Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Body Remembers

Some people say that the body remembers what the mind might forget. Usually, those memories are ones of deep trauma like a violent attack or significant injury. The memories might also be of a deep loss of a loved one. Those memories are always things we will never forget, even if we push them to the back of our minds, even if we think we've worked through everything with our therapist. The body still remembers.

Just a few weeks ago, that notion clicked with me for the first time. I was unusually grouchy for several days. There are plenty of reasons why I might be grouchy, including a busy season in church life. The grouchiness also followed a few weeks without a sabbath day. Then I realized it was also the anniversary of my grandfather's death.

I was 21 years old when my grandfather died. Nearly three years earlier, he fell in his garden, destroying his one good eye in the fall. His blindness revealed the dementia he had been hiding. If he had lived longer or been in good health longer, I don't know what our relationship would have been like. He was a terribly racist man, even for his generation. He was also wonderful to me.

My mother started college when I was two years old, so I spent two or three days a week at my grandparents' home until I started Kindergarten. For years after, my sister and I traded off spending Friday nights at their house. My grandmother never worked outside the home, so her days continued to be much the same as they had always been. My grandfather found retirement more leisurely than he liked, so I often tagged along with him.

We spent hours at the flea market and the tiny local grocery store. He'd eat the play food I prepared for him. I was always welcome with him in his garden, or garage, or the barn. He had an ever-changing menagerie of animals that I would help feed and, of course, play with. He let me drive his truck as soon as I was tall enough. Before that, he'd let me steer his truck while sitting on his lap. (Here, I think I should say he was always concerned for my safety as well.) He was sure I could do anything.

A few more years may have marred those many wonderful memories, but as is, they're just good. His death disconnected me from my hometown more than anything else. Of course my body remembers all of that. Of course it tells me that just because that loss was years ago, the pain is still there. Of course my body reminds me of how terrible it is when something so good is ripped away.

As I read the entire story of the last week of Jesus' life in worship this past week, it all made sense. Of course the body must remember. Of course the body of Christ gathers to remember what was done to it, the terrible crimes committed against one of its own. Of course the body must mourn what was done to it. Of course the body must feel the pain all over again. Of course.

It's the strangest combination. We re-tell the story of one we love taken from was, a story of terrible violence. And that story is also our story, the story of who we are together. Betrayal, beatings, death, all of the worst parts of the story, aren't one time events. They happen over and over and over again. The stories of Jesus' last week hit hard because we've heard them from people we love, people in our churches, people whom we recognize as fellow members of the body of Christ.

Betrayal, beatings, death--of course, of course, the body remembers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Learning Grace

We'll have homeless people sleeping in our building on Easter Eve. It happens to be our regular day to host. I never doubted that we should, but did anticipate at least some discussion on it. The full discussion, "If we tell homeless people they can't sleep here because it's Easter, we've missed something." And they're welcome to stay for worship, breakfast, or any combination of those things.

The churching renting space from us hadn't paid any building usage fees in several months. That came up because of additional building usage requests. We have a building that is mortgaged, and plenty mortgaged because it was completed months before the real estate bubble burst. If the denominational organization that holds our loan had not been incredibly gracious to us, who knows if we'd be in our building. From that experience came the response, "Yes, but can you ask them to catch up some?" We decided on catching up the fees to within 3 months of the additional building usage. That's right, still 3 months behind was just fine.

Back in November, we had an offering stolen. It might have been the largest offering my congregation has ever received. "Thank you for handling this," is the only distinct feedback I remember from that time. Even now, that sounds crazy, because in most churches, that would have caused an explosion like no other.

Get a group of pastors together and we can all tell stories of how people expected us to be the professional Christian. We can all tell stories of people assuming we had answers to things we don't have answers to. We can all tell stories of churches being absolutely terrible in other ways, that have little to do with expectations of pastors.

It's strange to speak of this, because, you see, I'm a rules girl (though I prefer making the rules to following them). I like everyone to abide by the agreed upon social contracts of laws and schedules and the like. You might prefer to avoid me if I have recently been annoyed by someone breaking one of the rules. And so I confess that I am grateful for a community that teaches me grace--wonderfully, faithfully, often unpredictably.

It's almost like Jesus had that in mind when calling us out.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dirty Toilets & Community

Lately, I've been reading Brené Brown's work. (If you haven't, check it out. Go for the less self-help Daring Greatly, though.) She researches and writes about shame and vulnerability. I promise, it's way more interesting than I just made it sound. I probably could have saved myself a lot of therapy if I'd found her sooner. Or ended up in a lot more therapy because her work also makes me want to cry. Who knows. The gist of it all is this: we learn shame when we mess up so we refuse to be vulnerable with other people. There's more than that, sure, but that's it in a nutshell.

