Rites of Passage

“I never wanted any season but spring.” Judith Viorst, Necessary Losses

A passage can be a secret underground tunnel or a dark alley from one location to another. Walking out your front door to your neighbor’s front porch is not much of a passage. A passage is not a leisurely afternoon stroll in the park. Passages are Big Deals. There is something thorny or problematic about a passage. A passage can be a difficult river or sea route: The Northwest Passage. Passages are challenging.

Anthropologists use the idea of “rites of passage” to describe events that mark important transitions in an individual’s life.

High school graduation recognizes the end of one period of life and the beginning of another. Graduation probably involves leaving a familiar home and getting a real job.

A wedding ceremony is important, ultimately, not because of the joy and celebration involved, but because two people from different families are coming together to make a new family. That’s hard work.

We can talk about funerals being a “celebration of life” all day every day, but a funeral marks someone’s death and departure from this life. Tomorrow, when we wake up, our loved one will be gone. Our life will be altered.

In Islam, completing the Hajj, and in Christianity, completing a pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago, are significant rites of passage.

Many primitive cultures made sure adolescents were prepared for adult living by sending them on some sort of vision quest, requiring they live alone for a few days, or a few weeks, facing their demons and a maybe a few rattlesnakes. A lot of American teenagers grew up when they faced their first drill sergeant during basic training for the military.

Rites of passages differ from culture to culture and generation to generation. They can vary for men and women. A ritual for a teenager (e.g., a walkabout in Australia) will look nothing like a retirement dinner for an older person in America.

What is consistent is that rites of passage mark transitions, which means change! Usually, life before the passage will look different than life later. Life may be better, or it may be worse, but it will be different. A butterfly and a cocoon appear to have little in common, but both are vital creatures representing two expressions of the same being. Both butterfly and caterpillar are required for the cycle of life to be complete.

We may want our transitions to be seamless and painless, but rituals that mark our transitions remind us there is a “before” and an “after.” We don’t always get to choose what the “after” will look like.

Rites of passage let us know that others in our culture have been there before us.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Sally and I have a long history of taking in strays—the human kind. I’m referring to a scale grander than hosting friends and family in our guest room overnight or for half a week.

Over the years, we’ve opened our doors to a wide assortment of total strangers for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years.  I’m not counting the dozens of teenagers who, it seems, half-lived at our house while Jenna and Julie were growing up. And I’m not counting Fuzzy, who is a category all his own.

An early failure was in response to a campaign here in South Carolina that “Runaway Kids Don’t Belong in Jail.” Our state’s unfortunate response to children (under age 16) who were homeless was to incarcerate them. We agreed to keep one or two. Some stuff got stolen. The program failed.

Another early failure was a couple, somehow related to our church in Batesburg. They had difficulty with life in general and were kicked out of their apartment. They stayed with us a few weeks, and then moved on to whatever was next for them.

Then came a series of memorable successes where a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a friend of a family member had a specific short term need, often having something to do with a local college. I don’t remember the exact chronology, but I’m glad each of these good souls came into our life:

Jennifer Thrailkill Seigler babysat for Jenna and Julie when we lived in Batesburg. Sally taught Jennifer sixth grade math. When we moved to Columbia, Jennifer said she would come live with us while she was in school. She did. She stayed for a couple of years and became a heart x-ray technician.

Second cousin, once removed, Becky Cremer Taylor (daughter of first cousin Lola) used our house as a retreat from her college dormitory a few times during her four years at Presbyterian college.

Christen Green Kinard (Sissi) also retreated with us during her college years. But since Sissi’s parents were overseas, in Belgium, where we had become friends, we became surrogate parents. It would be hard to say when retreating with us stopped and living with us started. Here is what Sissi wrote on Facebook yesterday after we went to her Dad’s 60th birthday party:

  • “I am one of Marion and Sally’s many strays. They took me in when things were rough in college, fed me expensive cheese regularly, woke me up too early on the weekends and just generally loved me when I was hardest to love. Thank you, both, for being our family. We love you.” (Note: Sissi was never hard to love.)

Jenny Johnson Rooks, daughter of J.J. Johnson, almost a relative (through my beloved cousin Patsy) stayed with us, if I remember correctly, once a week for a year or two while she became a nurse. Who knows when we’ll need the services of these medical caregivers?

Ryan Payne, a friend of our niece’s (Hope Craig) husband, came for a continuing education course, and stayed a while working on his teaching credentials.

Irina Pevzner stayed with us a couple of nights each week for a few years while working on her Ph.D. in piano performance at USC. She got it! She is the Director of the Charleston Academy of Music. We’ve gone to Spoleto a few times to hear her perform. I officiated at her wedding.

