Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Panic Responsibly

It has been a heck of a year. Lots of bad stuff has happened with the typical forecasts of more to come. Some people are able to handle the bad stuff with a clearness of head and a calmness of demeanor and a reliance on accurate information and critical thinking skills. Others go into widespread panic mode, freaking themselves out and spreading their existential angst over everybody near them, like a cold, wet blanket of doom.

One of the first things I remember learning about emergencies is that you are supposed to stay calm. I now see why. Panic does you no good. Think about all the collateral damage done by panic. Wikipedia has an entire entry, and a quite long one at that, for human stampedes. Take a spin through these disasters and you'll see that, even when there is a tragic event, a fire or shooting or collapse of a stage, that triggers the stampede, it is the stampede that does by far the most damage. In fact, there have been situations such as in 1913 when in the Italian Hall in Calumet, MI, somebody yelled "fire" and 73 people, including 59 children, were trampled to death in the panic to exit the building. This situation is particularly horrifying because there was, in fact, no fire.

Perhaps because I am genetically wired to anxiety, I pick up on each message of coming oppression or inevitable disaster. The nice thing about having been on the planet over 5 decades is that I have seen these prognostications come and go with almost ludicrous frequency.

I remember hearing in 1976 that Jimmy Carter, our newly elected president, was the antichrist because his name, James Carter, started with J.C. like Jesus Christ and that James and Carter had the same number of letters as Jesus Christ. Then it was Gorbachev was the antichrist because his birthmark was the sign of the beast. Then Bill and Hilary Clinton's posse of government officials were going to come take the children away from Christian parents, to be raised by the state. Then Obama was the antichrist or Hitler reincarnated, with a plan to put all of us Christians in prison, a la Holocaust. And throughout all of this there have been the ever present predictions for the end of the world, one as recently as for this past September 23, though that dude changed his mind the day before, so as not to embarrass himself, I presume.

And through all of this, much of this panic has been spread by those who claim to have put their faith in a sovereign, loving God. I don't get it. I don't get the paranoia. The distrust. The hand wringing. The fear. And the spreading of fear. To be honest, it just isn't helpful. It isn't encouraging. And it isn't even true.

What is true is that none of us...NONE OF US know what will happen today or tomorrow or next week or next year. I don't think we are supposed to. Henri Nouwen in his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life says this:

The Christian Community mediates between the suffering of the world and our individual responses to this suffering. Since the Christian community is the living presence of the mediating Christ, it enables us to e fully aware of the painful condition of the human family without being paralyzed by this awareness. In the Christian community, we can keep our eyes and ears open to all that happens without being numbed by technological overstimulation or angered by the experience of powerlessness. In the Christian Community, we can know hunger, oppression, torture, and the nuclear threat without giving into a fatalistic resignation and withdrawing into a preoccupation with personal survival. In the Christian community, we can fully recognize the condition of our society without panicking. 

Paranoia, conspiracy theories, and Chicken Little's mantra of "the sky is falling" really do nobody any good and oftentimes do nothing more than spread gloom and doom to an anxious world that needs, more than anything, compassion and encouragement. It is irresponsible to cry "fire" into social media and stand back as people stampede each other to death in an emotional frenzy. Can we be what Nouwen says we can? Can we recognize the brokenness in our world without panicking?

Whether it is North Korea or mass shootings or earthquakes or hurricanes or the moral demise of society, there are wise and helpful ways to respond. Panicking isn't one of them. So in the midst of all of these tragedies, stay calm, trust God, and reach out in compassion to your neighbor. And if you must panic, panic responsibly and keep it to yourself. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Institutions and People

I'm no history scholar. I grew up in the American South. Tennessee, to be specific. I do not remember ever learning that the Civil War was not about slavery. That came later. That came from the mouths of friends who were concerned about the role of government in our lives and feared the encroachment of Big Brother. States' Rights seemed to be a dream of the past. One they would fight for as well.

I appreciate the view of smaller government. I do. I understand. But the problem is that in the situation surrounding the Civil War ("The War of Northern Aggression," some call it), those states' rights were protecting something the South held dear. Slavery. (I fully expect to get a history lecture from somebody telling me this isn't true. Sigh.)

It is one thing to hold an ideal surrounding an institution. It is another thing when that ideal impacts the life of a living. breathing person.

One of my passions is waking the Church (not one in particular but the Church at large) to the damage done when a church chooses to protect its own name over caring for a person within the church, such as when there is sexual misconduct or abuse within the church. Everybody scuttles around and pretties everything up in order to protect the institution and the victim gets lost in the shuffle, often being treated worse than the perpetrator. The same often happens in cases of domestic violence, when the institution of marriage is held up as so sacrosanct while the person within the marriage who has been violated is viewed as of no value whatsoever.

