The Playground and the Pacifist

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“Mom…the reason I’m so grumpy tonight is that I just didn’t have a very good day.”

“Oh?”  I said……because after all the arguing and fighting and meltdowns from my kindergartner in just two hours of time together, it was all I could muster.

“Yes.  I fell down on the playground and some boy with red pants and a black shirt called me a loser.”

My heart dropped to my knees, blood drained from my face….this was the exact reason I cried so hard the first day I sent her to school.  Quickly, I gathered up my pain and my frustration and tucked it deep into my gut….emptied out my thoughts and said, “Tell me about that.”  

She told me the story.  She fell down.  He said, “you’re a loser.”  She told me how sad it made her feel and how hurt and how she wasn’t sure if she was over it.  That it made her feel like she was scared of having a bad day again.  She also told me about how another boy in her class stood up for her and told this kid how mean it was to say that.  I found some sense of relief in that.

I feared this.  I dreaded it.  I knew it would happen.  One day my little girl, my most sacred and beautiful part of my life will be told she was something less than what I know she is and what she knows she is.  And there are three reactions – fight back OR forgive.  OR do nothing.  I knew this day would happen when she got knocked down when she was two by someone cutting in line to go down the slide….and what I told her then was, “If they want to go down that slide so bad, just let them, it isn’t worth the fight.”  I have always regretted that I ever said that to her.  Because…..I left no room for that little part in all of us that needs to stand up for what is right.  I basically told her to be passive, to let people walk all over her……all because we shouldn’t fight.

Well……so there it was.  On the playground yesterday.  A kid knocked her over with words and went down the slide, while she stood there ill-equipped to handle it.  And as I picked up the pieces of my overly sensitive daughter’s heart, I said, “You know you’re not a loser, right?”  

She said, “Right.”

But there is something in me that knows this will stick with her.  I know this will be a thing she remembers.  And I know that there will come a day when letting someone go down the slide ahead of her because she doesn’t want to fight won’t be the rule of thumb.  

How do I teach my child how to be laid back enough to not let line cutters bother her, but to be bold enough to let name callers know that she will not be degraded?  How do I teach her nonviolence in a way that still empowers and is assertive?  Sticks and stones just does not seem to cut it in the world of today’s bullying…….words do actually hurt and scar us for life.  That word, loser, will probably hurt her forever……and she’s only 5 and three quarters as she likes to put it.  

I know I can’t fix this…….and I can’t take the incident away……and that ball of pain I put away earlier still sits there and I imagine it’s something I’ll get used to eventually.  I am lucky to have such a strong child who understands what words hurt and what words don’t…..now I want a gentle child who understands that her sense of self does not depend on playground warfare, but on her confidence and her ability to know what is worth fighting for.  It’s a hard line to walk on…..and maybe this is a line she will figure out for herself…..but it’s also a line that I had hoped forever she’d never have to cross.  

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When Sadness Looms…..

Unfortunately, my latest “cold” has awakened me at weird hours of the night in fits of coughing that won’t go away unless I sit straight up and down a glass of water.  That being said, last night, at 1am, I laid in bed watching the events of Ferguson, MO.  I’ve been super selfish lately…very focused on the first day of kindergarten tomorrow, very focused on myself and this stupid cold and the fact that for a few days I couldn’t say a word.  In fact, I’d been so selfish the first I had heard of Ferguson was this past Saturday.  

Sometimes….I turn my head.

I did hear about Robin Williams though.  And that hurt.  It hurt for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that gosh I know a lot of joke tellers and people who like to “fake” happiness when underneath the jokes and smiles is a lot of pain.  Pain that’s been so far hidden it can’t be revealed anymore.

Sometimes…..I turn my head.

I’ve sorta heard about all the events in the Ukraine, in Iraq, and in other parts of the world.  Unfortunately, there’s an immunity to it in my soul because it’s been present for so long – that unrest and discord.

Sometimes….I turn my head.

And unfortunately, over the tales of facebook, I have been watching a family member slowly, but inevitably, falling off the deep end once again.  Wrapped up in a web of mental illness, I am again watching her drift away and I’m wondering how deep my love for her will go this time.  Can it go this deep?

Sometimes….I turn my head.

