Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday Christian

I know where grief lives inside my body.  I can put my hand over the spot.  It’s below my left breast, pretty much where I place my hand to say the pledge of allegiance.  Grief moved in there years ago when I lost my father.  It took hold of me and squeezed.  It hurt.  My heart hurt.  I lay on the floor, gasping, and holding my chest, and I thought, “This is what it feels like.”  Since that introduction, grief wakes up in the face of all sorts of sad events:  when loved ones die, when good friends lose a child, when we say goodbye to a beloved pet.  That spot in my heart stabs and aches.  It stabs and aches on Good Friday.

People say that there are “Good Friday Christians” and “Easter Sunday Christians”.  I am a “Good Friday Christian”.  The grief I carry in my heart needs an outlet, and that outlet is the passion of Christ and the veneration of the cross.  For me, without that, the rest of the Christian faith would be just false cheer and whistling past a graveyard.  It would be hope and rainbows and magic promises.  Good Friday is when sh*t gets real.

Good Friday is when we all cry “Crucify Him!”  It is when our righteous indignation and anger result in the death of God.  We participate in the passion to remind us that we, too, are capable of horrible acts.  We participate in the story so we recognize our own tendency to screw things up, to miss the mark, and to hurt ourselves and others.  And we grieve.  We grieve for our own brokenness and the pain that it has wrought in our lives.  But we are not alone in our grief.  We listen to the Lord, crucified by his own people, by our own selves, cry out in pain, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me!”  And that is when the grief in my heart joins the love of God.

God sees me while I sit and worship, while I sing, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”  God sees me as I kiss the wooden feet of Jesus on the cross.  It isn’t easy to be seen as I am and still be loved.  It means I have to be honest about my failures and forgive myself for them.  And, as I forgive myself, I must forgive those who also failed me.  It means that the universal, catholic love and grace of God that sees me as I am and still loves me, also loves every other person, just as they are.  For that sacrifice was made for each and every individual one of us, just as we are.  We all cried “Crucify” and we are all loved.

As I sit in the darkened, bare church, listening to the Gospel reading, I am overcome, again and again. In the image of Jesus’s final sacrifice for all of mankind, my grief and the grief of the world is bound by love.  God-made-man, the divine incarnate, gave up his power to the evil of the world, laid down his life in scandalous surrender, crying out for his God.  Within in this exquisite pain, there is no rationalization, no mental gymnastics, no search for meaning.   I weep, my throat closes up, and my heart breaks open, one more time.  The only real thought in my head is, “make me worthy of this sacrifice, Jesus.”  Jesus saved me, with all my pettiness, selfishness, and brokenness.  I long to be worthy of the immense gift of God’s love.  As I sit crying in the dark, God holds me in my grief, stitching my scars together with love.

I know where grief lives inside my body.  It lives in my heart, surrounded by love.

Blessed Good Friday.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The tyranny of politeness--no more "walk up not out"

Make new friends.  Mix it up and sit with someone at lunch.  

All of these are great ideas for educators and parents to instill in their children.  As a middle school teacher and a parent of three, I want my students and my children to be kind and respectful to everyone.  I want them to include others, to stand up to bullies, and to befriend those who do not have friends.  I try to lead by example and encourage these values and behaviors every day at school and at home.  But there is something insidious about implying that by being polite to others, we could stop gun violence.  There is something offensive about telling kids to be nice to people so they don’t get shot.

I wasn’t a very friendly student in high school.  I had a small group of friends and I enjoyed school and learning.  But, I was also an introverted, intellectual snob who snubbed most of the social events and structures.  I played the french horn, for God’s sake.  I wore t-shirts with wolves on them.  I sneered at cheerleaders.  I joked that the football players must barely have IQs of 85.  I read Vonnegut and Shakespeare and I thought people who did not must be vapid, ignorant cretins.  I’m pretty sure I was a pain-in-the-ass to some and invisible to most.  I wasn’t very angry and I certainly wasn’t violent.  But, I really, really would’ve detested being told to “walk up” to someone.

