Tuesday, April 24, 2012

pondering with Barbara Brown Taylor

From Altar in the World,

The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self - to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.  To become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to yourself. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is. 
At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with other people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self. More intricately, it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to qualify as a capital "O" Other - and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.
What we have most in common is not religion but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get-- in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing--which is where God's Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery. The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

pondering Emaleigh

This is our son holding Emaleigh, our 2 year old niece.  You can read about her journey from premature birth to a Cloves Syndrome diagnosis to Wilms tumors here.  She is the bravest little (or big, for that matter) girl I know.  And we love her dearly.

Her parents have long raised money for Cloves Syndrome here.  Those funds go to research and awareness of this rare condition.

But now you can donate directly toward their own needs, HERE.  Emaleigh has received two rounds of chemo, and next week will have one of her kidneys removed.  This has meant multiple trips back and forth from Lynchburg, Va to Cincinnati Children's Hospital.  Even for the weekly doses of chemo, they've had to drive over an hour to UVA.  There haven't been any breaks ... none.

If you give any amount, please email me at teachermommy73 at gmail dot com and let me know.  Not how much, just that you did.  I'll HAPPILY mail you one of her bracelets or keychains!

And... thank you.

Note on comments

Hello readers, I wanted to let you know that I hadn't received email notifications about the various comments I just published today. I'm sorry for the delay!  I welcome comments and good conversation.

Specific to the polling place post, I shared in our conversation via facebook comments, after truly pondering the suggestion that this was more about gender than race, that:

I'll be honest.  Standing there ... it didn't feel like chivalry ("ladies first").  It felt like he was invisible.

Obviously this is solely based on my own perceptions and intuition.  No one can know for sure.  But it made me think.

Friday, April 20, 2012

pondering privilege at the polling place

Early voting, also known as "one stop voting", has begun in NC.  But in Charlotte, the only polling place currently open is in uptown.  Libraries around the area will open up for early voting on April 30, so I'm sure more will participate then. But of course most will wait until election day (May 8) when there will no doubt be lines out the door.

This morning, however, there was no line.  It was comical, actually, as I walked in from the parking lot alone -  I was literally descended upon by campaigners.  They were very nice and I took all their little fliers and handouts because, frankly, I'm clueless on a lot of the local elections.  Once inside, I sat and read over each one.  Most weren't helpful - people are so vague on their information in an attempt to please everyone while offending none.  A couple actually did convince me to vote for them.

But that's not what I'm here to write about today...

I'm here to write about white privilege.  Some say it doesn't exist.  Even before today, I would have said of course it does, but I confess it's not something I've spent a lot of time pondering.

I'm pondering it now.

It's interesting, how the morning played out.  While driving the boys to school, Mike Collins was talking with the director of a play running in Charlotte right now called Clybourne Park.  The first act takes place in the 50's or 60's, when racism was overt.  The second act takes place 50 years later - "today" - and, as Mike put it, "Nothing had changed!"  I listened and wondered... really?  Nothing?  They clarified, of course, that many things have changed - but the relationships and perceptions between the characters in Act 2 reflected the exact same issues that were present in Act 1.

After dropping the boys off, I drove over to the polling place in the city and, as I noted above, made my way inside.  After checking in and receiving my form, I stood alongside a gentleman while we both waited for a free machine.  A minute or two passed before one of the volunteers gestured me over.

I spoke up and said, "Oh, he was here before me", nodding his way.  At which point he shook his head, chuckled under his breath and said, "It's okay ma'am, I'm used to it."

Used to what?  I was confused.  Then it hit me.  I hadn't taken notice that the gentleman - the one waiting longer than I had been - was black.  There we stood, both dressed casually - both wearing ball caps, in fact.  He was black and maybe 10 years older than I am.  The volunteer and I were both white - he an elderly gentleman, me a 39 year old woman.

This gentleman was insinuating that he'd been overlooked because he's black and I'm white.

Really?  Surely not?  I mean, come on - people make honest mistakes.

Before the volunteer could decide which of us he was taking, someone called him aside to ask a question about a machine, so the gentleman and I stood there awkwardly for a moment.  I simply smiled then looked down, sure that anything I might say would be the wrong thing.

Then another volunteer came toward us - also white and elderly.  And I'll be damned if he didn't do the exact same thing!  "This way, ma'am" he gestured toward me.  "No!" I said, more adamantly this time, my eyes as big as saucers,  "He was here before me!"

Even though there was no actual line, the way we were standing should have led anyone to assume he was, indeed, there before me.  Besides, he'd been standing there a while by the time I'd joined him, and it wasn't a very big space.  I was aghast.

The gentleman himself was chuckling louder now, shaking his head.  He told me it was okay, to go on. "I'm used to it", he said again.

"No", I retorted, "You were here first!"