Even in parenting, you can have a principle that gets placed before the person you are trying to parent. Think of the parent who demands their child stop crying and when the child doesn't stop crying it is seen as disobedience and punished as such and come to find later that the child is crying because he is intense pain, be it physical or emotional. And somehow the parent was putting his allegiance to a principle (my authority) over the care of the child (why are you crying?).

Any time an institution or a principle, which is created for the human being, gets priority over the human being itself, something is wrong. Jesus said that about the Sabbath. That he made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.

I know people love the principle of small government. I know they love the principle of states' rights. But principles should never, ever come before people, be it parenting or church or the governing of a nation.

You can't visit atrocities on an entire race of people and think it is OK just because it is legal, as was done in the American South. You can't defend the people who defended the right to visit such atrocities just because, in their eyes, that form of government was more important than an entire race of people. They really weren't heroes.

When will our heart break for every man, woman and child ripped from their home or born into slavery or sold away from their family? When will our heart break for that and not defend it in the name of states' rights? When will we mourn for our collective past instead of celebrate it? When will we weep?

Somewhere along the line we are going to have to start looking at people as people and put them first.



Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Legacy of Loneliness

My father was the only child of a rather reserved house painter and a chronically depressed nurse. During the Depression, he mother would drive from their small town in central Massachusetts into Boston and work all week at Massachusetts General Hospital, leaving her young son and her husband to fend for themselves in a very stoic environment. His childhood was, from what I have gathered, intensely lonely and that colored his ability to relate to people for the rest of his life.

He came by that loneliness honestly, perhaps. His mother suffered much the same fate. She was an only child as well, the daughter of a Standard Oil executive from Ohio and a younger woman from the Deep South. Her parents's divorce circa 1903 when she was around 5 years old was a devastating blow and changed the course of her life. She spent six months with each parent. As an adult she refused to visit the South.

My mother was an only child as well and I heard from her how badly she longed for siblings her entire life. Beneath the backdrop of her Depression era childhood was the constant theme of loneliness.

I have always been against the idea of only children for this very reason, having seen my own parents suffer so much. Yet you don't have to be an only child to struggle with loneliness.

If I am totally honest, I would have to say that a common thread throughout my childhood, especially into my teen years, was loneliness. Perhaps that is what comes from being the youngest. The one who is left out and left behind when the others have moved on with their lives.

Yet I have a daughter who struggles terribly with loneliness. She isn't an only child. She, like me, has three siblings, but she is not the youngest. Yet she can feel that loneliness with the same intensity.

It left me wondering....can loneliness be inherited? And I looked it up and found articles that say that indeed it can. Depending on who you read and what study it can vary in terms of what percentage of loneliness is genetic vs. environmental but studies show that there is indeed a genetic predisposition to loneliness. In effect, your genes may help determine if you interpret your circumstances as lonely or not.

I find this in some way comforting, like it isn't all in my head. I'm not imagining it.

Now, from what I've seen, all the studies have been on people 50 or older and my primary loneliness was in childhood, though I can certainly experience intense bouts of it still today. The studies talk about how, because loneliness is so dangerous...a strong a predictor of early death as obesity or smoking...people need to learn to read the cues and find ways to address loneliness in healthy ways, the same as we would address health concerns. I think it is so important to take loneliness seriously. Treat it like high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes.

What makes us lonely? What keeps us lonely? How can we learn to reach out to each other in our loneliness?

And for kids? Kids have so few resources. How can we love and care for and teach kids to let us know when they are lonely? How can we be a community that wipes out loneliness?

These are just some thoughts. I would love to hear your ideas. 



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Maybe Too Personal

I'm going to get personal here. Who me? Yeah, me. Of course. 'Cause that's what I do.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the fear of the Slippery Slope and how that pertains to the disagreement and debate over the role of women in the church. I've written before about the need for women to be listened to, respected, and protected. And I've thrown it out there in saying that, regardless of where you come down on which roles women can and can't do within the church, we really, really want to matter.

I'll be honest here that my experience with men, especially older men and men in authority within the church, hasn't been terribly positive. My opportunities to speak up have been limited. My words have been misunderstood or ignored or corrected. I feel that there is little value in my presence. Yes, I "feel" that way. Another bad word.

Here is the issue for me. I grew up with very little interaction with my father. The interactions I did have with him were oftentimes corrective in nature. He could be brusk. And forceful. And scold. Then he was gone. I had no grandfathers in my life. No uncles. No family friends. I had no males in my life whatsoever that told me that I had any value in who I was. This left in me a gaping hole and a terribly skewed view of who God is and what he thinks of me. Then I am in a church of all male leadership. Authority figures. Like my father. Like God.

