A Mother’s Day Beyond the Plastics

Small Justices

A local radio announcer—a male radio announcer—is touting a unique Mother’s Day gift. Since birthing and raising children ruined Mom’s body, treat her to some Mother’s Day plastic surgery!

All other issues aside—and there are many—I’d like to be a fly on the wall when this particular gift is opened.

Mother to Child:  “So you’re saying your birth makes me look fat?”

Father to Child: “Just look what you’ve done to your poor mother. But, at least you’re trying to fix it.”

Child to Father: “How come you got off so easy? And what excuse do you have for that gut?”

Daughter to Self: “Motherhood = stretch marks and baggy breasts. I’m never reproducing.”

Sounds like a delightful family bonding time. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone! Hope we’ll be speaking to one another by the next one!

Thankfully, the commercial brought fury fire to my daughters’ eyes. You go, girls! Don’t let the Man take you down!

Still, the hawking of Mother’s Day plastic did put me in mind of mothers I find beautiful. These moms live in a country that speaks another language. It limits their work options: usually to service jobs. The pay’s small, but it’s honest work and they take strong pride in what they do. Many raise their children alone—some because they chose single-parenting over violence. They love their children enough to insist their offspring treat themselves and others with respect. In so doing, these moms break a cycle of violence in their growing sons. These boys respect their strong mothers.

These beautiful mothers celebrate their children’s present—birthdays are a big deal—and their futures—school and study and really big deals. The moms pray for, hope for, love their children. And, yes, they seek to look their best. Clothes are clean and neat; hair is styled; smiles at the ready.

They’re not saints; they’re fully human women who, like me, make mistakes and learn from them. They won’t be accessing the services Mr. Radio touts. But they don’t need plastic.

These moms walk in beauty.

And it’s not just skin deep.

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From the Margins

Soul Thirst

Each week of Lent, I’ll share a “personal bio” of a biblical woman. The Bible I love dedicates full chapters to some of these women while others are rendered nameless.

Why this Lenten practice? Two reasons. First, the Bible’s narrative is largely told through men about men, with women playing supportive roles. As a woman, I wonder about the lives of these long-ago sisters. What were these stories, seen through their eyes?

But it’s larger than that, which brings me to Reason 2. Due to their gender and culture, these women lived at the margins. Choices made by the Powerful wrenched women from their homes, labeled them pariahs, stole their dignity and, sometimes, their lives. Looking into and through these women’s eyes, we see in our culture’s marginalized (perhaps it’s you, perhaps it’s me) full souls deserving respect, freedom, and love.

As we read of these women, God’s love moves like a thread: weaving our stories into theirs. That thread connects and ennobles us all—all genders, the powerful, the marginalized. We find we can love our neighbors—and ourselves.

Could there be a truth more worthy of Lenten contemplation?

I hope to see you here next week, Feb. 10, on Ash Wednesday, as we share our first story from the margins.

Taking It To the Streets–Warning: Temples on the Move

Pentecost

Warning: Extreme God Geekiness to follow.

So many specs!

  1. Prophet Ezekiel receives a full-on tour of the worship house in God, enthroned, will place the soles of God’s feet. Once the Israelites learn their lesson, Ezekiel is to provide them complete specs for the edifice (Eze. 43, 44).
  2. The book of Exodus provides specifications for building the tabernacle: a moveable worship house.
  3. Generous ink is given in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles to the building specs for Solomon’s temple.
  4. Ezra and Nehemiah describe the raising of the Jerusalem temple.

I wonder why Scripture focuses so much attention on the layout and construction of a worship house. What difference do the measurements make (except for the perfect cube of the Holy of Holies—that’s a clear metaphor)? But the types of wood, metal, and fabric? The building’s exact length, breadth, and height?

I posed the question to my husband, who reminded me that the Ark of the Covenant, which was also made to exact specifications and which resided in the Holy of Holies, is believed to be a perfect conductor of power, which is why the priests carried it on poles and why Ussah died when he placed hands on the Ark to prevent it falling (2 Sam. 6). (I hope God greeted Ussah personally at heaven’s gate with a fruit basket and an apology.) It’s also what melted faces and made Indiana Jones famous in his first crusade.

Could it be that, like the Ark of the Covenant, houses of worship were designed to conduct God power: that these specs were blueprints for the perfect conduit? The idea’s mind blowing, because Jesus called Himself a temple (John 2:19) and Paul extends that role to each of us (1 Cor. 6:19). To recap: scripture details a temple-yet-to-be, a moveable tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus called His body a temple, and Paul described our bodies in the same fashion.

What if we are constructed to conduct God power? What if we have within us the force to transform what we touch? What if each of us is a carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly designed and constructed temple, engineered to transit God power? What if we just need to clear away some sludge to access that power(hence, spiritual practices)? What if, instead of feeling shame at our bodies’ needs and urges, namely hunger, thirst, and desire, we recognize these as temple furnishings? What if, instead of shaming ourselves for our humanness, we give thanks for our temples and their incarnated capacities. What if ours is not a religion of shame, self-abnegation, and self-denial, but one of yes, of full-hearted embodiment, of self- acceptance, of love power?

