Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thankful Again

I'm the last one up in our quiet house this Christmas Eve, reflecting again on all the things I'm thankful for.

This Christmas, I am overwhelmingly thankful for the family I have; that we get a few glorious days to spend together.

I am thankful for the growing stages of my eldest girl, that she lost her first top tooth today, Christmas Eve, and was left with the most endearing gummy gap. I'd always feared the inevitable toothlessness of my children, but she is exquisite in every way. And really, a tooth pushed out of its place by another tooth? It's miraculous. Or biology. Or both.

A.A. Milne is a genius. Hilarious. Will the REAL Winnie the Pooh please step up? Who knew these stories were so brilliant and ironic and funny? All I ever knew until this week was the Disney-fied, plasticized, watered-down versions of Pooh characters. I am thankful for the 8-dollar set of full color books I bought at a second-hand store, and for the giggles of my girls as we read.

I'm thankful for the blessing of giving. I am more excited to give gifts to my children than I think they will ultimately be about receiving them, but I don't care. I put lots of time and effort into it, lots of heart and soul in what I made, and I'm excited, darn it! and can't wait to see their faces.

I'm thankful for blankets and slippers in the winter time.

I'm thankful for our snowblower, even if it is electric and I have to drag around a power cord after me like someone from the 1960s mowing their lawn. It's okay--that saved us 200 dollars.

I love gravy.

I'm thankful that somehow I know all these culinary things about making turkeys and such--things I learned by osmosis watching my mother cook when I was a kid. Those lessons had more impact on me than all the hours and hours of holiday Food Network programming I've done as an adult.

I'm thankful for creativity and how every year I get this creative bug ripping through me at Christmas time--I want to make something pretty for the whole world. Who knows if I succeed, but I sure love trying.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I've been reading lots of blogs entries devoted to gratitude lately. I thought I would chime in ...

Today, I'm thankful for the beautiful photograph of my six-year old in her red "I wish I was snowboarding" t-shirt and striped pink pom pom hat. She peers out from the hat with a delighted and wise smile, knowing her Uncle Josh (snowboarding lover) will grin when he gets the photo on his phone.

I'm thankful for that grin, her Uncle Josh, and the phone in question.

I'm thankful God provided so abundantly for us this month so that we could pass on the extra to someone else.

I'm thankful for C.S. Lewis. O SO THANKFUL for him, the man whose stories make me weep and laugh and draw near to the true King of Kings. I am thankful for the silver chair, symbol of all that binds us, and the powerful sword that destroyed the chair. I"m grateful for a fictional character like Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, who in a fit of bravery stamped out an enchanting fire with his bare, webbed feet. I'm grateful for inspiring acts of boldness, bravery, and fortitude.

I am thankful the husband and the girls enjoy these stories, that I can live in them for an hour a day.

I am thankful for snow and Christmas lights and black-bottom banana bread (made by my dad--Mr. Martha Stewart).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm in Love

with the three year old these days. Sometimes I say she was the best thing that could have happened to me, my husband and the six-year old. The husband and six-year-old are introverted, and I hedge on that side of the line, too. The three-year-old, however, serves as a vision caster of what we all might be at our friendliest, out-going-est, other-focused-est. She's the one who shouts at acquaintances in Hy-Vee, or turns to me, palms against her cheeks and mouth wide open, "MOM!! It's our friends!!!" (The "friends" she met for the first time five minutes ago on aisle 4). When we see them again in the check-out line, this is confirmation of the prominence they should take in our lives. She squeals. Points them out again. Asks to "go say hi!"

While the six-year-old is fully acquainted with the language of feeling like the odd-one out, the three year old has no concept of exclusion. She takes it upon herself to include everyone, to chase after every little four year old in her dance class lobby, ask them their names, ask them to dance while waiting for class to start. She squeals over and over as each child enters the building. "Mom!! It's another friend!!!" She doesn't know their names or where they live or who their siblings are. THe mothers direct their attention to her and laugh at the three-year-old's hearty welcome. The other preschoolers are sometimes ambivalent, withdrawn, curious. None of them welcome her in kind, but check her out from the safety of their mother's knees.

But the three year old just keeps on inviting. Us introverts would get tired after the first greeting, the first invitation or two--but not her. She pushes herself out into the middle of the room, dances and flings her body in all directions, eager and earnest in her vigil for others to join her.

The cool thing is that her vigilance is climate-changing. Take a room of tired out parents and tired-out kids. Put them with this three year old for five minutes, and people smile and giggle, if only at her enthusiasm and boldness. I am energized watching her. She's my hero.

On Finding Out Her Sister Was Getting a Princess Barbie for Her Birthday

the six-year old began sobbing. Why didn't she get a Barbie for her birthday? It was so unfair. All she got was bead sets!

That's an accurate description. Because the kid likes art projects, she got about 8 bead sets and a makeup kit that put her in the emergency room.

"I don't know if you've noticed," the six year old went on to say, through tears, "but I mostly play with my puppies and Barbies. I'm not really an artistic person anymore."

True as this may have felt in the moment, the six year old is one of the most artistic people I know. But I could see the desire for a Barbie drowned out her ability to accurately reflect on the big picture. It's like how when our girls open up a gift they've never even imagined receiving, and exclaim with passionate conviction: "It's just what I always wanted!!!"

Really? Dora Candyland is just what you always wanted?

Really. Your not an artistic person?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Comfort in Constellations

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:3-5

Two brothers have died this week. Not mine. But still.

One man was the brother of a friend. The other a brother of the father of a friend’s child.

I hate hearing the stories: Cancer. Car accidents. I hate knowing that somebody I know or love is at all feeling anything like what I’ve been feeling. That they have possibly just entered one of the most f$%@#-up twilight zones of existence one could enter. But death is nothing new, I tell myself, aghast at my former state of naiveté. Death is everywhere! People are dying all the time—as often as people are being born. If you don’t want a baby, you may not notice the rate at which they happen. And if nobody you love dies, you may not notice how many people disappear.

Since my brother died, I learned that many people I know have lost a brother. In my church there are a handful I know of. When we gather, I map them out like a constellation in the room. In the presence of one of these stars, I might cry without warning.

I went to one brother’s visitation today and talked to my friend. I did not know his brother, but while I was there I learned the brother was an Obama fan. He worked at the Co-op that I frequent. I might have joked with him while he bagged my groceries. There are pictures of him on his bicycle, loaded down with backpacks and road tripping gear. He’s got big shaggy chops and chin length hair. He looks like a righteous hippie. I like my friend’s brother instantly, even though he’s dead.