In some ways, it's a treatise on sin, maybe even original sin. It's weird because it has very little to do with action, but a whole lot to do with why we value ourselves or don't, and how we relate to other  people. She rarely mentions God (she's a practicing Episcopalian), but her work has so much to do with what my tradition claims about God. God knows you, everything about you, and loves you any way. God calls you to live in community and love each other, warts and all. It's terribly, incredibly uncomfortable to be vulnerable before other people, much less a deity, but it's wonderfully, incredibly life-giving to do so. So says Brown and so says God, especially through the words of Paul.

I'm pretty sure, given my vocation and training, I should get the pitfalls of vulnerability and I think, in some ways, I do. I like my privacy for a reason. What did catch me off guard, though, is the cultural perceptions of what I should be and how much that affects me. So yesterday, as I was reading a whole bunch of Brown, I also posted a picture as part of my church's Lent photo a day challenge. Said picture is here. You see, I've come to terms with the fact that I have a messy office; others have not come to terms with that fact. It's still a source of embarrassment to me some days, but mostly, it just doesn't rank high enough on my list of priorities to change it. Lo and behold, this picture revealed my housekeeping shortcomings. In the view on my phone, I was certain I had cut out the black gunk on the back of the toilet bowl. In the view on my laptop, after I'd already posted it to Instagram and Facebook, the black gunk was quite visible. Also, while Instagram filters make selfies look better, they only accentuate the dust around my bathtub and toilet.

I didn't intend to share those things with the world. I have no idea why when I scrub the black gunk off whenever I think about it (which isn't often), it doesn't stay gone. Dust in the desert is always going to win out in my world. Homemaking, though, was important in my family. My mom had a job jar from which my sister and I drew chores each Saturday so that the house was mostly vacuumed, swept, scrubbed, and dusted. Yes, even dusting the stairs was a weekly job in my childhood world. So, like it or not, I learned shame about a messy home and not as clean as it should be. That's present, even as my working and living spaces are most always a wreck.

The people who lived in a dorm with me knew my room would most always be a mess and either didn't care or knew I didn't and chose to leave me alone. There's a vulnerability that comes with living in a dorm, after all. It's a very tight night community that sees every single wart you have, literally and figuratively, at some point during your time there. Most of us in adult world, though, get to choose our vulnerability, especially if we're financially stable.

The little secrets,  the ones only those closest to us know, are often the ones that trip us up. Somehow, Church has easily taught me to celebrate that I can "approach the throne of grace with confidence" and find mercy and help in a time of need. That, though, would certainly be for something big, not something that just niggles at me. The truth is, though, that unless I can trust God and a community of faith to handle little vulnerabilities, I'll never trust them with the large ones. That's the reality of vulnerability and finding belonging in the Christian community.

So here are a few vulnerabilities, related to my housecleaning, or lack thereof:

  • I don't have shelf paper or drawer liner in my kitchen or bathroom cabinets. I realize this may not seem like a big deal. This was a skill I learned at a young age and was important for easy cleaning of rough cabinet surfaces. Guess what? I don't dust inside my cabinets either! 
  • I gave up folding socks and underwear years ago. Instead, I have lots of drawers. One for dress socks, one for athletic socks, one for underwear, one for sports bras, one for real bras. It works quite well for me. 
  • I only occasionally wash sheets. I wash them when I think about it. It's nowhere near as often as it should be. I remember a high school teacher saying bed linens should be washed at least once a week. That makes me laugh. 
So there you go--a few things I'd rather you not know about me. I'm sure you have a few of your own.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Just a Box of Condoms

At most of the funerals I've done, I've preached from Romans 8: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." I preach that text because most of the funerals I've done have been for people under the age of 60. I think, especially, of the suicides and the child who died as a result of long-term abuse. In those cases, I want those words to ring completely and fully: nothing, you've got that, nothing can separate us from the love of God. That "nothing" includes the most terrible, most painful things imaginable.

My church is doing a photo a day challenge for Lent. Most days, I've shared a picture. It's one of those weird spaces where personal and professional life collide. Especially the day I shared a picture of a box of condoms. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to snap said picture. I decided to avoid eye contact with the pharmacy tech who was probably wondering why on earth anyone would take a picture of a box of Trojans.

