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March 15. The Ides of March. And your world feels every manner of wonky.

I know this to be true because we talked or texted or Facebook messaged this week and my heart is full of hurt for you and yours.

That ex-husband who dumped a load of legal papers into your mailbox on what would have been your anniversary? Revenge is mine, saith the Lord, but merciful Father couldn’t we get just a piece of it?

Your only daughter with her broken back. Your mother in agony of bone. Lord have pity, they have been through enough.

Your son-in-law who took the income tax refund his family was desperate for and spent it all on a 90 inch TV to watch while he refuses to look for a job. I want to march over there with you, fierce warrior mama, and crack that TV right over his worthless head.

My feelings of outrage are just as worthless and I have no words to give you except one:

BELOVED. Yes, you, and your precious children too.

The cover story in last week’s edition of the Smoky Mountain News has been nudging my soul, elbowing my ribs that God has that word for you.

It’s about a woman nearing 80 who lives in Snowbird, a Cherokee community not far from here. They don’t take pictures in these parts, they make them, and the one they made arrests me, brings me up on charges of gawking.

Face like a burnished chestnut, lines carved out by laughter curving up to her fringe of shiny black hair. “Ella Bird,” the headline signals, “Beloved Woman.”

You’ve never heard of her, you say. She’s not in Wikipedia and the national news has never mentioned her. How can they with crazed killers, perfidious politicians and suchlike grabbing us by the chin and forcing us to look at their ugly doings?

But here in the Smokies, a quiet woman from Snowbird is the headliner.

In Cherokee tradition, we’re told, the title of Beloved Man or Beloved Woman was bestowed on warriors once acclaimed on the battlefield who have grown too old to fight. The days of defending hunting grounds long past, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation now reserves the honorific for men and women who demonstrate the Cherokee Core Values:

Spirituality, group harmony, strong individual character, stewardship, tribal identity, education and sense of humor. “- Smoky Mountain News, March 6-12, 2019

Education? Ella Bird never went beyond the seventh grade at her Snowbird school established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but the photo captures her in full academic regalia, resplendent in a black gown and purple velvet hood as she receives an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

Group harmony? Ella raised her five daughters and five sons with help from her mother, hubbie sometimes present but income mostly absent. Despite the privation, members of her community point out with pride that none of Ella’s children fell victim to the true enemies of their people: drugs and alcohol.

Spirituality? Ella’s nomination for the highest title the tribe can bestow cites the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. as one member testified to the Tribal Council: “She’s rare, she’s decent, she’s nice, she’s pure, she’s slow to anger…We all love her dearly and everybody calls her sister or mom or grandma, because that is what she is to all of us.” 

And another: “Even with some of the atrocities that have happened to this tribe, like the Trail of Tears and everything else, the mere fact of love and being Christian and taking care of each other is what gets us through hard times.”

According to the tribe’s website, only 10 people have been honored as a Beloved Man or Beloved Woman in the last 75 years. Ella Bird is one.

My white immigrant-American culture has no such honorifics, and yet?

We worship the same God Ella does. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. The history-making, creation-begetting God of Holy Scripture. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in his sight.

And you know what He calls us? Each and every one of us?

Beloved.

Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children.” Romans 9: 24 The Message

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