Apr 302012

It’s Shepherd Sunday.

I teach Sunday school to a group of 6-9th graders, and today my co-teacher and I talked about Psalm 23 in a lectio-divina-style approach – we read the text from three different translations, and then had them listen to three different musical renderings. This song was the last of the three, and it was the only few minutes in the hour that they remained still.

After reading the text for the third time, we asked the youth what they felt the text was calling them to do.  I realized as the question was asked that the text was calling me to rest. To just rest, and remember why I love what I get to do everyday.  To love that I can get out of bed in the morning (that I have a bed to get out of!), and to love feeling tired and to love the feeling of rest and to love the people in my life and to love the spot on my nose that isn’t cancer and to love my hyperactive self, and to love my hair that goes everywhere and to love and to love and to love.  and to rest.

Peace, Y’all.

Apr 222012
I know it may well be a cop-out to use a poem that was read in worship this morning, but this one just seemed too good not to use.

Happy Earthy Day, Y’all. May you find a wood drake to lie beneath, or peace in the midst of other wild things.

“The Peace of Wild Things”
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Apr 172012

Imagine, if you will, a youth – about 15-years-old.

Imagine this youth growing up in an area with other youth around the same age, supportive parents, a sibling a couple of years younger or older – maybe one of each.  Imagine this youth at five years old, kind of quiet and reserved in public; but, when at home, happy, engaged, with eyes that shine with the joy of being five, giggling at some inside joke with one sibling or the other.

Imagine at some point, at around fourteen years old, this youth started getting a bit more reserved a bit more quiet, started to share less and less with family members.  After a little bit of time, one of the youth’s parents asks the youth about it – asks about whether things are okay at school, if they are feeling okay, if anything has happened.  The parent reminds the youth of how much they are loved and that, should the youth need to talk about anything, to remember that the parent is there for them and loves them, no matter what.  

A couple of weeks later, the youth comes in to sit by the parent on the sofa, and starts crying.  Sobbing.  When the tears begin to subside, the youth says to the parent, “Were you serious?  When you told me that you love me…no matter what?”

“Yes,” the parent says, “there is nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you. I love you so much – no matter what.”

“Would you love me even if I told you that I think maybe I’m….gay?”  The youth stumbles over the last part of the sentence, sobbing as they talk.

“Yes, yes, and a thousand more yeses. I love you no matter what. Both of your parents love you so much, and we cherish the person you are, no matter who you are or who you love or how you dress or what you want your career to be.  We love you so much.”
As the youth keeps sobbing, the parent holds them and lets them cry.

For a while, the parent starts to see a side of the youth they thought had been gone – the youth is laughing again, happy, talkative and engaged. Excited about life.  They’ve come out to some of their close friends, and are relishing in being “out.”

About six months later, though, the youth starts to withdrawal again, to come in after school and spend hours in their room.  The parent tries to ask the youth about what’s going on, but the youth doesn’t want to talk about it.  After some prodding by the parent, the youth finally opens up and says that they’ve been “getting some flack” from some people at school.  Says some kids at school have been teasing them, calling them all sorts of names – telling the youth they are going to hell, that God doesn’t love them.

“Do you think that’s true?” The youth asks the parent. “Do you think that God doesn’t love me?”

“No, no, no – I know that’s not true. God loves you so so very much. I am so sorry that those kids are saying all they are saying, and that their words are so cruel. But – and don’t ever forget this – you are a beloved child of God – you are my beloved child, too, and I love you so much.”

The parent contacts the teachers and administrators of the youth.  The teachers bring in the kids who have been bullying the youth, sit them down, and talk to them.  But, the bullying doesn’t stop. The youth seems to be carrying it alright – as well as anyone could. They start talking about college, about being excited to get out of town and go somewhere “with other gay people.”

Imagine, then, that one afternoon the parent comes home from work to find the house eerily silent.  They put down their bags from work, walk through the house, call out the youth’s name, but hear nothing.  The parent starts to get a bit worried, calls out the youth’s name again. Silence. Heavy silence. The parent checks the youth’s bedroom, but doesn’t find the youth there – then the bathroom, then the backyard – getting anxious with every empty room, still hearing nothing from the youth.

Imagine the silence broken by the scream of the parent as they walk into the basement and find their child hanging from the beams of the ceiling with a garden hose around their neck. The body limp, the parent tries to lift the youth, and finally succeeds, pulling the youth down.  