By this point the volunteers were looking nervous, realizing they had caused a little bit of a scene.  One tried to explain it away as a misunderstanding as he walked the gentleman to the machine, but he interrupted, saying (louder this time), "You don't have to tell me about it, I already know. I'll be glad when the racism is finally ended for good!"

I stood there behind my own machine, thinking ... wow.  These volunteers, neither one of them, meant to ignore the man.  But they didn't mean not to, either.  Parents know what I'm referring to, here - kids say something was an accident, as if that's the end of the discussion.  But we respond by explaining that when you pay attention, when you're thoughtful and intentional, accidents are less likely to happen.

Accidents, while not intentional, are often rooted in poor thinking and poor habits.  The poor thinking and poor habits of this morning could also be referred to as white privilege.  ("When you don't know, give the white woman the benefit of the doubt").

Those volunteers experienced the situation as an innocent misunderstanding.  No doubt, they perceived the man to be overreacting.  He, on the other hand,  experienced a validation of stereotypes, a confirmation of years' worth of suspicion rooted in a culmination of similarly derogatory experiences.

He was "used to it", he'd said twice.  But not over it.  Not remotely.

Me?  I experienced it as an eye opener.  Because, from my point of view, the first time was overlook-able.  I would not have assumed race had played a factor. I mean, maybe the volunteer really didn't know which one of us got there first, or maybe he was just distracted because I'm not bad to look at (wink).  But the second time,  I couldn't ignore it.  He was black.  I was white.  And I was being privileged.

I shutter to think how often this happens to me, and I don't notice.
How many times do I fail to speak up?
To say "No"?
"No ... he was here before me" 

 "No ... YOU were here first"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

pondering "The Best Case For the Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality"

I'm so tired of writing about homosexuality.  More tired than any of you could possibly be of reading about it, I promise.

I'm done.  SO done.  This is a non-issue for me.  Has been for some time.  I love gay people.  Done.  (next question?)

But I can't stop ... not yet, anyway.  Because right now, in my home state of North Carolina, a battle rages on.  Bumper stickers and yard signs and lapel buttons and rallies and press conferences ... it's everywhere.  All because of a proposed amendment to our state constitution, that (if passed) would be one of the strictest DOMA's in the country.  If it does not pass, NC would be the first state to have one of these put to referendum that didn't, and we would (proudly) remain the only state in the south not to have one.

Public sector support for this amendment is poor - in fact, what support did exist is dwindling quickly.  Republicans and Libertarians alike are running as far as they can away from it.  Even Thom Tillis (R), the speaker of the House and one of the drafters of the amendment, has predicted that it will pass only to be reversed in 20 years.  When questioned about his comments later, he reiterated and stood by them.

With all that said, you'd think the amendment would be dead in the water.  But it's not.  Far from it.  Among one group (and one group only), support is growing to a fever pitch - fundamentalist Christians.

Which is why, even though my friends of other faiths (or "no faith") grow frustrated when we make this an argument about the Bible rather than an argument about civil liberties and fair governance, I must continue to appeal to those who believe they must stand in opposition to their gay brothers and sisters in order to stand "for God" and "for the Bible".  I must, because 1) there are a lot of them and 2) I know them, I know that they will never act in opposition to what they believe the Bible dictates.  Those convictions run too deep. There is no other avenue of appeal but the Bible itself.

Finally, I must because 3) I care about them.  I long for their eyes to be opened.  I long for reconciliation.

Not long ago I shared that the book A Time to Embrace was the best source I'd read on this topic, from both theological and historical/political angles.  But I know many won't go buy a book.  Some who do, won't read it.  Some who start, won't finish it.  And even among those who do, it's a lot to digest and retain.  (still, book nerds like me - go read it! and read the footnotes, too!)

So today I share what I believe to be the best concise argument on the matter  (excerpts from the book UNFAIR by John Shore, shared in blog form)  Read it.  Ponder it.  Share it, even.  Have conversations about it.  A snippet,

"Even a sin as heinous as murder we do not judge without first taking into account the context in which it occurred. Self-defense, protection of the innocent, during a war—we recognize that there are times when even taking the life of another is not only not a sin, but a morally justified, and even heroic act.
Christians evaluate the degree of sin, or even whether or not a real sin has occurred, by looking at both the harm caused by the sin, and the intent of the sin’s perpetrator.
They do, that is, for all sins except homosexuality."

If you live in North Carolina, time is running out. Election day is May 8th.  Early voting starts tomorrow.  There's no "I'm in the middle on this issue" bubble to color in on the ballot.  You have to choose.  If you choose not to vote, you're still choosing - you're choosing to let others speak for you.  And those who are passionate about "defending God" will show up to vote, believe me!  So if you remain on the fence, I implore you - do the work.  Think it through.  Fast.  Pray. Ponder.

