Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tattooed


He had sleeve tattoos on both arms. It felt like a dozen stories crowded together between shoulder and wrist. There was a orange and goldenrod koi swimming down one forearm and a starlight sky interrupted by the cuff of his short sleeved uniform. There was an icon of a woman: Mary, St. Theresa, St. Catherine? I don’t remember all of them because I am grown up and have been told not to stare. He was an employee working at the store where we were shopping for a vacuum cleaner. It was a toss away moment. An errand when nothing more magical or mystical than getting my floors good and clean could possibly happen. He was a great salesman. He said, “No, the cheaper model won’t be able to handle the load of a full household,” and, “let me do a price check.” The things that make you feel decent about spending $299 on a device to extract dirt from your floor. Why, yes, we do have a full house hold. Why, yes, I am a hard working mother who needs great tools. Why, yes, we are being responsible and getting the best price. I shop around.

During the price check, (which did save us 20%, honest) my daughter climbed up on a conveniently located chair and began brushing the orange and red and blue and green swirls on his arms. They were tanned and lightly haired and the pictures looked smooth.

  “What doze pic-sures?” her lispy voice asked.
“They are for lots of things. But I’m sure your mom don’t want you to get tattoos. They’re bad.”
“They not bad. They pwetty.”

They not bad; they pwetty. Her soul connected with that young man’s and he blushed as deeply as she will when she hears this story.

One of the epic stories in the beginning of the Old Testament tells of a group of slaves who were freed through a very dramatic wizard’s duel. After the snakes and the blood and the frogs and boils, there came a moment that would mark Jewish tradition forever. The Passover. The angel of death came and the first born male of every home not protected by the blood of a lamb over the door died. (Small aside: angels probably aren’t chubby or feathery, and you might not enjoy Christmas dinner with one sitting on your tree.) Later, out of their captor’s reach, Moses, their reluctant, staff-wielding, wizard leader, began the great tradition of remembrance called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, or Passover. During this holy time, this story was to be passed to the children and kept like “a reminder on your forehead.” 

No, I don’t think tattoos are bad. I probably won’t get one on my forehead, but that’s not the point. The point is, we have a story that is important enough to stab it into the deep layers of our flesh. Like a thousand stings. Our stories are not bad.

They pwetty. 
Beautiful even.

The story of the church has reached a bit of a crisis point. My house is littered with Legos. We have knights in blue and silver riding white horses, and fiends in black and red riding black horses. The world explained in black and white molded plasitc. Throughout our history as a church, our livery has been strikingly unclear. Do the good guys kill for their cause? Jesus gave clear instructions that did not include a dress code or a taboo on ink. Jesus sighed and said again and again and again, “Quit worrying about the rules and love each other. Listen to each other. Tell your stories. Tell my story. Do this, whenever you meet eat.” He didn’t even say you needed to have a pipe organ. Or not. 

Our instructions were to go out and tell people Jesus’s story and teach them to follow and remember and tell. He didn’t even suggest that eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning was a particularly good time for this. He assumed we would have the decency to keep eating and, when we did, to remember his words of love and forgiveness. Now we sit in our wooden pews and listen to words and say words and sing words and promise words and pray words and we don’t remember. We have crafted a world for members only where we can sit uncomfortably and talk about all the things we were asked to do. Worship isn’t what we do as the church. Worship is where we come when we are so exhausted from telling and hearing and eating and remembering that we need to sit and take a breather. Worship is a space for those who need a minute to rest. It’s the time we aren’t out on our great commission. It’s the moment that the music and the prayers and the words can refresh you so you can go out and be the church again. 

It isn’t hard.
Simple even.

Rape, slavery, epidemic, hunger, war, hatred, injustice, devastation, death, chaos. The danger and the brokenness seem too big. Jesus would have come up with a different strategy if he could see what we are dealing with now. There are wheat allergies for goodness sake. What is eating with people going to do? What is remembering going to do? Children are sold for sex. People are dying from water born illness while I flush my toilet with clean water. Our food is littered with chocolate that babies are picking until they die of it. What can the breaking of bread ever hope to do against all this?

