Friday, September 25, 2015

On Owl Queens and Monsters

Over Labor Day weekend we moved the boys into separate bedrooms. We did this for the peace of the world, or at least for the peace of our home. In general it was a great idea, the kind that leaves us patting ourselves on the back and preening over our stellar parenting skills.



Despite the cool glow of his lava lamp and the assurances that we are Right There if he needs us, the almost-11-year-old is certain that monsters lurk in hidden spots in his bedroom. I can't really fault him; I'm not sure how old I was before I stopped believing that there was a bear hiding behind my bedroom door.

The other night was different, though.

It began with the squeak of a doorknob turning, and then there he was, standing in his darkened room. "Mom? Is today the day that the planes flew into the towers?"

"Yes. Yes, it is."


He shifted into talking about monsters and I thought the planes were forgotten. We talked about ways to calm our fears of things unseen, of verses that comfort, of a God who watches. He doesn't get it. How is God supposed to be a comfort when he can't see him, can't hear him, can't feel him? To be honest, I'm left without answers, because there is something in the easy comfort answers that doesn't always ring true to me either.

Then he asks the question. "Mom? Why did the owl queens do that?" For a moment I don't understand. "Do what?" "You know. The planes." It hits me, then, that we have circled back around to the first topic, that the owl queens are his way of making sense of a name that is as unfamiliar to him as it was to most of us fourteen years ago.

I think I understand what he is really asking. Sometimes there are monsters, and sometimes those monsters aren't just in our imagination. How do we walk through life, how do we sleep in peace when we don't know when the monsters will strike? How do we sleep when we don't know if our monsters are real or imagined?

Photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Flickr Creative Commons

We Christians in America, we like our bedtime prayers, don't we? We ask God to keep us safe, we claim hedges of protection and deliverance from our enemies. We are raised on stories of Daniel in the lion's den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, the disciples in the storm-tossed boat. And somehow this always translates out the same; God keeps his people safe. He always comes through. Always rescues. Always protects.


Sometimes he doesn't.

Often he doesn't.

Sometimes owl queens strike. What do we tell our children then? What do we say to the fears hiding in the shadows?

My son and I lay curled up in his bed that night and we talked about monsters, fear, and faith. There were no easy answers, because I have no need to present him with a faith that I have securely packed into a box, wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow. My faith is messy and the box is wobbly and the packaging keeps exploding out everywhere in a mess of shredded paper. It looks, sometimes, like a third grader did the wrapping, lopsided bow and all. This is the faith, the antidote to fear, that I have to offer him.

Oh, but can I tell you what is in that messy, wobbly package with the lopsided bow? There, in the center of all of the mess and tangle is one bright, shining jewel. That jewel is Jesus. When everything else falls away, when the world is dark and hurtful and full of monsters, I have this one truth that I can hold in my hands.

Jesus came. He came to redeem the world. He came to show us the very image of God, and in doing so he gave us the model for what we are supposed to look like. Because HE loved, we can love. (1 John 4:19) First, foremost and always, Jesus looks like love. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear.

This, I think, is how we fight fear, by living like the kingdom that Jesus came teaching. This crazy, upside-down kingdom in which we love our enemies, and in which we offer them clothing and shelter even when they are mistreating us. The one in which we walk second miles, turn the other cheek, give someone our shirt when they take our coat. (Luke 6:27-36)

At its root, isn't fear so often focused on ourselves? Isn't love for others the antithesis to that?

I don't expect a child to always understand that.

I DO expect us to get it.

We've been loved so very much; loving others isn't optional. Otherwise, we become the monsters that we fear.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stumbling towards mercy

Some days I feel like I'm nothing but contradictions.

I am selfish.
I want to live with open hands.

I am envious.
I want to be at peace with where I am.

I am judgmental.
I want to see the best in people.

I am petty.
I want to exercise patience and grace.

Blessed are the merciful.
And still I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

I see the pictures going around, the tiny body washed up on the beach, the hundreds of faces crammed into barely sea-worthy boats like so much cargo and yet valued less than even the most careless merchant would treat his cargo, with a desire to see it reach its destination whole, undamaged. I see the faces and read their stories, stories of despair and risking death because death seems the more palatable option. I read heartfelt pleas and my soul wants to reach out and help. And then I think "Yes, it's easy to want to help this one. But what about when one becomes one hundred and then one thousand and then one hundred thousand?" What then?

Am I willing to give up every illusion of security that I have to place hope into the heart of a refugee?

Am I willing to concede that inviting the widow, the orphan and the immigrant into my life may just not always be comfortable? Am I willing to let it involve risk?

Risk of sharing our nation and our economic fortune?
Risk of embracing the presence of other cultures, because when someone flees from the wasteland that was their home, do we get to insist that they give up every aspect that ties them to the memory of a place they still must love?
Risk of the awkwardness of learning how to communicate with someone from a vastly different background, language, or religion?

I know that there are people who run towards mercy. People who cannot stop their tears from flowing or their hearts from breaking for the marginalized, the stranger, the broken. People who mobilize and act before the story even breaks.

I want to be a person who runs towards mercy, but I must confess that at best I am a person who stumbles towards it. Counting the cost with each step I take. So overwhelmed at the vast sea of broken lives that it becomes almost easier to ignore them all than to choose just one. Confused by the voices who argue against mercy. Uncertain about 'best practices' and the fiscal responsibility of charitable organizations and misguided good intentions and all of the other things that can make the good we thought we were doing less than good.

I can only stumble towards mercy with empty hands. Trusting that somehow even hands that feel empty will hold enough to bind up the broken pieces of this crazy, stupid, hurting world.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Love never fails

I've started a million posts in my mind, and stared at the blank pages of the blog, my journal, and Word documents. But even though the thoughts have been burning themselves inside my mind for several weeks now I just can't seem to find the right words to speak them. So I'm pouring this out there, because I am weary.