If the homecoming queen or quarterback had sat down at my lunch table, I would have been appalled.  I didn’t mind working together on group projects or biology labs, but why on earth would I want to spend my precious leisure time with people who seemed to have nothing in common with me?  I pretty much felt I was better than most people--smarter, funnier, more ironic.  I’m not proud of how I behaved.  I know I missed out on some wonderful people by closing myself off to them.   But, if my high school had held a “mix-it-up day”, I would have gagged on my own derision.  I didn’t need forced politeness to navigate my high school years.

What I did need, and what I received from my teachers and certain peers, were a few authentic relationships.  I was trying so hard to find myself that I made it hard for others to find me.  I had a few teachers who truly saw me, who noticed when I was reading Vonnegut, and invited literary criticism, who must have ignored my sneers enough to teach me some empathy through literature and friendship.  I had a few friends who accepted me, who indulged my sense of irony, and who seemed to think my snarky attitude was endearing (or at least harmless).  Through my high school years, I was fortunate to find a few people who listened when I spoke, challenged my arguments, reinforced my endeavors, and recognized my thinking.  I am very doubtful that those kinds of relationships would be built by a “walk up not out” day.

Of course, the truth is, I was in no danger of shooting up a school.  I was a mostly well-adjusted teenager with a strong nuclear family and strong academic motivation.  But, I wasn’t nice, not very often, not really.  And, in the early 1990s, my “not-niceness” was a luxury.  No one bothered me or tried to cheer me up or make me more polite.  No one sent me a message that if I wasn’t nice to the quiet kid in the corner, I might get shot.  No one sent me a message that they were being nice to me because I WAS the quiet kid in the corner, and they were afraid that I was going to shoot them.  I had the space and the freedom to be as cranky as my teenage self desired.  

When I go to work, I spend my energy noticing students’ thoughts, their reactions, and their individual emotions.  I give them space to be angry, or surly, or sarcastic.  I don’t urge them to all be friends, or to even be friendly.  Some days, that just doesn’t work.  I do try to truly SEE them, as I was truly seen by a few people during my formative years.  I do this because it was transformational to me and I hope it will transform others.  I don’t do it in order to prevent another school shooting.

Let’s be honest about the fact that our kids aren’t safe.  Let’s stop telling them to solve their own problems by sitting with new kids at lunch.  Let’s build infrastructure in struggling schools, so teachers have time and energy to actually make relationships with students and nurture them.    Let’s start having real, problem-solving conversations about common sense laws to reduce the number of guns.  Let’s stop the tyranny of politeness and start protecting our children.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Unspeakable Tragedy"--One More Shooting

 Sometimes we become numb to horror.  We forget what words mean because we hear them so frequently.  Yesterday, someone walked into a school filled with children and shot them.  Yesterday, people died doing what I do every day, teaching kids.  Yesterday, when the article came over my newsfeed about a school shooting, the most shocking part was my lack of shock.  As I sat at my desk, in my classroom, in my hallway, just like other teachers who were being gunned down that day, I thought, “Oh that’s sad.  Another one…”  Most of my loved ones spend their day in schools--my husband, my children, my extended family, my best friends.  Any one of them could have been in that school with that shooter.  And I just went on with my day.

This morning, as our principal announced a staff meeting at 8:00, I wasn’t affected by the idea that we were going to discuss how to keep ourselves and our students safe from a gunman.  I was more annoyed that I had to change my agenda for the curriculum meeting that was just canceled. Here we go again, I thought.  Review the crisis plan and update the information.  When these horrific events happen, we all say the same words, “unspeakable tragedy”, again and again.  Yes, it is unspeakable.  Because it happens so frequently that we don’t even bother to speak of it anymore.  It happens so often that we just click past the images of one more every-day tragedy.

When did mass murder become commonplace?  When did the photos of traumatized children and grief-stricken parents become familiar?  When did lock-down drills and crisis plans become the “new normal” for school employees?  Why on earth wasn’t I incensed by the idea that everyone I love could die just because they were doing their daily job.  Why on earth wasn’t I enraged that my place of work became a battlefield?