It is hopeless.
Evil even. 

And yet, I have seen the joy and pride on the face of a homeless, addicted man when he brought his puppy with him to church. We prayed blessings on that puppy. I have seen the eyes of a wheel chair bound woman who’s body bulged out through the back and arms of her metal universe shimmer with tears under the weight of a boy’s embrace. A boy who forgot to notice the brown smell of urine and unwashed body. A boy who could see the person and hear the story the world had forgotten. I have heard the voice of my son thank God, sincerely, for the gift of his dead sister—“not because she died, but because she is.”

And I see hope.

Joy even.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Never Mind

I am a child of the 80s. The nineteen eighties, to be clear. Americas grunge music movement came of age about the same time I did. Bands like Weezer, Janes Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana pounded through new alternative radio stations. I remember sitting in my peachy floral bedroom with puffed curtains and twice draped side tables listening to Nirvanas Smells Like Teen Spirit with the volume so low only I could hear. Music like that was forbidden in my house. Of course it was. I am not sure how you could listen to alternative music with your parents consent and it remain what it was. On this side of things, considering how loud kids are, I am not surprised that my mother would ban angry, loud, riotous music. For those of you unfamiliar with Cobains garbled teen anthem, it was everything that a teenager, whose skin suddenly doesnt fit, wanted: angst, head banging, and a probable hidden meaning.

With the lights out, its less dangerous.
Here we are now, entertain us.

There we were, a whole generation of odorous teenagers sitting in the dark waiting for something to make life worth living. We sat glued to the images of the blonde warrior fighting our fight in a high school gym while we read the lyrics on Say What? There was some serious stuff there, or was there? There must have been. Was it me, or did that basketball goal look an awful lot like a gibbet? And the cheerleader, so blonde and popular, the feminine, so recently liberated, plastered with a scarlet A. There must have been subtext there. There must have been meaning. If we could have understood the words, the pieces would have dropped into place. There must be meaning.

Never mind.

That niggling worry over meaning would fade. Like high school. Like arch rivals. Never mind. It wasnt important. Our music was grungy and angry. We were lost. We needed for life to matter. Kurt Cobain needed for life to matter. He was terrified that there was no meaning. Life was just a vapid extension of high school.
            But surely, faith gives life meaning. Surely the fight for the greater good remains. Surely we can rouse ourselves to care. The church of my adolescence tried. They made godstuff more entertaining. They made t-shirts and W.W.J.D? bracelets. They made our music cooler and turned the lights down. We raised our hands and smelled like Holy Spirit. But when they turned the lights off, we could no longer see well enough to pass the plate and the cup. We became faceless spectators. Things got lost in the dark. Doubts crept in. The God of eons and mystery was reduced to sound bytes and hyped emotions.
            
            I feel stupid and contagious.
            Here we are now, entertain us.

And Christianity of the 90s became a contagious childhood virus. A rite of passage that was, once gotten over, no longer a threat. Like chicken pox.

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.  My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine.  John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780     


Our ancestors fought, bled, and died; planted, studied, and philosophized; painted, wrote, and created, and we gaze, amazed and pacified at the works of their hands hemmed in by our 2.64 by 5.44 inch worlds, searching for meaning in: a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido. 

Lost and bored by freedom.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

Offended

A Christian is totally fearless, constantly cheerful and always in trouble.

My first instinct is to disagree. I am not sure why. It seems like a decent statement, but I want it to be wrong. Probably because I am not fearless. Probably because I am often sad. Probably because I do not get into trouble.

Nothing makes me more uneasy than when someone offers a definition of what it means to follow and live Divine mystery. Often our definitions become privacy fences around our church gardens. When Jesus was asked what the kingdom of God was his only reply was a collection of similes so confusing and vague that his followers have been wrestling with them for 2000 years. 