I am weary, and election season has barely begun.
I am weary, and I hate being in the church when politics come up, because it seems to remove all ability to see the image of God stamped on the faces of those around us.
I am weary of people stamping the word 'evil' on faces instead.
I am weary of the fruit of the Spirit taking a back seat in how we evaluate our policies, our programs, and our politics.
I am weary, and I just want to feel like love is winning, even the tiniest little bit.

Photo by Tommy Fjordb√łge via Flickr Creative Commons License


It’s some work isn’t it?
This getting along in the world,
And not even the whole world,
But just our little corner of it.
Come, let us live in unity, they say.
But unity is one of the hardest works there is
Now, isn’t it?
We talk a good talk;
We talk a GREAT talk.
We place the words that make us sound
So right.
So good.
We write off brothers
And sisters
With cross words that are
Not cross shaped.
Words that drip sarcasm and
We call it truth.
We say, “Just telling it like it is.”
And we place God in boxes
That he climbs out of again
And again.
Love rising from the grave
We put him in.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On bullies, race, and perfect victims

Yesterday I was all nice and encouraging with my "Yay, mountains! You can conquer them!" post. So forgive me if I am about to give you whiplash by calling us all out today, but come sit down with me at my kitchen table because I'm going to say some hard things. Remember that time I said I was going to speak up, no matter what? This is what it looks like when I speak up.

There's been a anti-bullying meme going around for a while now, I just saw it again the other day.

"We will never, ever get rid of bullying. We should teach kids how to stand up for themselves and cope instead of wearing pink shirts and passing anti-bullying bylaws. We are creating a society of victims."
Can we just stop for a moment? When victims of bullying stand up for themselves, it does not eliminate a bully. Perhaps, if the power imbalance is sufficiently close enough, that bully will back off. They will back off and move on down the power chain until they find someone who is too weak to fight back, and there will always be someone incapable of fighting back, whether on the playground or in the work place. The child who learns to cope by fighting back can't exactly employ those same tactics in the workplace, when the bully has the power to fire him and/or ruin his career. Please stop blaming the victims for the actions of someone else. 

This meme also assumes that all bullies are individuals, but the rise in cyber-bullying over recent years has shown us that such is not always the case. This is why schools teach anti-bullying, why they teach children to accept diversity, and to tolerate different ways of thinking and of interacting with life. The only way that we can truly change bullying is to change the bullies.

No, friends, we aren't going to get rid of bullying. We live in a broken, sin-sick world and every day people make the choice to devalue those around them in both big and small ways. But as a church we are called to more. We are called to speak value and inestimable worth into the lives of every single person around us on a DAILY basis. We are called to speak up for the voiceless. The widow. The fatherless. The outcast. The sick and the dying and the ones who are in prison. We fight back in kingdom ways by giving others a voice. When we wear the pink shirts and pass the anti-bullying bylaws we are saying to the bullied "I see you and you matter to me." And don't let it stop there. One of the four key steps taught in the anti-bullying program used by my son's school is "We will try to include students who are left out." Relationship. Friendship. Inclusion.


Here's the thing that really struck me, though. I cannot tell you how many times over the past week I have seen people laud the black community in Charleston, SC for not fighting, not rioting, not marching in protest in the face of the brutal, racially fueled attack that took nine lives. In many cases, the same people posting the bullying meme are the ones saying "Good for you, Charleston! You coped. Keep on coping quietly over there in your corner, please." Do you know what this sounds like? It sounds an awful lot like "Good for you, n***er. You know your place." It sounds like the exact same speech that allowed slavery to continue, that allowed Jim Crow laws to continue. Know your place. Don't fight back. Don't expect us to make changes, to wear pink shirts or take down our flags. Be a perfect victim, one who doesn't confront the deep seated issues in our country that fester like a wound ready to burst open at any moment. There is a cognitive dissonance between the two views that is often handled by simply pretending that it does not exist.

I am by no means advocating for violence, but this is the thing that the Church, that you who are seated around my table, MUST understand. When the families of victims of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church issued statements of forgiveness to the killer, when they wept and prayed and worshiped together instead of rioting they did so because they are people living into a faith and into a Kingdom that is the only hope for this world.

We cannot expect those who do not have the same hope to respond to injustice in the same manner.
We cannot applaud the meek on one day and tell them to fight back on the next.
We cannot neglect OUR responsibility to stand up in the face of injustice. This is our calling as a people of God.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." [Luke 4:14-21 NIV]
This is not just the theoretical hope for a heaven where someday everything will be made right. If it were, the people of Israel would not have been commanded again and again to act justly. God would not have spoken through his prophets again and again, condemning the people for their lack of justice, for the blind eye they turned to oppression, for the mistreatment of the stranger and the foreigner. 

Friends, as the people of God we are called to put on that pink shirt. We are called to befriend the friendless. We are called to speak up for the voiceless. It's not either/or, both/and. Turning the other cheek AND speaking out against injustice. Forgiveness AND listening to the oppressed. If we aren't willing to do that, we need to ask ourselves why. Because our silence often says more about what is in our heart than our words do.


I am as white as they come. I don't feel particularly qualified to speak on deep-seated issues of racism and our response as a Church. All I know is there was a fire in my bones that had my butt in this chair, at this screen, for most of an afternoon. My words cannot possibly be enough. Will you please take a moment to read from these other wise writers who can write from a more personal perspective?

The Only Logical Conclusion by Austin Channing

There is HOPE... by Tasha Morrison

Photo by Howard Arnoff via Flickr Creative Commons license