The weight of a life lost slams against me. I try to keep the tears just in my eyes and not rolling down my face while I’m actually talking to my friend. I leave the funeral home, shoulders shaking in the parking lot, knowing full well I’m projecting. In a year, you won’t respond like this, I self-talk. (People tell me, wait a year, like July 15, 2009 is magical. On that day, my last few droplets of grief will trickle away.) And then I talk at my brother, or the memory of him. Darn it. This feels like losing you all over again.

Sometimes when I cry, I indict Jesus. I put him on trial. Did you not say that those who mourn would be comforted? It’s really the best indictment I can give these days. I’m past the Mary and Martha lines (Well, Jesus, if you’d been here, my brother'd still be alive). My brother’s dead. He’s not coming back. So, Jesus, what can you do for the living? I arch my eyebrows at him. I beckon and gesture for him to get with the program. One order of comfort, please. Oh, dear, I’m mixing theater and restaurant metaphors. But you get the idea.

The thing is that once in a while, even when I arch my eyebrows at him in a not-so-friendly way, I feel this transcendent warm feeling creep all over me. And then, all my snarkiness turns into plain old miserable, can’t-escape-from-it sorrow. But it feels like somebody’s there to keep me company and say there, there.

It’s sort of like that with the constellation of brotherless people I was talking about. Sometimes their very presence is a there, there of sorts, although mostly I like to talk to them and hear their stories. I like to think it was a brilliant moment for Paul when he identified this link between human grief, God's comfort, and community. I want to believe he’s right on, that it's one of the few redemptive things about the process: Sometimes we're the receipient of a small, sweet cup of lemonade. Other times, we're serving it up.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Great Week for Books

I am so darned happy. People these days are writing about my favorite subjects in smart, quirky ways. I remember a year or more ago when Nadia Bolz-Weber announced on her blog that she'd gotten a book deal to watch and write about 24 straight hours of Christian television. I have to admit it was a project I wish I'd dreamed up just because it seems like so much fun.* Anyway, Bolz-Weber does a fabulous job of it. She even mentions the advertisements for the Holy Family Faberge-Style Egg!
Bolz-Weber is a self proclaimed "heavily tattooed Christian progressive from a liturgical denomination" (she's Lutheran--a "mission developer" at her church). So she proves to be a fascinating lens through which to view 24 straight hours of evangelical TV. To spice up the experiment she invites friends and strangers of all faiths, professions, and persuasions to join her. Bolz-Weber is not purely interested in TBN bashing; her TV hours do cause her occasion to turn the lens on her own tradition's weak spots. Yet, she does take a powerful anthopological approach to each show by giving us the "Round Up" at the end of the hour. In the round up, she lists # of OT passages cited; # of NT passages cited; Costs of products offered; Running total of products offered since she began her experiment (after 4 hours: $943.94); impression of God given during the show ("Sets up lots of tests and trials for you so that you can see who he is and earn a spiritual promotion"); and impressions of Jesus ("No mention (except in the ad to get people to sow a $70 seed)").
My husband and I have valued reading books aloud to one another since we got married 11 years go. This is the first book in YEARS that both of us wanted to read more than a few chapters in one sitting. We made it from Paula White Today (5:30 a.m.) all the way to Best of Praise the Lord (9:30 a.m.) in three hours of our date-night evening. It was hard to stop.
One other mention: This book is plugged by the author of another of my recent favorites: On the cover, AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, writes, "Turn off your TV and read this book. It's enlightening and entertaining and it doesn't emit any radiation whatsoever."
*in a gleefully ironic sort of way

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Princesses to the Rescue?

As my daughters were sitting on the couch this morning, one girl picked up my copy of Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church, and proceeded to become engrossed in the cover and pages. It was endearing until I overheard the conversation being had between both girls as said book was being perused. Said Girl no. 2: "Only princes can rescue princesses. Princesses can't rescue anyone."

I gave them the requisite admonishment, and wondered when my broken-record self would have to stop talking about princesses and beauty, strength and courage to these two little girls who cry over not having fancy enough clothes and warn me that when they "are fifteen, I'm going to take all my money and go to Target and by TONS of makeup."

Then I took Girl no. 2's picture (I'm sure that was confusing.)

If anyone is interested in the book, Nancy Beach does not really say there is a "womanly art" to leading. Rather, she addresses the sorts of issues women in all levels of leadership may encounter in church culture that is more male dominated. Beach would totally disagree with Girl no. 2: Princesses make great rescuers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Many people ask how I'm doing these days in the wake of my brother's untimely and traumatic passing. I appreciate the inquiries and the prayers thrown my way. I need them. The answer to the question of how grief is going is: not so great. I had this idea that I'd go away to school for two weeks in August and when I got back I'd have made peace.

Not so much.

I hear the surreal quality of life after a loved one dies can last up to a month if the death is anticipated, expected. After that "you just feel sad," my friend A told me. But that's with a "straightforward" loss. When it's complicated, when there's "unfinished business" in the relationship, says the grief web sites, that process can take much much longer and you can feel so many things. Here's the difference with me these days: I cry about a thousand times more often than I did before. You just mention a dead cat and I'll cry. You mention words like "grief," "sadness," "car accidents," my heart races and I'll cry. My muscles ache. I can't sleep, or I'm tired at the wrong time. I've been having daily stomach aches. And a panicky, fight-or-flight feeling when my daughters spill nail polish or raise their voices or make a mess.

Today I made one daughter cry after the spilled nail polish. It was not one of my finest moments. I said words in front of her that I never say in front of her. "I'm sorry, Mom!" she said about twelve times and then I told her emphatically that none of it was her fault. I wasn't mad at her. "So you're mad at the nail polish?" she asked, curiously. "I"m mad at the nail polish," I said. "And mad at myself for not doing a good enough job supervising." Inside my anxiety was swirling through my veins, my heart was pounding. I told myself to get a grip.

And that's what grief's been like. Not having a grip most of the time. And trying to get one in the moments when it really matters whether I'm successful at it--like when my daughter spills nail polish, or when someone wants a bedtime song, or dinner needs to be made, or a conversation needs to be had.

I've been reading Exodus 16 a lot this week, where God decides to send some bread from heaven to those fearful, gripey, hungry Israelites. Aaron has just gotten done giving them instructions for collecting their bread and then they "turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the cloud."

