Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
One of the cliche phrases of popular Christianity is that people are created "for community." Putting aside all the religious jargon, what this means is that we instinctively crave tribes with whom we can share ourselves. The internet makes it easier to connect with folks in your particular niche ("You like dressing up as a giant fox? ME TOO!"), but that doesn't mean every particular life scenario is fully represented with a corresponding affinity group. I know that because "I'm in vocational ministry and my husband has committed a sex crime and been incarcerated leaving me alone to raise our child, help" doesn't produce much when you type it into google. There are forums (PrisonTalk being one I used) through which families of offenders can communicate, but my experience with them was that they were more advice/trouble shooting places. I needed someone to grieve with, someone who knew.
But there was no one. So I started to write this blog instead.
Perhaps there is no small portion of narcissism involved in laying bare your grief for the feckless attention of the internet. I won't argue that point with anyone. But beyond a desire to be seen, I also wanted something to exist for the women (or men) who came after me. I hoped that no one would ever have to walk through the valley of shadows that became my home, but I'm too much of a realist about human nature to actually believe that. Vulnerability is a necessary part of faith of my faith, an outgrowth of following a God who cried, suffered, and died in a very public way. So, I publicly named my grief, my struggle, my hurts, my hopes; I published them to be read by ones, tens and very rarely, 100s. Somewhere along the way....
I have become "the one who knows."
Every few months I get a Facebook message, a text message, an email, a phone call, that starts with a version of the statement: "I have friend that you may be able to help..." There are lots of particular life experiences in which I am qualified to "hold court", but I have learned that these conversations are never related to my time in theatre or my days running a Chaotic Good Cleric. 100% of the time, someone's friend is reeling from the life-shattering disaster of sexual misconduct or worse. Just yesterday, I reached out to a friend going through a flat-out horrifying version of my own story. It didn't occur to me to wait for her to message me; I instinctively knew that she needed to hear from someone who knew. I'm almost 6 years out from my ex-husband's arrest, almost 5 years out from his incarceration; my wounds are more scars than bleeding edges. Sometimes I wonder if my story or my experiences need sharing anymore...then I get another message.
Every so often I read an article or think-piece about how narcissistic memoirs are, how my generation overshares experiences and the lack of privacy is contemptible. All I can respond with: "I guess it's nice to always be surrounded by people who totally get you and your struggles." Cultures and generations that have valued privacy over vulnerability have created the false impression that a suffering person is alone in their experience, that no one could possibly understand their grief. But ITS NOT TRUE. So many people go through divorce; so many people suffer through abuse; so many people struggle with fertility; so many people struggle with chronic illnesses and pain. Talking openly about these hardships won't necessarily cure them, but it will help to forge lines of support and commiseration that in and of themselves can be healing. I'm a Board member for the Young ClergyWomen Project, the motto of which is "You Are Not Alone."
Do you hear me?
Perhaps what I am saying is this: Don't be afraid to share your struggles. To name what hurts. To explicitly lay out how life is difficult and not what you expected. I promise you, there is someone out there that needs to hear your words because they are their words too. Whether you are in the fire or finally walking away from the ashes of a dumpster-fire of a life, someone out there needs to know that they are not alone. Here's my challenge: dare to be vulnerable, to show your scars; believe it or not, even a scar can be good news to the walking wounded. It means wounds can be survived.
They can be.
|Image Credit: Ansonlobo|
Friday, March 18, 2016
[I’m a preacher, which means every innocuous occurrence in my life gets connected rapidly to a deeper truth. The plants in my back yard couldn’t expect to escape the same treatment.]
I spend a majority of my time thinking about the Bible, about spirituality, about “growing the church.” For so long, the church was ascendant in our culture; even if the mainline was shrinking, the evangelicals were growing. The statistics seemed to tell a certain story: the church was growing fast. Yay for Us! Except, of course, that’s not really the story. Across all denominations, our numbers are falling. The most recent Pew Research study revealed more folk who identify as religious “nones” and “dones” than any previous generation. It turns out, as America writhes in cultural change, that green was a lie too.
The real demands of being a Christian are pretty intense. Love of God is supposed to transcend loyalty to country. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, even if they’re terrorists. Jesus tells Peter to lay down his sword in the face of those who would kill him, and around these parts a mass shooting makes people buy more guns. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell everything he has, and some faith-hucksters try to sell you a line that God’s love can be most clearly seen in the quality of the car you drive. The discernible fruits of faith are supposed to be love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But self-identifying “Christians” and “evangelicals” cast their votes for a man who advocates for violence, who practices mockery, who refuses to ask for forgiveness, who specializes in threats and xenophobia.