I didn’t wake up until a friend spoke up during the meeting.  When I heard her impassioned plea, “What are we (the administration, the school board, and the teachers) going to DO about this?”  The quiver in her voice broke through my nonchalance and empowered my impotence.  I do not know what to do.  But I do know that something must be done.  I cannot accept that there is nothing we can do to stop children dying in their places of learning.  

I do not know the answer.  I have heard suggestions:  safer school buildings, more money for security to guard our greatest resource, our children, mental health screening and support for those who need it, programs to build kindness and empathy among our youth so no one feels the need for violence, sensible gun laws can be enforced effectively.  I do not know the answer, but I cannot stop asking the question.

I am no longer numb.  I am enraged and empowered.  I do not want to speak of one more "unspeakable tragedy" of children murdered while they learn.  I want to stop speaking of it and begin making change.

Please leave a comment with an idea of some action to take.  I am listening...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Celebrate whiteness--What are you talking about?

The best lessons surprise me and shock me into a new understanding. Recently, I heard something surprising from Dr. Felicia LaBoy, a vibrant, inspiring African-American minister, during an anti-racism workshop, “You white people, lay down the guilt.  God made you white.  Celebrate being white.  It is part of the incarnation that made you the way you are.”

Wait, what? I was confused.  Celebrate being white?  When for years, I have been learning about systemic racism and white privilege?  When my white ancestors enslaved, oppressed, and committed genocide upon people of color for hundreds of years?  When my “white brother and sisters” are protesting the removal of Confederate statues with violence and vitriol?  Whiteness seems to only signify oppression and racism.  Why on earth would I celebrate that?

As I let her words soak into my brain, maybe I understood her point just a little.  For whatever God-only-knows reason, I was born with white and middle-class, with pale skin and blue eyes and parents who owned a home and had steady jobs.  We weren’t rich and we weren’t highly educated.  I grew up in Appalachia, the southeast corner of Ohio, and we struggled to pay bills just like every other family I knew.  I was the first person in my immediate family to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.  We were just regular, white people, trying to make a living.  Why should I celebrate?

Maybe celebrating whiteness doesn’t mean celebrating racism.  Maybe it means acknowledging in a positive way the gifts of privilege and the culture that shaped me.  I grew up feeling safe and respected--at home, at school, at work.  Teachers understood my family dynamics, because they were similar to their own.  Police treated me kindly when they dealt with me, because I was not seen as a threat.  Most of my friends shared some version of my Christian faith and celebrated similar holidays.  I grew up feeling attractive and intelligent.  I had strong role positive role models.  People treated me as if they expected me to achieve.  They listened when I spoke, if I spoke respectfully and intelligently.  I learned that I had something valuable to contribute to a conversation. I grew up confident, self-assured, and eager to try new adventures. These are gifts.  They are gifts that every child should have, but every child does NOT.  But, maybe I can learn to acknowledge those gifts, even as I work to lay the privilege aside.

The gift of my whiteness taught me that if I work hard and treat others with respect, I can achieve success in life.  That was a gift and it served me well.  I know now that others have to work much harder than I did to get half as far.  I know now that others had to learn to endure hatred and bigotry with nonviolence.  I can celebrate the lessons I learned from my loving family and still acknowledge the patent inequity of society.  Understanding privilege causes me to understand the embarrassment of riches that has created my life.  

If I can celebrate what makes me who I am, and own my whiteness, with all the gifts that it brings, maybe I can celebrate others.  Maybe when I acknowledge the gifts of privilege, I can work for an equitable society, where the gifts of respect, tolerance, and understanding are truly given to all.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Trinity, Community, and Forgiveness

Sometimes God smacks me in the head--literally smacks me in the head.  Like when I am planning a carefully crafted, passive-aggressive comment to a person who I am trying to forgive, and I literally walk into a wall.  I walk into a wall with such force that it brings tears to my eyes and raises a welt on my forehead.  In those moments, I wonder why I am so hard-headed that I keep missing the point.  I keep missing the point that God is calling us to forgive each other and to live in community with each other, not to speak with passive-aggressive words, but to speak the truth from my heart.

