Walking wide-eyed through this world is the only way I’ve known, wrapped in hope and good intentions and bare to the bone. — Carrie Newcomer
We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. — TS Elliot
Today me will live in the moment — unless it is unpleasant. In which case, me will eat a cookie. — Cookie Monster
The 40-something-year-old woman spotted me from across the exhibit hall crowd. I was in my booth, playing guitar. I couldn’t help but notice her.
She was like an Easter morning sunrise breaking through the din of men and women, educators and vendors, wandering the Exhibit Hall aisles of booksellers, classroom suppliers, and educational entertainers! She wore a bright yellow dress, yellow heels — conservative but unavoidably present against the deep blue carpet — large sunglasses (yes, indoors!), and what might best be described as a woman’s “Sunday-going-to-meetin’” hat (wide-brimmed and white with multicolored flowers and a tall blue feather leaping from the bright yellow hatband).
She carried a large gray shoulder bag stuffed with exhibit purchases and the words printed on one side, “It’s Only Fair to Warn You, I Am a Librarian!” On the other side was a picture of a stack of books with the words, “I Like Big Books, and I Cannot Lie. . .” The incongruity of her vocation, appearance, and the sound of the rap song now stuck in my head was disorienting at first!
“Hello! I see you’re a children’s author and storyteller!” she exclaimed in an unmistakable high-pitched, East Texas accent. “And you have all these a-mazing musical instruments!”
I tried to introduce myself but she interrupted, “I would just LOVE to hire you to come to our school! But the truth is,” she paused and then in a plaintiff tone added, “we are sort of in the middle of nowhere. Do you ever go to the ‘middle of nowhere’?”
Struck by her “brilliance” and invasive kindness, I was curious how an almost Zen-like, spiritually contemplative question could emit from an East Texas librarian’s mouth — a bias I was soon going to have to learn to overcome.
“I love going to the middle of nowhere!” I laughed and then sought a little clarification. “Where is nowhere?”
“Well, technically, we’re not nowhere. We’re closer to uncertain,” she smiled.
I laughed again thinking she was just messing with me at that point — that or pushing the whole Zen thing a little too far. So I said, “No, really. I’d be happy to come to your school. I travel all over Texas and the US. So where are you located?”
This time she spoke with more insistence, “Well, clearly you have never been there. We’re located about two miles west of Uncertain, Texas!”
Thus inspired, I began a year-long tour of small, “middle of nowhere” school visits. During that time, I encountered some of the most iconoclastic, earthy, and yet spiritually engaging people and moments I have ever experienced.
In fact, so ironic and unexpectedly insightful was that year of school touring that I now refer to it as “The Uncertain Texas Tour.”
That was in 2009.
But I think it is safe to say that even with the departure of 2020, the anxiously anticipated arrival of 2021, and now the slow rollout of vaccinations, I am (we are) still in uncertain territory. And life is probably going to get more uncertain before we begin to see just what things will look like “post Pandemic.”
But tomorrow is Epiphany, January 6 – also known as Twelfth Night. It is the traditional night the Magi find the baby Jesus beneath the wondrous star, illuminating hope for uncertain times. While the story itself (only found in Matthew’s gospel) is mired in 2000 years of multiple traditions, misinformation, magical thinking, and modern cultural embellishments, the story of God’s divine revelation of courage and compassionate curiosity born in the face of oppression and despair is a transformative narrative and as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time. In other words, love is always inviting courageous, curious, and compassionate responses to despair and oppression.
This Sunday, January 10 (the Sunday after Epiphany and 9 days post New Year’s Day), I want to invite you on an epiphanal journey with me for the next three Sundays: “Happy New Year — The Uncertain Tour!” During these three Sundays, I’ll reflect on stories from those experiences in 2009 (and other traditions) in light of the ancient wisdom from the stories of the Magi, Jesus’ baptism, the curse of Nazareth, and the Book of Jonah.
Elizabeth Wills joins the band this Sunday with a new cover song from Alanis Morissette and Christa Russell joins on a Macy Gray tune. We’ll have a few other surprises as well (it’s Epiphany, after all!) In times of uncertainty, love seeks illumination!
But sometimes, as one man told me at the tackle shop in Uncertain, “You gotta be lost to find it!”
See you soon!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven