between-our-steps-2016-sept-30There is always a project on my weaving loom. I don't sit down to it a lot these days, but I like having something to work on when it rains or snows or I just need to throw a shuttle back and forth, back and forth.

When I was ordained, I decided to make my own stoles--those scarves ministers wear to mark the season and hint toward the meaning of the time of year. For the season before Easter, I chose a fine purple thread.

As I measured out and threaded the warp--the long vertical threads that give the woven piece its fundamental structure--I realized that I had set myself a difficult task. The yarn was single ply. Most of what we buy is two- or three-ply because each strand spun together adds strength to the yarn. But each strand adds thickness too, so a fine cloth requires a simple yarn.

At that time, the loom sat in the living room, which meant that when others were watching TV, I could weave. In her explorations of the house, my two-year-old daughter found the lever that tightens the warp. I never saw her do it, but she must have lifted her hands shoulder high, found that she could push up and make a very interesting clicking sound. She might have had to stand on tippy-toe. She certainly had to reach.

When not weaving, I always leave the warp loose so it doesn't get stretched. The cloth rests. One day I went back to my project, and found it very tight. I kicked myself for forgetting to loosen it off. A day or two later, I went back and found it tight with a couple of broken warp threads. These can be fixed by tying in a new short thread leaving ends that can be woven in with a needle when the project is complete. As I did this, I started to puzzle out what was going on.

Eventually, I figured out who was tightening the warp, and I flicked the part out of the way that makes the lever work. I suppose the next time she tried, it didn't make the interesting sound, and she explored a bit to fix that. A couple more broken threads.

Eventually, she put her whole effort into her project, breaking almost every strand. Her determination shone, and the stole never got any longer than that. Repairing a couple threads was doable, but there was a limit.

The threads that connect us to other people can get stretched and strained. Anger pushes the other person from us making the connection taut. Setting our intention over the needs of another attaches a weight to what holds us together straining the connection. Being ignored or pressed in unfair ways, adds tension to what connects us. In a family, a friendship, a committed relationship, we sometimes put so much pressure on the warp that gives structure to the relationship that the connection breaks.

Watching what has been happening in the United States the last few months reminds me that the fabric of a society can be strained. The kind of disrespect the two presidential candidates are showing each other is part of this: there is a kind of permission to be nasty, to attack opponents.

The individuals who have chosen to set out explosives, to shoot people they don't know, to use a knife against others, have created a climate of fear. When CNN posted a picture of one suspect, it did lead to his capture, but it also meant that people were looking at their phone, then looking up at the people around them, trying to figure out which stranger was the culprit being sought.

The tensions between African Americans and the police are serious. A few problematic shootings, and now each time a police officer approaches a black man, there is tension and fear. Instead of being able to assume innocence, both officer and man expect the worst. When this relationship is that strained, more disastrous consequences will occur.

Relationships can be rebuilt. The strands that give structure to the fabric of society can be re-connected. But as we watch the tears in the fabric of our neighbour's society, we need to watch what we are doing in our country. Where is the warp being tightened to the breaking point around us?
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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