What do we do with such potency, literally, at hand? We’d each serve out of our true selves, expending our resident power in a unique, personalized fashion. And honor others in doing the same. We’d home in on those needs our particular specs address. And honor others in doing the same.

We are holy dynamos let loose on a hurting world. Let’s go out there and give ‘em heaven.

Pentecost People

Pentecost

A Pentecost People took their faith into the courtroom, into their sanctuary, and into the streets. Their unimaginable courage and compassion proved love’s power over any lesser force: including crazed evil. Nine dead: pastor, grandmother, father, brothers and sisters, friends. Yet the surviving members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina chose to walk in Jesus hope.

These Pentecost People believe with Paul that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, that, in Christ, we are one. They welcomed the shooter into their Bible study. Then, later, they faced him in the courtroom to call him on his betrayal. Their actions remind us there’s nothing milk toast about forgiveness. Forgiveness does not pretend wrong is inconsequential; forgiveness chooses not to demean ourselves with revenge.

These Pentecost People live into Jesus’ challenge to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. Their capacity to love stuns and inspires: their potent words and actions challenge a nation to come together.

To these Pentecost People I say: “Thank you. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your example of forgiveness. Thank you for your authentic faith. Who you chose to be in the greatest of heartbreaks ennobles you and challenges me toward deeper, truer faith. Of you, I hear Jesus, the Murdered and the Risen, say ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’”

And I see the nine, one by one, wrapped in a bear hug. The words “Welcome home” smiled into each set of eyes. Each one knowing at last, for sure—and wanting us to know—that love is worth it. For this is the promise of our faith.

Taking It Into the Streets: Drop & Dash?

Pentecost

At the shopping mall, one of a pair of young women appeared at my side. Pressing a paper into my surprised hands, she said, “Here. Take this.” And she peeled off. I looked down at a tract: one of the three-steps-to-salvation sort. I approached the pair, who were making off at speed.

“Excuse me,” I called to their retreating backs. The young woman turned, eyes wide. “I’m giving this back to you,” I said—I hope with empathy. She retrieved the tract, turned wordlessly, and the two continued on their way.

Why did I act as I did? Because this was not the first time a fellow Christian assaulted me with a tract, forcing it into my hands and disappearing into a crowd. And I don’t feel gifted. I feel ambushed. What is the point of sharing good news if we don’t stick around to answer questions? The act feels patronizing: like the person’s saying, “I can tell you really need this.” The age-old evangelism adage of one beggar telling another where to get bread assumes the beggar bearing good news has taken time to know the other person is, indeed, a seeking beggar. The adage also expects the good-news beggar to accompany his hungry friend to the bread source. What I experienced felt more like a drive-by.

Second, I returned the tract to give the young woman an opportunity to rethink herself. Her demeanor belied discomfort with her actions. And I’ve been there. Following the dictates of my spiritual leaders, I wore a button, put a sticker on my bumper, learned my witnessing lines, carried my tracts. And felt miserable.

I see three possible reasons for a person feeling that uncomfortable sharing good news. 1. There’s something wrong with 1. the message, 2. the messenger, or 3. the mode of message sharing. For years I labored under the conviction that I, the messenger, was at fault. I didn’t love Jesus enough; I was a coward. But I also knew in the deepest, truest part of me that forcing beliefs on another person violated that person’s selfhood. If our news is truly good, if God intends to set us free, would that same God wish us to share the news by violating another’s free choice? I trashed the tracts.

The first possibility—that the problem resides with the message? It’s tempting to force onto others what we want to believe, but aren’t quite sure of ourselves. It’s hard, after all, to stand in the truth that Jesus would live a hard life, heal persons and give them hope despite His experiences of personal betrayal, die a torturous death, and then—could it be?—rise again, fully alive. We need others to believe with us, but assaulting people with such incredible news debases the message.

Which brings us to the last possibility for my discomfort: the mode of message sharing. Drop-and-dash faith sharing is not the answer. If the news is, indeed, good, if we love another enough to want him/her to know,  we cannot pronounce judgement, then cut and run. We will look her in the eye. We will hear his story. And then we will let God and love guide our actions.

Taking It Into the Streets

Pentecost

The Church birthed in the fiery winds of Pentecost was deeply human and deeply compelled. Its feet itched to get out on the streets and do love; its tongues ached to speak love in every language imaginable. But soon the mammoth Christendom machine rolled into history and its clanging gears and noisy pistons nearly drowned out the human voice of the Church. The goal of the Christendom machine was to keep itself running and it would do anything—including violating human souls—to keep the engines buzzing. Those it wounded most deeply were the open and searching among us: the children, the artists, the prophets. Yet despite all its efforts, the Christendom machine is winding down, its weathered and rusted gears don’t make the kind of impressive noise they once churned out. And in the deepening silence we begin to hear again the sounds of the Church: its feet scurrying into the streets to do love and its tongues speaking love in every language imaginable.*

 

*With this piece I introduce my Pentecost series, “Taking It Into the Streets.” We will ponder together the meaning and mission of Church from its Pentecost birth to today.

