Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Struggle, The Passion & Our Purpose

I had so many good intentions of what I was going to write today as we enter Good Friday and celebrate Easter.  About how God and is right and true and just and how I fit into it all.  But the truth is I struggle with all of that…a lot.

Like just about everyone I know, I feel inadequate and misunderstood, I feel lonely and worried, I feel sad and afraid.  And many times these feelings come at me all at once.  When I’m happy I have forgotten to thank God, when I am struggling, I go to God.  When I am irritated, I have ignored God.  (As I write this I am eating chocolate covered raisins—and I’m not sure I even like them.)  I am not the one who has anything figured out. I think it has been difficult for me to place my mind on God when I feel this way, when my worry becomes large, when I see what is happening beyond my own world, when I hold conversations with him that seem entirely one-sided.  

There is so much incentive to turn away from God: friends who seem to ignore your wish to be seen, political grandstanding that seems bent on entertainment, issues with your children that are larger than what you can possibly solve, parents who have captured and held you close who are being lost to you, bombs as a reminder that understanding has yet to be reached.  And even as those big hurts batter my heart and challenge my head to understand them, the smaller hurts bore deep, because those are usually the ones I do not take to God.  I keep them quiet and there they fester until it seems that there is no point at all to take any of it anywhere.  I follow this circle of denial and rage and regret and humility far too often.

I have written about forgiveness, about faith, about love, and I understand that all of these work together to keep me centered.  But the truth is there are moments I do not want to forgive, when I am too angry to find my faith and where I just cannot love.  I work hard against this.  And I think to myself that it should be easier.  But it isn’t.  My frail humanity makes me work to be better.  To try harder.  To see more clearly.  Understanding that
though, does not make it any easier.

In order to make the effort to understand, to work through, and to stay the course, I have started a Bible study on the Nicene Creed.  I chose it primarily because of its interdenominational nature.  I am exhausted by divisions.  Feeling left out or being pushed out because of some reason or another.  The first line of the Creed is “We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.”


“Why do you believe God exists?” came the first question, the first day.  It struck me to my core.  Why indeed?  I certainly have many friends that do not.  I have others who believe differently.  Still others who say they do and then seem to go opposite to any of Christ’s teachings in every dealing I see of them. 

At the dead center of Believe is Lie. 

The word is a challenge in and of itself.  Because in order to make it work, and in order to push through the first line of that Creed, in order to have everything God intends, you need to move aside the lie and find Live.

Every day, this is the dilemma that God presents to us: to consider the lie or push through to find life.

Believe.  Lie.  Live.  Doubt. Christ.

So I sit or stand or kneel or pace through all the hurts big and small, trying to find my way, every day back to God.  Because as I place those hurts big to small in the arms of God, and—here’s the hard part—leave them there, I am left with room to feel love and peace and understanding and calm.  Not that these are easy, and not that they come quickly or magically.  And into all of this realization and consideration for me this year comes Lent. 

Lent is about the wait for Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven.  Our celebration of Easter is crossing the moments of Calvary.  It is the biggest day of the liturgical year.  It is when we think about and consider the cost of God’s sacrifice; Christ’s passion (passion comes from the Greek word paschein, which means, “to suffer”) is so horrible, we have four separate accounts of the same to verify it, to stand in mute testimony to its occurrence. 

Christ’s wounds were not just physical, though we know that they must have been extraordinary in their pain—but the emotional pain, the small hurts, the mockery, the challenges, the betrayals, even at the end on Golgotha, even being challenged then, these must have hurt even more (Luke 22:63-23:12). 

So while I begin with our family traditions of Easter: the dyeing of eggs in every myriad hue, plan which dishes to serve, consider the clothes to be worn, think about what to place in baskets that the boys
Easter 2015
never seem to see Peter Cottontail drop off, through all of this we try to reflect on the journey we are taking with Christ.  “I love coming to Mass at Easter,” Jake said to me.  “Why?”  “Well we have so many people there, and we all say the story together and we all pray together.” “It doesn’t make you sad, hearing about Jesus?”  “No, it does, it’s just that it was what Jesus had to do, right?  That was his job, and now it’s mine.”

