Boundaries are important. They mark beginnings and endings. They help us to sort out one thing or body from another. As I venture into multiple aspects of ordained ministry, I am finding boundaries all over the place. Almost daily, I am aware of them … and at times must discern whether or not a particular boundary should be crossed. One of my colleague-mentors encouraged me to speak directly and assertively with someone who is dying. “Just ask him ‘Are you ready?’” In a nutshell, she advised me: It’s our business to help people be ready. And your vocation – your collar — gives you license to move boldly, to tread where others may be hesitant.
But there are some things a collar cannot do. I just got back from the DMV, successfully obtaining a Florida driver’s license on my second attempt. In 2003, when I returned to Florida from California, all that was required was my out-of-state driver’s license and an electric bill. These days, Florida no longer recognizes many out-of-state licenses (including Connecticut’s) as a primary form of ID. I had to produce a U.S. Passport, along with several other forms of documentation, in order to get my coveted piece of plastic. A U.S. Passport? Moving from Connecticut to North Florida involves crossing a number of boundaries – geographic, cultural and ideological — but a U.S. Passport? Seriously?
I was branded a foreigner even as I sought permission to live in the place where I was born. The lady behind the window was courteous enough. She didn’t call me a “dog” like Jesus did the Canaanite woman who was seeking mercy and healing for her daughter. In that case, it was Jesus who was out-of-bounds, “vacationing” in Gentile territory – in her territory. Like the Canaanite woman, I was reading all the cues, saying the right things to get what I needed. I seldom am conscious of living and moving from a position of power and privilege; it is only these occasional circumstances – when my ability to get to where I need to be seems to depend on someone else’s mercy or generosity – that I pay close attention. How exhausting it must be for those who work endlessly to become a part of this country, to work and feed their families and to comply with all the red tape. How exhausting it must be to always find oneself on the fringes – without the advantage of being born or married into a position of power.
My great-grandfather Amund Guttermson came here from the village of Tjoflat on the Hardanger fiord in Norway many years ago. His son married my grandmother Sarita Romero who had emigrated from Chile, seeking a better life. Why is it that none of the activists spewing venom about immigration are Native American? This is not to deny the complexity of the issue – but let’s remind ourselves from whence we come. What if we could take a step back from hate and suspicion and see things anew, from a human perspective? Jesus dismissed the Canaanite woman as a “dog” in one breath – but then a moment later he saw that she was “a woman of great faith.” Even in the person of Jesus, there is a model for allowing for shifts in perception and position.
So, I’ve managed once again to return to my “homeland” of North Florida after submitting enough paperwork to show I “belong” here. I now have a pale-orange plastic rectangle to carry as proof of residency. But it’s the shrimp-n-grits, the balmy gulfstream breeze, and the lacey Spanish moss, draping the branches of centuries-old live oaks, that tell me I am home.