I resonate with the wilderness metaphor in relation to grief. It feels godforsaken. But I was moved at the idea of turning to face the wilderness-- in all its barrenness, desolation, desperation, and hoplessness--and seeing the glory of God above it all. That weighty splendor of his presence. And now, I've been asking to see it. I'm open for the first time since I got here--to the desert--to seeing his glory, to open myself to his presence. And not only am I open to it. I don't know how, like the Israelites, I could survive without it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"GOP Loyalty Not a Given for Young Evangelicals"

A classmate of mine brought this Washington Post article to my attention. It was nice to see the "gray" areas covered when it comes to religion and politics. My only quibble with the journalist is that she called the Emerging Church "youth-driven."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Sydney Bristow is my Friend

The night after wedges open--and tears.
I think of Salinger: His Franny, and her prayer:
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I never asked for mercy before.

An earlier draft of this poem, written 7 years ago, began with these lines: "Until I can sliver them out, until / I can face them / wholly, these shards must work their way out / on their own."

I remember how grief seemed fractured and fragmented, dispersed through my body and soul like a thousand splinters from a rough-cut plank. Each fragment, sharp. Each location of entry--a memory or a killed hope--was swollen, infected. The extraction of grief (if grief could be extracted?) was time consuming; extraction was painful. The successful removal of one sliver indicated no promise for all the others, nor did it instantly cure the infection.

It was the last time I felt the way I do now, in grief. I wrote, "these shards must work their way out / on their own" because I remember then not being able to look at grief head-on, the way I don't look at it head-on very often right now--except when it overtakes me and forces me down on my bed. In the grappling, it pushes tears out my eyes, and sounds from my larynx. It swells my sinuses until my head pounds.

But most of the time right now, the way I let the shards work their way out on their own is by watching Alias reruns, sometimes until 1 in the morning, until my mind is so full of Sydney Bristow and her crazy FBI, double-agent life, that I can go to bed and not see my brother's gravel-skidded face, his blood that stained the ground on that country road, the stitches like treadmarks across his ear and skull, his body bloated by formaldehyde the day before the visitation. My mind will be so full of secret missions and bonfire-red wigs that I won't be able to miss seeing his living, ink-slung body cradling his seven-month-old baby girl. And I won't get lost--or caught--wondering what would have happened if I'd been at the hospital as he lay dying, if only a phone line had rung into my bedroom in the middle of the night, how I would have said goodbye or prayed for a miracle, how this might all feel different if I had.

If I wrap my mind around Agent Sydney Bristow, who lost her best friend to murder, and her other best friend to witness protection, and if I cry along with her when she tells Vaughn:" You wanna know how I am? I'm horrible. I am ripped apart,"--well, when I cry with her there, it feels like maybe one of those splinters dislodges just little bit, without my having to poke at it.

I have three seasons left to buy me more time.

Death and Skateboards

I told my friends last night that the grief I feel over my brother's death has exploded much of my theology about the afterlife*. Maybe "exploded" is the wrong word. Maybe what I mean is that what I've thought about the afterlife is in many ways horribly incomplete, but I never knew it until I desperately wanted to see a bigger picture. Oh how my head butts up against that invisible barrier between heaven and earth, between the sphere of earthly bodies and those of heavenly ones. I want to be a fly on the wall in that other realm, want to know the mind and wisdom of the creator of the universe, the creator of this whole system. And I want to reach across the boundary and grab my brother's hand (except he doesn't have one), pull him back here, speak to him one more time.

I simply don't have a way to answer the questions that currently run through my head:

1) What was his experience as he lay dying, while still on life support, when his brain was showing no signs of life? Where was his spirit?

2) Was he in some earth/heaven limbo for those 7.5 hours?

3) Did he see a bright light/Jesus/God? I feel so Oprah for phrasing it this way.

4) In heaven, will Jesus let Henry know how much I love(/d) him? Will he be reminded how much we all loved him (because the death of one we love compels us to wonder such things)?

5) Or would this knowledge stay hidden in the shadows of whatever marvelous things happen in heaven? In other words, is it only the living who ask such questions?

5) Will my brother see us grieving here on earth? Will Jesus let him hear and watch his funeral service, the letter I read for him (because if he never hears it, what good does it do--after all, it was addressed to him)?

6) Why are these my questions?

6) Where are the wedding pictures of his I took two years ago on my digital camera? My husband and I cannot find them, despite tearful searching. (ok-so theology can't tackle that one.)

7) The last question is from my three-year old: Did his skateboard die, too?

*Thank you Ali for saying this is an appropriate response to grief.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Henry "Hank" Bertka

My brother Henry died this week after a car accident. He was no small celebrity in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City community because of his talents as a tattoo artist and business owner.
Here's the letter I wrote for him and read today at his funeral.

Dear Henry,

So, this is a little embarrassing, but you were my first crush—I guess in the way only a big brother could be to a little girl. Even if you did throw me around and upside-down a few times, I have to admit to loving you hard enough I snuck into your room, that wonder-world of your creations, just so I could breathe in the smells of a teenage boy mixed with baseball mitts and skateboards, markers, paints and glues. There on the desk were your drawings, the wood bowls you made in shop class. There on the floor by the closet was the fake electric guitar you’d cut out of plywood and wrapped in grey duct tape and black electrical tape—what you used to air-jam to Stryper, that bunch of hair-sprayed musicians in their yellow-and-black ensembles: puffed sleeves, flight jackets, yellow spandex with zebra stripes. Those boys with the teased and sprayed manes and made-up cheekbones were in the poster on your bathroom door. They watched you and I watched you fiddle around on your imaginary strings on your made-up guitar. Then you handed the guitar to me, and smiled at me, when I felt the weight of the plywood heavy in my arms before I air-jammed to the hard beat coming out of the speakers on your floor. I wanted to play guitar if you played guitar—or fake guitar if you faked it—just to be like you. This is why I wanted your BMX bike so bad, why it was no small miracle when you passed it on to me. It’s why I coveted your skateboard, and your shoes, and the very ground you walked on, because it touched you and it was where you were.

I want to say thanks for doing things first, so I could watch and learn. Thanks, too, for the skateboarding lessons, although I couldn’t keep my balance on a board to save my life. Thanks for every mix tape, every birthday card, every ride, every secret you ever told me, every smile directed my way, each an occasion that caused my heart to leap.

