The Hate Part and the Love Part

heartI wonder if we homo sapiens are genetically engineered to hate.  Or to love, for that matter.

I suppose our ability to hate could be the monster offspring of the fight-or-flight impulse.  In order to survive, we human beings learned to detect a threat, and to run away or defend our turf.   Do that often enough and a pattern forms, an enemy becomes a familiar threat.  We grow an emotion that is attached to the impulse.  Hate is born.

What about love?  Where does that come from?   People like me who believe in God believe that love is an extra chromosome-like thing that God drops into the human heart.  Of course, we believers struggle with God and the existence of hate, too.  If God created us in the divine image, does the Divine One have a fight-or-flight impulse?  Or is fear part of free will, and part of the development of the human psyche that God allows to unfurl as we march onward?  We have free will, therefore, we have fear and hate – that’s the pat answer in my head when those sticky questions arise.

This morning’s glance at the news apps on my I-phone prompted the thinking.  Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and this morning there are blog posts and headlines and editorials in abundance about the value of that speech and the state of race relations in our nation today.  The president and his advisors are contemplating military action in Syria.  I looked at a gorgeous and heartbreaking slide show of elephants in Africa being slaughtered for their ivory tusks.  The controversy of gay and lesbian athletes at the Russian Olympics continues.  Perpetrators of rape in the U.S. and India are being sought and persecuted, while some of those victims die or take their own lives.  Miley Cyrus seems to be getting a fair bit of press, too.

Hate abounds, borne out of fear and control and ignorance and a desire for power (which comes from fear and control.)  Does love abound more? Is there more love than hate, or are we fighting a losing battle?  And should I even use military language to describe love?  Is hate easier to see than love?  Is it easier to hate than it is to love?  Is hate more natural than love?

I want love to win.  I really do.  I want love to be stronger than hate,  I want love to stand up to the racists, and the chemical weapons, and the poaching, and the homophobia, and the violence, and the judgment.  I want love to win, but it’s not going to unless we let go of all the crap that is the by-product of that primordial fight-or-flight impulse.

I want love to win, and I want more love.  Not everyone who wants love to win shares the same belief system that I do.  That’s okay.  I know some very loving atheists, and I’d be interested in knowing what they think is the source of love.  Is there even a source of love, or is it someone we develop, work on, strengthen, build up?

We’ve been reading Robert Coles’ book about Ruby Bridges with our daughter.  I cannot read it without tearing up, thinking about that brave little six-year-old going to school with an armed guard, praying for the people who were shouting such terrible things at her.  There was love in that heart; there was courage too.  Maybe that’s it: hate is borne out of fear, but love is borne out of courage.

NORMAN ROCKWELL PAINTING RUBY BRIDGES

“The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell

May we have brave hearts.

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The God of Second Chances

(This is a wedding homily for a couple at the church.  When discussing the service, which is very simple, the bride commented that it would be great if the homily could be like one of my blog posts.  It is posted here with their permission.  So here you are, Libby and Randy: may love continue to lead your way.)

lego bgWe stand here, at the beginning of a new thing today, because of the ending of some other things: the ending of solitude and loneliness, the end of the crush of grief, the end of the fear of loving again.  We stand here, today, on this glorious afternoon in this glorious spot of creation, because of second chances, because of this God we have who gives second chances to us beloveds.

The fact that you two stand up here this day says something about your confidence in second chances.  With this second chance you kind of know what you’re in for, or what you may be in for – the good and the bad and the heartbreaking of it.  But this love, this relationship, this commitment to each other is compelling, and here you are.

But maybe all of this isn’t really about second chances.  Maybe it’s not about that at all.  Maybe it really is about that stuff Paul described: faith and hope and love.

Faith in each other: the faith that this is a person I can trust; that this is a person who’s been through as much hell as I have and like me has come through to the land of the living; that this is a person I want to waltz with early and often.

Hope that something good was learned the first time around; hope that some of the things that happened before won’t happen this time; hope not that I will change this person, but that I will  be changed for the better because I am committed to this person.

And love, that four-letter word we toss about like a frisbee on a spring day.  You two know what love is, what real love is.  You know how love gets you through the grief and the loss and the disappointment.  You know how loves makes a tarnished old piece of life look shiny and new.   You’ve watched each other love your parents; you’ve watched each other love your brothers and sisters; you’ve watched each other love and raise your sons.  And you admire how each other loves, and you’re inspired by that, and you want to be in the midst of all of that adorable radiance.

We may well be here because of second chances, but really, I don’t think there’s any chance to this at all.  You’ve worked too hard to suggest that your marriage is the offspring of whimsy or serendipity or luck.  You’ve been loved by people who didn’t want to see you alone; you’ve been encouraged by your family and your friends and some professionals; you’ve been held up by each other.  You’ve been wise and patient.  And now you get the joy, and the rest of your life, together, and the waltz.  A future in 3/4 time: now that’s a second chance.

libby randy

Prayer of blessing for the marriage

Loving God, we thank you for the gift of this day, and for the gift of love, and for the gift that Libby and Randy are to so many of us.   In our gratitude and joy, we ask for your blessing on these two people as they make official their commitment to each other, to life together.