The Kingdom of God is like: seed, yeast, treasure...

But we need our definitions, creeds, doctrines, pages and pages of laws, all to define and explain an inexplicable God. It is all really a defense mechanism against the uncertainty of dealing with a wild wind of a God. We name and define ourselves to ensure that we are tallied in the right column.

Hey, Mom, am I doing it? Am I safe? Do you love me? Hey, God, do I matter?

And if our definitions fence someone out, we put in our own narrow gate welcoming in anyone who fits. 

My Western Civilization class in college, taught by one of my favorite professors ever, who incidentally came to the first day of class with a broken fly, described this in terms of history. Roughly, he said, if one side of a discussion or ideology names their cause something Positive (aka good guys) then the opposing view must deal with being the Anti-Positive-Side (aka bad guys). 

Any positive image implies a corresponding negative. 

The Light Side implies The Dark Side
  
Language is powerful. Every word, spoken or written carries the weight of its thesis and its antitheses. Sometimes language is truthful and revealing and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it serves to expose injustice. Fair Trade implies that there is unfair trade. 

Side note: if we were to label all items accordingly, it might temper our buying choices. 

But sometimes our language just introduces exclusion and hurt. For every fearless, cheerful, mischievous Christian out there, there is a sad, coward sitting in the pew whose deepest need is probably not excommunication. 

A friend recently said she had heard a discussion about the gross amount of energy consumed by “taking offense” and the zen lives we could all have if only we could learn to stop taking offense. 

And I was offended by that. Winky face.

Taking offense is over done. We all spend way too much energy combing over our lives looking for places where we have been offended. Maligned. Our childhood cries of, "Not fair," simply reach a wider audience in their adult form. And now it is so easy. We have become a society of virtual protesters. All willing to join in taking offense as long as all it requires from us is a thumb tap. 

But if we don’t take offense, then we become passive to the language defining us.

The happy, brave, trouble-maker who offended me to begin with did not seek to exclude me from the Kingdom of God. He just developed his language in a vacuum of offense. No one questioned him. No one with indelible tear stains asked, "What about me?" 

Sometimes the regular old thing needs to offend us. Deeply. 

After a truly remarkable week, I feel like our first response to the lives of others needs to be love and the second, and a very close second, is to watch our language. If all life is sacred, then we need to scour our language for what we are really saying, because no matter what our opinions are, the greatest commandment remains: love. 




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Super bowl commercials and "Vaxxing"

For those of you unable to access the internet, social media, and therefore not reading this, nothing...

To the rest of you, I WANNA GO BACK TO FUNNY SUPER BOWL COMMERCIALS.

Also, I was in charge of the food stuffs during the Super Bowl, and I am officially firing myself. We had pretzels and soup. Not even a decent chili. It was like if taco soup and brunswick stew got married and had a really boring kid who only wore pressed khakis and never spilled his drink. I mean, it was nice, but not really Super.

Also, there was no dessert.

And then the Nationwide commercial came on.

Obviously I was already feeling tender in my near junk-food-less state, and then the beautiful curly, mop-headed boy FREAKING DIED.

Can I just make a bid here for some Bud-WISE-errrrr frogs or something?

Would that be too hard?

But here is where this Public-Health-Minded, Duke RN, preacher's wife, crazy foolish writer person has to say something Inflammatory and (for some mysterious and insane reason) Controversial.

Accidental death is the number one killer of children under age six in the US (thanks Nationwide).

Do you know why?

Because childhood diseases have had been nearly eradicated by vaccinations. We live in an era when children won't die of diphtheria or measles or be deformed by polio. Our children will most likely never have worms or rickets. Their teeth won't rot. In this light, public health has performed a miracle in the past one hundred years.

So, yes, accidental death is the number one killer of children in America--because childhood diseases aren't. For now.