If I could rewind time for a little while, the thing I might most want to do right now is find the room that belonged to you, first boy I ever loved, and sit and sit and breathe you in and pretend that you’ll be here in a few minutes, you’re just riding your moped home from the late shift at Taco Bell.

But since I can’t rewind, I guess I hope that in heaven you can do the equivalent of motorcycling down freeways in the middle of rolling fields and mountain passes. I hope there are endless warehouses full of art and building supplies (maybe ones you’ve never seen before), with which you can continue the art you began here on earth. When I get there, I hope you’ll show me your room and everything you’ve made.

Your Sis,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Breaking the Good Mom Myth Part 2

In case anyone was wondering after my previous post on parenting, the whole let-your-six-and-three-year-old-work-out-their-problems-for-themselves-even-if-they're-using-violence tactic did not work. The six year old, who has been pristinely trained not to hit, refused to hit. Even when the three year old socked her in the stomach, scratched her in the arm, kicked her in the leg and called her stupid. The six year old cried and left the scene. The three year old for the most part got what she want. The six year old became very unhappy and unsettled, asking Mom and Dad why we did nothing. The three year old grinned from ear to ear. It did not take a genius to figure out what was wrong with this picture. As my dear friend Kate pointed out (the obvious), three year olds do not have a set of conflict management instructions they can easily consult. Therefore they hit, bite, scratch, and scream if they feel pushed hard enough.

We're now making up for Mom and Dad's lack of intervention. We're having lots of time outs. Lots of mediation. Of course, there times we let the girls figure small things out on their own, but as soon as violence and name-calling enter the scene, so do we.

Everyone is much happier.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Iowa City Flooding

Please pray for Iowa City and the surrounding communities, some of which have been hit extremely hard by flooding from the Iowa River. Iowa City isn't expected to see our river crest until sometime next week but already homes and businesses and University buildings have flooded and are being evacuated. Please pray for the displaced residents and employees, also that power and water supplies would remain in tact for the rest of the city.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"You're not a great cook."

"You're not a great cook, you know? You don't always know what to make. Rachael Ray always knows what to make. Ina [Garten, from Barefoot Contessa] always knows what to make."

(My children watch cooking shows with a passion).

This was from my almost-six year old as we pulled into our driveway on the last day of school. I'd just informed her we weren't having sweet corn for dinner (her request), but lentil soup and corn tortillas. I'd probably throw some salad in there too, but didn't tell her.

She'd jsut spent the last forty-five minutes sobbing in the car on the last day of school. "Do you know I"m mad for three reasons?" she asked. 1) she'll "never see" her kindergarten teacher again; 2) she didn't get to have a cupcake with the rest of her class (blame food allergies); 3) Mom won't commit to letting her go to first grade next year (we're considering home school).

I was totally empathetic to her feelings of missing her teacher, and the treats and the idea of not going to first grade next year, but the last accusation sort of got on my nerves. Hello? Rachael Ray knows what to make cuz she's got a staff of a bazillion people who iron her clothes and grocery shop and prewash her veggies while she experiements in the kitchen. Rachael Ray does not have young children to look after and if she did, I bet they would hate her freaking tortoni sundaes.

I wonder if this is just the first in a line of random and unfounded accusations my kids may throw my way as they grow and watch the rest of the world. They'll make conclusions out of context: Everyone else's mother is letting them go to the sleepover. Everyone else's mom knows what to make for dinner. What a bumpy ride. I'm buckling my seatbelt.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Gift of Wrath

I found myself engaged in uncensored honest discussion this week. The friend I spoke to queried me about my thoughts lately on women and the bible, women and the church, women in ministry. Frankly, I confessed, it's rather difficult for me to think too much on these subjects. Out tumbled my next secret: I get so angry as to get sidelined. Too much investigation into the workings of misogynistic thought will, I fear, prove debilitating to me. I can easily comprehend what tragedy it would be to avoid the questions that ignite such anger, but how do I walk the line between outrage and constructive response?

The assumption hidden in my logic: Anger is not constructive.

Is anger constructive?

As a strategy (mostly subconscious), I've worked terribly hard in most areas of my life at converting anger into meaningful, constructive conversations, devoid of emotional stickiness. I point out injustice and flaws in logic. I knit words and ideas together to form my (non-emotional) argument, appeal to mutually respected authorities on the subject. I know how to avoid words that indicate frustration and anger, certainly wrath or rage. Except in a few relationships, I rarely let on that a raw center exists, that my feelings, like anyone else's, can tumble about like nerves wired to an electrical outlet. This is in part due to an underlying belief that the expression of anger brings distance, while something less emotionally charged can bring about more positive change.

However, when it comes to the issue of misogyny and ministry, I have to face the fact that principle is not the only thing driving me to suppress my anger. I've been raised with the cultural pronouncement that "women are emotional." (I hear this as a slur most of the time). I've also been raised with the pronouncement that "women can't be leaders" because they are "so emotional." This understood, I've worked extra hard at pretending to not be emotional, so I won't fall into any stereotypes, and so I won't be discounted as a leader...or so my thinking goes. Obviously I see the pifalls in line of reasoning. I realize that practicing the suppression of the truth, even of one's feelings, is a surefire way to exhibit a false self to the world. Not only that, my suppression implies cooperation and agreement with the very system of thinking I find so destructive: that emotion is weakness, that those who feel cannot be strong leaders. It's unhealthy and dishonest, yet so darned easy to bow to.

If we could put matters of fear, honesty, and integrity aside for just a moment, I'd like to ask when and how anger in its raw form is constructive? Is it an uncalculated expresson of anger we witness in the accounts of Jesus flipping over the money-changers' tables in the temple? When is a shout, a flip of a table, an appropriate gesture? When should it be channeled toward other ends? And when should anger inspire us to be as creative and brilliant and wise as we can be in working out injustice, as we see Jesus--wise and brilliant--challenging the social and religious systems of his day?

Breaking the Good Mom (and Pastor) Myth?

(Here is a post full of questions and musings. I've arrived at absolutely no answers.)

I'm reading a book on motherhood (although it could be addressed to parents in general) this week. Here's one of its claims. "Myth: Good Mothers Manage Sibling Conflict.... The good mother ideal insists we manage our children's relationships, ensuring they do in fact love and care for one another....The current societal myth dictates that the good mother is responsible for managing this situation. She must jump in and break up kids' fights, discipline the batterer, and console the wounded. After all, good mothers run the family. It's their domain, and they gotta make sure it's all running smoothly, interpersonal relationships included."

