Tonight I am thinking of the hospitality of a cranky vituperative relative of mine, my Uncle Omer. He lives in a town of about 400 people in the center of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and perhaps I am thinking of him tonight because the wind has been wicked here in west central Illinois. Uncle Omer is often out in bad weather, for he’s the township supervisor, and one of his jobs is the drive the snowplow over the whole township, something he begins doing in the middle of the night, so that the roads are clear each dawn.
Uncle Omer worked for a national wildlife refuge, and still gives himself to his small community in myriads of ways. He’s not been to college, but learned how to write state grants to garner funding for things like local water projects. Every time I am visiting relatives in that part of the UP, I like to draw out his stories of all that he does–stories he shares amid much complaining about this or that person’s or agency’s lack of respect, and sometimes amid a fair bit of cussing (especially about well-educated state bureaucrats who think that someone like him knows nothing). For years he has cut down Hillary Clinton; he can be a belittler. I’m not always sure what he thinks about women in positions of power, but he’s always seemed to like me; I suspect he respects those he senses respect him, instead of judging on the basis of degrees and status. He cares so much about making everything in the township work well, and I’ve always respected immensely people who give their lives to the technical details of their communities, as he has done.
Uncle Omer refuses to attend the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church his wife attends. Perhaps it’s because of the church’s lack of acceptance of gay people; one of his sons is gay, and has returned to the UP after he lost his partner of many years to AIDS. Moving from Provincetown on the east coast back to an isolated UP town of 400 is not something easily done. This son, too, gives in all directions to other people.
There are plent of difficult human beings whose gifts are fogged over to me (to use Ric’s image of “fog” in another way). But for some reason, I’ve always seen past the things that are so controversial about my Uncle Omer, and admired him more than most people I know. If the parable of Matthew 25 holds true, my Uncle is among that ilk who, on judgment day, will admit that they weren’t among those who went about calling out Christ’s name, only to be told that they’ve been the ones who served Christ in their neighbor.
Maybe one kind of Lenten discipline is not to examine our own or another’s sins (though there’s a place for this too); maybe instead it’s to tack towards what is in fact working in another person, or in our communities, or in our world–and to hold our attention there a little each day, and honor it.