Our most recent adoptee is Ramin Pajoumshariati, from Iran, on a post-doctoral fellowship at USC. Ramin only stayed at our house a couple of weeks. I helped him find a permanent place to stay and Kathwood Baptist helped furnish his apartment. His bride, Kimia Yavari, a medical doctor, arrived a year later. She and Ramin have won our hearts. We are trying to help them get Green Cards. Keep them in your prayers.

Sally and I agree that we have received far more from these strays than we have given. They have blessed us beyond words.

Marion (and Sally) Aldridge

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Familiar

South Carolina is home. I loved my half-year in New Hampshire: new sights, new experiences and new friends. Moose. Live Free or Die. Minus seventeen degrees one Sunday. I enjoyed being close to my daughter Julie and her husband Tom for six months. I grew fond of the people at Trinity Baptist Church of Hanover.

But I’m clear, even in 102-degree heat, I love my home state and my home.

I believe in travel, and I believe in getting to know other cultures, other histories, and other ways of thinking.

But I missed the familiar. I missed my wife Sally and my cat Caesar. I missed Sunday night supper at our house with my daughter Jenna, her husband Thorne, and my grandson Lake. I missed old friends who live near enough to see frequently. I missed my church. I missed our back porch and Sally’s garden. I missed the American flag in front of our house (occasionally replaced by a Tiger Paw flag). I missed being surrounded by my books. I missed walking in our neighborhood. I missed the pictures on the wall of my study and the mementos I’ve collected from around the world. I missed our shower. I even missed our dishwasher.

The familiar is seductive. It’s tempting to stay there and never leave, never experience the unfamiliar. I’m glad I resisted the comfort of my nest and ventured out.

Even more, I’m glad to be home.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God Talk in New Hampshire

Throughout my life, religious people who have over-worded the world with pious and pompous phrases have surrounded me:

  • Praise the Lord.
  • Are you saved?
  • The Lord told me…
  • I’ll pray for you.
  • The Bible says…

Generally, I attempt to avoid the glib way many Christians bless each other’s hearts. I am a person of faith, but I’ve heard too many clichés for too many years to believe half of them. Make that a tenth of them. Even an alcoholic in the middle of a full-blown drunk can recite devout refrains. Meaningless, empty words.

So, I try to be careful when it comes to God-talk.

But it’s impossible for me to speak of my six months as an Interim Pastor in New Hampshire without resorting to spiritual language.

Of course, we could credit some of what transpired simply to good people doing good work:

  • A successful SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Discovering our niche: Trinity is a small, diverse, progressive church, in the Baptist tradition, where Black Lives Matter, where Women Matter, where all are welcome and can serve in any leadership capacity. As historic Baptists who are both evangelical and ecumenical, we believe in the individual’s freedom and the church’s freedom to explore and interpret scripture independent of any outside authority.
  • Effective networking set in motion by my predecessors, Ken and Sandy Hale
  • Selecting a pastor search committee, preparing a job description for a new pastor, and establishing a budget
  • Interviewing prospective pastors by Skype
  • Surviving a Minus Seventeen Degree (-17 F) Sunday morning
  • Surviving several setbacks in the course of six months. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to believe we experienced only successes during my tenure in New Hampshire. There were also failures. A quotation from my journal for Monday, April 10: “By human standards, the worst day in church since I’ve been here. No heat again. The kitchen and boiler room were flooded from a leak in the pipes (not the boiler). Three people in church.”
  • Discovering that a Korean Presbyterian Church needed a place to worship and Trinity needed a tenant to help us with our basic building upkeep expenses

Yet, stuff happened for which a spiritual explanation makes sense, at least to me—pure grace, nothing we deserved because of hard work or shrewd insights.

My last Sunday, June 19, is an example. A family of four strangers entered our small congregation, putting a dozen people in the pews. The young couple was looking for a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church. The husband is beginning a Pediatric residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (meaning, they will be in Hanover for three years) and the wife attended McAfee Seminary, a CBF-affiliated school (meaning, she knows what she was looking for in a church).

Thank you, Jesus.

Another example: We raised $15,000 for a new furnace (Thanks to many of you reading this!) The God-part of that equation, and I’ve seen this happen dozens of times in my career, is how close that number is to our actual need. The new furnace costs $18,000. We might have raised $1000 or $5000, but people gave 83% of what we needed. As a Christian, I love those kinds of coincidences. You can call it Karma, or Dumb Luck, and that won’t bother me a bit. But, I hope you’ve forgive me if I say,

Thank you, Jesus!