Schafer's ideas run counter to the way things go in our family. Mark and I indeed try to manage, discipline, talk down every situation. We make ourselves judge and jury the second there's an outcry from a child. And we do it because we want to see justice and fairness in the relationships between the girls. We want the perpretrator of crime to contemplate and reflect on the inappropriateness of her actions. We want the victim to be comforted, to know justice. We wrack our brains to come up with "appropriate" consequences. It's exhausting. But I struggle with how much of Schafer's ideas to embrace. Her advice: dont' get involved. Make the kids work it out themselves. This is SOO hard to do with an irrational three-year-old, who claims with passion that her invisible owies are gushing with blood just so she can score a band-aid. Non-engagement is SOO hard to do with an almost six-year old who has an overly heightened sense of injustice and looks to mom and dad to settle the score every other minute. We've taught her well in regard to her role (she's a good student): no hitting, no screaming, no yanking. We've said, come to mom and dad when there's a dispute. When peaceful overtures at conflict resolution have failed her, we've told her: give up, get Mom and Dad on your team. We'll handle it. For the most part, she does. (Now, I give myself enough credit to think that eventually we'd start to hand the reigns over to her and her younger sister to settle conflicts, assuming younger sister continues to develop a certain degree of reasonableness.)

But what would happen if right now, we let them go? Maybe someone would hit. (In fact, someone already has, although it was interesting to note how that hitting was provoked by the other child). This afternoon I tried out some new words with the girls: "I'm going to let you two work this out on your own. I'm sorry this is hard for you. By the way, if you continue to argue (I don't want to listen to it), I'm just goign to make this toy off limits to both of you. You'll have to figure out how to share." After a few minutes of absolute indignation and frustration, both girls rose to the occasion, self-regulating their "turns," verbalizing their process ("okay, i"m done. It's your turn!") and handing back said toy almost like a baton in a relay race.

I had to do very little, other than hold my ground. But the question looms: at what point would we intervene if a conflict heightened in intensity. What about violence that could ensue and escalate? The author of the book seems to think a little physical fighting and wrestling is perfectly fine, although she says if we're worried about anyone getting seriously hurt we should enroll in family counseling. So, say I'm gonna overlook a "hit". What message is that sending to the kid? Will she resort to worse violence the next time?

Obviously I haven't had enough experience to know how this will play out in my family, but these questions have been dovetailing with a meditation on the role of pastors in resolving congregational conflict between individuals. I recently heard a teaching a pastor gave on codependency, how sometimes as leaders we need to be brave enough to let people suffer the consequences of their own actions, to let things play out in situations, withhold from micromanaging, and correcting and speaking on behalf of every party there is a conflict with. When it comes to handling conflict in congregant relationships, however, does it in some ways mirror what Schafer is saying about children? Don't get involved? Don't work it out for them? The tension hidden in that answer is similiar to the one found in the mother-child situation: What about power dynamics? What if one party is bigger and stronger? In this case I"m not referring to physical abuse--but the potential tyranny of power in any social set up where one person is one-up on another. A bible study leader and a class participant. A Sunday School worker and the Sunday school director. At what point do you use your pastoral position to guide the discuss, to bring correction, rebuke, and discipline when the apparent "victim" lacks in power?

The model Jesus gave us for confronting offenses is a one-on-one chat.* But if and when the one-on-one doesn't go so well, we involve others. And in contemporary life, pastors seem to get involved the most. But what position is a pastor to take? Sometimes the crime is easy to identify. Sometimes the sin issues are ambiguous, hidden in murky water, beyond the grasp of language's identification--no different than a scene I may stumble upon in the aftermath of a squabble. Who took whose toys? Whose motives are pure, whose dark? Each pair of eyes looks up at me pleadingly, feigning innocence, broadcasting indignation.

Is this how King Solomon felt when the two women came to him, each claiming motherhood of an infant? How courageous (foolish? crazy?) to risk the life of the second infant in order to discern the truth of the situation. 1 Kings says the people saw Solomon had "wisdom from God to administer justice." The wisdom, in this case, did not involve him making a decision upon hearing the case. He introduced a new element, put both women in the same boat, so to speak. They would both lose if one of them didn't acquiesce to the other. He watched and he waited, and then the answer came.

* Alyson Schafer, Breaking the Good Mom Myth
*Matt 18:15

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Twelve (?) Disciples

I get emotional when people start listing the names of Jesus' "12" disciples. Last year our church did a series about being a disciple of Christ. For the series trailer, my friend C donned his sunglasses for the camera and affected his voice to sound tough and cool as he listed Christ's notorious 12--the ones Jesus called "apostles" but whom Christians commonly refers to as "disciples." Simon (Peter). Andrew. James, son of Zebedee. John. Phillip. Bartholomew. Matthew. Thomas. James, son of Alphaeus. Simon. Jude Thaddaeus. Judas Iscariot. By the end of this long list, I was was fighting off the hysteria that can accompany rejection. Why weren't there any women in that list? Why wasn't I represented in that list? It wasn't anything personal, right? Because everyone knew Jesus called the twelve. The twelve men.

The twelve men were singled out by Jesus in Luke 6 as "apostles", but why are they the focus in our Christian education? Why are they the only ones commonly refered to as disciples? Why did I not grow up hearing about Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Christ (rather than the emphasis of her supposed former life of prostitution)? Why did I not hear of the disciples Joanna and Susanna and "many others" who accompanied Christ and the "twelve" (Luke 8:2-3) and supported them with their own money? Why do I know nothing of Mary, the mother of James? Nothing of Salome (not Herod's wife) at the crucifixion and tomb? Nothing of Mary, the wife of Cleopas? These women rarely speak in the biblical narratives, much like the concubine from Bethlehem in the Judges story (see previous post). While the concubine was unnamed, the female disciples might well remain unnumbered (were they included in the 70 Jesus sent out?), and church history has done all but obscure them from the canon.

I do not find fault with the makers of the trailer I mentioned above. What they did was perfectly ordinary, perfectly acceptable in the realm of conventional thought. We were talking about following Christ, being good Christians. Throughout the ages, the church has looked mostly to men as our guides.