I was a disappointment when I was born. My father desperately wanted another son. I found the letter my grandmother wrote to him after I was born, telling him how sorry she was that I was a girl. You know what? I can't change that. I can't change the fact that God saw fit to make me a girl.

But it is so hard to go into churches where there is an all male rule of authority and rarely be engaged with and or listened to and then, when you speak up, to be chastised that you are doing it wrong. Do you think that in any way that helps me view God as any different than my father?

Diane Langberg is one of the best of the best when it comes to understanding people and pain. She explains how victims of childhood trauma, while they may fully believe the truths of Scripture, feel that somehow they are the exception when it comes to their relationship with God and how even thought they know the Bible says that he loves us, they believe they are the exception. She says that

One of the things that turns this around is ...others in the Body of Christ, who become the incarnation of God's love in the flesh for that person. It's over time, loving them through their anger and their fears and their struggles...speaking truth into their life with grace--over those years of experiencing in the flesh what they should have experienced in the flesh as children--that love begins to go in, little by little. 
 So it is the incarnational work to be in community with somebody who has been so injured because the Body of Christ becomes a representative of God in the flesh for the survivor. 
Her point is that, just as neglect, abuse, pain, and suffering happen through relationship, so does healing.

I'm sorry if this makes it sound like I am just going on a royal sob fest. I'm sharing my heart. But it isn't just my heart. This is the experience of thousands upon thousands of women out there. For once I know, I KNOW I am not the only one.

Think of every woman who has been sexually abused by the time they are 18. Think about every woman who has experienced control and abuse at the hands of her husband, maybe even an apparently fine, upstanding Christian husband. Both of these statistics alone are around one in three. One-third of the women in the congregation who have been traumatized by a man! THINK ABOUT THAT! Then think about all the women who grew up without a father. Or with a father physically present but emotionally absent, or perhaps even physically or verbally abusive.

I would dare to say that it might be the minority of women who enter the church doors with a remotely positive view of God as a kind and compassionate Father who values them.

So do you see how very damaging it can be to women when we are shoved aside? Left to have our own tea parties with cookies and doilies? And if we speak up we are put in our place? Do you think that in any way that helps us see God as one might care about us? Value us?

How men treat women within the church matters. It matters a lot. We aren't scary. We are't trash. We aren't out to seduce you and ruin your reputation. We aren't out to grab at all your power and run down the streets with it, squealing with glee. We are here, wanting to matter. Again. I'm a broken record on this and I've said it and I'll say it again. We want to matter.












Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Slippery Slope Slides Both Ways

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times. All the worry about the slippery slope. Give an inch, they'll take a mile and then more. An easing up of rigidity and before you know it we are all going to hell in a handbasket of warm, mushy, good-for-nothing feel-goodisms and have failed at our role as hardened warriors for God.

This is what I've seen when it comes to some of the issues within the more conservative church these days. The one that primarily comes to mind is the role of women. I've read and watched more debates than are good for my stress level.

Here's the problem. You have the complementarians on one side and the egalitarians on the other. And somewhere you have a lot of women, over half the church, best I can tell. And you have entire denominations of men saying that women cannot preach, and cannot teach a man, and then they say they cannot be an elder or rule over a man in any way, and then they say they cannot be on committees, and then they say they cannot be deacons, and then they say they cannot lead worship, and some even say they cannot speak in church at all.

I've watched one denomination debate the role of women. I've watched them want to have women as part of the conversation and seen men blow their stacks at even having women as part of the conversation. Why? Because of the slippery slope.

The reasoning goes like this. If you open up the conversation about what women can do, like perform deacon-type work, maybe even be called deacons (gasp), you are on the slippery slope to liberalism and before you know you you are no better than the wretched mainline denominations that have no place for the Word of God.

Excuse me, but I fail to see how talking about issues, really talking about them, talking about the millions of women in churches who may not be fully used to their potential because they are not allowed to do anything but hold babies, teach Sunday School, or cook casseroles, I don't see how talking about these issues is in any way a laundry chute straight to hell. To me it seems to be seeking greater stewardship of gifts and better allocation of the gifts at our disposal (not to mention the ringing of the Liberty Bell for those of us who like neither kids nor cooking).

But the slippery slope, you say.

I'll tell you this. The slippery slope slides both ways. One way to liberalism. But the other to oppression. And I know plenty of women who are feeling terribly oppressed right now. We can be looked past. Looked through. Talked over. Talked around. Ignored. Set aside. Patted on the head. But often not allowed to use the gifts we have to serve the people who need us. In effect, kept in our place. That, to me, is oppression. Or a set up for oppression.

