Tag Archives: Merdine T. Morris

Hope, courage, love

Luke and Merdine TI have posted several times about my friend and mentor Merdine T. Morris. At her memorial service on April 12, I saw a photo of Merdine T. with her husband, Lucas. Luke. During the memorial service, Merdine T.’s friends and colleagues and pastors witnessed to her deep commitment to justice and peace and the countless ways she lived out those commitments. 

Listening, I recalled the photo and remembered how Luke made Merdine T.’s witness possible. He stood with her, prayed for her, provided transportation for her. Luke was the good, good man who stood beside this good, good woman.

It seems only right to post a reflection about Luke. I wrote this for his memorial service.

Lucas Morris revealed hope.  In a world so horribly obsessed with race, any crossing of the racial divide is an act of grace.  As he lived, Luke endured the shifting and unchanging reality of being black in America where privilege is given to those who are white.  He was wounded.  But he was never broken.  He was not embittered.  He played a key role in helping to create the special relationship between St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church and Noble Road Presbyterian Church.  And when the time came, he was willing – he and Merdine T. chose – to have white pastors.  Amazing grace.  What a gift of hope.  If we refuse to give up, if we refuse to give in, if we keep on loving, maybe we can heal prejudices and remake systems and come together to live as God intends.

Lucas Morris revealed courage.  Frustration filled his recent years.  Illness touched him and it never let go.  Every time he made even the smallest step toward recovery, something went wrong and he took two or three or ten steps back.  Again and again and again my heart broke for him.  My heart broke for Merdine T.  But none of it neither the pain nor the procedures – neither the losses nor the limitations – none of it broke his spirit.  His contagious smile – his ready laugh – his concern for others – it all remained and shone through on even his worse days.  Our character is revealed not in times of ease but in moments of distress.  Luke was strong and true.

Lucas Morris revealed love.  He had deep, abiding love for Merdine T. and for his family.  He had deep, abiding love for his friends.  He had concern for all of God’s children.  When visited, Luke would ask about Merdine T., about his friends, about my family, about others in the church in need.  You may say it was a ritual.  You may say it was a way of shifting the focus from his own situation.  I know it was expressed his depth of feeling and caring.

Lucas Morris and I laughed together.  We cried together.  We prayed together.  We agonized over the fortunes of Cleveland’s baseball team.  That one year when Cleveland had no football team, we even followed the Pittsburgh Steelers together.  With Merdine T. and Sean and Eric we shared the body and blood of Christ as well as ice cream and brownies.  And one special morning when Merdine T. was in the hospital, Luke and I delighted in a high-class breakfast of Egg McMuffins.

I thank God for the gift of Lucas Morris.  I thank God for the honor and privilege of being Luke’s friend.  I thank God that for Luke all pain is past and he is received into the warmth and wonder of God’s love.  I thank God that within that mysterious reality of the Communion of Saints Luke goes with me, goes with us, now and always.  Amen.

See you along the Trail.

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Tonight I wept

There are places I remember all my life

Lennon and McCartney got that right.

But there are also people I remember. And moments.

Moments I will remember as long as memory lasts. Moments that not only fill my mind as memories. Moments that fill my soul and spirit as the sights, sounds, feelings wash over me as though the moment had never ended.

The births of my sons.

The death of my father.

The murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy.

The fall of the Berlin Wall.

The release of Nelson Mandela.

And more.

Tonight I wept as I relieved such a moment.

I finally watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I had not seen it in the theater, but I added it to my Netflix list and it arrived this week.

The film provides much to ponder. Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan? Seriously?

The scene that touched me came near the end.

Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, has retired from his position as a butler at the White House. He has reconciled with his son, Louis, played by David Oyelowo. His wife, Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, has died.

Cecil and Louis are in his house on November 4, 2008. The votes in the Presidential election are being counted. As the moment nears when the media will declare a winner, Cecil calls his son to come to the living room and watch. Louis arrives in time to see history happen.

As the newscaster in the film announces  Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States of America, I found myself transported back to the night it happened. And I wept.