Recently, I heard a sermon on the Trinity and something struck me (not literally struck me, like the wall, but figuratively struck my thoughts).  God is a community in godself.  God is not one being with one will and one thought.  God is the blessed three-in-one.  God is a trinity of three beings, bound together by love.  If we are made in God’s image, perhaps that means not that we physically look like God, but that we are designed to act like God.  We are designed to live as a community, not one being with one will and one thought, but multiple beings, bound together in love.  We are not like God when we are alone in our plans and priorities, when we only think of ourselves, or when we put our own needs above others.  We are like God when we work with each other in love.  

That doesn’t mean we all agree.  In the doctrine of the Trinity, we could assume that three separate and equal beings have separate minds and separate wills.  In our community, we should expect to disagree, sometimes with passion and anger.  When we disagree, we are called to behave like God.  We are called to confront each other honestly and to hold each other accountable.  The best example for behaving like God in human form is Jesus.  From the gospels, we have examples of Jesus.  We have examples of Jesus speaking for those on the margins of society, speaking for inclusion and love for all, speaking for standing up for the least of these.  We have examples of Jesus challenging his followers to greater learning and greater sacrifice.  We have examples of Jesus standing up to the forces of oppression and violence.  We have examples of Jesus healing people, forgiving sins, and holding people accountable for their actions.  We do not have examples of Jesus writing passive-aggressive emails, or gossiping, or dissembling in the face of a bully.  

In moments of crisis, often I am torn between forgiving those who have caused pain and standing up for those who were hurt.  If I allow those who have caused pain back into my life in order to forgive them, am I betraying my friends whom they have hurt?  I am afraid that I don’t have the strength and the wisdom.  How will I know when to confront and when to forgive?  How will I walk in love with my fellow Christians and still stand up to bad behavior?  How does a loving community deal with conflict and anger?  We will all make mistakes, sometimes really big mistakes.  We all need to practice forgiveness, and we all need to hold each other accountable to act in love.  It is not easy and I do not know the way forward most of the time.

These are not new words and new ideas.  Christians have been speaking and preaching the path of love for centuries.  And we still screw it up.  Some people, it seems, have the best of intentions but lack the clarity and discipline to enact their loving plans.  Some people, it seems, honestly desire to sow conflict rather than collaboration.  Some people, it seems, just plain wear us out with their mistakes, intentional or not.  Some people, it seems, (all of us) just keep screwing it up, again and again and again.  So, we preach it again and again and again and we try to learn to forgive.  We screw it up and we preach and we listen and we try to come together one more time, even if it seems that it won’t work or that we don’t have the strength.  We try forgiveness because it is the hardest thing, but the only thing that works.

As God taught me by smacking me in the head, the path forward is NOT through passive-aggressive words and gossip.  The path forward into love is to through direct, honest, and vulnerable conversation. God, please give me the strength and the wisdom to walk the path.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Called and Carried Together

An open letter to my friends at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, who are entering a period of transition. And to any other communities in similar situations.

Growth and change don’t come easy.  If they did, we wouldn’t learn anything.  We learn through stretching ourselves, trying new things, reflecting back on the progress, and sticking with the practice.  We learn the most when we are just a little bit uncomfortable.  St. Ignatius has an incredible opportunity for growth, change, and learning right now.  We have a chance to reflect on where we come from, who we are, and who we want to be in the future.

We now face an interesting time in our church history, a time of transition.  We have just said good-bye to our beloved priest and are beginning to find our way forward to a new vision.  We are in a moment where we remember our call.  What was it that brought us to St. Ignatius:  our family, a friendship, theological questions, or a longing for an inclusive, loving community?  Does that call still exist for us?  I believe it does.  We are still a committed group of people living out our mission as the body of Christ in the world.

