Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ridin' on Faith

I have a decal on the back window of my truck that I mostly wish wasn't there. Most people miss it, I think, and I'm thankful for that. It's a cross with a bronco riding cowboy in front of it. Around the cross are the words, "Ridin' on Faith."

There are so many reasons I would never put that on my truck now. So many reasons. Guys who detail cars have given me lots of advice about how to get it off. I'm pretty sure they know their stuff and their recommendations would work.

Still, I choose to leave that decal on my truck, despite the fact it makes me cringe a little and despite the fact more than a few friends have made snarky comments about it. I leave it as a tangible reminder that we all have decisions we regret.

I was so excited to stick that decal on my truck when I was seventeen years old. Yes, I got the truck I still drive when I graduated high school. My best friend bought me the decal more than a year before and I tucked it away, waiting for the day when I would have a vehicle of my own to put it on.

The friend chose the decal well. I had a cowboy obsession, to put it mildly. I loved westerns and was especially fond of the illiterate poetry-writing cowboy with long hair in a short-lived television series based on a classic western. (For the record, he composed the poems in his head and had someone else write them down for him. I think his scribe was a prostitute/love interest.)

The friend who bought it and I grew up in the same conservative tradition. I was baptized by the youth minister from her church; she was the closest thing I had to family who was there that night. We carried our Bibles with us most every day. We led our school's morning devotion group.

Both the faith and the cowboy were good choices for the younger version of me. Still, I cringe when I notice the decal.

The cowboy obsession has long since died away. Well, mostly. My faith has morphed into something radically different than it was more than a decade ago. I would never make the same choice now. Actually, there's a whole variety of cringe-worthy decisions I could talk about from my teens. Well, probably my 20s, too. Undoubtedly, the same will be true for most every decade I encounter.

In some ways, that decal is incredibly insignificant. Still, it reminds me to forgive. I'm lucky that most of the decisions I made that I now regret did not end disastrously. For the most part, people look at my life and say, "She's got it together."

And I say, "I'm lucky." The drug dealers left me alone because I got good grades. It was a small high school. They never would have dared to offer me, well, anything. I was mostly unscathed by the stupid way that people with brand new driver's licenses handle a car. I could name a long list of things that, with one small change in the chain of events, would have meant police, or terrible injuries, or who knows what else. Maybe that's at the very core of, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

I don't know if I'll always get to say that. I know for certain a lot of people end up having to live with consequences for the same things I did unscathed.

So I leave that objectionable reminder on the back of my truck and remember that God is still present, still shoving, still calling us to new places and new things. And thanks be to God for that.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Again, Arizona?

By now you've probably heard of SB 1062, Arizona's newest attempt to climb back into the primordial ooze. In a nutshell: businesses can refuse service to gays and lesbians as long as the business owners assert their religious beliefs. The governor will sign or veto this week. By now, some of the support for the bill is waning and some of the Republicans who voted for the bill are calling for its veto.

More and more, it seems like SB 1062 won't become law, but yeah, it could be.

And if it does, I'll be one of the pastors working for its repeal. Yes, I've called the governor's office and signed a petition asking for veto, if you're wondering.

What drives me craziest of all, though, is the fact that, yet again, the voices calling themselves Christian aren't saying anything close to what Jesus Christ said. At all.

The voices we're hearing are the same voices that used Christianity to support slavery and segregation. These are the same voices that use Christianity to oppress women. Somehow, they've managed to use Christianity to support bigotry over and over again. In doing so, they've ignored more of what Jesus said than they're paying attention to.

And please, don't think for a moment those voices calling themselves Christian speak for all of us who call ourselves Christian.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yay, Facebook! (Seriously!)

Some days, I get too excited by social media happenings. Most recently it's Facebook. For once, though, it's nothing that my friend posted nor something that my frenemy posted. Facebook changed their options for listing gender. There's now a custom option in addition to male and female. The custom feature opens a dropdown menu with a full offering of cisgender and transgender identities. You get the option of choosing what pronoun Facebook uses for you, too.

