Under the awning of a road side fruit stand –erected on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, I purchased the most delicious peaches. Hungry and thirsty, my husband and I had pulled off the highway — en route to the Blue Ridge mountains — to grab a quick snack. Within five minutes of our stop along 74, we had a paper bag filled with white and yellow peaches. Can you imagine our delight? Sinking our teeth into their pinkish and deep yellow interiors provided the exact refreshment we were both seeking.
As I paused to savor the fruit, wipe my mouth from the juices, I took note of memorabilia laying out on a table. There, in the shade, I noticed the top item was an award. Framed in black, the weathered ivory paper had an inscription and imagery seemingly from a period gone by. The calligraphy began, “To James Larry Crowe,” and was signed, “The Free Masons of the Grand Masonic Lodge in the year of 2010.”
I got quite still. Even dizzy for a moment. What was I looking at? Who did this belong to? Was this only 5 years old? James Crowe? As in “Jim Crow“? My mind raced. Why was this in the tent of a fruit stand? Who were the free masons to these farmers? And what are they doing in 2010? I was curious and stymied.
I asked the strawberry blond woman who sold us the fruit about the award. In a lovely southern drawl, she responded, “Oh, those all belong to uncle Larry. Y’all would have to ask him about it. Each one has a story.” She smiled and then sighed, looking away.
Within minutes, we were back in the car — me and my pink-skinned, sweaty self with peach juiced-stained pants, next to my brown husband, wielding the keys in one hand and a paper napkin in the next. My fingers shook as I typed “James Larry Crowe” into the search engine on my smart phone. I said aloud to my husband, “We just bought peaches from Jim Crow.”
In today’s first reading from Exodus, we hear about Moses erecting a tent outside the camp where he and God would meet face-to-face. As S. Katherine welcomed everyone to the monastery for mass this morning, she invited us to consider, and name, where our respective tents are in the world. “While Moses has this privileged encounter with God, talking with Him as he would another human being, we are simultaneously invited to experience this kind of intimacy in our own way, in our own sacred spaces.”
I got hung up, friends. All I could think was, “The last tent where I stood in any kind of a shaded, intimate space, I met a relative of James Crowe.” Knowledge of the legacy of racial injustice in the United States twisted inside me; the narratives of racial difference told- so that white Christians could stomach owning other human beings with darker skin– inspired this tightness in my chest. Safe spaces? Tents of sacred encounter? Freedom?
As mass continued, these thoughts and questions loosened in my heart. By virtue of the daily scriptures, and in this sacred space that is the monastery, I began to consider the larger themes inherent in God’s word and message for us. A message around mercy and justice; freedom and love, reconciliation and renewal began to unfold in the communal unpacking of God’s word among us.
I spoke aloud of the tent where I bought the peaches. I savored a message of tenderness and mercy that unites me to my pink and brown brothers and sisters around the world. I prayed quietly for the way our racial reconciliation –and healing for the legacy of slavery –connects me with Moses and Jesus and Jim Crow and the community gathered in north Minneapolis. I gave thanks.
Join me in considering: Where is your sacred tent? What story do you bring before God? What does Love tell you in face-to-face, heart-to-heart encounters with the Divine?