During the anti-racism training at St. Ignatius, we learned a phrase, “called and carried”.  We learned that we were called into the work by the spirit and carried forward by the spirit.  That idea has stuck with me, especially in relation to St. Ignatius.  All of us were called here by one way or another--by our family, by our faith, by our friends.  Some of us were called by a baptism, a wedding, or a Pokemon hotspot.  The spirit called us into this community and carried us forward in the work of the kingdom.  When I say “spirit”, I mean the people of St. Ignatius.  We are the earthly work of the Holy Spirit, and we call each other and carry each other together.

Five years ago, when I first looked up St. Ignatius’s website, I noticed a bunch of pictures of a bunch of activities.  I was looking for a church with a traditional, high-church liturgy and a commitment to ministry and social justice.  I had read about the universal, catholic grace of Christ and I wanted to join the party.  On the website, I saw a vibrant community of people doing live nativity scenes, turkey dinners, rummage sales.  I thought, “Those people look like they really like each other.”  I began  looking for a church because of my theology and a longing for Christ, but the images of people gathering together in a loving community called me into St. Ignatius.
We challenge and we carry each other in this mission.   We say things like, “Hey, let’s create an incredible live-nativity program.  Let’s get some camels!”  “Hey, let’s get Nadia Bolz-Weber (a famous theologian and author) to speak at our church!” “Hey, let’s build a resale shop!”  and “Hey, let’s expand our resale shop and make it bigger and better!”  We call to each other and inspire each other to move forward with the Holy Spirit.  And then we carry each other during the work.  We lean on each other, we confide in each other, and we work with each other.

As we embark on the journey of self-reflection and discovery in this community, we will remember what called us here and preserve it.  We will continue to challenge each other and to carry each other through those challenges.  We are a church that builds barns, stages live nativities, and creates resale shops.  We are a church that flies proudly a symbol of inclusion for all, that stands up for those in need.  We are a church that grows together, learns together, and loves each other.  We are called and carried into this work and, together, we will not abandon it.

Blessings to all of you in the time of growth and change.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tattered and Torn and Holy

Last May, my church, St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, took a risk.  We posted a bold symbol of love.  We staked our claim for rights for inclusion of ALL.  We flew a rainbow flag from our church flagpole. This week, we took the flag down.  It had grown a little weather-beaten and tattered.  It had done it’s job and earned a retirement.  A new, crisp, bright rainbow flag stepped in to do the job.

Our old flag bears the scars of lessons learned.  It flew proudly from our flagpole, standing up for those who needed a symbol of inclusion.  It bore the wind and the rain and the sun.  It bore our conflict, our pride, and our anger.  It bore all faithfully and now it is tattered and torn, but flying high and still standing for inclusion and love.  Our flag is tattered and torn and beautiful, like the life of a community.  Living into the kingdom of love isn’t always easy.  Living with each other in community and making our way forward will rip at our seams and fade our colors from time to time.

We can see the ups and downs of community in our gospel lessons, especially during Holy week.  In one week, we traverse the highs and the lows of the human condition, just like in our communities and in our lives.  St. Ignatius put the flag up on a “Palm Sunday” kind of day.  We put it up in a moment of glory, proud to stand for those we love.  Along the way, we had some “Good Friday” and “Holy Saturday” kind of moments. We had some times of conflict, of doubt, of anger, of frustration.  We had some days where we hurt each other, failed to listen, failed to care.  We had some days where we put own own needs before those of others.  We also had some beautiful moments of reconciliation and understanding.  Our lives swing between selfishness and sacrifice, between conflict and consideration because we are people--people flawed and beautiful, making our way forward, struggling in love.

This Holy week, we realize the truth once again, year after year.  We don’t worship a pretty God, all nice and pleasant and clean and whole.  We worship Jesus of Nazareth, a God that sacrifices himself to the basest, ugliest natures of human nature.  We worship the Trinitarian God, a God who lets our hate kill him so he can kill our hate.  We worship a God who lets all our brokenness into himself and makes us whole.  We worship a God that is, like our rainbow flag, and like ourselves, tattered and torn and wholly holy.