Final example: Within six months of the Hale’s retirement, we called Andy Sutton to be our next pastor.

Praise the Lord!

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lamentations # 2: Orlando and the Complexity of Life

“In the immediate aftermath of a horrendous event like the massacre in Orlando, taking a breath and offering prayers for the victims and their families and for our country generally is the right thing to do. Reacting quickly and thoughtlessly can produce intemperate responses with unintended negative consequences. Not speaking up can do so too.” George Mason, pastor of the Wiltshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas

The title of this blog is enough to put off most people. We want simple and immediate answers.

If you’re a cop, your single assignment is to stop a shooter. If you’re an emergency room doctor, your job is to stop the bleeding—literally. But even straightforward situations can become complex quickly.

Most of us have the privilege of reflection—What caused this tragedy in Orlando? Why did Omar Mateen kill 49 people in cold blood? How do we respond? What can we do to stop this from happening again? Is there a “take away” from which we can learn?

I’ve seen at least nine different themes emerge over the past few days.

  • First responders. Thank God for police, firefighters, EMT, nurses, physicians and others who must DO something immediately in the face of such tragedy.
  • Grief and Anxiety. Of course, the families and friends of those killed or wounded are directly affected. But millions who knew none of the victims are also shaken. I have already posted a blog about Lamentation: https://marionaldridge.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/lamentation/
  • Mental illness. In a radio interview with the shooter’s former wife, she said Omar Mateen was bi-polar.
  • The LBGT community. The Pulse nightclub was apparently not chosen randomly, but specifically because it catered to a gay clientele.
  • The Latino community. The men and women at the club on Saturday night were largely Latino.
  • Islamic extremism. The shooter was, by all accounts, a self-radicalized Muslim.
  • Gun Control. Would this have happened if assault rifles were more difficult to purchase?
  • God: Some people, because of bad theology, will think God had some purpose in this atrocity. Others will declare such horrific acts prove there is no God. Others will go to a church, temple, or synagogue looking for solace.
  • Anger is a part of grief. If these repeated attacks on innocent people don’t anger us, we are already dead.

Events such as this may be like a Rorschach test to which we bring our own agendas. The best politicians, and the citizens who elect them, are those who take the long view and consider all these narratives (and others) in fashioning a meaningful response. It’s bad enough when an extremist has an assault weapon. It’s even worse when an extremist has an army at his or her disposal.

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a vigil in memory of the victims in Orlando and in solidarity with the unnamed victims around the world—peace-loving Muslims, the LBGT community, the mentally ill. The list is too long, but this is my place to start. I will try to be wiser, more prayerful, and a more hopeful, more faithful, more loving Christian.

“Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


We feel helpless to respond meaningfully to the tragedy in Orlando. What to do? What to say?

I went to a vigil this evening on the Dartmouth Green and was reminded that people of faith have a long history of lamenting.

Of course.

Life doesn’t always happen the way we want it to. There’s nothing I can fix in Orlando. As the Dartmouth chaplain, Nancy Vogele, said, “We are without platitudes.”

This was not a time for political rhetoric. It was a time of grief. A Muslim student read from the Quran, “We are all created from one soul,” then prayed for the victims and families of victims. Another person reminded us that “Loud tragedy symbolizes thousands of silent tragedies,” testifying to the pain of men and women who have been shunned or marginalized because of their faith or their sexual orientation or because of their skin color or their accent or whether or not they are handicapped.

“How long, O Lord?”

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turkey Strut (or is it a Turkey Dance?) in New Hampshire

Once winter subsided, the wildlife in New England went, well, wild!

Outside the window that takes up half a wall at the back of the house where I live is a huge field, several acres, surrounded on three sides by New Hampshire woods. I looked all winter for deer or moose back there and saw nothing. Except snow. Lots and lots of snow. Pretty snow. Deep snow.

This morning I saw three deer in the meadow. A couple of days ago, I watched a fox teasing a snake for a half hour.

The best treat this spring was a big ol’ Tom Turkey strutting around for half a day, on Tuesday, May 24, trying to entice his lady love in the direction of romance. I had my journal in front of me. Here are my notes, begun at 7:15 a.m.:

The hen is one-third the size of the tom, and is being shy. My iPhone camera’s not good enough to capture this. His feathers are at full mast, flamboyant. She walked right past him, ignoring him. His plumage wilted. Twenty yards away, she turned, so he strutted some more. She acts as if she’s looking for food, but I’m not sure what food would be in this field of grass and dandelions. Back and forth she goes. His plumage erection goes up when she’s looking, then down. He’s not moving much, but she’s pacing past him, back and forth. Now he’s approaching her and she’s scooting away. Now she moves toward him, now away. This is a dance. Nothing on my schedule today. I can sit here. I was thinking of going to a wildlife center today. I have it in my own backyard.