On another note, I find it terribly inconvenient that most ideas that fall into the "realm of conventional thought" are absolutely distressing to me. I would rather not be distressed. I would rather bury my head in the sand than ask, "Why Jesus? Why did you not make any women your 'apostles'? Why has it been so easy for women to be marginalized and dismissed throughout the ages, within your church? Was it you? Could you have done better? Provided better stories for the writers for the books? Or was it them? Did they see through their own misogynistic lense? Through the lense of patriarchy, where women are property, unclean objects, gatekeepers of all evil to be found in the natural world? Was it in fact a massive victory for women that their names were recorded at all? That the story of the first female evangelist* is recorded in the bible? Was it in fact a massive victory that you appeared to women first after your resurrection, even though their stories were met with skepticism?"

In answer to the latter questions, my intellect, research and gut tell me that the answer is yes: What to me seem like small triumphs for women are massive in light of the cultural paradigm of Jesus' time. I know it. I get it. But it hurts that those triumphs failed to shape the present day in more radical ways. It hurts to the core.

*I like the fictionalized account of John 4:1-42, the Samaritan woman at the well, that is found in Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide, by Susan McLeod-Harrison.

Aligning with Patriarchy

Recently, a female pastor I much admire made the following statement about her role in the denomination she plays a part: "By aligning myself with X (denomination) I am aligning myself with patriarchy." Immediately I thought of my own role, in my own patriarchally structured denomination and I took a sharp breath. It's not that inroads are not being made for women. It's not that female pastors are no longer allowed. But the fact is it is a system shaped, for the most part, by white men. There are not women in the highest of leadership ranks in the denominational structure. Therefore, any change a woman might bring to these denominations requires first aligning oneself with a system that was against the full expression of our gifts and callings from the get-go, and still has not embraced them fully. Eek.

My pastor friend went on to muse on narrative theology: We believe scripture is divinely inspired, but what does it mean that most of scripture is written through the lense of patriarchy, through a lense that makes the males the central figures, the figures of our attention and compassion even when they so wrongly deserve it?

A case in point. The story of the unnamed concubine from Bethlehem was highlighted for me this week*. A master and his concubine are the main characters*. Either the concubine "played the harlot" or "she became angry with" the master (depends on the translation) and she left him and returned to her father's house. The master goes after her to "speak to her heart, to bring her back." But when he gets there he speaks not to the concubine, but instead hangs with his "father in law" and drinks and eats for days and generally has a party. Then he saddles up, with concubine (who has been given no more speech in the story thus far, and whose heart has not been spoken to) and prepares to go against the father's warning that is not safe to travel at night.

On the journey, the master, his servant, and teh concubine find themselves invited to the home of an old man to stay for the night. At the house, the travelers "are enjoying themselves to their heart". In the middle of the party the men of Gibeah pound on the door and demand to "know" the male guest (the master) who is staying at the old man's house. The old man refuses the men, telling them not to act wickedly, and then says, "Look now, my daughter the virgin and his concubine. Let me bring them out. Ravish them, and do to them the good in your eyes."

Without any other action, the master (same man who followed her to her father's house with plans to speak to her heart) seizes his concubine and shoves her out of the house. She is raped repeatedly and tortured all night until morning. In the morning, her master leaves the house to be on his journey and is confronted with the victim. She has crawled to the doorway of the house and has her hand upon the threshhold. "Arise and let us be going," he tells her. "But there was no answer." Was she dead? The Greek Bible says she was. The Hebrew text is silent, leaving that open for interpretation. At any rate, the master puts her on his donkey and takes her home. When he gets home he "took the knife and he seized his concubine. He cut her, limb from limb, into twelve pieces and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel." It's unclear whether the master has actually murdered her, but he sends her body parts throughout Israel asking the peopel to take note of what the Benjaminite men did to her. Israel convenes. The master gives account of his story, failing to mention he pushed her out of the house to be raped and tortured. The tribes of Israel demand Benjaminites give up the wicked men who did this to the concubine. They refuse. The other tribes attack Benjamin. 25,000 Benjaminites die in a day. Not a single woman, child or beast survives. Only 600 men escape to the wilderness. However, the rest of the tribes cannot handle the idea of "there [being] one tribe lacking in Israel." Those men need to procreate! But they are not going to give their own women to the Benjaminites. So, the attack another town that wasn't part of the battle, murding all of its inhabitants except 400 young virgins, whom they give to Benjaminites. Well, that isnt' enough women for 600 Benjaminites so the men of Israel decide its okay to abduct 200 virgin daughters who dance in the festival of YHWH.

As Phyllis Trible says in her book Texts of Terrors, "In total the rape of one has become the rape of six hundred....the story of the concubine justifies the expansion of violence against women. What these men claim to abhor, they have reenacted with vengeance. They have captured, betrayed, raped, and scattered 400 virgins of Jabesh-gilead and two hundred daughters of Shiloh. Furthermore, they have tortured and murdered all the women of Benjamin and all the married women of Jabesh-gilead. Israelites males have dimembered the corporate body of Israelite females."

What this story underscores for me is that women were property. The outrage of the master and the tribes of Israel is not at the human rights violation of the concubine. It is rather, at the desecration of property. And an eye for an eye, right? or an eye for thousands of eyes? The men go out and seek their vengeance, committing human rights violation upon human rights violations.

Could we read this story a million times, "through the lense of patriarchy," as my friend asked, and never get it? In other words, could our attention be so focused on the actions, the battles, the "victories" of "God's elect" that we do not see the woman whose body, as Trible suggests, "was broken and given to many"?

*through reading Phyllis Trible's Text of Terrors
*the following story comes from Judges 19-21

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1943 Guide to Hiring Women

This was reprinted in Savvy and Sage's September/October 2007 issue. Originally published in Transportation magazine, 1943, written to "Male supervisors of women in the workforce during World War II."

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees: There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage.

Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from Western Properties:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they're less likely to be flirtatisous, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. General experience indicates that "husky" girls-those who are just a little on the heavy side- are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination-one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for femininte psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman-it breaks her spirit and cuts of her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl's husband or father may swear vociferously, she'll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator's uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can't be stressed too much in keeping women happy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Aging

I got a toothache five days ago. Unclear, sneaky signals made their ways to my brain as I chewed through chicken and sweet potatoes Friday night at our friends Mike and Karin's house. The next day, the tooth that I'd just gotten a filling in began to feel bumpy and strange when I chewed. By Sunday, a sip of lukewarm water made the nerve inside my tooth feel as if it were throbbing on the end of live jumper cables.