Bless them as parents, as they raise boys into men, and give them patience and wisdom and discerning hearts when the Legos have taken over  the living room and when curfews are broken. Bless their sons in this new version of family, and give them patience with their parents, and wisdom, and discerning hearts. 

Bless Randy and Libby as professionals in their careers, with a sense of accomplishment and challenge, with gratitude for the talents they have,  and with work that is meaningful and rewarding.

Bless Libby and Randy as daughter and son, as they care for their parents and demonstrate all that they have learned from them.

Bless them as brother and sister, as they discover again and again the camaraderie and friendship of their siblings.

And mostly this day, O God, we ask that you bless them as husband and wife, in their care for each other; on the days when everything is sunshine and a good IPA, and on the days when it’s gray gray Portland and the toast burned and washer backed up and tempers are short and relief feels an eternity away. Bless them with joy, at least a drop every day, and sometimes buckets. Bless them with joy, knowing that their joy is infectious, and becomes ours as well. Thank you, O God; thank you.  Amen.

The Great Pickle Fiasco, or How I Learned the Hard Way that I’m Not a Domestic Goddess

last year's pickles

last year’s pickles

Every year in the late summer I make pickles with my aunt.  She’s been making these pickles for years, and everyone in the family loves them, and as she is 82 and probably will die in about twenty years, I decided that I would like to learn how to make them to carry on this tradition.

My aunt is amazing.  At 82 she takes care of the old ladies at her church.  She goes non-stop, and is gracious all the while.  Very little bothers her, and she is generous.  For the last three years she has bought the cucumbers as my birthday present, and I drive out to her farm in the country and we sit and visit and scrub and cut cucumbers.  Then we mix water with lime and put the cucumbers in the plastic bucket (this keeps them crisp.)  Usually at this point I take my bucket home, let the cucumbers soak in the lime solution for a day, then rinse them and soak them in cold water for a day, then make the brine and cook them and jar them and voila, pickles.

But this year because of our two schedules, after we put the cucumbers in the lime solution I left them with her and went off to the beach for our annual church retreat.  She soaked them and she rinsed them and she brined them, and on my way back from the retreat, I picked up my bucket of brined cucumbers to take home, cook, and can.  Easy peasy, as my daughter would say.

What was the first sign that I should not have pickled today?  Obviously the universe was trying to tell me something, but I would not listen.  Things had been going so well. I ran into one of my favorite church members in the grocery store.  The hardware store stayed open an extra five minutes and I was able to buy my jars before they closed.

Perhaps the first sign was that I couldn’t find the pickle recipe.  Or that it took over two hours to get the brine and cucumbers to boil.  Or that if you set the dishwasher to the sanitizer cycle it takes about four hours.  But really, when  the first quart jar of hot brine and pickles broke, I should’ve stopped.  But no.  I persevered.  I had been in a bad mood all day, and I wasn’t going to let some broken freakin’ glass or sticky, sticky counter and floor stop me.

My husband had the good sense to round up the child and the  dog and watch tv.  I pickled.  I only came up with one good line in the whole process: “I like my men like my pickle brine: hot and sweet.”  Really, that should have been all that the universe needed to tell me.

The pickles are done.  Mostly.  I still have about a gallon left but I ran out of jars and trust me, I was not going to go hunt some down tonight.  The un-jarred pickles are waiting patiently in tupperware in the fridge till tomorrow when I might buy some more jars.  If I do, I will personally test those jars before I give them away.  With two quarts of vinegar and nine cups of sugar in the brine, I can’t imagine anything malign would survive, but you never know.

In the first church I served there is a beautiful Tiffany woman of the Ideal Woman described in Proverbs 31.  I hated that window. As a piece of art, it is gorgeous.  As an exemplar for womankind, it stinks.  It reminds me of this imaginary rival I have created in my mind, an amalgam of clergywomen I know and envy.  This woman I’ve created, we’ll call her Sophia, is like the 21st century version of Proverbs 31.  She is talented.  She runs 10ks for charity all the time.  She isn’t beautiful but she is striking, which is way better than being beautiful.  She is published.  Her husband has a fantastic job in the for-profit world so they can go on really lovely vacations and tithe the full 10%.   She not only pickles cucumbers, but she makes homemade bread for her kids’ sandwiches and whips up fresh mayonnaise to go on it (except she calls is aioli.)  She weaves.  She never, ever, ever wears clogs with jumpers and tights, or sweaters with birdhouses on them.  Her congregation adores her, as do her children and nieces and nephews.  She’s been through therapy so she’s very centered.  I desperately want to be her friend but I hate her so I can’t.

All I could think today, while trying not to get any broken glass in the pickles jars, was that I am so not Sophie and I should really give up trying to be.  I have no desire to run a 10k, or a 5k, or a block.   I cannot make pickles.  My dinner tonight consisted of almonds and red wine, with a few bites of the homemade granola I thought I should make while waiting for the brine to boil.  I begged off putting our daughter to bed so that I could clean the kitchen, but really, so that I could write this post.