 Courtship. Now she’s fifty yards from him. They’ve swapped sides of the field. Hopkins wrote of the Hound of Heaven. Maybe sometimes God’s pursuit is more of a dance than a relentless chase. Maybe some people need the hound and some the dance. God gives us space. We move away. God lets us go farther and farther.

 The tom is still there, steadfast, and she’s strutting past him. As an observer, I’m thinking, “Get on with it. Quit this teasing. Do it.”

 Now they appear to be nuzzling each other, but again she backs away. I’ve been watching about thirty minutes, but how long have they been at this? When I first saw them outside this huge window, I went out the front door and tried to sneak around closer for a better look, but even 200-300 yards away, they saw me and retreated into the woods. This was none of my business. This is about them, not about me. Get out of the way, you meddling moron. This is their business, their dance, not yours.

 Tom turkey is patient, more so than I. Is this the turkey trot? I don’t think so, but maybe. The hen’s moved back across the field from him—thirty yards distant. She’s not forgotten he’s there and he’s not forgotten her. He’s mostly still. Sometimes his plumage goes down. When it’s up, he’s tall, the size of a deer or a small man. When she turns in his direction, he puts on the complete show. His tail feathers fashion a sunrise, a massive display of his might: “I’m here when you’re ready.” Now she returns to him. She doesn’t look as small as she did. Has she fluffed out? Now she’s walked past him in the other direction to the edge of the woods. This is a big field. She’s off the grid. Is he concerned? He’s holding his ground. He rotates, watching her.

 I’m watching them, curious. Life is not always, as Tennyson says, “red in tooth and claw.” Sometimes it’s majestic, brown and pink, white and black. Ah, here she comes again. Patience. No hurry. Now, he’s fully erect and struts a few steps toward her, then backs off. She ambles past him again.

 I’ve been here an hour, drinking coffee. How long, O Lord?

 She’s now 150 yards in the other direction, west, my left. They are north of me. The temperature outside is a mild 55 degrees. Now Tom’s moved to the center of the field. I believe she’s ruffled out, enlarged over the course of this courtship. But he’s Big when he displays at full capacity.

 She’s now entered the far left of the field and, for the first time, he’s followed her in that direction.

 I took and made some phone calls. I did some work on my computer.

At an hour and a half, the turkeys are off the field and into the woods to the east, my right. I guess they’re in God’s hands, as if they weren’t all along.

 Back at 1 p.m. after walking. Two toms and one hen now in the field. It’s raining. Nobody is shaking his tail-feathers. What happened in the woods?

 Back at 2:30 p.m. after my nap. Two toms and a hen are still out there.

 4 p.m. A fox came out of the woods and stalked the hen, but he didn’t pounce when he should have, and she flew away. What a day of watching wildlife, and it’s not over.

 5 p.m. The three turkeys are back in the field.

 6:20 p.m. The hen is in the field alone.

 She’s returned to this field almost every day since, and I’ve returned to this window every day since. Maybe it’s enough that this story about turkeys strutting and dancing ends in mystery. What happens next?

What a wonderful world!

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments



NOTE: For a good many years now I have been one of the teachers of the Encouragers Sunday School Class at Trinity Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. I generally teach the first Sunday of the month, but sometimes swap Sundays with another teacher as our schedules dictate. I taught on May 29, 2011, which was in the midst of the Memorial Day weekend. Here were my thoughts then on Memorial Day.

“Before I get into today’s lesson, please allow me to share some personal thoughts and reflections on Memorial Day. In Washington, DC, there is a long V-shaped polished black granite wall. Engraved on that wall are the names of over 58,000 men and women. I share a personal common bond with the people whose names are on that wall. One thing that we have in common is that we all served in the Vietnam War. There are other things that we do not have in common.

You see, the people whose names are on that wall are all dead. I am still alive.

The names are on that wall because those people were killed in the line of duty while doing what their country asked of them. I did what my country asked, but I was not killed. My name, because of the Grace of God, is not on that wall. My name could have easily been there, but it is not, and it never will be.

It is a very humbling experience to contemplate how things would have been different if my name had been engraved on that wall. Karen and I had been married 9 months when I shipped out to Vietnam to serve in the Americal Division of the United States Army. If my name was on that wall Karen would have been a 23 or 24-year-old widow. There would be no daughter Christy and therefore no Baptist minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There would be no son-in-law Shane in my family. There would be no granddaughter Paige and no grandson Reid. There would be no son Jason and therefore no Certified Public Accountant with Ernst & Young. There would be no daughter-in-law Becca in my family. There would be no grandson Jack, nor an expected new arrival in December, 2016.