"Is this what happens?" I'd asked my husband, who claims his teeth are "sensitive" where he's gotten fillings. "Does it hurt so bad you don't want to take a drink?"

"Sometimes," he said.

Oh, great. So what I was experiencing was now apparently in the realm of someone else's normal. There is no hope for me, I thought. This is what happens when your mouth falls apart, and even medical science can't make life any easier? Still, I tried to sound as desperate as possible on my dentist's answering machine. I even called his home number, given for "emergencies."

The relatively "good" news (I found out today) is that my filling is not cracked, and I do not have an abscess. Also, my nerve is not dying. However, as I sat in the brightly lit dental chair and looked up at my giant of a dentist as he described nerve death and trauma, my eyes (seriously) began to well up with tears. Even though he was clearly saying I am not experiencing nerve death, the very description, the very personification he employed to describe a nerve getting so traumatized it just curls up and dies, filled me with such a profound sense of grief, loss and insecurity. My nerve could just up and die on me? A little piece of myself--die?

If my husband were here right now I'm sure he'd remind me that by the time I'm my age, my brain cells are dying off right and left. Science has already indicated I've lost most of the digestive enzymes that came with me out of my mother's womb. Last week I found a white-ish gray hair on my head (which I'm still not sure wasn't just paint from a project two months ago...although evidence points to the contrary). And I come from a family of well-aged natural brunettes. What does it all mean?

The dentist said the cause of my pain was that my "bite got off" and he shaved down the filling he put in six weeks ago in hopes that will relieve some of the stress of my bite. And he put me on therapeutic doses of Ibuprofen for two days (that's 2400 mg a day. Ack.) to relieve the inflammation. Apparently, this happens.

Still, my thirtieth birthday is just around the corner. I look to it with celebration mixed with longing that good health will continue with me into middle and then older age. In spite of all the failing health in our country, I find myself compelled to cling to the hope that proper care of our bodies, souls, spirits, relationships, and environment will yield the sort of health that keeps us going longer than the energizer bunny.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Difference Between Men and Women: "Pissing against the wall"

This is unbelievable. Check out this YouTube video that was posted on the Christian Feminism blog.

"Christianese Translated"

I sent an email out to some friends this week, asking for examples of simplistic advice Christians sometimes give people in response to complex situations. Mark, my husband, found a list, not of advice, but of common Christian-y sayings and their real-life definitions at the web site of Mark Waltz. I encourage you to take a look. I was laughing hysterically, because many of them are painfully accurate.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taking it Like a Child

A couple weeks ago I read a blog entry by Kathy Escobar about what she calls "incarnational relationships," by which I think she means the sorts of relationships we as followers of Christ seek to have with the people we are in contact with in our daily lives. She emphasized using the preposition "with" (as opposed to "for" or "to") to describe our service and mutual submission within a community:

the preposition WITH changes everything. it means “i am with you in this moment, will stand alongside not walking ahead of you but alongside you.” “i am in the same boat, i struggle, too, my struggle may just look different.” “i want to share life with you, not just take care of you or tell you what to do” “you have some things i need to learn from, too. let’s learn from each other.” “i will let you into my life” “i want to be friends.”

When I read that, I totally got it, intellectually that is. But for the past few weeks, I've been light-heartedly remarking to my husband that I want to bless my neighbor by taking her kids to school more than she's driving my kids around--just to be kind, to be helpful. She's got four kids and one on the way; I've got two. It appeared she had more practical need than I did. I wanted to be her superwoman and bless her. She was my project.

But the last few weeks I have been in need of my own superwoman, and A. my neighbor, has blessed me beyond measure. First, my husband passed out from the flu and hit his head on the tile floor, an episode followed by an emergency room visit and days of neck-aches and ibuprofen. Then, in one day, our microwave and our hot water heater bit the dust. We were snowed in for four days with no hot water and a kid who had strep (come to find out). Following was an anaphylactic episode my nut-allergic daughter had at school, which required tears, an Epi-Pen, an ER visit and lots of drugs. And then yesterday, on my way to pick up my eldest from Spanish lessons at school and my youngest from my neighbor's house (who had offered to watch her so I could catch up on missed work), my car got stuck in the snow bank alongside our driveway.

With four minutes till pick-up time, I grabbed a metal shovel, tears stinging my eyes ,and began to hack away at frozen ice chunks that masqueraded as snow. I tried moving the car again. My wheels spun, flinging ice and snow five feet in the air. I called A, my neighbor, and then my father, who has recently moved to town (and only the day before was rushing to the ER when his granddaughter swallowed a walnut).

"Can I help you?" asked A. when I explained the situation.

"Could you pick Una up at school?" I asked, and of course she said, of course.

She and her kids jumped in the car as fast as they could and within ten minutes she and her four children in her minivan appeared, bearing my two with them and all their accoutrements. As I pulled my daughter out of the car, I saw my father's car driving down the street. He parked, pulled a shovel out of his trunk, and began to dig me out of the snowbank.

I think part of what these set-backs reveal is that living life "with" others requires I take some things like a child, with nothing in hand to pay for it. It also means nobody can be my "project," because frankly, I just don't have the skills for it. Taking things like a child is just part of the giving and receiving, part of reciprocation, letting others bless me and help me as I bless and help them in turn. I am so grateful for A. So grateful for my father. They are superheroes to me, and I think divinely appointed ones at that.

After my father and I wrested the car from the snowbank, I entered the house to two screaming children, one overtired from nap-deprivation, another on steroids for the allergic reaction. I popped popcorn in the kitchen and held off crying until my husband walked in the door, and then, over the melted butter, all the frustration poured out of my eyes. In it, I kept hearing what I thought was the voice of the Holy Spirit.

You're out of the snowbank.
You're kid didn't die from the walnut--far from it.
You've got a tax return coming to cover the hot water heater, the microwave, the doctor bills.

In other words, even though you feel completely powerless, even though you got nothing of your own in hand, everything's gonna be all right. You just have to take the solutions like your five-year-old receives the buttery bowl of popcorn from your hands. She didn't clean the bowl it's in, didn't spread the oil and kernels around the pan, didn't watch carefully for scorching or melt the butter or sprinkle the salt. But she's got popcorn and she won't go hungry.

tip of my hat to...