Yes, it’s a reminder of my job too.  Through the recitation of the Easter liturgy, we are forcefully reminded of our place in judgment and mercy.  Asking questions of ourselves if we would intervene when we see injustice, would our silence be our sin?  The story is brutal: Christ is mocked, he falls; he is in physical agony.   His passion is intense and unrelenting.    His suffering is acute and horrible.  Every lash, every painful step, every burning breath—there is no moment he stops, lays down the cross and says, “I am not guilty.  I am free from sin.”  His perseverance in my name is so shocking that there are times I feel I cannot accept it.  Christ begs God for forgiveness of those who have persecuted him and then he dies (Luke 23:34).  It would be terrible if the story ended there.  If our story ended there But it doesn't.  Because we know that that was just the
Three Letter Birds Print
end of one story and the beginning of a greater one, an empty tomb and a risen Christ offers new life—
and with that comes our job, our passion.

Our modern definition of passion is different.  The primary definition being about having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something, or a strong feeling that causes you to act in a dangerous way, or a strong feeling for someone.  

Suffering, it seems, has been rendered obsolete as a meaning.

So how does suffering then become love?  How does the old meaning for passion become all consuming ardor for something or someone in the modern context?  I have really considered this during Lent and found an answer. 

The transformation of a life to the life everlasting.  That’s what did it.   

Suffering to love.  Jesus takes all the pain and shame, insecurity and loathing and allows it to be marked on his skin.  He breathes it in, all the mocking and the indignation, he sees it through the blood in his vision, the uncertainty and the fear.  He falls under the weight of the burden of sin that has been locked so tightly and added to with years of regret.  And it propels him forward, the opportunity to free me of it is so great, and so close he cannot stop.  “Forgive them Father.” 

So this is what I know, and it has opened my eyes to why I need to be reminded of this year after year.  Because Christ has done his job, he has freed me to do mine. A new life—a chance to reflect on the price paid for me to claim it—has come once more. It isn’t comfortable, the new skin I am in.  And the challenges don’t go away, as Christine Caine says, “The greater the assignment, the greater the attack.”  It won’t be easy to pursue this, my passion—there will be falls and false starts.  There may even be mockery and indignation, uncertainty and fear.  But I can do it—and so can you. 

Christ’s passion has paid for you to find yours.  And now, at the beginning of all things, as we come to see the resurrection and celebrate the ascension into Heaven of our God, as we know the deep swelling love that is there to catch us, to hold us, to lift us, and who does not move from us, the baton has been handed to you to continue.

Suffer no more; Christ has done it.  Find your passion, locate it in his grace, and show the world the incomprehensible power that love can do as it is
embodied in you.

May the grace and peace of God be with you now and always.  Happy Easter.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Worth It

Today I heard the strains of Kate Bush in my ear.  Those of my years know, This Woman’s Work well.  And if you don’t know it, lucky day, here it is so you can:

Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman's work,
This woman's world.
Ooh, it's hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking
Of all the things I should've said,
That I never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things I should've given,
But I didn't.
Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

It is rare for me to hear those words from her haunting voice and not be transported.  I heard them again when I saw my sons at twilight, chasing each other in our backyard, motioning to my husband to come out to see a new star they've spotted in a clear clear sky.  They've been looking for navigation
evening-ward like so many before them.  Seeing how stars and galaxies, planets, the sun, how it all fits. How they've managed to spin and stay for so very long.  It's humbling to watch them rediscover a practice older than time.  

I got an email today from my son’s teacher, informing me that he had been slapped by another student, and told that he needed to “learn to act like a man.”  

I know.  It’s impossible not to be angry.  He’s only 8.  When I asked Sam what had happened, I learned that it was unprovoked, but that he had been slapped twice, “Not too hard Mommy.”  Told just that and then the students kept walking when the child in question turned and slapped him one more time for good measure.

“But I’m fine Mommy, it’s not a big deal.  He doesn’t have a lot of friends.  He said he was sorry when we were packing up.”

“Isn’t this the boy you helped welcome when he was new?”


“What did you say?”

“I said it was okay.”

No.  Of course not.  Not in the least.  It is not okay.

It is not okay that you were hit.  Not even once. 

It’s not okay that a child your age felt he had to hit you, perhaps to renew some power he’s lost at home. 

It’s not okay that this child had located that language before a decade’s presence on earth.

It’s not okay.  No matter what his home life may or may not be that caused him to do this to someone who had been kind to him, whatever reflexive, protective, determined action to see if Sam was still going to be standing or there or kind or friendly, whatever the cloudy reason that he did this to my child, it is still not okay.

None of this is okay.

As sorry as I am for this child, I am angry for mine.  Because as I have taught Sam compassion, he has taught himself empathy and he is unable to distinguish that from his own value.  He has not been able to understand the incomparable weight of his own worth.

And so he is silent.  And so he takes it in the name of friendship.  And so he forgives because he knows what it feels like to be lonely and unliked.  And so it is “okay.”