But, because of the Grace of God, things for us are the way they are. My parents did not have to grieve the loss of their only child in a far-away country. Karen did not have to grieve the loss of her still-young husband in their very young marriage.

That wall in Washington that has over 58,000 names on it represents far more than just dead people. Think of the impacts their deaths had; grieving spouses, parents, siblings, children, former employers, co-workers. Then think of the shattered dreams. I can hardly imagine the far-reaching impact. Think about it. War is still happening as I speak. Pray that it will end soon.

Just as the true meaning of Christmas gets lost with Santa Claus and commercialism, just as the true meaning of Easter gets lost with the Easter Bunny and the latest fashions, the true meaning of Memorial Day gets lost in a 3 or 4-day weekend that friends and families celebrate with cook-outs and recreation. In the midst of our fun-filled days let’s pause to remember all the people killed in the line of duty for their country. Let’s remember the family members and friends. Let’s thank God for the freedoms we enjoy and regretfully take for granted.


Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments

An Audacious Proposal

For a couple of thousand years, human beings have lived tribally: my clan against your clan, my nation against your nation, my religion against your religion.

My proposal: for the next two thousand years, more or less, we live as if all humans were part of the same family, and that we act compassionately toward one another.

I know nothing about statecraft, so I’ll leave that problem to people with different skills than mine. But I do know something about religion.

For instance, I’m aware that the Bible is full, exasperatingly full, of warnings about hanging out with those who are different:

  • “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.” Leviticus 20: 26
  • “Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Ezra 10: 11

Separate. Avoid. Shun. Sometimes, kill.

I’m sure the Koran and other holy texts have similar passages that counsel, “We’re the best! We’re number one. Our way is the right way. Other beliefs are false and dangerous. Stay away from them. Destroy them.” Hindus and Buddhists have also victimized others because of religious intolerance.

In the twenty-first century, the tribe that is threatened is humanity. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to some of the other texts in our holy books:

  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I Corinthians 13: 4-5
  • Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-40
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5: 7-9

 From the sacred texts of Islam:

  • “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (Holy Quran: 2/ 256)
  • “Show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. (Al Quran 4:37)

It’s time for two millennia of zealotry, persecution, argumentation, name-calling, and finger pointing to give way to something different. This doesn’t mean people of faith become less passionate about their beliefs—just less angry and arrogant. I can tell my story and I can listen to your story. Religious people are endlessly talking about repentance and transformation, but it’s funny how it’s always the other person who is expected to change.

Here’s my audacious proposal:

I ask my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and Hindu friends to love, to be kind, to be patient, to be gentle, to be good, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, to be gracious. If we don’t, according to a Jewish rabbi quoted in the Christian scriptures,

 “You may even be found fighting against God.” (Gamaliel, in Acts 5: 39)



Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Death of an Important Person

“Every teenager needs an adult friend.”

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

I believe that. I had a good Mom and Dad, but it is impossible for two people to teach a child everything about life. Other influences are needed. Some even teach us what not to do: an abusive uncle, a racist granddad, a mean neighbor.

My Uncle Tom Hipps died yesterday, in his mid-eighties, my mother’s last living brother. His wife, my Aunt Mildred, died a few years ago. They helped raise me. Our family took summer vacations to Alabama to see Mother’s people. When I was seven, and Edmund was nine, Mother and Dad left us with Uncle Tom (age 25?) and Aunt Mildred for two weeks. We rode the bus back from Birmingham to Augusta—by ourselves. It was a different era.

We repeated that pattern for a dozen years, by which time I stayed the entire summer. My first two summer jobs were in Birmingham. I loved, loved, loved Tom and Mildred and their children, Tommy, Von, Vickie, Terri, and Karen.

Tom and Mildred were very different than Mother and Dad, less strict, more fun-loving. They were more lenient. They prepared different food and had different cleaning routines. Of course, I washed dishes in North Augusta and Birmingham.

Aunt Mildred produced a new baby each year and, in turn, I helped raise their children.

In Birmingham, in addition to different authority figures, I had different next-door neighbors, a different preacher, a different Sunday school teacher, and a different boss on my summer job. I needed models in addition to what I was getting in North Augusta. I discovered aunts and uncles I didn’t like and others I loved dearly. It was good for me to have a choice of ways to be human.

I extend my sympathy to my cousins. I am sorry for your loss. You had two wonderful parents. I will miss them more than you know.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 374 other followers