The church has been portraying itself as a healthy tree to everyone it meets, but folks have started walking away because it is apparent that the roots are dead and any growth has less to do with God and more to do with a strange amalgam of political and nationalistic folk-religion. The green is a lie.
The vine that grew on my trees sure made it look like the tree was healthy; it was green, covered in leaves. But it was a vine that produced no fruit; it was a vine that smothered the tree and stole the light and left it’s host rotting. Sure, our churches used to be more full, the illusion of health. But the folks we preached to produced no fruit, or bad fruit. The faith became captive to politics (both sides, if I’m honest about it), and the teachings of Jesus became secondary to claiming the cultural cache of his name. A co-opted faith smothers the tree of God’s church, stealing its life and causing it to rot. I’m not always sure we should mourn the closing of another church. There’s a high possibility that church had been smothered to death years before.
I cut down lots of those vines yesterday, and today I’ll continue to do so. Sometimes the vines are as thick as my wrists, a twisted bunch of growth. Many of those vines are dead, the new growths wrapping around the dry husks of last season’s menace. Some of the trees that I’m trying to uncover are too far gone, already dead. But the tree that I set free yesterday? It has a chance now.
There is much greenery in our church that is lie. But if we are willing to put our gloves on, and start tearing down that which is killing us? We can live. The tree in my yard will testify to that.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Last night, G fell asleep while I read, so I put down the book, picked him up and carried him to his room. There's a full length mirror on the wall next to G's bedroom door, so I saw myself and realized how big he was. Having a child is a bit like living with a seed that you're waiting to see spring out of it's loam. You stop watching because the wait is so long and then suddenly, they unfurl themselves. He's almost 6, missing his front teeth, learning to read, his body seemingly as long as mine. All of that rushed through my brain as a I glanced in the mirror, but stronger than all of those thoughts was one that stood out like scarlet on snow:
I'm his only parent.
That thought had nothing to do with grief and everything to do with anger.
I've been there for every late night fever; I was the one to teach him how to dress himself; I am the one who helps him learn sight words; I am the one who packs his lunches; I am the one who teaches him about God. Now Gene is alongside me, teaching responsibility, respect, and how to use a hammer. G has started to express his frustration with having a two parent household, with the idea that two grownups guide his growing up. I understand his frustration. For all his memory, I've been his only parent.
Every month he spends a weekend with his grandparents during which he visits his Dad. Every week his father calls and I pass G the Iphone to talk to him. Cliff tells him that he loves him, and I believe that he does as much as he can. But robust anger always simmers beneath the placid lake of my inner life, because this love G's father has for him has is not centered in presence. My son doesn't even know what his father's hands feel like because it has been almost 5 years since his dad has been allowed to touch him. Cliff is my son's father, but he isn't G's parent. I'm sure he mourns that absence; I imagine more than anything else, Cliff's inability to be a father is the greatest punishment he has to accept. But the truth remains that whenever my son has a need, a problem, a joy, a loss, a crisis, only I can truly be present for him.
Of the two who chose to create him, only I can carry my son to his bed.
Do I want my son to realize how different his life is from other children his same age? He still lives a a remarkably privileged life; his father's sins failed to destroy us like they could have if my support systems had not been as strong. I am currently winning the battle within myself that occurs every time I hear G's dad tell him that he loves him. I do not comment, I do not criticize, I do not seek to define what that word could possibly mean in G's life. But it is still a battle I fight every day; do I want G to grow up thinking that Fathers can love without being an active part of their children's waking and sleeping? Do I want him to equate love with absence? No. Of course not. But do I want to teach him that love can flourish even in the midst of failure, sin, and consequence? Yes. Of course.
That's what Aslan teaches Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Edmund's betrayal carries incredible consequence, but the deep magic that is love can even overcome the wholly corrupted. Maybe there is deep magic in the love spoken between phone receivers hundreds of miles apart; maybe there is deep magic in the love shared across thick glass in a prison visitation center. I certainly feel the deep magic of love wend itself around me as I gaze upon the open mouthed snoring of my son in the moment before I get him up for school every morning. Maybe by holding my silence when words of love are shared between my son and his incarcerated father, I am allowing God to do the deep magic that will be the only thing that heals Cliff's soul.
It's hard to know. But while I wait for the knowledge to come (or not), I'll keep carrying my son to his bed. Until, of course, he gets too big to be carried.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
In the midst of all the anger and confusion in the world, this small poem came across my newsfeed:
Monday, November 16, 2015
Tragedy didn't used to make me feel so fragile. Before you were born, my universe was tightly knit up within my own body. But you exist, a vibrant chaotic life outside of the confines of my arms, and tragedy always makes me zero in on you. When Russian planes crash, I am breathless at the thought of parents and children separated from each other forever. When bombs explode, I think of the funerals marked with tiny coffins. When Twitter (it was a thing when you were little) explodes in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, my overactive imagination creates nightmare scenarios flavored by current events. What if, while we were getting ice cream, while we were at an arena, while we were walking as a family, the worst happened?