I'm pretty close to giddy.

You see, the words people use to describe me have generally been words I'd use to describe myself. For the most part, those words haven't been derogatory. I've been called a bitch by a few people and could live without that. I can get annoyed when I'm called a girl in a degrading way. Still, those are exceptions, not the rule.

I'm straight and cisgender. People look at me and assume I'm female. The only time I've been mistaken for a gender other than the one with which I was born and with which I identify is when people start talking to me before I get out of my truck. Yes, we are still that stuck in gender stereotypes. I have far too many stories about too many people assuming pastors are male.

For the most part, though, gender and all the words about gender come without a question for me. That's not true for all people.

So thank you, Facebook, for getting this right. Thank you for letting people choose the words to describe themselves. Thank you for reminding cisgender folks that there's a weird sounding word for us, too. Thank you for reminding us that it's not as black and white as male and female. We need it more than we realize!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quarters & Grace

At the age of 5, I learned my first significant financial lesson. Yes, it sounds crazy to think a 5 year old could learn a major financial lesson, but I did. 

I did not enjoy kindergarten, to put it mildly. Last minute district decisions meant that I did not start kindergarten with the soft-spoken teacher I met during the weeks before school started. Instead, a nearing retirement teacher was moved to my school. The thing I liked least about her was her whistle. Now, I understand she used it to save her voice. Then, my just barely 5 years old self did not like that whistle, nor the generally noisy hustle and bustle of school. 

I cried every single day. 

My grandfather came up with a plan to get me to go to school: bribery. He paid me fifty cents a day not to cry. Each Friday, I reported to him if and when I cried that week, and he'd reward me accordingly. The pay for the day was based upon the cost of a can of pop from the school's vending machine. I was paid in quarters so that I could buy my pop at recess the next week. 

The only hitch to the system was that I rarely bought pop at recess. Instead, I saved up all the quarters in my little red wallet. By the spring carnival, I had about $75 saved. Yes, that's a chunk of change for most any 5 year old. This was in the spring of 1990. It was really a chunk of change then.

I spent every last quarter at the spring carnival. I bought a pencil with a salt dough unicorn on top and a red lace hairbow the size of my head and snacks and who knows how many tickets to play the games that were offered. My mom sold me most of the tickets while volunteering that day and it wasn't until the end of the day, when she saw my massive pile of loot, that she asked how much money I spent. 

Then she wanted to know where on earth I got that much money. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the months of stuffing more quarters into my wallet, having to work harder and harder each time to get it to zip. I didn't need the gravity of misspending explained to me, and never even wore that giant red lace hairbow. It was the first time in my life I was ever subjected to the interrogation adults give little kids, at least the first one I remember. There was no punishment. The money was mine to do with as I pleased, even if I missed having a bursting wallet.

Yes, that story has become part of family legend. 

I also learned to take responsibility for my actions. There were other lessons, of course, but this remains one of the most formative, tangible lessons. Of course, there have been times I haven't remembered that lesson. I've dodged my share of responsibility and blamed others more than a few times. Still, more often than not, when I've done something stupid, I've owned up to it, much like I did when it came to that $75 in quarters. 

Is that tied to the story of the prodigal son? Or maybe Moses who fled after committing murder? Or maybe the woman caught in adultery? Or maybe the woman at the well? 

Or maybe it's a broader story, written into so much of the Gospel: when you've done wrong, and can say so, there will be forgiveness. 

The grace comes when you take responsibility for what you've done and seek out a better Way. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not So Squeaky Clean

The woman talking struck me as the quintessential church lady. She was proper and spoke with authority when she was in charge of something. I imagine she might even wear a hat to church most Sunday mornings. She wondered about the people staying at her church as part of the emergency housing program both our congregations participate in.

