Thursday, January 16, 2014

Goodbye, House

I watched an elderly gentleman say goodbye to his house this morning. He sat in his chair while his friend scurried around, packing him for a trip across the country to live in a facility near relatives. He made jokes about leaving his nutrition supplements for the new owners to gobble down or throw away, whichever they choose. He smoked one last cigarette, rose from his chair, walked out the door, and stopped one more time to say goodbye to the place that has been home for the past 25 years. In his confused mental state, he seemed fine. I, on the other hand, struggled not to cry.

My mother was a child of the depression. Born in 1924, most of her childhood was spent moving from house to house and, at times, town to town, as work and money necessitated. Then she married my father, a Navy pilot, just after WWII and their life took her around the country, like a sampler platter of regional living. Pensacola, Key West, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Monterey, Boston, Quansett Point, Lakehurst, Norfolk. It was the life of a Navy wife, after all.

In 1954 my father left active duty and they moved back to her hometown. Her parents had just built a this newfangled house called a rancher in a new neighborhood set down in what had been a cornfield, less than a mile from the Tennessee River. They gave my parents the lot next door to their house and on that lot my parents build their own rancher and my childhood home.

My father moved out in 1977. My parents divorced. But my mother stayed on. By 2009 my mother was 85 and having some difficulty living alone but moving to a more manageable place or an assisted living facility was out of the question. This was her home.

When she walked out the door in March of that year, for what she thought was a possibly unnecessary trip to the ER, she didn't know she would never return. I'm glad that she didn't.

There are no words to describe what is like to sift through the contents of a life. Everywhere I looked, everything I touched was a reminder of my mother and of my childhood. As a child of the depression, my mother didn't get rid of much. Oh, she was plenty tidy and exceedingly clean (even a bit of a germophobe), but crammed into every closet and every drawer and in boxes and bins and giant, giant garbage cans were things she just might need one day.

Such was the work cut out for my sister and me. Every item we picked up required a decision. Is this trash or not? If not, do we keep it or give it away? If we keep it, who gets it (there are four of us sibling)? If we give it away, where do we take it? Who will give the best receipts for tax purposes for the settlement of the estate? Is there anything that nobody wants that might be valuable that we should try and sell? The decisions were endless and the work exhausting, physically, but even more so, emotionally.

I never dreamed letting go would be so hard. For so many years that house meant to me nothing but pain and heartache, with a good bit of a creep factor thrown in for good measure. (There were enough mystery noises to keep my overactive imagination in good form and the spiral stairway to the basement was enough to give even the toughest guy the willies.) But somehow, sitting there and piece by piece carting away my childhood, the pain and the fear were gone (well, not totally gone, I got creeped out at night) and in their place was just a wistful longing and a hesitation to let go.

For a while you could go to Google Street View, plug in the address and see, not only the house, but my mother standing in the driveway, her little dog Maggie by her side. When we first noticed this, about a year before she died, we complained to Google, concerned that this photo might compromise her security (little old lady living alone in nice rancher in good neighborhood), but they did nothing. After she died, we were thankful. For a while we could still go visit her at home, if only via cyberspace.

Google has updated their photos. The house is in new hands. The bits and pieces, the earthen vessels of memories, have been scattered to those of us who are left. It has been four years since I let go and yet there are times when there isn't anything I wouldn't give to go back just one more time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

To the Male Powers That Be

Dear Brothers in Christ in Leadership Positions in the Church—

Let me start by saying that I know you work hard, putting in sometimes long hours to serve and counsel the flock in your care. I know that many of you do everything out of a sincere desire to live in a right relationship with God and man. Please know that I thank you for that.

I am in no way a feminist. I was only in third grade when Helen Reddy zoomed to the top of the charts with her "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar," and I thought it was ridiculous, even then. I have no desire to see women in power over men. A power hungry man is bad enough. A power hungry woman is just as bad.

I do believe that God has called men to be the leaders within the church, at least in some positions within the church. If I did not believe so, I would have gone hunting down churches that believe otherwise. But, for a variety of reasons, I am at peace with the structure that I believe God has put in place.

That said, I see some problems that arise from an all-male leadership structure. I don't think these are problems that anybody has intentionally set in place, I think they are problems that come from a "business as usual" attitude and a basic desire to stick within a comfort zone. But the problems are real and cannot be denied and I am asking you, dear brothers in Christ, to step up to the plate. Remember Spiderman? "With great power comes great responsibility."

You have power. You may not even realize how much power you have. You have power over the wellbeing of your congregation. That power extends, not only to their spiritual health, but also to their emotional, mental and, yes, even physical health. So this is what I want to say.

If men are going to take leadership in the congregation, then women MUST know that they will be listened to, respected, and protected by these men.

LISTEN to them. Ask them how they are doing and be genuinely interested. Educate yourselves about the issues that women face and the things that make life challenging. Not only will it make you a better leader, but I bet it will make you a better husband and father as well. If you listen to them, even on boring, daily, humdrum matters, then they may be more likely to come to you when they have serious concerns.

Listen to THEM. I know among some portions of conservative Christianity there is a male headship thing really going on and some seem to take that to mean the the husband is the spokesman for the family. Often times the powers that be tend to assess the health of a family based on what the husband says. There are two problems here. The head of the house, out of no malice whatsoever, may not be totally in tune with the concerns of his wife or their children. Worse yet, the head of the house may not want you to know what is going on in his family. If he is being neglectful or overbearing or cruel or abusive; or if he is abusing drugs or alcohol; or if he is gambling away the family money or spending the evening viewing pornography, he's not likely to tell you those things. If you have developed a positive trusting relationship with the wife, she still may not (out of fear or shame) tell you, but she just might.

RESPECT them. It seems to me that there is still a tendency among many men, maybe more so in the older generations, to pat women on the head and write them off as overly emotional or excessively alarmist. The fact is that women ARE usually more emotional than men and we are also much more relational. God made us that way. It means that we see things differently and notice things that you may miss. Use our gifts, don't dismiss them.

PROTECT them. This really flows out of the other two and this is really where the rubber meets the road. You cannot protect them unless you listen to them and respect them.

The very hard truth is that women always have been and probably always will be the more vulnerable sex. We are, for the most part, physically weaker. We are, in many cases, more vulnerable. We hear this from the pulpit. We hear this in the Sunday School classes. Yet the reality is that women are often left to fend for themselves in the most sensitive of areas.

Take issues such as abuse seriously. Acknowledge that they exist, and may exist even within your own congregation. It is way too easy to sit around debating every jot and tittle of theology while a wrecking ball swings through the life of somebody in your care.

Horrors such as domestic violence and sexual abuse are happening right now. Possibly right before your eyes and under your nose. Acknowledge that fact, learn about it and be equipped to protect those in your care. And equip your congregation as well.

The male leadership that does these things will have a mighty force of female warriors behind it, allies in bringing grace and peace to a fallen world.