I wept in joy at Barack Obama’s victory. At progress made. At hopes realized. At the possibilities before us then and now.

I wept in sorrow at how much work remains to achieve racial justice. At the oppression, discrimination, and injustices my sisters and brothers endure.

I wept in frustration at shortcomings and failings of President Obama’s administration to meet the expectations of the moment. At potential unfulfilled.

Merdine T MorrisBut most of all, I wept remembering my friend Merdine T. Morris. Shortly after the media announced Barack Obama’s election, I called Merdine T. Together we laughed and cried and prayed.

The film scene transported me through space and time and as I heard again the joy and hope and pride and concern Merdine T. expressed that night.

Merdine T. recognized the historic significance of President Obama’s election. She also understood the arduous work that lay ahead for him and for our country as we continue to come to terms with the racism and other systems of oppression and discrimination dividing us. Merdine T. knew first-hand racism’s bitter sting and enduring power. She knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. personally as our mutual friend Carol reminded me. She knew hopes shattered and dreams, not only deferred, but devastated. She knew the tears that water and the blood that mark the road to justice.

But Merdine T. Morris never gave up. She held to faith. She held to hope. She held to love.

And so I wept tonight because Merdine T. and her husband Luke trusted me and were my friends, because Merdine T. and Luke welcomed me with grace, because Merdine T. and Luke accompany me in the Communion of Saints, because, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, writing about another unforgettable moment:
Her strength gives me strength
Her faith gives me faith
Her hope gives me hope
Her love gives me love

Tonight I wept in gratitude. And my tears were good.

See you along the Trail.

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Never, Merdine T., never

Some messages should be delivered in person and not left in a voice mail box or sent by email.

Some times we have no choice but to leave such messages.

Tricia left one for me today.

I think I said farewell“Sorry to have to leave a voice mail. I need to leave. But I just got an email that Merdine T. died last night. And I wanted you to know.”

Some realities cannot be expressed adequately in words. They simply have too much meaning.

My relationship with Merdine T. Morris is such a reality. She was one of the most significant people in my life outside of my family. She helped make me who I am today – at least any part of me that is good and kind and faithful. I take full responsibility for my failings and shortcomings.

While I have been gone from Cleveland for almost 14 years, while the times that Merdine T. and I saw each other on a regular basis occurred long ago, while her health has declined and I knew this moment was coming, while I am a great believer in the Communion of Saints, I have to confess my heart bears a ragged hole this evening. I miss Merdine T. immensely. And I probably always will.

Merdine T. and I were friends for more than 20 years. Friend really does not do our relationship justice, she is my mentor, teacher, challenger, comforter, disturber of my peace, guide, anchor . . . the list goes on. She and her husband Luke played  and will play significant roles in my life. Luke passed away some 12 years ago, not too long after I left Cleveland.

Merdine T. and I have shared some amazing moments . . . conversations . . . experiences . . . times of learning and growth . . . disappointments . . . violations . . . injustices . . . ordinations . . . presbytery meetings (incredible to say, I know) . . . graduations . . . transitions . . . acts of justice . . . moments of witness.

If you want to hear some amazing stories about a child of grace and a faithful follower of Jesus, buy me a Jameson and ask me about Merdine T. some time.

Merdine T.’s health began to fail some years back. As she became increasingly fragile, I began to wonder each time I saw her if that time would be the last time.

And finally it was.

IMG_3763This past December, our mutual friend Nan Dorer celebrated her 90th birthday today with a party at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tricia and I took Merdine T. to the party.

The day was wonderful. Friends old and young, long-time and new, greeted Merdine T. warmly. Her presence meant the world to Nan. We stayed for the children’s program and carol singing. Merdine T. beamed. When we returned to the Fairmount Health Center, staff members commented on the joy that filled her face. A wonderful day.

In her room, as Tricia and I were leaving, Merdine T. reached up from her chair and hugged me. Tears filled her eyes.  And she said the words. The words she said to me every time we said goodbye over the past five or six years.

