Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was the book of my youth. I didn’t grow up poor in Depression-era Alabama, but I identified with Scout as I read it several times in my teens. My childhood was a middle-class family in the integrated Bronx, but Scout and I shared a house full of books and a lawyer-father blessed with a firm, centering integrity. Later, studying journalism at NYU in the 1980s, I heard that if you wanted to learn what good writing was, read Mockingbird every year.
I was up worrying the other night. It happens. Worry is a spiritual gift I received from my mother, and I have worked hard to perfect that which was passed on to me. I also work not to pass it on to my daughter, but I worry that I am failing in that.
Anyway, I was worrying the other night when what I really wanted to be doing was falling asleep.
I was a kid when I first memorized John 15. I had a thing about memorizing. My life felt a little fragile, it seemed that people and places I cared about had a way of vanishing, and when I came across words that resonated, I committed them to memory so I could keep them with me. That was true for songs, poems, whole chapters of the Bible.
As I came down the escalator at the library, the man in front of me apologized when he saw that I had stopped behind him. He gently moved his cane-carrying companion over to one side, apologized again, and motioned me past.
Years ago, I might not have thought twice about it. Now, having a family member for whom movements such as standing up can be painful because of degenerative arthritis has made me more aware—perhaps nowhere more so than at church.
I always knew that people of faith were supposed to have devotional time. When I joined the church, I sort of expected someone to tell me the “official” Christian devotional method. But no one did. It wasn’t covered in the new members’ class. And that was for me somewhat unsettling. I knew I should be doing something, but I couldn’t figure out what that something was. I felt adrift, unsure of what I should be doing and a little worried I might be doing it wrong.
A friend was going to seminary, and she became very disappointed that someone in her home church did not send her a birthday card. When I heard this story, I thought that the congregation probably did her a favor, because it’s good to know that there are a lot of things that the church cannot do for you once you become a pastor.