Sunday, April 24, 2011


The first Habitat for Humanity build I was on, a day long one in Lansing MI, began with a prayer. It was a nice prayer, spoken by the nice young woman who was our leader.  I remember being a little bothered by this mild blessing, since I wasn’t expecting it, don’t come from a culture that prays out loud out of church much, and knew that some of the folks I was building with were not prayerful folks either.  Years in public education, my own religious background (Quaker mother, Catholic father), and some sort of Yankee reserve keep my praying hidden.  I think this has to do with privacy, but also respect for other people.  I am reminded of one of my mother’s garden design clients who saw for the first time a plain column of granite she put in as a sculptural element.  They said “ We don’t worship that way.” And had her remove it.  Religion is never a safe subject with strangers.

On the first day of my time here a year ago February, we began the day with the usual devotions.  This is a custom on many HFH builds, but particularly on the ones with the roaming RVers, we are supposed to take turns.  A woman read several verses of the Bible and then from her Daily Bible Study book, and again my brain sort of snorted and showed the whites of its eyes.  I was in the wrong church, and would soon be exposed as an infidel of some sort.  So I just made myself smaller and figured as long as I could hammer, it would be OK.

The next day, the same woman read again, but this time she stumbled on the pronunciation of a barbarian tribe that Paul was using as a negative example. Steve helped her out, and, flustered, she said “well anyway, they were an evil people”. Steve replied “Pagan perhaps, not evil”. She was even more flustered, and I was vastly relieved.  I later realized that readings could be almost anything thoughtful and encouraging, but didn’t dare actually do one that spring.

This winter I ended up as team leader, sort of a camp counselor for the 2 week shifts of RVers, and one of my jobs was to get folks to sign up for devotions and provide them if no one did.  My first one was a meditation on Jesus choosing to be a carpenter as a way to learn how to be human (in my Christmas story),  and I found I didn’t mind this sort of free form preaching, and it was well received by most.  (Some folks seemed to be a bit concerned that I wasn’t doing a reading, but just speaking my mind). Then we would join hands in a short prayer, and finally raise our hands up together saying this affiliate’s motto: “Habitat is not a hand-out, it’s a hand up”.

Another devotion was based on my first sight of Giotto’s angels with wings in wonderful colors, and later Byzantine angels with wilder colored wings and wild robes of gold and red.  Angels come, I said, in all kinds of colors and outfits and will turn up all the time to help out.  I told stories of the strangers who had appeared in my life to help, and told the group that they were all angels too.

I have a quote from Jimmy Carter that I read when I feel the group is being a bit smug about their work or patronizing about the homeowners. He says that he had felt that always having a place to sleep, food, job opportunities made him better than those less fortunate, but that working for Habitat had shown him otherwise, that the homeowners where just as hardworking, ambitious, and moral as he was.  I like to read St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer,  and the 121st Psalm, “ I will lift mine eyes unto the hills” with the Organ Mountains right there, as a reminder to keep our head up and minds on life not at the task at our feet.

And sometimes, I would just speak about the day’s tasks, reminding the group that sloppy work now means rework for someone later, and telling the story of a retiring builder whose boss asked him to build just one more. The builder was tired and didn’t build well, shortcuts and sloppy workmanship, and when the house was done, the boss handed him the keys, this last house was a retirement gift! If only he had known it was going to be his house…..

Who would ever have guessed I could do this? Daisy the preacher?  I guess it isn’t that far from teaching high school, but daring to be overtly religious?  I’m still astonished at myself.  I suspect that God is too.


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