I turn my head because I am selfishly protecting myself from sadness.  I have often found that pain in the world hits me so deep that I become frozen.  I become cynical.  I become keenly aware of how small I am.  And isn’t it selfish of me to think that I should overwhelm this entire blog with “I”.  When sadness looms, I turn my head.  And I turn it to me.  Somehow I think that if I look at MY life and MY family and MY job that I will be immune to the pain and the sadness that hovers over us.  But the Psalmist says in Psalm 121, “I lift my eyes up to the mountains and from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord.”

I’ll never forget the first time I went snow skiing in the Rockies.  High up on the ski lift (which took me forever to master!), I looked out at the mountains and there was no inch of doubt within me that God was the God of the Most High and was more than I could dream of dreaming.   When sadness looms, I have turned my eyes down.  But where should they be turned?  To the mountains…..to the sky…..to the God of the Most High.  The best work is done in the midst of sadness with heads held high….in humble awareness that sadness can only be conquered by that one who has command over the earth and sea and sky.  

Whatever the world is going through right now, my job is to not look inward and away…..my job is to look into and upward.  To see into the eyes of God in the landscape of a beautiful world and lift out of God’s eyes…..that mercy and grace that is poured out in tears of healing over the hurting world.  When sadness looms……..and our tears join with God’s tears……then and only then can joy come in the morning.

There really ain’t no mountain high enough. Ain’t no valley low enough.  Ain’t no river wide enough.  To keep God from getting to us.  And when sadness looms……..there will be no more turning my head……unless it’s to the mountains.

Why I Love Jesus!

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The trouble with being a mainline denomination pastor who leans a little to the left is that we have a hard time owning the fact that we love Jesus.  There are certain words we don’t use, us left leaning preachers.  Words like Savior, Salvation, LORD OF MY LIFE, sometimes even using the word, Jesus, excessively, might bring with it some judgment as to what that actually means.  But here’s the thing:  IT’s ALL TRUE.  Jesus really is my Savior and my Salvation and the LORD of my LIFE!  And there are times when I want to shout that out!   I love Jesus for all these reasons and more.

No, I don’t wear WWJD bracelets and I don’t wear cross necklaces around my neck or funky (is that even the right word?) t shirts that proclaim my faith.  And I don’t go around talking to strangers about the fact that Jesus is in my heart and that they should have him in theirs too.  But maybe I should.

Mainline denominations, it’s no secret now, are in a steady decline and I look around and see that they are still doing good ministry and I wonder why the decline?  And why are other churches not?  It’s an odd phenomenon, but the more I’ve been contemplating it, the more I’ve realized is that those other churches DECLARE JESUS AS THEIR LORD AND SAVIOR and THEY CONSISTENTLY TALK ABOUT HIM!

So today?  Here and now?  I’m gonna tell you why it is that I LOVE JESUS and why he is the LORD AND SAVIOR OF MY LIFE and I’m going to do it without apologizing for being too “Jesus-y”.  Here it goes:

I LOVE JESUS and HE IS MY SAVIOR BECAUSE:

During my period of deep questioning and doubt, he revealed himself to me in the garden of Gethsemane as empathetic to my doubt and fears.

During my period of grief and of shame and of sadness, he revealed himself to me on the cross as the one who knew my pain.

During periods of growth and exploration, he revealed himself to me in the manger as one with hope and vulnerability.

During periods of pessimism and disdain for humanity, he revealed to me in the resurrection the power and strength of deep love for all people.

During periods of isolation and abandonment, he revealed to me at the well, at the pool of Bethsaida, in the middle of the crowds with the woman bleeding for 12 years, and in the woman about to be stoned for adultery the reconciling grace and unconditional acceptance of God.

During periods of self righteousness and over confidence, he revealed to me on the mountains where he prayed the blessing of humility and humble gratitude.

During periods of greed and selfishness, he revealed to me in the widow and in the rich young ruler, the abundance of living a generous life.

And I love him most of all because:  He NEVER JUST MEANT THIS ONLY FOR ME BUT FOR AN ENTIRE WORLD.

Jesus is my savior because he has, in fact SAVED me.  He has saved ALL OF US!  Not just by dying on the cross, but by showing us what it means to live a life of faith and how much better and how much more fulfilling a life of faith really is.

