Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Holidays, Y'all!

The holidays are officially upon us, with Thanksgiving falling tomorrow.

Folks, these are the days for which Jesus exists. Yes, I'm aware Christmas/Jesus' birthday/all that/yada, yada, yada. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about holidays. I realize there are many people who get extra warm and fuzzy and think this is the best time of the year. If you let me wrap all your packages, I may become one of those people. As is, I want to cuddle with the Grinch a reasonable amount of the time.

Y'all know what I'm talking about. "No, grandma, he's not my roommate. He's my boyfriend. You know that. We've been living together for ten years. I'm not interested in girls. I told you that twenty years ago. It hasn't changed."

Of course, there are the classics: "When are you getting married?" "Have you met a nice boy/girl yet?" "Oh, you can't fool me, I see that bump. I won't tell anyone until you're ready!" Surprise, nope, not a baby. That's sugar cookies. Specifically, that's all the sugar cookies I'm currently stress eating to deal with you, Aunt Hilda.

These are the days that you need Jesus. Now, Jesus only commanded to you love your neighbors, realizing that family is far harder. For family, he went with "Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." Based on personal experience, I would not recommend quoting this particular passage to your father or mother. It has a reasonable chance of not ending well.

I also do not recommend passive aggressive actions, which tend to be my go-to coping skills. Hiding the remote control, for example, to annoy your football watching dad. Or just walk to another room when the conversation becomes unbearable. It's especially fun when the conversation was primarily one person peppering you with questions.

Again, not me, but Jesus. Jesus said to love your enemies. (Cough, that one cousin.) Jesus said to pray for those who persecute you. Persecution may even include Uncle Joe, at least for the next month. The other eleven months, not so much.

Most of all, though, Jesus can help you find your people. There's a reason Jesus-following people hang out together. Those people will give you a chance to do good for people in need. Those people will give you a chance to talk about all your family crazy. Those Jesus-following people will remind you that there's a whole bunch of stuff beyond you, and turn you toward that. Jesus can help you find your people, who will love you and your significant other, no matter who they are. Jesus can help you find your people who ask just the right amount of questions. Jesus can help you find the people you need.

So seriously, this holiday, find Jesus, or at least some Jesusy people. They'll redeem the crazy siblings, the off-kilter in-laws (I should note, my in-laws are amazing. I have to say this. They read my blog.), the cousins you see once a year at most. They'll redeem the drunken uncle or the very, very dry holiday gathering that would be better if you could just have a little tequila.

In this season, when it's easy to get sucked inward, to get stressed out, to be driven mad by those people with whom you share a bloodline, you need Jesus. You need Jesus to remind you there's something else that matters, even when you're on your fourth Thanksgiving dinner thanks to your particular version of family.

I'm reminding myself of this, too, as I'm over here stockpiling chocolate to stress eat.

Oh--and Happy Holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Woman at the Well

The story of the woman at the well is one that haunts my imagination. Do you remember it? She's only in John's telling of the Gospel. She comes to the community well in the middle of the day, apart from the other women of the community. Jesus asks her for a drink of water and she is shocked. After all, she is a Samaritan and he is a Jew. They talk and he knows all about her. It reasonable to think most people do, given that she's been married five times and the man she lives with now is not her husband.

She's not the likely character for a theological conversation. She and Jesus have one any way, talking about living water. When she leaves the well, she understands better than the disciples do. She tells everyone in the city about Jesus.

In recent years, commentary has moved away from worrying about her sexual sins to talking about her being exploited. Ancient customs aside, women who have been married several times tend to have been exploited by their partners. Her story is far too common in the world we live in. Our concern about the number of baby daddies a woman has makes that all too clear.

I don't know what the story of her five husbands was, but I know the stories of others.

She had a baby at fifteen with her high school boyfriend. Their high school taught abstinence only; they didn't know there was contraception. Well, that assumes they had much information at all about what they were doing. She got kicked out of her parents' house, but he said he'd get a job and they'd figure it out. Before she was seventeen, he was gone.

Within a couple of months, she was living with their next door neighbor. He was much older and creeped her out, but he would take her in. There was money left over at the end of the month sometimes to buy extra things. There was always food in the house. She couldn't make it on her own, any way. One night, when there wasn't money left over or food in the house, he hit her. It happened a few more times before she landed in the emergency room. The social worker helped her get to a shelter. The shelter helped her find a job.

