters and brothers, is your call to arms, a call to action. Grandmothers going back further that human memory can recall have been asked to give all of themselves for little in return. This must end, we must change the way that we view the people who give us life and nurture our humanity.
Theologian Dr. Carmelita Usog tells us that “The liberation of women cannot be achieved by men making concessions to women. It can be realized only through organized struggle by women in the economic, social and political spheres. . . .Following the example of Jesus of Nazareth one needs to have an integrated rhythm of prayer and action – always mindful of the presence of the liberating spirit blowing through us.”
Sisters, I may not be able to liberate you, as it should be. But you can be assured that I’m going to be right by your side as you take what is rightfully yours.
It is in this light that I invite all of you today to acknowledge the spirit of Liberation and, as we celebrate the humanity in each of us, feel with me the touch of my Grandmas’ hands as they guide us to a greater sense of dignity. Amen.