Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lost Cards and a Hot Dog

"We're usually the Pharisees." It's a terrible reminder when reading through the Gospels, but one that must be uttered often. "We're usually the Pharisees." In my mostly Anglo, mostly middle-class, I'd-guess-half-of-us-have-post-graduate-degrees-congregation, yeah, we're usually the Pharisees. We're the teachers, the people with at least some power. We're not usually the ones asking for help. We're not usually the people caught in vulnerability; money (or credit) usually fixes our vulnerability.

I think a solid, even if small, dose of vulnerability would do us all some good. I got one yesterday, in fact. I woke up feeling like death on a Triscuit. Not sick, not anything tangibly wrong, just overall bad. I eventually dragged myself out of bed, showered, and decided to grab food on the way to work. Yes, there was food in my house, but ordering food alone seemed like too much of a challenge. My desire for not breakfast food coupled with time of day meant that I stopped at QuikTrip. (I enjoy gas station food far more than anyone should.) I ordered my sandwich, filled up my drink, then went to pay. Standing at the counter, owing all of $4 and some change, I realized my wallet was empty except for my driver's license. 

Empty. No cash. No cards. Nothing. Now, this should have really surprised me. I have a phone case that's also a wallet and it needs to be thrown away. I've dropped cards out of it a few times lately. But really, why bother with something like that until it's absolutely necessary? I was hopefully they had merely fallen out in my car, so I left my drink with the cashier and went out to check. No cards. Because I was in my death on a Triscuit haze and because nothing like this had never happened to me, I still went back in the QuikTrip to explain to the cashier that my cards had not been in my car after all. He just kinda stared at me as I told him I'd have to go home and look for them. I'm not sure what else I expected him to do. This was not one of the best moments of my life. 

A woman standing in line--a line which was now long by QuikTrip standards--said, "Oh, you need to pay for your snack? I'll buy your drink." So I thanked her, grabbed my drink, and headed back home in search of the cards. When I pulled into my parking space, I suddenly knew the exact moment the cards had fallen out. It was the night before, when I'd been talking on the phone. Sure enough, there they were, between my bed and nightstand. 

I did not return to QuikTrip for my sandwich. 

I don't think any of this would have been so bad if not for another story from that same QuikTrip. It happened not long after I moved to the area. I don't know what I'd stopped for that day, but there was a young woman ahead of me in line. She had a hot dog that she was trying to pay for with her SNAP card. I'd never thought of using a SNAP card at a gas station; just like a grocery store, hot food couldn't be purchased with the card. The cashier turned her away.

I was annoyed by the exchange and the delay in line. I was even more annoyed with her when the cashier called to her as she tried to sneak out the door, "I'll need you to pay for that hot dog." Yes, she'd tried to steal it, instead. Paying for it never entered my mind. For the record, it was all of $1.50. 

I've thought of that woman and that attempted hot dog theft many times when I've walked into that gas station, which is one of two that I frequent. I've thought of the friend waiting in the car. I've thought of her black plastic glasses, dirty blonde hair, and don't remember much else. But I didn't consider her vulnerability that day until the last couple of days, even though her vulnerability meant she had only SNAP benefits to pay with. 

For just a moment, I'm glad I wasn't the Pharisee in the story. Now that I've found my cards, I think I'd also be kinder to that lady with the hot dog. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

That Day I (Kinda) Became a Troll

Each Sunday, the class I teach reads together the scripture for the sermon for the following week. This practice is an excellent way to begin my sermon preparation. I also thoroughly enjoy when someone calls bullshit. 

You read that right. It happens with some regularity--especially when offering a traditional interpretation of scripture or some portion of the Bible we're not crazy about. Yeah, we can openly admit that we'd like to ignore some of the Bible. And we can call bullshit. It's one of my favorite things about ministry in this place, actually. 

To be fair, when I needed to call bullshit in a sermon, I used the more worship appropriate "horse feathers," but I still did it. Actually, I think the ability to engage and question scripture is one of the most profound callings of Christian faith. So the other day, I found myself sorta, kinda becoming one of those trolls that so regularly cause me to roll my eyes.  In this case, a college friend (haven't seen each other since graduation, but his picture from a hike with our group from our capstone course is in my office) had posted on Facebook that Kim Davis' ridiculousness is the beginning of even worse Christian persecution.

Friends, I do not regularly engage in Facebook debates. They rarely go anywhere productive. They turn vitriolic incredibly quickly because these discussions happen outside the confines of any sort of community. Yet, someone needed to call bullshit. So I did--knowing that I did it with people who would likely be offended if I actually said (or typed), "Bullshit." 

The conversation went exactly as I thought it would, including a typically terrible debate on same-sex marriage. Have I mentioned how annoying I find it when people ask me if I've read a particular Bible verse? For the sake of Moses, Peter, and sweet 8 pound baby Jesus--YES! I've read the entire Christian Bible on multiple occasions. I've read the apocrypha. I've read large chunks of the stuff that didn't make it into the canon. I can tell you the difference between the Christian and Jewish orderings of scripture. If you really love me, please buy me an English translation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible because I don't have an extra $300 lying around right now and it's the largest of any Christian canon; I'd love to own a copy. But yes, I've thoroughly read this book I'm prone to geeking out about. Any way, back to that day I behaved kinda troll-like. 

Sometimes, those sorts of conversations are worth it. Most of the time, they would be better in person. But here are a few things I truly believe, going in and coming out of that usually avoided conversation:
  • We should be talking to people who are more conservative and more liberal than we are, especially if they share our faith. We might find we use the same words to talk about different things. My troll-y self knew we had different sets of beliefs about what we mean when using the word "Bible" for example. We do a great disservice to ourselves, though, if we can't figure out how to at least talk to each other--even if we walk away pretty sure the other person needs some divine intervention. 
  • Community matters. This goes hand in hand with the first one. We should be in and maintain relationship with people different from us. It might be people we once sat alongside in class. It might be the neighbor whose music drives us nuts. But we need those bonds of community to help us continue conversations. 
  • Conversations should continue. The least troll-y thing I did was say something to someone I would be glad to see in real life. If something is one way, then it's not conversation. The conversation matters. We can listen to ourselves talk all we want on any given day. It doesn't actually do much good. 
  • Speaking up matters. Side conversations came from the primary conversation. They were good conversations, too. They were needed conversations, too. On social media, in coffee shops in grocery store lines--you never know who's listening. You never know who might need to hear what you're saying. You never know when, exactly, the Spirit might create something amazing.
  • Speaking up matters differently if you're you're privileged. I've been told I'm going to hell for a variety of reasons, but never because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. I'm a little farther right on the Kinsey scale than some, but decidedly a cisgendered, heterosexual female. I also can keep my temper in check when others can't. That means I'm highly unlikely to end up in tears or feeling absolutely terrible when someone gets nasty in a fight about same-sex marriage. I care about the subject deeply, but it's not a conversation about the validity or sinfulness of my relationship. I owe it to my friends for whom those things are not true to speak up when they can't--and to move aside when they're ready to speak. 
So there's my confession from the day I kinda became a troll; sometimes, you just have to call bullshit.