No.  None of this is okay.

I cannot blame him though.  Sam, that is, because I can lay no claim to the other small soul in this scene.  What have I shown him about worth?

It has taken over 4 decades for me to finally understand that I am worth it.  And you know; I am so tired now.  Too tired to pretend that I don’t notice the games that we play, the endless dance of engagement that certain relationships require. 
There is no moment, no law, no Scripture that says that I have to take whatever it is you feel you need to deal out to be your friend.  No gauntlet that I have to pass.  I thought I did.  I did it for a long time.  Moved as necessary to make my father happy.  Pushed my own feelings aside not to lose favor with a friend.  Not stood up for myself lest I lose one.  Like Sam, I’ve withstood more than one slap.

As much as we crave human interaction, as much as we need friendship to help us be whole and happy, the minute their weight becomes a burden we are reluctant to release them.  Then more weight is added.  Subtle slights are offered, more overt ones are sometimes thrown, and still we stay mute.  Allowing the waves of another’s discontent to run over us all in the name…of friendship.

Sam, the times I withstood it, the moments when I have been talked to in ways that were ungenerous and lacked thought.  The moments I allowed someone who said she was my friend to be unkind to me in any way—when I felt the prick of unease and injustice and chose to ignore it.  Every time I did so, I chipped away at my own value.  My own worth.

I was too scared to be seen as arrogant, perhaps, or needy.  I wouldn’t stand up for myself among people I thought to be safe because I was too afraid of losing their favor and then their presence in my life.  Their friendship, I reasoned, was too dear.

I was wrong.

Sam, my friendship is the one that is too dear.  I was willing and showed my heart over and over again.  There was no falsity there.  I showed up, I kept showing up.  And because of that, I should have known, the kindness and empathy and compassion and care—I should have known that the sum total of these things showed my worth.

But if I never acknowledged its substantial weight, no one else would.

I keep seeing this over and over and over again.  Sometimes in stunning ways much more violent than Sam’s experience: 

When worth is established by what we can take rather than what we give

That by taking pain we show our resilience to it, rather than blocking the blow.

That we should understand the joke, even though we know it was never meant to be funny

My slaps have been emotional, and I have endured more than one, often at the hands of people I thought were friends.  And the more I found a hollow for the pain these interactions gave me, the further I fled from God.  A God who did not want me to hurt, whose service does not include risking my emotional health, a God whose love says I am wonderful as I amover, and over and over again.  I have written about this once, but its worth a second telling. The popular teaching of turning the other cheek.  My pastor before I married told me that when Jesus instructs his listeners to turn the other cheek," he is actually providing a conundrum:

“Suppose someone hits you on your right cheek.  Turn your other cheek to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)

Often we feel that this is an indication that Christ is saying, “just endure this, love them into reality.”  But it is not true, because Christ would never ask you to forfeit your dignity or worth.  To slap first in this time, would mean palm to the side of your face.  The way you envision a slap.  The way Sam was slapped; back then, it was a way a master would slap a slave.  To offer your other cheek however meant that the person in question had a problem.  S/he would have to slap you using the backside of their hand to your face.  Such a slap acknowledged you as an equal.  So in turning the other cheek, you offer the person in question an opportunity to do one of two things: acknowledge you as their equal or withdraw.

You are worth having.  You are worth knowing.  You are worth believing in and listening to.  Your presence is valuable. 

Know it.  Own it.  Know your worth.

It is a lesson that cannot be left too late. 

I do not have to apologize for my presence, and I don’t have to chase you for a friendship.  I have shown you my value.  You have seen it.  Just like you, I have challenges, and heartache, hard fought for triumphs and slow simmering stories.  I have reached out more than once to let you know I value you, and if I was ignored, I tried harder.  I wanted you to see me, to know that I was there.  But I am choosing now to withdraw from the chase.  I know my worth.... What is my presence in your life worth to you?  I know you have a little life in you yet.  I know you have a lot of strength left.  I know you have a little life in you yet.  I know you have a lot of strength left.”

In the end, the very end, our worth cannot be found in another’s field of vision.  Because if that is true, then we will be chasing it through another’s sight for all our lives.  Because that path has been broken by someone else, our own footing will not find a place.  We cannot follow someone else’s path without losing our own

“Sam,” I say, creaky boned-folded on the floor. “Sam.  You don’t need to chase anyone across the night sky anymore.  Your own star shines brightly—and those that want to be close to its glow are going to find you….  Okay?”
“Okay, Mommy.”

And that is okay.