"Is it ok to give him bandages? He had bloody marks all over him. They looked a lot like the ones you get when you use meth and start scratching. I didn't want to do anything I shouldn't."

She was assured that giving bandages was just fine and reminded to use gloves around blood. She nodded in agreement and we moved on to something else.

Too often the church has an image of only caring about being squeaky clean, pronouncing alcohol and cussing taboo for its members. My church pronounces neither taboo, for the record.

More importantly, though, most of the church folks I've known have never shied away from the grittiest, dirtiest places around. They go to the missions and soup kitchens in the worst parts of town, and do so willingly.

I think, even more surprisingly, they take their kids with them. In some cases, they let me take those kids.

The tweens never know how to make conversation, but the older kids, 15 or 16, do. And they sit and talk with drug addicts who will likely never seek recovery. They learn to leave alone the person talking to people only he sees.

Afterwards, I get the questions.

Why was that man shaking?

Why did she talk funny?

Why wasn't I allowed out where all the people were waiting?

They're hard questions. They mean talking about drugs and alcohol and how those two things can change people. They mean talking about mental illness. They mean talking about broken healthcare systems. In at least one case, going to the place that most needed help meant having a pre-emptive talk with kids about drug paraphernalia and making sure they knew what a condom looked like once it was out of the package so that they didn't pick up either of those things. The parents that I talked with before the conversation, knowing they guard their children carefully, all said, "Of course."

Never, not once, were kids offered a cautionary tale. No "See now, don't use drugs!" No "This is why you need to stay in school!"

It wasn't about scaring them straight or scaring them at all. It was about making sure they were in relationship with people very different from them, people also beloved by God. The conversations were  rooted in the reality that people on both sides of the serving line need each other.

The very fact that, for the most part, we had to travel several miles to get to the soup kitchens means that we're still broken. Poor and doing ok still live too far apart. We're still far from the reign of God if such interactions aren't part of our daily lives.

Still, when you sit a twelve year old kid from the suburbs next to a man who has been living on the streets for most of his life, and serve them both dinner, and watch them figure out how to talk to each other, you're a bit closer to the reign of God.

And the lack of squeaky cleanness is a big part of what makes it holy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Marking One Year

I've officially lived in Arizona more than a year and served alongside this congregation for one full year. I knew it had been a year for several reasons. My car and renter's insurance had to be paid, for one.

The scents and sounds I remember from my first days in the desert have returned. The trees in the courtyard that give off a heavenly fragrance have started blooming and I find myself breathing in their smell. All of a sudden, the doves have returned, or maybe they've just started singing, again. Either way, hearing their songs is a reminder of the holiness I encountered in this place in those very early days.

And my church remembered that I have been here a year. They marked the event in worship with a simple gift, pictured here. The 100 Grand immediately became an after worship snack. I smiled way too much at slightly cheesy puns. But the best part? They remembered.

Some of my pastor friends were shocked that a congregation remembered an anniversary of ministry, even as they celebrated alongside me when I posted pictures on Facebook. They giggled at the puns. More than a few remarked, "That's so sweet!"

Still, the most said, "I'm so happy for you that they remembered!"

For all of you who sit in pews most Sundays instead of stand in the pulpit, I'm pretty sure you know that what your pastor does matters. Even when that pastor messes up from time to time (we all do), or says some things you aren't crazy about, you know their work still matters.

We need to hear that from time to time.

Because although this call that became our job (or one of our jobs) is a beautiful, holy thing, it means we often put in long hours. Much of our work is unseen by most of the congregation. We're emotionally invested in our work. Failures and successes in the church affect us deeply. Loving and feeding the sheep--that's you--means we, too, worry when you're worried and rejoice when you rejoice.  Sometimes, the goodness and holiness of this call fades when we're caught up in everything that comes with this call.

If you take the time to say, "Your work here matters," it can make all the difference in the world.

And thanks to my church folks who did just that.