And then, I feel the guilt of a voyeur because my panic and imagined grief are pale shadows to the real loss that thousands and thousands of families are actually living through. You are alive, sleeping safely in your bed, dutifully doing your homework. Too often grownups use the tragedies of other people to soothe ourselves, so we can say "I'm so thankful we AREN'T....". I'm sorry for that.
I think this is the most difficult part of being your mom: I am audaciously aware of how tenuous our lives truly are. I have a duty to raise you into the reality of this world, but the temptation is so great to shield you from the evil of humankind. I could so easily turn your attention away from the struggles of nations, the moral bankruptcy of politicians, the blind xenophobia that creates categories of "us" and "them". I could distract you with the sugary, sparkly, and easy parts of our world, try to convince you that they are all that truly is. But then, I'd be failing you. I must help you confront the terrors of this life with integrity and seriousness. Sometimes, the people we trust never deserved it. Sometimes the future we wanted cannot be ours. Sometimes, evil seems to win. This is real. This is our world.
I would also be failing you by only telling you stories of failure, pain and bloodshed. It would be a sin for me to constantly turn your eyes towards abuses of power, of exclusion, of loss and pettiness. For every story of evil, there are stories of sacrifice, of love that blots out hate, of justice where only injustice was before. The world we live in is full of people so good that they change the fate of nations. You can be one of them. I believe it.
So, I hope that you'll forgive me if in-between practicing your sight words, I slip in quick lessons about how we should love one another. I hope you'll give me grace when, on rides to school, I speak with you seriously about how sometimes, not even policemen do the right thing. I hope you'll be patient with me when I cry about the deaths of people I do not know and try to teach you why the lives of people we've never met matter so much. I hope that one day, when you're confronted by socially acceptable diet-racism, you'll remember that time when I taught you it was Christian to say #BlackLivesMatter.
Soon I will pick you up from school, and you will regale me with stories of recess and lunchtime and your friend Miranda who alternately is very awesome and very naughty in class. For now, you know very little of the brokenness of all things. But I promise, my funny boy, that I'm going to do my best by you. You deserve it. And so does the world that you can help heal.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
"Abraham's Farewell to Ishmael" is a study in how we say goodbye, how we take leave of former lives. Some of us clutch tightly to those we leave behind, unready for separation. Some of us merely observe the breaking of our families, emotionally removed from the pain of others. Still more of us stand alone in the crowds, just trying to hold ourselves in one piece while we grapple with our fear and loss.
Perhaps I am so moved by this sculpture because I see the goodbyes of my life within it's boundaries. My life, a sculpture to study, my path observable from whatever perspective you choose.
- I was desperate, clinging to Cliff before the truth of his betrayal was made clear. Ishmael & Abraham.
- I was raw and afraid, clutching myself tightly as I faced a cruel and unexpected future alone with my son. Hagar.
- I am removed, remote from every goodbye my son must make to his father. Sarah.
But maybe I am deeply impacted by Segal's masterpiece because it reminds me that to truly understand someone's story takes a commitment to see the whole tableau of their life. That to truly be understood is to stand vulnerable before another and let yourself be wholly seen. I am out of sight now, but a step to the left will show you my face. It happens so rarely that we meet someone with whom we can lay ourselves bare.
This is the dangerous and beautiful and tragic task of Christian living: allowing ourselves to be seen and choosing to see the fullness of others. Every angle, every ugliness, every transcendent kindness. We are known and we know and we are loved no matter the perspective by which we are perceived. That is my definition of grace. This is also the desperate hope and mystery implicit when we take the risk to love another: Do you see me now? Oh no, you see me now! Please, see me always.
I pray for you, my friends, that one day you will stand revealed before another. You will be as beautiful as a Segal, I promise.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
But the sky? Well, I'd forgotten about West Texas sky.
Houston has no mountains, so the sky in West Texas and the sky down here on the coast should be the same. But they aren't. West Texas sky seems bigger than sky anywhere else; it stretches on in endless periphery, so high you feel like it will soon tip over and fall upon you. It's the kind of sky that you lay on blankets and watch clouds under; it's sky worth stopping for. In some way, it seems fitting that this will always be the sky over my grandmother's grave.
Whenever I officiate funerals, I always acknowledge absence; usually I say "it is difficult to know how to live in a world where your loved one does not." It has always been true when I said it; I was never glib or dismissive. But it has also been 8 years since I attended the funeral of a family member, so I had forgotten the visceral ache of that absence. This vast world of billions of people is missing someone; I could search the great West Texas sky and never find her again.