The word of that day was ruined. And when I thought of that word, and church, I couldn't help but think about how many women have been told they were ruined because of their sexual history. Yes, men have been told that, too, but not nearly at the same level as women. Rape ruins you. Consensual sex outside of marriage ruins you. Divorce ruins you. Even kissing, you know, makes you a little less desirable as a Christian partner. God wants you to remain pure. Of course, that's just about heterosexual relationships.

I shudder to think how many links I could add to those sentences. I shudder to think how many Pinterest posts, and blog posts, and Christian magazine posts, and Amazon links to books on the subject I could find if I tried.

You know the result? I thought a long, long time about posting a picture of box of condoms. I almost deleted it. I almost deleted it because of the kids from camp who don't go to my church who are my friends on Facebook. I almost deleted it because of the various adults from all walks of church who might run across it. I almost deleted it because church and sexuality still have a very screwed up relationship. I almost deleted it because the inner tuggings of all the teaching about what will ruin you almost won out over my what I actually believe to be true.

I didn't delete the picture. Mostly, I didn't delete it because of all the reasons I posted it to start with. If the teenagers saw it and asked about it, here's my response: "Your sexuality is part of who you are. The church cares about that, too. We need to do a better job of helping you embrace your God-given sexuality and equipping you to take care of all of you."

Ditto to the church people across the line, actually, with a, "We've totally screwed this up," thrown in.

Mostly, though, it's a reminder: we can't be ruined. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." That includes sexual history--consensual history, nonconsensual history, confusion, bad decisions, everything you can imagine.

Nothing really means nothing. Nothing can ruin you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tantrums & Things

"People don't need our money. I need money to buy toys." Turner, age 3

Hey, at least 3 year olds are honest. He'll shout what most adults can't or won't admit they think. This year, I gave my church a giving calendar during Lent. Most days, they're asked to make a small donation to their box that accompanies the calendar. Units are self-determined. Proceeds go to Week of Compassion, our denominational development and emergency response agency. Through the course of Lent, participants will donate somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 units. That's $2.50 if your unit is a penny, $62.50 if it's a quarter. You get the idea.

On the days they don't make a donation, people are asked to pray for a need that Week of Compassion helps meet or to learn about one of Week of Compassion's partner organizations.

Yes, it's meant to be a meaningful practice, but not an overwhelming commitment.

And still, a 3 year old ended up in what his mother termed, "full meltdown." Even he knows there are tons of cool toys to buy. Personally, I'd like my too full closet to be fuller. I'd really like my junk jewelry collection to be newer and trendier. I'd like a flat screen TV, an iPad, and a higher end computer. One can never have too many books of course. Please, let me show you my Amazon wish list. Of course, I'll add a few things to it first.

If we're going ambitious, buying a house would be a wise investment and much nicer than renting. I could paint walls whatever color I want, buy new furniture, and have cool landscaping. Water features in the desert are freakin' awesome. Seriously, just ask Moses if you don't believe me. The towels I have are just fine, if you think their job is only to dry people, but they're no longer the color I'd like. I read this article on some blog or in some magazine or, well, somewhere else on the internet that said having all white linens gives a polished look to your home. I'm fully convinced that person, whoever he or she is, is right. I pretty much need an all white collection of towels. Then even my mom would be happy because I would use bleach on my towels!

Yes, I just bought a car, but I'd really prefer a small SUV. A hybrid would cut down on my guilt about said SUV. (Why can't I forget that person who called them Satan's Ultimate Vehicle? Ugh!) Yeah, that list could go on. And on. I'd also like a person to clean my house and someone to deliver regular, healthy prepared meals to me wherever I am. Or pack me lunch. Yes, I realize I want some version of a housewife, maybe even a Stepford Wife. Ugh, again.

And I should stop. Here's the thing: I grew up in a household where want versus need was a clear line. My sister calls me "Squeaky" on a regular basis when talking about my spending habits. I was taught to give 10% to the church, no matter what. I helped deliver food to people who were grieving, or homebound, or just needed food. I had a firm education in stewardship, including a college professor who told us point blank no matter how little we had, we were to give 10% of it away. That list could go on and on and on and on.

But, Turner, buddy, I still get it. I get wanting toys. I get how hard it is to hear Jesus' cry, "Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I get how hard it is to realize that cry matters to us who are consumed by our stuff every bit as much as it matters to those who work indescribably hard every day and still don't have enough to eat.

I, too, need to hear about people who don't have potties, and kids who don't have enough food, and people who can't read, and all those other things you and I take for granted. So here's hoping, along the way, we both learn to see, to hear, to give, to be moved like Jesus. We need to give our money as much as anyone could possibly need it. We'll never learn to live in God's reign if we don't.