One of my mentors used to ask after a fiasco, “What have we learned from this?”  She always elongated the verb – “what have we l – e – a – r – n – e – d ?”  Well, Margaret, this is what I have learned:

That red wine and almonds do not a good dinner make, nor are they sufficient nutrition for enduring pickling fiascos.

That sometimes the best course of action is to leave the kitchen and go watch tv.

That no one really cares if I make pickles or not, so this is all on me.

That this will make a great story starting about tomorrow, and that next year, my aunt I and will make pickles again.

And sometimes, that stained glass window you see is really just a stained glass window.

this is the window

this is the window

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

bagpipe darthI was talking with a church member yesterday, who told me the following story.  Over the weekend she and her family had gone down to the waterfront, where they encountered a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle while playing the bagpipes.  Let me repeat:  a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle playing the bagpipes.  Only in Portland.

All of which got me to thinking:  we really are fearfully and wonderfully made, and then we add to that.  Some add tattoos and piercings; some add pounds, stretch marks, cellulite.  Some add hair color, some shave their heads.  We add contact lenses and titanium hip joints and pig valves in the heart.  Our hearts add other stuff too: grief and joy, regret, disappointment that washes everything to a dull grey, hope for something better the next time around.

As a pastor, I think a lot about the community of fearfully and wonderfully made people, and the “I” and “we” of that, and the tension of individual desires and needs and the common good of the community.  Even after twenty years in ordained ministry, I struggle with pastoring well to everyone, knowing that that is an impossible yet necessary (but maybe not necessary) goal.  Several years ago, Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas observed that in the modern day, ministry had reduced to a pastor being “a quivering mass of availability.”  While that is the shortcut to burn out, there is something about the pastor being available, or present, or caring for, our fearfully and wonderfully made folk.

And we aren’t always.  Every time I drop the pastoral care ball, I lose sleep, and the Tums rest on the bedside table for a while.  I hate letting people down, and I do it, and so there’s some therapy in my future, I think.  And I wonder what role grace plays in all of that.

Do I have enough grace to rejoice that someone delights in riding the Darth Vader/Bagpiper unicycle?

Do I have enough grace with myself not to wallow in my regret and self-judgment?

Am I holding out grace as the tie that binds the fearfully and wonderfully made community together?  Do I teach that, and do I practice that?

It takes grace to ride a unicycle, and to play the bagpipe.  I’m not sure I would say that grace is needed to wear a Darth Vader mask in public – courage, maybe, or divine foolishness.  I think there was some grace involved in our creation, too – fearfully and wonderfully and gracefully made.  Amen to that.

Too Soon

There are certain things that are not supposed to happen while on vacation.  It is not supposed to rain (which it did.)  When visiting a quaint beach town, one is not supposed to encounter protesters at the local post office who want to impeach the president and make their point by drawing a Hitler mustache on the leader of the free world (which also happened.)  And young adults whom you once knew as teenagers aren’t supposed to kill themselves.

As much as we might pretend to vacate the world or our own little realities from time to time, life presses on.  Good things happen while we’re away, and tragic things too.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  I am not Queen of the Universe; the world doesn’t stop because I have set aside a little sabbath time.  But some things are hard no matter when they happen, like the death of a person you still remember as a bright, crazy-talented, slightly pimply teenager in your church’s youth group.

I served that church ten years ago, and have since lost touch with so many of the folks there.  I was a bit of a tertiary staff person to the youth program, but when the youth went on a retreat and they needed a pastor to celebrate communion, I was on deck, so I got to know these kids.  “These kids” – they are now adults, holding down jobs, finishing grad school, getting married and starting families and starting careers.  When I hear about them through the ecclesiastical grapevine, or one of them friends me on Facebook, I am so glad and so proud.  I have no reason to be proud, but I am.  They are on their way, and doing great, or at least doing as well as any of us might hope to, given our flaws and foibles and the general human condition.

But this kid.  This kid.  My heart aches for his parents and his sister.  For his friends, too, because I know that particular class from the youth group was tight.  Maybe they knew what I did not, that mental illness was a burden he carried, along with his talent and friendship and handsome gawkiness.   I picture his parents – devout, faithful, loving, possessing a patience and concern I never realized.  I picture his friends – the one who worked at Starbucks and made me a latte at 7:00 on a Sunday morning as I made my way to church.  The woman who was smarter and more beautiful than she ever realized.  The guy with the crazy hair who got ordained and now wears tabs on Sunday mornings.  The one who went into the Peace Corps.  The one who’s a doctor. All of them, tonight, grieving.  Grieving the death of a peer, a friend, maybe someone they would even call beloved.

This is about all I know tonight:  that he left the world a little more beautiful because of the talent he shared.   That he left the world a little more fragile because of that cusp of anxiety and depression that he teetered on.  That he woke us all up to the present, to the gift of right now, the gift of old friendships,  and the gift of community.

My prayers are with that community tonight.  Rest in peace, all.saugatuck