How could that be?
When Cliff first went to jail, the pain of his absence was tied to his complicity for his relocation. He SHOULD have been with me, but was elsewhere. Grandma's death is different; her death was "natural", her absence final. My faith informs me that "in the great by and by" we will be reunited in a common resurrection. But the Kingdom to Come is still the Kingdom Not Here, and death does sting. It cuts you wide open so your soul is like the endless horizon of the sky near Abilene.
I was not the only one mourning on Saturday; other families in other places met, mourned and made last goodbyes to their beloved ones. Death was also not the only story on Saturday; other families in other places greeted newborn babies, welcomed in adopted children. Under endless skies all over the world, we made space for new people and marked the absence of others. I know this, the push and pull of existence that spins you from one high to a low without a pause for breath.
I know this.
But as I drove home to kiss my husband and hold my son tightly to me, as I made plans to meet my friend's newborn baby, I drove under the West Texas skies. And at that moment, it seemed barely big enough for my grief.
Saturday, November 7, 2015
I remember her hands as she deftly sliced peaches for our vanilla ice cream.
I remember her hands cracking the pecans that our small tribe of grandchildren had collected from beneath her giant pecan tree.
I remember her hands as she expertly guided fabric on the ends of crochet needles that summer she taught me how to crochet.
I remember her hands when they held me close right before we left her for the long journey home.
I remember her hands when she lifted the ever-present carton of rainbow sherbet out of her freezer to portion out to suddenly ravenous children.
I remember her hands:
at bath-time wrapping me in a towel,
in the summer lifting us from the kiddie pool,
during prayer while we sang before dinner
when she signed my ordination certificate.
I remember her hands.
She was more than just hands, of course. She was wholly herself, hands and feet and beauty and brains and laughter and tears, my grandma, your mother, your wife, your friend. She was more than the sum of her parts, either visible or invisible. She was more. But today, I remember her hands, the hands that loved and guided and chastised and provided and encouraged and prayed and typed and quilted. We are gathered together in this place to remember her, to rejoice in her resurrection, to grieve her loss. But mostly, today, I remember her hands: wishing I had held them one more time, thankful I was able to hold them at all, humbled by all the good they did for God.
Deuteronomy says “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.” Today, I am quite sure he was speaking of my grandma because all I can remember is the work of her hands.
Friday, November 6, 2015
|Don't Mess With Shai-Hulud|
But when you ask a nerd about fear, they are much more likely to quote Star Wars before Paul Atreides. You probably know this one, a meditation on fear by Jedi Master Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Again, it was merely pithy when I was younger. Today? Well, I live in America and suffer through an endless election cycle. Yoda is a prophet, man.
The Kwisatz Haderach and Master Yoda were both right: fear destroys your ability to think, it feeds anger, it is the root of suffering. Fear guides our political rhetoric, fear seeps into religious life, fear haunts even benign holidays like Halloween when FB posts warn you to watch out for razors in your child's candy. Fear is the root and anger is the bitter fruit that we all seem to be feasting upon lately. At the end of last year, Slate published an "Outrage Calendar" that listed every topic we yelled about on Social Media by the day. It was a telling reveal, that our public discourse has become dominated by what is wrong, broken, unfit, paltry, contemptible. I have to search news with a fine toothed comb to find a semblance of "good" news. We are all so angry; we are all so afraid.
Part of me wonders if our fear is healthy; life is actually quite fragile and often the worst amongst us have the most power. But part of me also acknowledges that fear (and its child, anger) grow out from a shattering of expectation. Maybe Americans are so angry lately because we're finally having to let go of the myth of our national exceptionalism. Maybe Progressives are angry because the long arc of justice is TOO long and all this work is exhausting. Maybe conservatives are angry because they feel the tide of the culture war turning against them and they don't know their next move. Maybe. Whatever the anger is about, though, I turn my eyes back to the Jedi and the Fremen and remember that our anger is ultimately rooted in our fear about the future. And that fear? It's killing us. It's sapping our ability to think critically. It's driving us apart from each other. For God's sake, fear caused the people of Houston to vote AGAINST an Equal Rights ordinance that would have protected religious folk, veterans and the disabled.
Fear leads to suffering. Fear is also not an appropriate response for Christians. Over and over again, Jesus told his disciples, "Do Not be Afraid." Or like the writer of 2 Timothy said: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." We are called to something more: trust beyond fear, hope beyond anger, love beyond hate. It's harder this way, but its vastly better than the mind obliteration that is our only other option.
Join me my friends. Clear your thoughts and let your fear pass over you. Let outrage leach out from your soul, like the poison it often becomes. Let's discover together what life can be like when we aren't angry all the time.