I have felt his hand on mine.  I have felt his love in my heart.  I have felt his grace calling me back from wronging people in this world.  And had he not done these things, I wonder where would I be?

I have looked around at the people I know who do not walk with him and have not accepted him as their guide for living and their companion on this journey, and I have seen these people hurt in ways that seem so helpless to be healed.  And I want to scream to them – YOU NEED JESUS!

Screaming, however, never works with me and I’m doubting it will work with them.  But there is some merit to accepting Jesus.  Jesus loves them and works with them regardless of their accepting him, but I wonder, if they knew they weren’t alone…if they knew Jesus’ grace is as much for them as it is for me, if perhaps they, too, would be saved…..just like this wretch of me.  And maybe as a pastor, I need to start taking back the language that means so much to me and start using it to reach out?  It’s a thought, among many.

All I know is what Jesus has done for me……and he has done it for you, too.

And it makes all the difference in the world to be loved like that.

Allow Me to Be Me

  Like Any person in the world, I struggle.  It’s not often just a crisis of holiness, it is a crisis of my entire being.  I have doubts about faith like everyone else.  I will wonder if the world is as I think it is.  I will wonder if God really does interact with God’s people.  I rarely doubt that there is a God, but the logistics of that God are often in my mind.  I have always been that way.  I have always wondered if perhaps I am insignificant in God’s plan and in people’s lives.  It is my worst fear that I am not important.  And I work consistently to try to overcome my own failures and doubts.

I go for days wondering if I make people happy.  I go for days wondering if what I said to someone hurt them or helped them.  I go for days carrying around my inadequacies in all of my life – not just pastoring, but mothering, daughtering, friending…..all of it.  I try not to hurt intentionally.  And I try my very best to be someone to somebody that makes a good difference in the world.  But I often fail.  I often live in this expectation of myself to be “perfect” knowing full well I can never be.  It’s been a flaw of mine since I can remember – to be the “golden child.”  No one knows how glaring my failures are as much as I do.

My failures have been painted in pictures for me – in meetings of well intentioned people, in comments made by good folks, and even in offhanded remarks made by the people who know me the most.  And that is okay, I want to get better and I like the accountability.   At the same time, I lament at hearing it all again.  I want to say, I hate that part of me!  That part of me hurts.   I don’t want it to be there.  I’ve sat in more “performance review” meetings then I could count and the same things are always brought up time and time again no matter the church. As much as I try to hide what’s wrong with me, it’s obvious that it can’t be hidden.  And inevitably at some point, I just want to say to myself and to others……please let me be me.  Give me grace.  I need it too.  I struggle with who I am too.  I am as perplexed as everyone else as to why God chose me for this.  I mean, know that I love you, know that I work on these flaws every day, but more than anything….know that I love God and will do absolutely anything to make the world a better place and like Paul, I too have my own ailments that I deal with daily.  I have been working on them since I was born.  But I just can’t seem to get over it.  So let me be me.  Believe me, no one knows me like I know me – the good, the bad and the ugly.  I am incredibly beautiful on the inside and sometimes the outside…..but it comes also with darkness, we all do.

Let me be me:  when I say the thing that I shouldn’t have said.

Let me be me:  when I forget to call because I have the worst memory in the world.

Let me be me:  when I lose my place in the world and forget my calling.

Let me be me:  when I think of myself as more important than I am.

Let me be me:  when I strive endlessly to love God like I should.

Let me be me:  when I lay my heart all on the line

Let me be me:  when my words match my passion and it unsettles you.

If you let me be me, I promise to let you be you.  We will work our doubts and our fears together.  We will create relationships that are real and authentic and accepting of ALL our true selves.  We will cry together and laugh together.  We will encounter unity in a way that uses the good and beautiful parts of us.  We will love in a way that honors God.  Let us be who we are.  It might be offensive at times and it might challenge us.  It might strike us at odd times and it might strike us when we need it most.  We are one – you and me.  I work on me every day.  You work on you every day.  If we can be ourselves, knowing that we are all working on that…..then we become a people who are for each other.  Supportive of each other.  In each other’s corners.  And I think that is the key to peace.

I have flaws.  You have flaws.  The real strength comes when we let our goodness and our beauty cancel them out.  I don’t believe that there is anyone in the world who hasn’t felt at some time or another like they could use someone who knows them, loves them, understands them, accepts them……and believes in them.  Wouldn’t it be peaceful to know we are more than our doubts and we are assuredly more than these things when we stand hand in hand in unconditional love.