I'm concerned that we only see the one side. We conservative types are so darn wigged out about the possibility of becoming liberal that we kill our freedom and suck the joy our of life in the mean time. There has to be a better way.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Pictures and Words

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet there are plenty of times that I'd prefer the words. I just don't see how a picture really communicates everything. It can show you your surroundings. Your externals. But a picture can't tell me your thoughts, ideas, feelings. A picture won't necessarily let me in on the struggles of your life.

Pictures are subject to such interpretation. Whether it is a picture of a smiling parent, a mischievous child, a beautiful sunset, or even a totally trashed living room after the toddler has had her way, a picture may trigger something in me, but it still doesn't tell me about you. It still doesn't connect me to you.

People are excellent at filling in the gaps with assumptions. You post beautiful picture after beautiful picture and I assume that your life is beautiful. You post nothing but smiles and I assume your life is nothing but smiles. You post nothing but weddings and birthdays and happy photos of happy times and I assume that that is your life. All the time. Pinterest worthy and Picture Perfect.

But words....words....if you use the words and if you are honest with your words, words tell me about you. They might tell me that it took 3 hours to get your toddler to sit still in order to brush her hair (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that smiling dad broke your heart when he left your family (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that beautiful sunset came as a much needed reminder that God is still on the job of making ugly things beautiful because you just went through two months of hell on earth (hey, you're like me!).

Facebook these days seems to be nothing but pictures. I don't get it. I need words. I need connection. I need to know who you are in the inside.

I don't have problems with pictures sprinkled here and there, but add words to them. Tell me about them. Tell me about you.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On Rest

I have never been so tired in my life. I look in the mirror and am totally shocked at the pathetic creature staring back at me. Like a half-dead possum in the headlights. My husband says he has never seen me so tired. So completely empty. So raw. As if I have no skin left. Indeed, there are times when my skin actually hurts, as if it is telling me physically where I am emotionally. I have no guard. No protection. I am a tire worn to the metal. A truck running on fumes.

There are times when I worry. Just how close am I to totally losing it? What if I snap? What if my mind totally goes in the stress and exhaustion that is my life? What if I become one of those women who wanders the streets wearing a bad lipstick job and silly hats, handing out candy to children and rocking back and forth at bus stops. And people will say nice things about my husband and how he is such a kind and faithful  man takes such good care of that pathetic wife of his. They might even bring him casseroles.

I need rest. My pale, haggard face in the mirror says it. My worn out body says it. My trembling voice says it. My broken heart says it. My soul, if it is still in there somewhere, says it.

I have never paid heed to the whole Sabbath thing. It seems so pious. So legalistic. All those things that people say you aren't supposed to and are supposed to do. It seems a burden that was more than I could bear, the very opposite of rest.

I am in no way a theologian, but it seems like we got away from the original purpose of the Sabbath when we made all those rules...those rules which vary depending on where you grew up and who your family was. If the whole purpose of the Sabbath is for rest because we need it and God knows we need it because he knows we are but dust and if he told us to "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" and if indeed holy means set apart, then it means that God wants us to set apart a day to rest. So basically, we get a day off.

I don't know about you, but I don't think we need to parse words about what that means and what that doesn't mean because rest means different things for different people.

Last month I had The Week From Hell. It was seriously one of the hardest weeks of my life. Then came a Wednesday when I had absolutely nothing on the calendar until 5:30 that evening. No clients. No appointments. No childcare. Nothing.

I got out the lawn mower and spent the day cutting the grass and crying. The hum of the mower, the physical release of stress as I shoved my partially functioning, non-propelling machine up our hills and over our rocks, the calling out to God to be merciful to me and my hurting daughter. The quiet when I could sit on the porch and just look out at it all and cry some more. I look back at that day as the closest thing I have ever had to a Sabbath. I needed it so badly. I need another one. I need them all the time.

I'm not good with boundaries. I take on way too much. I get overloaded. And even if I don't take on too many physical burdens, I take them on emotionally. Your problems become my problems. Wheee! My counselor (Yes, I'm in counseling. Everybody should be, in my opinion.) is really working with me on setting boundaries. It is a hard thing for me. I feel so responsible for so very much. In fact, one characteristic of people with OCD (moi!) is that they have felt a hyper sense of overresponsibility their entire lives. So boundary setting is huge for me right now.

Discipline means preventing everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on. - Henri Nouwen 
Discipline has always been a bad word to me. It has always meant to me either punishment or doing more and trying harder. I had never, ever considered the idea of discipline as doing less. Protecting myself. Protecting my time. Creating the blank canvas for God to work.

The idea of a Sabbath is growing on me. The word doesn't even scare me any more. It no longer sounds like something more I have to do...one more hoop I have to jump through to please God. Instead I am seeing it as just what it is. A gift. A gift I really, really need.