Dorothy cleaned house and cared for us kids while my parents built up Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Ocean Springs, Miss., in 1966. It wasn't unusual for a white family to hire an African-American housekeeper in those days.
Dorothy ironed things. She ironed shirts, blouses, socks, handkerchiefs. I would sit on the couch and ask Dorothy about the sky and God and firemen as the ironing board squeaked.
One day, with Martin Luther King Jr. preaching love in the face of hate, Dorothy invited me to spend the night at her house. Eight days later, I stepped out of my parents' white Pontiac onto the hot-baked, red clay road that ran in front of Dorothy's home. Even this 4-year-old boy knew it would be different. The people, for example, had dark skin. This made sense because Dorothy had dark skin. They also spoke and moved like Dorothy, differently from me.
Her house was definitely different. My sisters and I lived in an air-conditioned, white brick ranch -style home with a carpeted living-room floor and swing out back. Dorothy's house smelled of old wood and vegetables. The living room in the front, the kitchen in the middle and the bedroom in the back all opened in a single row to let the wind move through.
I saw no ironing boards though. I thought Dorothy's house would be full of ironing boards, with lots of squeaks. But Dorothy was too busy to iron.
All that day and most of the next, I played with Ellis, Dorothy's son. Sometimes Ellis would reach over and rub my cheek because he'd never seen a white person up that close. Late the following afternoon, Ellis had to do chores so I found myself shucking peas in front of Dorothy's gas stove. She put the peas on to boil.
"Dorothy, why do you live in such a little house?" I asked.
Dorothy stirred the peas. The flames beneath them whirred like wind. Finally she drew her back up straight and said, "I have a very fine house. I have three rooms in my house."
Three rooms! I thought. Wow! Much later I realized Dorothy spoke not so much about the number of her rooms as the dignity with which she filled them. Jesus gave her dignity. That's what made her house fine.
Three years before, King had stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and cried, "I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi ... will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."
The South is very different now, and we still have a way to go. But God brought a beginning of that transformation in a three-room shack at a gas stove between a 4-year-old and a housekeeper who believed in Jesus.
That night, as I slept in my air-conditioned, white brick ranch, I had a dream that God's house must have three rooms too. Some nights still, I have the same dream.
This week's front page features:'No one person owns the ministry': (right) Lutherans in Peru 'get' youth ministry.
Also: The Mitten Tree. http://www.thelutheran.org/admin/article_edit.cfm?action=Edit&id=8771
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