I would like to believe that this is how God loves us.  I would like to believe that God is well aware of our flaws, works on it with us……but has also overcome them with grace.  Maybe the real crux of it all is to allow God to be God in our personal lives, in our relationships, and in the life communal we call church.

Not “That” Church

We, meaning South Summit Christian Church, are about to embark on a journey of visioning.  Once upon a time they did this, that daunting task of figuring out what type of church and who that church should be reaching.  It’s great to recognize that one church cannot be all things to all people.  Well, unless you’re “that” church.  It is important to realize that while, in theory, all people are welcome in a church….not all people will “feel” welcome.  Even the most open churches in the world can’t reach everybody.  To be “that” church would mean we would have to give up the notion that all people are welcome and take on the notion that well….everyone is welcome who believes this way and doesn’t want to believe or think any differently.  The Sheep Church is really what “that” church is….
think this way and walk this way and you’ll fit in quite nicely as long as you can navigate the parking and the 15 times of worship services, and the altar calls periodically during worship.  That’s one way to go…..right?  The Sheep Church…..”All are welcome who believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins.”  And if you don’t believe that, our manipulative worship and mob swamps will surely get you there.  And there’s no doubt, Jesus loved sheep.  Jesus also loved the lost sheep.  In fact, Jesus sorta left all the other sheep just to find the lost sheep.  And when he did find him…..ahem…the rich young ruler or the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida….to name a few of Jesus’ lost sheep….he didn’t take them back to all the other sheep.  He gave them a nudge and then let them figure it out.  At least that’s how I read it.

I drove by “that” church.  It definitely works.  There are a lot of like minded sheep in the world.  To blend in, to not stick out, to be able to move with the crowd without anyone pointing fingers…..it’s appealing.  I remember when I was little I would have done anything to not h
ave red hair and freckles and hair on my legs.  No one likes to look awkward.  So “that” church does a great job of masking the awkward.  It’s not how Jesus went about it, but if the folks who go there feel loved by God….then OK!

Fact is, We are not “that” church.  When SSCC gets done with our vision process…..we won’t be “that” church.  As much as I wished my red hair and freckles away, guess what?  They didn’t go away.  The awkward still resides and I still stand out like a sore thumb at Oceans of Fun with my pale skin smothered in white sunscreen with freckles peeking through.  And fortunately by not being “that” church, we get the pleasure of seeing the unique natures of all individuals – freckled, red hair, left handers, lower than minimum wage earners, smokers, tokers, jokers, moms who just can’t quit, dads who can’t seem to get it together, animal lovers, fitness buffs, couch potatoes, social media addicts, cussers, drinkers, movie watchers, and even those who perhaps have the pleasure of  loving someone of the same sex.

We are not “that” church.  Christ was the Savior of the awkward.  If we can’t find our place in the flock with all the other like minded people, then we definitely could find our place in his arms.  Not being “that” church means that we can recognize and honor our differences, it means we get the distinct privilege of embracing someone who thinks differently than we do, albeit challenging, it is often refreshing.  And we get to most honestly be the Body of Christ who did the same…..seek out those who have been running for the hills most of their lives only because they never found anyone on earth who could stand up to the pressure of showing that perhaps they were awkward too.

Perhaps at the end of this visioning process our motto might be “Not ‘That’ Church” or perhaps it could be “That Church……Embracing the Awkward like Christ Did for Us.”

Psalm 77 Revisited

Easy Button

Loving God, it seems we are once again at an impasse.

I drown in my sorrows and have no idea where you are.

Loving God, it seems I’m once again finding myself angry and frustrated.

And somehow in the back of my mind I know you’re there, but could you just speak a little louder.

I’m drowning in self pity and incredibly ticked off at the world around me.

Could you somehow be a little stronger?  Maybe do one of those miracle things you did all the time before we even met?

Those people seemed to get it all….parted seas, talking donkeys, lightning bolts, flames touching their tongues……. I could use that too you know.  We all could.

