Kitchen Table Saints

So there we were, at the kitchen table, celebrating the sacrament of the Kleenex box.  It was one of those inelegant moments of smeared mascara and a dripping nose, but it was a real moment, one of many around that kitchen table.  We took a breath so as to go on, only to see a friend arrive.

And then another friend, and then another friend, and before you knew it, we were all sitting around the kitchen table.  If any of us had been in our right mind, we would have scrounged up some cookies and tea, or retrieved the previous night’s Halloween candy; but no, we were celebrating the sacrament of Kleenex and tears, and nothing else was needed at the table but us and our running noses.

The conversation was as ordinary as it could be.  We talked about little things, and huge things.  Where are you going this weekend, what does Thanksgiving look like, how’s your dad, how’s the move.  It wasn’t that we were avoiding the elephant in the room, but we weren’t dissecting and classifying it either.

Saints do that, I suppose.  They come into unholy situations and by their love and light, make it, if not holy, then at least bearable with armor that looks like a favorite scarf and weapons that look more like plowshares than swords.

Then I went to pray.  All of us did.  It was An Important Prayer, and I did so want to get it right.  Except our other saint decided to snore quite loudly and rudely through the whole thing.  I giggled and stammered as I invoked the Creator, Holy God, Potentate of Time, Ineffably Sublime.  “From the sublime to the ridiculous” best categorizes the prayer.  But it was real, as real as the wadded Kleenex and the kitchen table, as real as that friendship, as real as that love.

In the end, a hymn saved me.  “So we pray for strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  And the saints said Amen.

May you find saints around your kitchen tables too.

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To my friend who told me that sometimes this blog is what helps get through the day

compassionFirst, thank you – what a kind and generous thing to say.  I am grateful my words might help now and then, because so often words feel like the rustiest, most falling-apart thing in my toolbox of compassion.

And second, and more important, thank you for all that you’re doing.  Thank you for losing  sleep on account of this person you love so much.  Thank you for getting good and pissed off about the whole situation, and swearing sometimes, because (as I told you) I love to swear, and when done properly, swearing is better than a shot of tequila and almost as good as a good night’s sleep.

Thank you, too, for being honest about how hard this is.  It is hard.  It’s excruciating.  It’s hard for the rest of us to watch, and I can’t imagine how hard it is to be in the middle of it all, the uncertainty, the pain, the known and the unknown (which is worse?), the waiting, the running around here and there to see this person and that, to pick up this thing and that, all signs of normalcy gone.  Or this is a new normal, and it’s awful.

Thank you for your constancy. That’s one of my favorite words – constancy.  It means you don’t quit when things get contrary or hard.  It means not changing who you are or what matters to you most even it would be so much easier not to give a damn.  Constancy means showing up, all the time, whether you want to or not.  Constancy is a pretty good expression of love, if not grace. Thank you for your constancy.

Thank you for all you did decades ago, for the foundation you have built.  I hope it’s sustaining you now.  And I won’t thank you for what you will do in the future, because honestly, when this situation resolves itself – however that may be – you deserve a rest and a glass of Chardonnay, and a massage.  If I hear about some awesome Festival of Swearing, I will let you know immediately.  I might go with you.

And thank you for whatever you’re doing this moment, besides reading this post.  Thank you for getting dinner on the table, or ordering a pizza to be delivered.  Thank you for wiping down the bathroom.  Thank you for sitting in traffic, because you have to get to that place by that time.  Thank you for checking Facebook because it’s a moment of escape.  Thank you for taking that phone call, for making that phone call.  Thank you for lying down for a few minutes, not sleeping, but at least resting.

Thank you.  Please don’t forget that you are loved.

Sitting with despair

Eagle Creek fireI woke up at 4 this morning, with a telltale sinus headache, and never really went back to sleep.  The sky was a weird beige, punctuated by a deep orange sun, and as I opened the gate to take the dog for a walk, I noticed a thin layer of ash on all the horizontal surfaces.  My head does not do well in this hazy air; my heart is so full of worry and sadness that it’s not doing well either.

The fires in the Columbia Gorge, possibly started by some dumb-ass teenagers setting off fireworks.  The floods in Houston recede to the new reality of loss, mold, mildew, loss, cockroaches, mosquitos, loss, snakes, ants, loss.  Hurricane Irma is on the loose.  Hundreds of thousands of people in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh have their lives washed over by more horrific floods.  And the president seems to think that now is a good time to end DACA and send over 800,000 children to lands they have never called home.

I’m finding it hard to grab onto any hope today.  You?

But maybe it’s too soon for hope.  Maybe I am supposed to sit with this despair for a while, let it sink in deep, let it foment about in my gut for a while, create some more compassion, work up a little more urgency.

Hope is found in the tiny things, maybe, in those bits of ash that will be great fertilizer for the burned forests that will eventually regrow.  Hope is found in the tiny acts, maybe, the people who call their elected officials and make some signs and protest, or take in folks so they don’t have to leave.  Hope is found in big things, too, like people being generous with their clean up, fix up talents, or generous with their money.

