Christianity for the Rest of Us

My mother died on June 30.  

It is hard to write those words, even harder to
post them.  But part of dying is
the practice of the public memorial, spoken words in eulogies and written ones
in obituaries.  After death, words
communicate joy and grief, appreciation and contribution.  Words are memory.  And I would like to offer here a public remembrance of my mother.

Marcia Hochstedt lived humbly.  There might be a small notice in the Arizona Republic citing her birth and
death, but no lengthy article claiming a lifetime of achievement.  She was neither rich nor famous.  She did not go
to college, see the world, or have cosmopolitan tastes. She was a regular person, the kind of person that politicians say they know, understand, or work for.  I do not particularly
think my mother would have liked being called “regular” or of humble circumstance, but
there you have it. 

She was born during the Great Depression to working
class parents in Baltimore.  Her
earliest memories of life were of deprivation.  When she was very small, her father, who worked at
Westinghouse, won a refrigerator at the company Christmas party.  Before it could be delivered, however,
the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the new refrigerator was commandeered by
the military as scrap metal.  Her
family, like pretty much everyone else in their urban neighborhood, made due
with the icebox until 1950 or so. 
Mom often spoke of Victory gardens and tin drives, of giving food to
truly poor people who begged at their door and helping out at the USO.  She always said, “We may
not have had much, but we always had enough to share.”  That was, of course, because her mother
often went without food to feed her children and the beggars at the backdoor.

And that was my mother’s creed:  We may not have much, but there is
always enough to share. 

Mom’s Methodist church reinforced this creed.  My mother’s parents were not
particularly religious–her father was a freethinker-atheist and her mother
rejected the Catholic Church in favor of a sort of folk spirituality.  But a great-aunt partially raised my
mother–and Aunt Marcie was a devout Methodist, a feminist and temperance
activist in the early 20th century–a passionate believer who wanted
an American and Christian share of justice for the poor, outcast, and
women.  Aunt Marcie’s church taught
my mother that the Great Command to “love you neighbor as yourself” was the
core of Christian faith.

My mother took it very seriously.  Not only did she endlessly give things
away (often, like her own mother, to the point of great personal sacrifice) but
stood up for social justice. She was
the only person among her family and friends to support the Civil Rights
movement (and later, the feminist movement and, although hard for her, rights
for LGBT people).  When her high
school was integrated in the 1950s, my mother refused to boycott school on the day that
the first black students came to class. 
Instead, she showed up to meet the bus and welcome her new classmates.

Throughout her life, she loved politics and saw the
political process as a way to enact the Great Command.  Oddly enough, she was never terribly cynical
about politics, choosing instead to believe that good people would act on the
behalf of justice for all.  Her
politics were laced with pointed jokes and Elvis tunes.  She campaigned for John F.
Kennedy.  She went through a conservative
phase in the late 1970s and 1980s (which she regretted) and proudly boasted to
all her Republican neighbors in Arizona that she had voted for Barack
Obama.  She would shake her head in
sorrow for what had been done to both the slaves in her native Maryland and
Arizona’s indigenous peoples.  In
the weeks before she died, she told me how angry she was that the governor of
Arizona had signed that “terrible” anti-immigration bill saying that she would
boycott her own state if she did not live there!

My mother was not, by any means, perfect.  I do not want, through the mists of
sadness or regret, to romanticize her. 
She was often hampered by her own ideals, her lack of pragmatism
constantly inhibited her ability to make good decisions, had a quick temper with anything she perceived unfair, and she did not
understand anything about the darker hues of human nature.  Like many women of her time, she
married and had children too young and before she knew herself.  She was deeply skeptical of rich
people–thinking money vaguely sinful. Her humble Methodism was
reinforced by her equal love of baseball, her real passion.  She believed that there were nine
innings to play by the rules, that honest umpires maintained a fair game, and if you had the best pitcher and the best hitters, the good guys
would always win (unless, of course, if you were the Yankees and could buy the
World Series). 

In many ways, my mother was the 20th
century American everywoman, a sort of “Jimmy Stewart-ish” Georgiana
Bailey–there was not a Mr. Potter bone in her body.  Life, however, is not Hollywood and her closing scene was not
as rewarding as It’s a Wonderful Life.  Nobody really knew her story except
her family, some friends, and co-workers–and there was no rescue from difficulties at the

Marcia Hochstedt was a good person who died rather
too young, but lived a life based on the best of her ideals as she was able, raised
some decent kids, and believed in God, John Wesley, Brooks Robinson, and the Democrats.  She played by the rules.  

Thanks, Mom.  I hope there is baseball–with no Yankees–in heaven.  

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