Looking back……your spirit hovered over the waters, your spirit rested on the Lion’s mouths, your spirit triumphed at the walls of Jericho, your Spirit danced in the fields with the shepherds, your spirit left the lips of your son and traveled to far away lands whispering your truth……

Not that I’m trying to sweet talk you, but your wonders have been amazing.

I just wish….need….want…..a few of those wonders right here and now.  Some sort of “Easy” button has to be around here somewhere.

But when I think about it…..you never were one for doing things the easy way.

To the Best Man and his friends…….

Image   You must not have noticed the stern look in my eye on the rehearsal night when I told you not to drink the day of the wedding.  I even said, “drink all you want after the wedding, but not before!”  I’m certainly no prude when it comes to a hearty wedding day celebration!  Open bar?  Heck, I’m the first one in line.  But I asked one favor….in fact, I mandated it – DO NOT DRINK BEFORE THE WEDDING –  figuring you knew better than to nod yes knowing you would never heed the warning.  Unlucky for me, I didn’t have a chance to kick you out of the wedding as you so cleverly hid from me the entire time before it started.  But do you know why, me, the pastor of your best friend’s wedding said don’t drink before the wedding?  Do you have a clue?  I have a list for you to answer that perplexed face.  And if you are going to be a best man and just happened across this….this goes for you, too:

1.  Not everything is about you and your enjoyment….if there is one day to prove yourself as a best friend it is the day of your “best friend’s” wedding.  And clearly, he was not enjoying this day either.

2.  Because when the bride walks down the aisle, one of the most poignant moments is the groom’s face as he sees her come forward…..but your golfing shenanigans all day stole that face, that MOMENT,  from him.  He went from one of the smiliest people I’ve ever known to nothing but glossed over eyes and a blank stare as he watched his wife-to-be looking what will probably be her best for the rest of their married lives.  Why do I hold you responsible?  See #1.

3.  Because that 300lb groomsmen almost fainted.  His eyes were literally closed during the ceremony.  Of course it was hot in there.  Weddings are always hot.  Drinking makes you hotter and not in the good way hotter (in fact it does the total opposite of that).  Heat, drunk, fainting have a symbiotic relationship.  I kinda just trust best men to know that.

4.  This is a no brainer……but a bride and groom spend thousands of dollars to make a wedding day perfect.  They spend months of their time to plan.  And as a minister I spend weeks of my time preparing them for a relationship that whether we like it or not or think that it will or not, takes a drastically different turn the day they tie the knot.  Stress, fights, frustrations run high and the day of the wedding it all comes to a climax…….but again……at the time of the vows – the groom fumbled over his words, laughed at himself, and worse yet laughed at his wife’s vows.  There were no tears, no sighs of nervousness, no chill bumps on anyone’s arms……mainly because most were too worried about the best man’s ability to hold up a groomsmen and in conjunction with that was freaking out that the groom was going to puke.  

5.  This one is important:  The bride and groom said, “we believe God wants this for our life.  WE believe God is very much a part of our life together.  And we feel this love could only come from God.”  And that was to be honored in the ceremony.  But when the time came for me to bless the marriage – your drunken condescending look, and public display of mockery shoved God out of the window and instead of looking at their newly ornamented fingers and concentrating on praying for this new life and sacrament being sealed, the entire congregation was giggling at you.  See #1.

6.  Don’t drink before the wedding because in order to sign the marriage certificate you have to remember your address and how to spell your last name.

7.  Don’t drink before the wedding because your  toast at the reception sounded like you had no idea that you were even there for a wedding. (if we are making this about you)

8.  Don’t drink before the wedding because no one is in the moment when they are drunk. You were in another world completely.

9.  Don’t drink before the wedding because here’s what it says about you and everyone else who engaged in alcohol before the wedding:  That you chose alcohol over the good of other people and that somehow you can’t have fun without it.

10.  Don’t drink before the wedding because……you know, just because.  Because weddings are beautiful without it.  Because the groom is more in love without it.  Because you are more responsible without it.  Because you can have fun without it.  Because no one needs anyone fainting.  Because no one needs to be hotter.  Because you didn’t need it.  Because and because and because……

 

Drink up all you want to after the ceremony, like I said.  But before?  After 13 years of weddings……I’ve learned……when you drink, the groom drinks…….and somehow after all the love shared on the day that he was to choose his wife’s love over anything else…..he chose you.  And that’s on you.