The rest of you - good news:  here in a couple of weeks I will write about things OTHER than (though still at times including) homosexuality!  Hallelujahs all around!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

pondering self and other

“The more often [a man] feels without acting, the less he will ever be able to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” 
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

I invite you to consider with me a couple of unrelated, true stories.  Let's see whether or not we can still feel.

Feel what?

Pity?  Useless.

Conviction?  What is that, exactly?

Motivation to act?  To change?  Repentance, even?

Now that's Kingdom talk...

Many news agencies are sharing stories about autism this month.  I don't read them all, but this one caught my attention.  By the end I was doing that heaving, ugly cry where you can't breathe.  Not only because it captures my worst fears, but because I know I must do more than care whether or not my own son ends up this way.  I must care about them all... and I know that deep down, I do not.  Not enough.

Prayers for Bobby is a true story by Mary Griffith, a mother whose gay son committed suicide .  One of the most moving scenes of the movie comes at the end (clip below), following Bobby's death and Mary's subsequent change of heart regarding homosexuality and her faith.  She looks out into the crowd and sees... Bobby?  No, Bobby is dead.  But she sees a boy who reminds her of Bobby.  Watch.   And try.  Try to put yourself in her shoes.  Use your imagination...

Now, I ask you - and I ask myself - what if?  What if we didn't wait until personal tragedy - pain within our own tiny sphere - compelled us toward compassion?

What if we chose to open our eyes?  We can, you know.  We can humble ourselves, rather than wait to be humbled.

How would the world look if we didn't need a reason to see ourselves in the eyes of another, because the other was already valuable and precious?  What if the other became "our own" simply because they are God's ... because they are human ... because they exist.

“When they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.” 
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Friday, April 13, 2012

pondering unclean theology

It's no secret to anyone who's read this blog for any amount of time, that I'm a fan of Dr. Richard Beck's writing.  His book Unclean was especially thought provoking.  Whether you read the book and would like a bit more, or you haven't/don't plan to read the book but are curious as to the "gist" of his points, I invite you to to visit Unclean Theology.

To whet your appetite:

When Jesus encounters sociomoral disgust at work in the gospels he does the opposite of what is expected, and in so doing, reframes Israel’s notion of sin.  Instead of focusing on people as unclean, Jesus focuses on the boundaries between people as unclean.  The Old Testament prophets had a similar message, claiming that God despised Israel’s religious rituals because of injustice. 
This displays tension between the “priestly” and “prophetic” traditions (or, as Beck terms it, tension between “sacrifice” and “mercy”).  Beck claims that these two ways of thinking are inherently incompatible.  Jesus resolved this tension by siding with the prophetic/merciful tradition.  Rather than negativity dominance (one drop of poison ruins the whole drink), in Jesus, the clean cleanses the unclean.  Jesus overturns the locus of purity in the Jewish world.  Purity is now an attitude of the heart; purity is mercy.  Like Israel, the church tends to deal in terms of purity, holiness, and sanctity.  Because of the tension inherent between mercy and sacrifice, when we appeal to the notions of mercy, love, and hospitality we are asking our churches to do contradictory things.  There is no “both/and” – more of one means less of the other.  It is hard, then, to make decisions.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

pondering being heard and saying ... you're welcome

As a writer who doesn't share research or "how to" information or recipes ... but one who basically sits at the keyboard and "bleeds" (isn't that what Buechner called it?) I am breathing a sigh of relief today.  Because the only thing more risky than sharing your own personal thoughts and experiences, is sharing someone else's.  So, even though Landon had put his words "out there" for the world to read, as all bloggers do, there was still a sense of having invaded someone's privacy when I pointed back to him, as I did in yesterday's post.

So you  might be interested to know that Landon has written a lovely, brief follow up, here.  Which has left me humbled, honestly, but also grateful because not only did I "hear" him, he "heard" me - he understood my intention perfectly.

It was a risky thing to write.  It was a risky thing to share. But I have a new "ally", and he gives me much to ponder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

pondering how we teach our children to hate themselves

April is supposed to be autism awareness month.  So, I wanted to write something about how thirteen years as the mother of a son with autism has changed me.  About how that change is at the root of my most recent passion and protest.  I keep trying, but the thoughts aren't coming together.

What I want to say has to do with expectations and shame...

with love and confusion ...

with God-making-people-a-certain-way-then-calling-that-wrong-and-what-the-hell-is-up-with-that-anyway? ...

with growth and realization and acceptance and beauty ...

I wanted to write about all that.  I still do. I'm trying.


But today I found this. I don't know much about Landon - this is the first thing I've read from him. But he nails it. He nails it so clearly that it hurts my heart to read it.

We talk so much about bullying, but the worst bully of all is self.  And hate of self is learned.  The author jolts us awake to that fact with this plea,

"Damn it, you have to stop teaching your kids to hate themselves.
Because it kills them."

