My maternal Grandmother, Agnes MacGregor, was our family saint. She earned the title by being the only one of us who went to church, for putting up with my Grandfather (who could be charming but only in small doses) and for never saying a judgmental word about anyone. My Grand Aunt Florence told me she tried to not like Agnes when they were young because Agnes was such a “goodie-two-shoes”. She failed. Whenever Granddad would complain about someone (using all manner of colorful epithets) Grandma would wince and say, “You never know about people. (Insert name here) is probably good to his mother.” A story Granddad wore down smooth by years of telling involved him coming home under a full head of steam about something an arrogant, inconsiderate hot head he worked with had done, telling Grandma what had happened and concluding with “And before you start Agnes, he is NOT good to his mother!”
Since her death, decades ago, it’s gone without saying that no one in my family is, could, or would want to be as virtuous as Agnes MacGregor. No matter how often I run across it I still smile fondly whenever I hear the Dorothy Parker quote: “If you don’t have anything nice to say come sit next to me.” If anything, this month has made me less interested than ever in becoming heir to Agnes’ halo.
Supporters of our President’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy who have casually said, “That’s what they get for breaking the law.” in response to our government removing children from parents desperately seeking asylum from violence, poverty and hopelessness has been stunning. The first time I heard that comment, after the room stopped spinning, I picked up the first, rock shaped words I could find and lobbed them at my kitchen radio. Like scratching a bug bite it provided momentary relief. Raging always feels better than agonizing about what to do.
I spent yesterday in South Jersey at the funeral of a man named Jack who became family when my brother and his daughter married. Without question, this guy was my Grandmother’s match. No one in his church could produce one anecdote where Jack spoke an unkind word about anyone no matter how deserving. The priest preached about how this unyielding goodness would serve Jack well now, not because dying as a saint is like becoming an Eagle Scout for which you get your final badge and closer consideration for heaven, but because Jack had not put his own pride between himself and God.
By appointing myself as judge and jury for anyone I imply that I have the qualifications to fill that seat by virtue of being in less need of mercy than the condemned. As a person of faith, that’s like saying “Thanks Jesus, I’ll only need a half a cup of pardon. Save the rest for this fool.”
St. Paul says a lot of helpful words about love and how to figure out if what you’re holding onto is the real thing, as a follower of Jesus, or a cheap imitation. Just like silver does not rust, real love does not dishonor and is never proud.
If we are people of faith we believe that love will have the final word. Love has no room for our contempt, does not need our defense and invites our submission.
Agnes and Jack, teach my knees to bend.
Your sister in Christ