 

 

Titans of Aging

6-nity

I had a recent health scare—or rather a couple of doctors had one on my behalf and I soon joined them. I’d come in for a prescription refill and found myself being counseled to have tests run. No symptoms: just a date passing in the year. I promised to follow up, but next business morning I received a call to set up a consult: that morning. Consult made, test scheduled. The earliest I could get in was two weeks hence.

I spent that fortnight wondering why flipping the odometer on my gage from 59 to 60 alarmed the medical profession so. It was as if I passed the witching hour on my last day as 59 and all the genetic Titans locked in Tartarus made a jail break and were running rampant through my body. My family history, not my symptomology, had elicited the concern.

And sure enough there they were: four little polyps just out of diapers. A biopsy scheduled. More waiting. I began living—well attempting to live—a bifurcated life. If all’s well, our nonprofit can be counted on for this and this. My children can depend on me for that and that. My husband and I can move into our thirty-fourth year of marriage with expectancy. If not? What can I be counted on for? Do I tell her? Him? To whom can I show my fear? Who do I protect?

In the end, my husband had to call for the results. The nurse apologized for the delay; their sick-people business was booming. But good news! All baby polyps were benign; we’d caught them before they grew up, formed a gang, and started vandalizing my system. In three years I go back in: same song, second verse.

I learned the news on my way to teach a class. I finished that and suddenly felt my weariness. I ached. I cried. My sinuses plugged up and my ears followed suit. I could attend now to the smaller discomforts of my body. I could taste food instead of forcing it down. I even slept through the night.

I’m grateful to the medical community for its vigilance. Not so much for the waiting. Will there be, in the coming years, more of these “hurry up and waits?” Will I get accustomed to bifurcated living? Will I find peace less a determined spiritual practice and more a natural state of mind? I have no idea. This I do know—facing the Titans of Aging takes courage, even if I face them with my teeth chattering and my eyes blinded with tears. And, for me at least, the courage comes, not as a token obtained by dropping coins in a prayer machine, but by praying in the sweat of terror—but praying all the same. And by considering the needs of those I love: determining who I want to be for them—if I live another couple of weeks or another couple of decades.

You hear me Titans? Game on.

Pretty Woman

061       062

Clad in a green windbreaker and white gimme cap, an octogenarian holds the door at the neighborhood McDonalds for his frail wife. She moves slowly, one foot carefully placed, then another. She is feeling the years. I stand behind, waiting, then make my exit, giving the couple room to maneuver.

As I walk past, I hear him tell her, “You were the prettiest woman in there.” Her responding laughter rings with joy. And hope.

Strolling to my car, I wished everyone had one someone to see them that way. That the deserving dad is believed by his kids to be the “Best Dad Ever.” Same for moms. That spouses and partners and friends and children know someone who sees them as the Mona Lisa, to quote Cole Porter. And I see no discrepancy here. Mr. Gimme Cap can believe his wife’s the prettiest woman in the room and the guy at the booth across the way can think the same thing about his girl. And she about him (unless he’d rather be the handsomest!).

I didn’t have any pictures of the Mona Lisa, so I chose these of my husband and me in our gym-toned bodies. He looks pretty good, huh?

Wishing you, each of you, someone who sees your uniqueness and who loves you for it.

Good Friday

When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion

When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases….—Isaiah 53:4

Amid the dead, dry jeers of the crowd and the hollow clank of Roman armor, we arrive.

Not this hill, Lord. Not this scene.

If I must look, I want to gaze up at Him from below as one of the crowd. Given the choice, I will join those shout “Crucify him!” only let me distance myself from His suffering. But God lifts me up until I hang eye to eye with Him—myself a thief suspended on a neighboring cross.

My Lord’s chest shudders with the agony of breath; a sluggish breeze stirs a tangle of hair not yet matted to His brow. Fresh rivulets of red pour from new wounds in His wrists. I smell the stench of cheap wine and the salt odor of dying sweat.

O God, I cannot bear it—how can I endure the sight of Your suffering?

“Do you love me?” Jesus’ eyes implore.

“Jesus, you know I love You.”

“Then stay.”

Is this, then, the price of love? I know instantly that it is.

 

When God Walks Away excerpt

 

Love

Love

Advent Piece 23

Each day of Advent, in honor of Word becoming flesh, I’ll seek, with art-making tools, to flesh out a word of the season. No conclusions here, though. These interactive “art samples” are more about raising questions than providing answers.

Today’s piece honors love, which is so deeply woven into all creation that we sometimes do not see its presence. But if we open wide our eyes–there! It’s shining all around!