Please - read, and ponder with me.
Let's change things.

Monday, April 9, 2012

pondering hellbound

oh, this looks to be good. and I haven't had a good hell debate in a while. :)  looking forward to it!



Sunday, April 8, 2012

pondering spirit songs

My spirit responds to music. It's the language of my soul. I know some who respond to art, nature, beauty - all those things move me, as well.  But not like music. I need music like I need air.  And so God is good to speak to me through it.

For a long time now, not just lent - longer than that - this song has been in my heart, been my prayer.  When I've done all my wrestling, "I don't wanna lose You in the end".

Then today, I heard this (below) play on Pandora while doing laundry - after a DIVINE Sunday afternoon nap, by the way - and I realized, while listening... this is where I am now.  I mean, life ebbs and flows, but I'm in a new place.   This song rings more true for me now.

And I'm thankful.

This morning - Easter, yes, Easter! - but 100 little tiny things about it that would bore you for me to share, have capped some things for me.  Settled some things.  Big things.  And it feels good.

At least ... for today.  ;)

But I'll take that.  Because someone I Love taught me that tomorrow will worry about itself.  Today, I sing this:

I'm falling even more in love with You
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until You make me new
I'm hanging by a moment here with You 

pondering Easter hope

Are Veggie Tales cheesy?  Of course they are.  But I still love this...

I confess, when she sings out,
"There is nothing left to fear!" 

I get goosebumps all over, and my eyes well up.

Every. Time.

Happy Easter. He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Friday, April 6, 2012

pondering love on good friday

I made it mine
I made it small, I made it blind
I followed hard, only to find
It wasn't love
It wasn't love

Love of songs and pen
Oh love of movie endings
Takes out the break
Leaves out the bend
Misses love

Love not of you
Love not of me
Come hold us up
Come set us free
Not as we know it
But as it can be

Love's reality
Is not a passing bravery
It holds out hope beyond what's seen
The hope of love

Love not of you
Love not of me
Come hold us up
Come set us free
Not as we know it
But as it can be

~Sara Groves, Fireflies and Songs

Monday, April 2, 2012

pondering awareness and action

Today's post is brought courtesy of my friend Dr. Beth Ackerman. She would not say this about herself, but what I would say about her is that she is a prophet of sorts.  She is calling on those who work in churches and private Christian schools to move beyond awareness toward ACTION.  Consider her words, as April is Autism Awareness Month and today, specifically, is World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism Awareness (Action?) Month
Awareness just doesn’t seem enough these days.  It doesn’t imply action. If you want to know about the rise of autism, how many families are affected, etc.  That is awareness.  As Christians, I’m more concerned about action.  We need an Autism Action month.  :)Here’s one of many stories in my life where God pushed me to action.  I was new to Liberty University and some students helped me start a Liberty Chapter of Council for Exceptional Children.  And we decided to have a carnival type event for children with disabilities and their families.  It was at this event where I’ll never forget a Mom who told me that she’s so thankful that she can watch church on TV because she can’t take her son with Autism to church.  I remember in my typical arrogance thinking and saying - “WHAT?!?!”…. She went on to tell me that their church didn’t know what to do with his grunting sounds, hand flapping and pacing.  And I looked at the sweet boy and his Mom and thought to myself again… “WHAT!?!?!”  Well, in one of my many life’s strange events… the director of Thomas Road Baptist Church called me THAT week and asked to speak with me about a partnership between our Liberty students and TRBC for families of children with disabilities to have support at church.  I could go on and on with the need for this - with 95 % of marriages ending in divorce when there is a child with a disability… what an amazing outreach for churches to wrap God’s love and care around these families. Where can you have action?   Perhaps it doesn’t need to be grand… perhaps it is finding a family of a child with a disability and offering to babysit so they can have a date night… or perhaps even smaller… when we see a child with a disability at a restaurant who is grunting and flapping their hands or acting in way we don’t understand… we don’t look at the parents irritated for bringing their kid out to dinner… knowing it is hard to find help for a child with a disability... this is where awareness leads to action.  What are we reflecting as Christians?  How are we ACTING as Christians?  I do pray it is more than awareness for us.   For more ideas or thoughts on this, please see my archived blogs on “THE Message”.Toy, the director of Children’s Ministry at TRBC, called her ministry for children with disabilities “ikids” – as these kids are “made in the Image of God”… now that is an awareness that should move us to action.

She also has a three part series that she calls "THE Message".  I encourage ANYONE working in church or para-church ministries to children and families and/or in private Christian institutions to read and consider.  

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Throughout the month of April, I plan to write more about Autism ... and how it changed me.  How it framed how I see people and how (I've come to understand) it fuels my passion for justice today.

For now, though, Dr. Ackerman has given us much to ponder...