“Mark. Never forget me.”

Tonight, through my tears, I reply as I always did.

“Never, Merdine T. Never.”

As I grieve my loss, I give thanks that I had the privilege of sharing life with God’s beloved child, Merdine T. Morris.

See you along the Trail.

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Always never

Three years ago, I thought I may have said farewell to my mentor and friend Merdine T. Morris. She was ill at the time. Seriously ill. When I left her room at the Fairmount Health Center, I thought that day’s visit might well have been our last. Others agreed with me.

But Merdine T. proved us wrong. She not only made it through that crisis, she improved. She has been able to leave the health center for various events. She did so again today.

IMG_3763Our mutual friend Nan Dorer celebrated her 90th birthday today with a party at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tricia and I took Merdine T. to the party.

The day was wonderful. Friends old and young, long-time and new, greeted Merdine T. warmly. Her presence meant the world to Nan. We stayed for the children’s program and carol singing. Merdine T. beamed. When we returned to the Fairmount Health Center, staff members commented on the joy that filled her face. A wonderful day.

A big shout-out to Bob Pescho and Dan Wills for their work on the church’s chair lift that allowed Merdine T. to attend the worship service. A shout-out to Eric, Dan, John, Maria, Cathy, and all who helped Merdine T. navigate her way to the various events. A shout-out to David Dorer who took the photo with this post.

When I visited her three years ago, Merdine T. said “Never forget me.” “Never,” was my response then. “Never,” is my response now.

See you along the Trail.

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Advent 8: Wisdom

Merdine T Morris

7 April 2007
Noble Road Presbyterian Church
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

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I need to try again

Communities of accountability have a way of intersecting.

The same people often appear in different communities to which we are accountable. A person may play a key role in one community and stand on the periphery of others. Or a person may hold a key place in several communities.

Make rosters of my communities of accountability and you will find Merdine T. Morris on many of those lists. A few years ago, I described her in these words:

Merdine T. and I have been friends for more than 20 years. Friend really does not do our relationship justice, she is my mentor, teacher, challenger, comforter, disturber of my peace, guide, anchor . . . the list goes on.

Today I add, Merdine T. Morris is practically a one person community of accountability for me.

Three years ago, Merdine T.’s health failed and I reflected on what I thought might be our last visit.

Merdine T. recovered.

On Tuesday, Tricia, Eric and I went to see her. We arrived and told the receptionist we wanted to visit Merdine T. She paused a moment and said, “I don’t think Merdine T. is here.”

She checked a list and informed us that Merdine T. had gone to lunch with a group. On the one hand, this was disappointing. On the other, it was great, good news.

I carry Merdine T. in my heart and head and will always do so. But I give thanks to know that she can get out and around.

And I need to try to see her again before I leave for New York.

See you along the Trail.

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What I am doing in December

Yes. The commercialism of Christmas annoys me. On Tuesday, November 1, while on my way to have lunch with my friends Leo and Theresa Chavez Sauceda in Vallejo, I stopped by a drug store – one of the major chains, I forget which. Transition dominated the shelves that day. Of course by now, the transition is completed.

Halloween items: gone.

Shelves: stocked with Christmas items.

Yes. In many ways it is too early to begin thinking about Christmas. But, when one lives in multiple places, one has to plan time with care to do what one wants.

So my plans for December have begun:

  1. Travel to Cleveland
  2. Buy coffee for Carol at Noble Road Presbyterian Church (probably with Eric)
  3. Coffee (recurring theme) with Francis and Isaac about the Dougbe River Presbyterian School
  4. Go to movies
  5. Watch football
  6. Finalize the “usual events” – Christmas Day at my brother’s home; Trivial Pursuit; Steelers games at the Winking Lizard;

Today, I added another item to the list.

On my way to worship with the saints of the United Presbyterian Church of Ozone Park, I noticed a woman wearing a hat. Her hat reminded me of my hat-wearing friend Merdine T. Morris. And I knew.

December needs to include time to see Merdine T.

See you along the Trail.

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