But hope eludes me today, so I greet today’s companion, despair, and wait with it.

Some questions about biblical womanhood, because I’m not clear

jaelSo.  The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood just came out with a statement, which I have questions about, but before I get to those, I have some questions about biblical womanhood, because I’m not clear which woman/women of the Bible I am supposed to be like.  I say that as someone who’s been a church goer and Christian for 45 years.  I’ve studied the Bible probably more than some, and I have some questions.

I could ask the five women on the council what they think, although none claims to be a Biblical scholar, so maybe I should ask the men.  At any rate, here is what I’m wondering about.

Should my biblical role model be Eve, the first woman to disobey God?

Should my biblical role model be Noah’s wife, who evidently did so little during the flood that she didn’t even merit a name?

Should my biblical role model be Sarah, who finished late in the game and had only one son, who pretended to be her husband’s sister, who laughed at God, who banished her slave and the mother of her husband’s other son to the desert?

Should my biblical role model be Dinah, horrifically raped, whose violation led to the circumcision and then murder of her assailants?

Should my biblical role model be Puah and Shiphrah, Hebrew midwives who risked Pharoah’s wrath and punishment by pulling a child from the river?

Should my biblical role model be Miriam, who, among other things, danced?

Should my biblical role model be Deborah, the Sandra Day O’Conner of her day?

Should my biblical role model be Jael, who killed the leader of her enemy by driving a tent pole through his head while he slept?

Should my biblical role model be the wife in Proverbs 31, the Enjoli woman of her time, who did everything except sleep?

Or should I look to the Christian scripture?  Should my biblical role Mary, who sang about toppling kings from their thrones and cradled the body of her dead son?

Should my role model be Mary Magdalene, who (as you know if you read the Bible) was not a prostitute, but the first female apostle, who (as far as we know) never married or had children?

Should my role model be Lydia, the real housewife of Thytira, who ran with the big dogs and made a lot of money and then opened her household to complete strangers who were in need?

Should my role model be Joanna, Phoebe, Prisca, and Aquila, deaconesses who took care of people?

Should my role model be the thousands of unnamed women in the Bible who made fabric and clothing, tended the fields, kept the fires burning, birthed baby after baby after baby, raised children, and endured second-class citizenship but kept the faith throughout?

I’m so not clear here.  But here’s what I think.  That if I’m to model the biblical womanhood of any of these women, I should be reaching out the vulnerable, pulling strangers out of the flood, breaking rules that make no sense and are not just, feeding people, and taking strangers into my home.  I should be singing and dancing and taking leadership roles.

But as far as I know, if I am to follow the example of biblical womanhood as set forth in this scripture that I love and wrestle with, then I don’t need to be writing statements about sexual morality and who is and isn’t a sinner.   None of them did that.

Thank God.

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.

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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Elusive Joy

Truth be told, I would rather conduct a memorial service than a wedding (but for those of you whose weddings I officiated, you were the exception!)  I also find planning the Good Friday service much more interesting, fun, and worthwhile than planning the Easter service.

This is not new information to me. I have been ruminating on it for a while, as this year’s Good Friday service flowed out of me so easily and elegantly, while getting Easter off the ground felt like wading through lime jello dotted with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple – colorful, but not so good.  I think it may have to do with joy and grief, with the elusive nature of joy in this life, and the immediacy and intimacy of grief in this life.

Grief bombards us all the time – grief in death, grief in horrible diagnoses, grief in all the tiny losses that add up, grief that is the constant companion of change.  Joy seems more sparing.  Every since I became a mother, which is one of the greatest joys of my life, I’ve been aware that joy, at least for me, is always tinged with fear: there is this person I love with the depth of my being and to lose her might kill me.  It is the fear of joy being taken away, or the crush of joy evaporating. Grief being taken away is a good thing, a sign of healing, a reprieve from that emotional pain.  Grief evaporating is something wished for, but not always attained.

The shared joy at a wedding is tinged with what might happen as the years unfurl: a fight, a divorce, job frustrations, children frustrations.  But I think my hesitation about weddings is about something else: they can become productions, and petri dishes of family systems theory, and studies in excess.  The true joy that is there can be overshadowed by all the stuff.

Then again, memorial services have as much joy as they do grief – joy for a life well lived, for love that was poured out, joy for having known this person.

And Good Friday and Easter – what about those?

Good Friday pierces me, in the way that it gets to the reality of injustice then and now; violence then and now; anguish then and now.  We have Good Friday experiences all the time, whether we want to or not.  We don’t have Easter experiences very often, or at least I don’t.  The small resurrections we know – remission, healing, reconciliation –  they are good and great, but still tinged with impermanence.

And really, the Easter service can be a bit of a production too.  There are a lot of moving parts: eggs, flowers, trumpets, Handel’s messiah, banners, extra bulletins, extra people, and hats.

This side of the door (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ image) maybe impermanent joy is all we get, joy that is elusive and fleeting.  I suppose fleeting joy is better than no joy at all.  But I do wonder what joy is like on the other side of the threshold.  Tangible and permanent, maybe.

Hopefully.

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