“Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”
-1 Corinthians 8:1
Today we are having two really big discussions, with real consequences on either side.
Sickness and economic ruin can both devastate and kill. Also, oppression debilitates and wounds whether it is done in the shadows or in the light, from the left or from the right.
So - people are passionate, willing to push a little harder to make the other side see.
The debate in Corinth was also significant. Each side had important values they were fighting for. Reverence for God on one side, faith in the wholeness of sanctification on the other.
Saint Paul was a theologian at heart (remember he persecuted those who didn’t agree with his view; he was smiling at the murder of Saint Stephen – as a side note – this would have him cancelled today, hmm?), but God taught him a better way.
In his letter to the Corinthians the Evangelist has given us the secret to navigating the problem of intolerable disagreements.
There are arguments, reasons, facts, evidence, spirits of the age, etc. – Knowledge. But more importantly there are people, who we must love.
It might be said like this:
We are fallen creatures, and this affects how we see the world, because our perspective here in time and on earth is limited. This can and will lead us into many and endless controversies that will make us proud in ourselves but deprive of us life, which comes from our connection to others. Love is the anecdote, for me and for them.
Some of the things that I’ve gotten hooked by in recent years are all the little memes and lessons about introverts. My mom has since elaborated some of that by referring me to the enneagram categories. We all have tendencies, and there is some comfort in understanding our strengths and weaknesses.
I love visiting my family in OK. I need it, and it is always enriching. Yet, I am one of those introverts who needs to power up in solitude. I have four sons, so this is hard even when I’m home, but on the road for nearly three weeks, it feels nearly impossible. Nevertheless, I grind for the fam. One of those family members I was blessed to see was my grandmother, MaMa.
As an aside, I just want to loudly declare how very blessed and grateful I am that Ellen Gartrelle Vanderslice is my grandmother! At nearly 101 years old, she is still teaching me the most important lessons.
But not with words, particularly.
It’s about the way she lives.
We were in Tulsa over the last several weeks, and we visited MaMa several times. The facility where she lives was offering porch visits at the time. We’ve also had a couple of recent phone conversations.
Each of these visits is laborious.
See, MaMa’s short term memory is failing, almost completely. During a one hour visit, she will ask the same questions at least three or four times. The whole process is made more difficult because she has lost most of her vision and hearing. This requires repetition. It also requires one to think carefully about the most clear and succinct way to address any topic (another side lesson).
The long and short is that unless we can get MaMa into a good rut of an old memory that still holds (she has some wondrous stories and has written a multitude of songs she might suddenly sing, what a joy!), we will be painstakingly covering the same ground, over and over and over.
It is mentally trying at times for us, and we still retain our vision, hearing, and memories.
MaMa lacks these things, but she is like a Rottweiler about hearing and connecting to each word. Sometimes, once a word or phrase has been repeated multiple times without the connection being made, someone might say, “Oh, never mind, MaMa, it wasn’t that important.” She will then show a slight but sufficient amount of resolve to compel you to repeat just one more time.
It is important to her to be in the moment, present with you, her grandchild, or daughter, or great-grandchild, her neighbor or her nurse. A human being, a soul.
MaMa loves in each moment. It is all that is available to her now (sadly, many enter that phase simply to withdraw and die), but if my memory serves me well, this is how she always loved.
I interviewed my grandmother about her life several years ago. She has also written a short memoir. One thing that is certain is that MaMa has lived an interesting life. When I was a younger man, interested in being a “revolutionary”, I wondered at my grandmother’s wit and spirit and how she could be so mellow, so content, whatever the circumstances. I know the answer now. She had knowledge, sure, but more important, she purposed to love.
During these recent visits with my grandmother, I have felt a radiating goodness around my heart, a sort of supernatural high that is unexplainable. I mean, I’m saying the same words and information over and over. I usually have to delve into some deep, philosophical discussion that ambles over and through a hundred different lanes of thought to feel satisfied. Here I am, telling the names and ages of my sons, what I teach, etc. over and over, and the ecstatic glow in my heart is beyond explanation.
I believe it is love.
My grandmother, trapped in the dark cave of a dying body which has already lost sight and hearing, is fighting for each second of connection with another human.
My grandmother, trapped in the dark cave of a dying body which has already lost sight and hearing (she can’t read, watch Netflix, look at her phone – I mean there is almost no outside stimuli that can distract her), is fighting for each second of connection with another human. Simply, with joy and deep gratitude.
And she knows it’s temporal. She’s losing her faculties, and mentions it enough in the discussion to demonstrate that while she is not fixated and depressed, she is aware. When MaMa fights to be present, to hear you and love you, she already knows it will not last, that it is only for now, this moment, and will be gone in two or three minutes. She knows this, and she still fights to hold you for an instant, to hear the flame of another soul.
I am overwhelmed at MaMa’s simple and extraordinary wisdom, and wonder how I am so blind.
Right now there are people you love deeply who hold a different view on BLM or Covid. You have knowledge, and so do they. Beyond that, they are people, God’s children, in need of love, connection, and so do you. In the grand scheme of things, we only have a few moments. MaMa knows that, but we tend to forget.
Lord, have mercy.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle