Thinking small

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baby Jesus in a locket

I’ve been distracted from writing these past few months because I’ve taken up paper mosaics, which involves cutting up previously used paper and using it to create something else.

I blame the coloring books I had dallied with earlier in the year, and the move from there to some very amateur illustrations for early reader books my friends are making for children in Ethiopia.

And then – oh, and then!  I decided to make a mosaic out of all my old to-do lists, and behold – the Flower of Accomplishment!

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this is not the finished product, but you get the idea

Then our children’s ministry director was recycling all the old Sunday School lithographs – the ones with the white, Van Dyke-bearded Jesus, teaching the well-behaved and well-dresssed children, so I took a bunch of those and cut them up and made an icon of a saint I wish existed: Martha (as in Luke 10), Patron Saint of Clergywomen.

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Yes, she is holding a baby and a plunger and if you have ever been a clergywoman (or a director of Christian Education) you will understand why.

Then I thought that Martha looked a little formal and prim, and I remembered my dear mentor friends Lucy and Carol, and am finishing up the icon of another saint I wish existed: Sarah (as in Genesis), Patron Saint of the Old Broads of the Church.

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Sarah likes breaking the rules, ditching the collar and the dyed hair, without the sedate dark blue background but with a scandalous red one

She has eschewed the clerical collar, but is holding the ubiquitous cup of coffee and making a peace sign.  She also keeps Jesus close to her heart.  I’m not happy with her face yet, and I did some old school cutting and pasting to straighten her out, but she’s almost there.  I think I have one more Patron Saint icon in me, but I’m not sure yet who she is.  Jael, Patron Saint of the Mansplained?  Eve, Patron Saint of the Rule Breakers?

Another favorite Old Broad of the Church, Margaret, would ask then ask me, “What have you learned from this?”

I have learned that when you take something very big and make it very small, you have a new appreciation for its beauty and character.  Those old Sunday School lithographs were beautiful, and there are some beautiful pieces of quarter-inch squares in these pieces.  And I have learned that when you take something very big and make it very small and then combine all that smallness to make something big again, you make a brand new thing that still has characteristics of the old thing.  I think family systems theory would support that.

I have also learned that I am developing my patience muscles, which is a good thing, and that somehow these mosaics have to do with call and story telling.  Martha and Sarah, like all the saints, are shaped by the stories that are in their DNA.  Maybe we are too, shaped by the stories that get cut up and reorganized and glued down in different ways.

I got to hold a day-old baby yesterday.  He is a tiny thing, made up of cells and molecules and atoms and genetic pieces of his mom and dad.  His story has just begun, but he is already shaped the stories that surround his family and their friends.  What a miraculous thing this is, this life, these tiny things that turn out, in the end, to be enormous.

Perhaps it goes without saying 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I am horrified by the events in Charlottesville. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I know I have not done enough to confront the racism in my heart or my community. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I believe white supremacy is an evil lie. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I think all of us – and I mean all – are created in the image of God. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that I find Facebook a great place to say things that aren’t followed up by action. 

Perhaps all those things and more go without saying. 

But the thing is, I haven’t said them, so there is no way anyone can really know what I think or feel or believe. 

So let me say this:

Hate is wrong. 

Racism is evil and has deep roots and long tentacles. 

White supremacy won’t make America great; in fact, it will be the death of us. 

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. 

Taking a break

Well, dear readers, I’m taking a break from this blog for a little while.

Everything is fine, I just haven’t felt inspired to write, and I haven’t felt the need to write anything.  I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the blog-o-sphere doesn’t need another blog by a middle-age white woman.  I’m also a little word-weary right now.

I’ll continue to post liturgy on occasion, and if I find I must write something, I will!

In the meantime, be well, have hope, and fight the good fight.

Rock on,
Beth

ps: I have been doing some art. Here is my paper mosaic of Martha, Patron Saint of Clergywomen 

Home

This morning as I made my morning coffee, I looked outside and saw someone whom I assume to be without a home right now doing something on the corner.  It appeared that their stuff had fallen off their bike, and they were rearranging and organizing and restrapping things.  All this was right in front of my poetry post, which currently offers these words from Brian Doyle: “We are only here for a minute, we are here for a little window, and to use that time to catch and share shards of light and laughter and grace seems to me the great story.”

So I wondered what the story of that person was, what had happened that they needed to recombobulate on my front yard, why they didn’t have a place to live.

We don’t see many people experiencing homelessness in our neighborhood, but we do see many of them around the church.  There’s been someone staying in our parking lot for the last few weeks.  His cart and tarp are a familiar sight, and we have let him be.  This morning, though, I noticed he was out and all his stuff was scattered about.  I wondered what was going on.  My co-pastor husband went to talk with him.

He learned his name and heard a shard of his story.  He learned that someone had robbed him this morning.  Our friend left at 3:45am to go collect bottles and in that time, someone came and stole his clothes and his phone.  My husband also learned that a few weeks ago, some people threw shit on him while he slept.  This man talked about how very tired he was.  He’s been in the lot for a few weeks and never once asked us for help, for a bathroom, for anything.  He wants to be off the grid, unseen, and safe.  He feels less that way now.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the idea of home, because I realized that we have now lived in Portland longer than we lived in Wisconsin, where we lived before; yet Portland doesn’t feel like home yet.  If pressed, I would say that home is where my two most beloved people are.  But it is also a place, a physical place where you have roots.  I’m not sure where that is for me.  It might be the extended family place near Mt. Rainier, but it also might be New Jersey.  Go figure.  And yet every night I sleep on a bed with a roof over my head, and I wake up and make coffee, and no one has robbed me or harassed me.

I’ve been thinking about home on the heels of World Refugee Day, and how horrific it must be to have to leave one’s home and never go back, to be homeless even while living in a refugee settlement or in a country where you don’t speak the language or know the customs or worship the right god.  The stories of refugees should shame us all into so much action and generosity.

I’ve been thinking about home this week as the city published the recent survey of the number of people sleeping outside, and the number is up 10% from where it was last year.  At a meeting I attended a few months ago, the person who heads the city-county joint effort on reducing homelessness talked about the struggles to find people temporary and permanent shelter, and the larger problem of the availability of affordable housing.  The numbers were depressing.  I asked him how he got up every morning, and he said he looked at the number of people who did move off the streets and into shelter, or out of shelter into more permanent housing, and that gave him hope. I suppose there are shard of light there, but still.

I wonder if, as a society or as a nation, we have lost our sense of home.  I would say that when people throw shit on another person, we’ve lost our sense of home.  Maybe home is a moral compass.  Maybe home is the place where, as Robert Frost once wrote, when you go there they have to take you in.  Maybe home is the place where we feel safe, or the people we feel safe with.

I dream of converting our two-car garage into an apartment that we could rent out at a truly affordable rate.  We don’t have the money to do that right now, but I haven’t let go of the dream.  In the meantime, I learn.  I advocate.  I go to meetings.  I talk to people living on the streets or in our parking lot.  But it never feels like enough.

What is home to you?

How do we make home for all?

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My struggle with Wonder Woman (the movie)

img_0458So.  A friend and I went to see Wonder Woman on Saturday.  I had high hopes – so many folks I knew who saw it loved it.  Women felt empowered and seen.  Finally, we have our superhero!  I was there with them, ready to buy my faux golden bracelets and appropriate t-shirt.

I thought the movie was good.  The production was great, the scenes, the acting, the casting.  I love her badass musical theme. I was not crazy about the high-heeled wedges she wears in her big fight scene, but whatever.  If I hadn’t gone with such high expectations, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I walked away wondering about women’s empowerment, and if women’s empowerment means only getting to act like men, and more specifically, if the message of the movie is that women’s empowerment means that women get to be as violent as men.

Bear with me, fans of Diana Prince, and allow me to offer some vignettes in my defense.

– A few years ago I was at an event at my daughter’s school, and (long story short) a “what would you do if” situation came up.  It had to do with non-violence, which I’m usually for.  Except the scenario was my daughter got pinned down or pinched or otherwise harassed by a boy.  I told my conversation partner that I would teach my daughter to hit back.  She was a bit aghast.  “You’re teaching her to love war,” she said.  No, I countered, I’m teaching her to defend herself and to let that boy know he can’t do that to her.  I was thinking down the line, when she got older, and the hypothetical boy (or man) got older and the situation was worse.  I want her to be ready.  I hate that there’s something she has to be ready for.

-This past weekend same daughter was riding her bike with a friend.  A man in a truck took their picture.  My daughter remembered most of his license plate number, and she and her friend told us parents what happened.  The friend’s mom let the police know.  My daughter and her friend did the right thing, but I HATE that this happened.  I hate that there are creepy men who take pictures of kids riding their bikes.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  When I was 16, my family was held up at gunpoint in our home.  At one point the intruder was standing behind me and cocked his gun.  I thought I might die.  I’ve never like real or pretend guns pointed at me since.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  A few weeks ago, in Portland where I live, a crazy white supremacist stabbed three men in their throats, killing two, when they tried to stop his harassing two young women on a light rail train.  It was sudden and vicious.

-If my daughter were threatened, I would do whatever I had to – including act with violence – to protect her.  But I have learned that rarely do things work out the way they do in the movies.  If someone has a gun on me, I’m going to do what they say.  I’m not Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or Wonder Woman.

I wish that women’s empowerment looked like women leading the way in non-violent resistance.  Yes, I know that Wonder Woman decides she will save the world through love and not war.  But that’s not what happened in the movie.  Maybe there’s some character development waiting for us.

Most of the time I’m a pragmatist and not an idealist.  But when my hopes for Wonder Woman were dashed, I awoke to the deep realization that I am so tired of testosterone-fueled violence.  Weary to the ends of my toes.  Weary to the core of my being.