All of that wasn't enough, so she moved in with a man she thought she loved a few months later. They wanted a baby together, so they had one. He told her all the time how lucky she was to have him, how good it was that she could find anyone willing to take her in. She knew he was right, so she didn't push back very often at all. When he hit her the first time, she knew she deserved it. He told her he'd get both her kids if she ever tried to leave. He had to be right. He was always right. When bruises showed up on her oldest, a teacher reported it. The social worker removed her kids and offered to get her help as well.

The housing projects she ended up in were better than she imagined, at least for a while. She had her kids back with her now. And here, her story would repeat. Abusive cycles tend to repeat themselves, after all. That's just the rule. The next partner could start selling drugs or using drugs or something else that comes often with people living in poverty. One of the most horrifying stories I've ever heard was about a woman who was told to marry her rapist. She wanted an abortion, but ended up at a Christian pro-life clinic thanks to a bait and switch. They told her it was her fault and she needed to marry him if he'd have her. That would fix everything. That story has been told in a million different ways throughout history.

I let the story of the woman at the well haunt me because I've met too many women like her. Maybe they'd only had one or two terribly failed relationships, but they were used to the guilt and shame. They were used to the whispers and the looks. The story of the woman at the well reminds me that women's issues are the church's issues.

The day following the election, I signed up to be in a local production of The Vagina Monologues. It was one of the most tangible, immediately available ways that I could imagine to talk about violence against women and other women's issues. Actually, there are all sorts of things it brings up that aren't often part of polite conversation. If the President-elect gets away with joking about sexual assault, though, you better believe I'm going to talk about the horrors of sexual assault and all the other terrible things done to women.

If I wanted to, I could talk so many things related to this choice, including plenty of secular feminism that we don't talk about enough in church. At the end of the day, though, I'm doing this on behalf of the woman at the well. May the unwritten parts of her story haunt us all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Election Day

I waited until today to vote. Early voting just doesn't feel right to me for some reason. For all the incivility of this election season, as I got ready this morning, I was struck by the civility of this process.

I checked my wallet for my driver's license and voter ID card. I double checked my precinct since my polling location is home for two precincts. I added a number to call if there was a problem with voting into my phone, not for my own sake, but because the people voting in my precinct are racially diverse, speaking a few different languages. I'm also aware that being well-informed and feeling like you have recourse is too often a place of privilege. I well remember two years ago, when voter turnout wasn't nearly as high. Still, I helped a young woman figure out her documentation in order to vote. She had everything she needed, but her English was limited. Signs, of course, are only in English.

This morning, it wasn't needed. The poll workers were plentiful and helpful. The line for my precinct was much longer than the adjacent one, where people just walked in. Still, it was all of a fifteen minute wait to vote, if not a little shorter. The poll workers would occasionally come out and make an announcement to ensure everyone was in the correct line. I helped one woman sort out her precinct. There was a young man doing the same; I'm pretty sure it was the first time he ever voted.

The lines moved; we were ushered forward with gentleness and kindness. A scripted question echoed after presenting ID, "Do you need any help with your ballot?" At least I think that was it. I deposited my own ballot into the machine and was thanked for voting. I was the 182nd person in my precinct to go through that process today. I imagine it was much the same for everyone.

I remember a line from The West Wing in an election cycle, "Every four years, we get to overthrow the government. Vote!" In a totally different episode, Sam Seaborn reflects on the civility of the Boston Tea Party, complete with calligraphy and parchment.

I am reminded today that this experience is one of incredibly privilege. A hundred years ago, I could not have voted. For all the calls to violence that have happened at various points in this season, we still operate on the assumption that we will go to the polls, we will vote, the votes will be counted, and we'll learn to live with the winner. We anticipate a peaceful transfer of power come January, even in our presidential election.

For the most part, we will continue to live in the same communities, no matter what. Our kids will still go to school together. We'll shop at the same grocery stores. We'll drive on the same roads. While we may be anywhere from annoyed to angry, we'll figure out life together for now.

As someone in a religious tradition that has splintered into no fewer than three (and perhaps more) versions of the Church, from a tradition that broke off and splintered a few more times, I wish we'd taught the story of unity better. I wish we'd taught the story of choosing to live together through difficult times and places better. I wish we'd lived out what we have long professed: that Christ unites us more than our differences.

No matter how this election goes, we have the chance to do that better.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus."