Everyday Faith, Everyday Use

Everyday Faith For Everyday Use (first 3.5.13)

No Know It Alls and Dilettantes

Mark 9,50: " 'Salt is good, but if it loses its flavor how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.' "

Matthew 5,40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him take away your cloak also."

Psalm 47,4: "He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom he loved."

Dilettante: "An admirer or lover of the arts" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, unabridged). Often with an amateurish flair."  

I was just about to read Alice Walker's short story Everyday Use (1973), and the Lord told me he didn't want "know it all" or dilettante pastors.

Now I was even more interested.

Walker's tale is about a poor family with a southern sharecropper and faithful heritage wherein an older and now educated sister ("Dee", who prefers her fancy new name) has all her life outshined and bullied her younger and uneducated sister, the homely and cowering ("Maggie").

The new and grand Dee (who covers herself with oversized sunglasses) condescends to a visit "home" (so shabby) with her boyfriend (or did they get married), while the scarred Maggie soon will wed a neighbor with "mossy teeth."

It quickly becomes clear that Dee's visit is about carrying off what she thinks is her rightful inheritance in the form of various everday items, such as a butter churn (with a cool dasher arm) and (faithful) grandmama's handmade quilts. These have become art objects for her, that must be perfectly placed and unused. 

She knows just how her family should now live, and is to be the perfect curator of these heirlooms.

And what's worse, Mom, the narrator, has always let sister Dee have her way, exactly.

But something in her kicks up when the soon-to-marry Maggie willingly relinquishes grandmama's quilts to her know it all and dilettante sister:

"She can have them, Mama," she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. 'I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts.'

I [mom] looked at her hard. She had filled her bottom lip with checker berry snuff and it gave her face a kind of dopey, hangdog look. It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her [Maggie] how to quilt herself. She stood there with her scarred hands hidden in the folds of her skirt. She looked at her sister with something like fear but wasn't mad at her. This was Maggie's portion. This was the way she knew God to work.

When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet. Just like that when I'm in church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout. I did something I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangeroo's hands and dumped them into Maggie lap."

(p. 1564-65, Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, Ed. R.V. Cassill, 1995)

The everday quilts corresponded to the everyday faith of the family who sewed and used them, like everday.

We Christians, especially leaders, can become just like sister Dee here.

We can come to consider all the beautiful physical stuff of our faith as our inheritance, as our purview, as fit to be appreciated only for the sort of educated and artistic.

This is fatal to our faith in the living God of Jacob.

We all remember Jacob, who like the scarred Maggie, was God's own, even if he walked with a limp.

The just shall live by faith (confidently acting on the promises of God, again and again, Scott), an everyday faith, for everyday use, serving our everyday Jesus.

This salt of the earth faith bears our shared inheritance, the kingdom of God, and Zion, for one and all.



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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.