Of course, I could be overacting.  It was just a movie, after all.  And as my wise daughter reminded me, no one would go see a movie where an empowered woman wins the day with reason and a commitment to non-violent resistance.

No one would see that movie.

What does that say about us?

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Words that break our hearts, again

On Friday, May 26, a white supremacist began threatening two teenage girls -one African American, one Muslim, wearing a hijab – on the Max train in Northeast Portland.  Three men came to their defense, and were stabbed.  Two died, Rick John Best and Taliesen Namkai-Meche; the third, Micah Fletcher, was wounded but survived.

The first inkling that something had happened showed up on Facebook, as friends wondered why there were so many sirens, why so many police were racing down Broadway.  Then a post that there may have been a stabbing at the Max station.  Then the news.  Then the disbelief.  Then the tears.

What do you even say?  That the violence was so sudden and vicious?  That hate is ever present, and love is too?  The words of my sermon on Sunday felt flimsy; I’m not sure there are even the right words to say.

Except when I read that Taliesen’s last words were about love, his love for everyone on that train.  Except when I read that Micah is a poet, and he has spoken since the attack, words that I find encouraging and courageous and challenging.  Maybe words do matter.

Later that same evening I learned that one of my favorite crafter of words, author, prose-poet, essayist Brian Doyle, died, having succumbed to the ravages of a brain tumor.  I wish I could have read what he might have written about the Max train and the girls and the men.

I went to bed that night with my heart broken in new places.  I woke up Saturday and worked on setting aside all the feeling and thinking about all of it.  Oregon has a terrible history when it comes to welcoming people who aren’t white.  Portland does too, from red-lining to KKK presence to new threats.  While researching how to pronounce Taliesen’s name, I ended up on a white supremacist blog, which I quickly exited but not before reading part of a ghastly post.

The president, by his thrown-off, impetuous words, has opened the door to freedom of hate speech, which took the form of harassing two young women who were sitting on a train, doing nothing more than that.  Haters are emboldened.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will terrify us.

Words led to actions.  Words of hate led to a knife being brandished.  Words of love led to quick courage.  Words led to death.  Words led to fear.

And now words are bringing our community together and tearing at it too.  The mayor tried to limit a free speech rally.  The ACLU said he couldn’t.  Words of sympathy are pouring out, as are donations for the families of the victims.  Words of blame, words of being afraid are heard and printed.

What would happen if there was silence?  What would happen if all the words written in chalk at the Max station were erased?  What if there were only our tears, and the flowers, and quiet?  Would our silence be understood as cowardice or defeat or acquiescence?  Would silence be healing or hiding?

Are words hollow, or all they full?

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος

Adulting

My child, who is a pretty terrific kid, has no interest in growing up, getting a job, living on her own, learning to drive, or any of things I associate with maturing and becoming an adult.  She is reluctant to learn how to cook, and when I ask her what she’ll do when she lives on her own, she says she’ll have a really nice roommate who will do all the cooking.

Which has got me to thinking: have my husband and I made adulting look so awful and tedious that she wants nothing of it?

We, like many, have jobs that get pretty serious pretty fast, especially in the Death and Dying Department.  We get the occasional call in middle of the night or too early in the morning.  We talk about memorial services over dinner (until she reminds us of the “no work talk at dinner” rule.)

We pay the bills together so she hears us talking about whether we’re ahead or behind for the month.  She knows how much vacation costs, and hears us admit with some guilt and resignation that maybe we spent a little too much on getting away this year.

When I was a little older than she is now, I could not wait to be on my own, to get my driver’s license, to imagine my first apartment and my own dishes and my very own vacuum cleaner.  My first year after college I shared a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with two of my college roommates.  We’d put on our suits and tennis shoes in the morning and walk to work, and walk back home, and we’d have pasta carbonara for dinner and watch “Flame Trees of Thika” on PBS.  It was as glorious as I imagined growing up would be.

Since then life has intervened.  There have been lean years, and job disappointments and failures, and debt.  There have been illnesses and deaths that still shake me.  There have been more moves than I would like, and goodbyes to dear friends.  But I still love being an adult, with all the responsibility and burden; with all the freedom and agency, too.

This morning on my short drive to work I heard on NPR the last bit of an interview with Senator Ben Sass of Nebraska, who has written the book “The Vanishing American Adult.”  I can’t comment on its content, but the two minutes of the interview intrigued me.  He spoke about making kids work, making them do hard work that isn’t much fun so they will build up “scar tissue on the soul.”

Adulting is hard.  Moving from adolescence to adulthood can be pretty painful.  It’s not all fun and entertainment; I’ll admit that.  But I wonder, almost every day, as a parent, if I’m doing enough to help my child build some of those muscles, acquire some of that scar tissue on her soul, so that by the time she’s 22 and looking for her first apartment with friends and buying dishes at the resale shop – so that by then, she’ll walk nervously and hopefully into the next part of her life.

We’ll see.

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