Imagine the parent giving the youth CPR, trying in vain to to pump breath into the lifeless body of their child, who does not respond. Fifteen years old, and unable to deal with the weight of the world, unable to see a way out of it or around it.

Now imagine that this youth is your child.

Apr 162012

“In the Department Store,” 
by Marge Piercy
The women who work at cosmetics
counters terrify me. They seem molded
of superior plastic or light metal.
They could be shot up into orbit
never mussing a hair, make-up intact.
When I walk through, they never pester
me, never attack me with loud perfume,
never wheedle me into a make-over.
Perhaps I scare them too, leaking
some subversive pheromone.
I trot through like a raccoon
in an airport. They see me,
they look and turn away. Perhaps
I am a project they fear to tackle
too wild, too wooly, trailing
electrical impulses from my loose
black hair. They fasten on the throat
of the neat fortyish blond behind me
like stoats, dragging her to their
padded stools. A lost cause,
I sidle past into men’s sporting
gear, safe but bemused, wondering
if they judge me too far gone
to salvage or smell my stubborn
unwillingness like rank musk.

Apr 092012

Today is my Dad’s birthday.  It’s also the first of his birthdays since he died last June. So, while it’s still the day of his birth, it’s not his 63rd birthday, as it should have been.  Instead, it’s the day after Easter – a day almost beatific as it basks in its spring-ness (were it not for the pollen), with a high of 73 degrees and clear blue skies.  I recognize that there is a combination of factors here that could lead me very quickly into “online diary” territory (which I usually try to avoid), so I’ll go ahead and qualify whatever I may write below with all of the factors above.

Losing my dad last year was one of the most pivotal experiences of my life, for a number of reasons. Though I didn’t really see it before he died, I’ve got a lot in common with my dad.  It was funny looking through his old photographs, connecting with him through images.  I’m not sure if watching him make photographs, or seeing the photographs he made of the sky influenced me as a photographer, or if there was something we shared in always looking up.

As he died, I found that I had a way of connecting with people that I hadn’t before, something that grief opened up.  I was, and am still, so grateful for the ways people poured out love on me and my family as we went through the process.  I felt connected with people in grief, even in knowing that not everyone experiences grief in the same way.  I appreciated those who let me sit and talk about losing my dad, and I hope that I’m now better equipped to sit and listen with people as they go through their grief.

More than anything, though, I think losing my dad helped me to continue to believe that there is something beyond this life, beyond my own experience.  At some point toward the middle of my second year of seminary (in the spring of last year), I reached a point where I’d been neck-deep in theology, biblical studies, and church history for long enough that I started to accept the idea that this life may be all that there is, that religion was conceived as a way to make sense of life, to make it worth living in a fruitful way.  I mean, thinking about something being beyond all of this gives a certain context to everything – it can give hope, accountability, trust in something bigger that is in control, that can make sense of this mess.

However, there was something about losing my dad that framed it all in a new way – religion no longer seemed to be about making sense of individual experiences as a connection to the beyond, but about making sense of the beyond as it breaks into individual experience – to the connection we feel with everything around us, even when it is no longer with us in the same way. I think back to a church history lecture, when my professor was talking about the experience of being with her father after he suffered a massive stroke, and how in being with him as he died, she realized what it meant for, (and I’m quoting here from the sermon of my friend and classmate Dawg Strong, who forwarded this to me shortly after my dad died):

“Christ to have taken on the “form” of flesh, to have assumed the pattern of what it means to be an embodied human being in addition to having his own physical form, and she had the sudden understanding that if God in Christ has taken on the flesh pattern and form of humanity, he resides in our flesh as well as in his own.  That is more than Emanuel, than ‘God with us.’  It means that God was not just with my professor’s father as he experienced his stroke; God was in the stroke itself.  It is true to say that the breaking of our hearts breaks God’s heart.  It is even truer to say that God is [in] the breaking of our hearts.”

Our lives are lived individually – I am, in my flesh and bones, one individual.  However, we experience this life as part of much, much more – connected with one another and with everything that lives and moves and has being, by something that goes beyond anything our individual bodies could possibly contain.  It is in those moments of recognition of that “much, much more” that we, as my history professor would say, run up against the mystery; and all we are left to do is stand in awe of all that is.