Just read a blog post by Erika Haub, which examines the nature of church outreaches and whether what we are giving away is meeting "true" needs or just the perceived needs of a materialistic culture. It hinges on angsty, but I do appreciate the post and the snarkiness of a comment from Petey Crowder, which is:

"Sometimes my students see other ministries on campus doing free hot chocolate giveaways in the Quad, etc. and they ask why we don't do similar things. I tell them because I don't believe Jesus' call was to give free crap to people who can already afford it."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a poem for parenthood

I've got a poem, only, for my daughter's anaphylactic reaction yesterday.

it’s not the walnut’s fault. On its
deciduous perch--warbly,
dry--its done nothing but crest on breezes flinging
between ground and branch: your baby play,

it’s juvenile state. The shells fall
out when they are grown,
like your teeth, first erupting from the gums,
then eject. I love

you more than Jupiter’s Acorn 'though Jupiter’s
shells and trunk seem sturdier than your limbs
at least right now, least while quivering
on the hard-wood desk

and your stomach, half-shelled from your shirt
was pearly is now scarlet distended
like a saggy half-blown balloon you ate
the acorn, you know good and evil,

shall not die, but are on death’s watch
near enough to death’s treasure, the X-
tree in the garden, ground beneath littered
with sturdy dull orbs, innocent

fruit, I said. scapegoat. It's my fault
only—mine that your alveoli clenched and burned
your scarlet-skin. story:
a walnut on its perch, shackled, plucked

shelled and revealed in
coffee-hues and milk.
factory. market. home. then:
I put walnuts in cookies. I put cookies

in your lunch-box. you shelled a walnut
with your teeth, nibbled
twice. it was crunchy you said when
I found your capillaries aflame, millions

star-lit burning on histamine, noxious
gas I prefer God keep
for consuming Novae, rather
than obliterating you, your life

Thursday, February 21, 2008

male/female pastoring relationships

I was reading an interview with Kathy Escobar and Karl Wheeler the other day. They are the copastors of a church called the Refuge. The interview centered on the fact that Escobar and Wheeler are of the opposite sex, married to other people, and yet pastor a church together. Wheeler and Escobar are delighted to demonstrate that men and women can work together as pastors and that they each value one another's giftings in their pastoral roles.

One thing that struck me, however, was the discussion about the feelings of their spouses (in regard to Escobar and Wheeler working so closely together). The pair explained they made a rule that they would never "meet alone. For us, it just makes sense to always protect ourselves and each other, and ensure that no one can be suspicious. Just as importantly, it actually helps us live out our dream of always working in teams.

I understand that this team is in a unique situations, have unique spousal relationships and they are doing what works for them. They may simply have different personal comfort levels than I have. And while I am respectful and thankful for the unity they are bringing through their copastoring roles, I am interested in whether a rule such as theirs will set the tone for other emerging/mixed-gender pastoral teams. And if that rule should become a standard, what message would it send?

Let me first say I agree that there is strength in numbers on pastoral teams. And I am okay with paying a reasonable degree of attention to what "others think," yet when it comes to nonmarital male/female relationships in the church, I think this card has been played too many times, to the effect of keeping women outside the leadership circle. Lewis Smede was quoted in Rodney Clapp's Families at the Crossroads, as saying: "A covenant-keeper does not have to worry much or moralize a great deal about the proprieties of relationships outside of marriage. Within committment there is room for suprises, risks, and adventures. Loyalty is limiting but not constricting." In other words, when you have personal integrity before God and your marital partner, there's not a whole lot you need to be worried about. God sees your heart. He's got your back. He'll give you wisdom when you need it to avoid situations with shady folks.

I know one of my fellow co-pastors, A., would say there's a lot to be worried about, however. He was falsely accused at a former church for having some kind of extramarital romance with a single woman who he'd spent a marginal amount of time with. R. our senior pastor, sat in his office one day in a church down South and was shocked when the female parishioner meeting with him climbed over his desk, trying to get her skirt off in the process. (R. ran for the door.)

So I recognize the dilemma, but at what cost to the church is the articulation of and presence of a formal rule that bans the sexes from meeting with one another? What it costs us, I believe, is unity, and not only unity but the absence of about half the leadership gifting in the body of Christ.

On another note, I've NEVER heard same-sex injunctions of the kind that are issued to hetero meetings. Men should never meet with another man alone. (sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?) And yet why wouldn't it be of equal concern as the hetero meeting? We know that all sorts of extramarital homosexual interactions have occurred in Christian institutions across the board and throughout time. Yet there is no such injunction to "protect" ourselves in this way, in the same way there is no such injuction that Christians "protect" themselves from shoplifting by avoiding shopping, from gluttony by avoiding food, from falsehoods by avoiding speech. None of those solutions appear balanced enough to promote mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention societal well-being.

So the question is why? Why the rule about male/female relationships? I can only see one answer. I am biased, sure. But strongly opinionated that this inequity all stems from misogyny. Trickle-down-from-the-ages misogyny and and belief of our Christian fore-fathers and -thinkers that women are the source of all sexual impurity and evil in the world, able to disarm a man of his moral purity and all decision-making agency. I'm not joking about this. You can look it up. (try Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine to start.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

McCain Music Video

I got this McCain "response" video from my friend Ali's blog. It is in response to the Yes We Can Obama video that came out recently. Anyway, this one is hilarious. Disturbing, but hilarious.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Justice House of Prayer

I love the song that plays from their web site. By a band named Leeland.

Longing Made Me Do It

I've had short hair twice before, as short as an 1/8th inch length on the electric clippers. The first time, I was in college. My friends where doing it. I enjoyed the look on my parents' faces when they saw my new hair for the first time. Shock value was fun. And I liked the look.

Then, four years ago, I did the same thing. I was the mother of a 1-year-old.

Now, my 30th birthday is comign up in a few months and in many ways, to many people, I fit the mold of suburbia-Mom, shuttling my kids to school and dance class, doing the bulk of the grocery shopping, the laundry, the cooking. Now, my circle of acquaintances is broader, from more diverse backgrounds (think: school teachers, principal, dance instructors, professors, church people--not just scruffy college students). None of my woman-friends are buzzing their hair. If I defied expectations ten years ago, then I defy more now. Not to mention I'm supposed to preach/teach/chat for forty minutes in front of a bunch of people for the first time during a Sunday morning service this weekend.

All of this has nothing to do with my reasons for cutting my hair off. The engines driving my process were two-fold. Here's part 1:

I went to a movie two weeks ago. I saw some women with very very short hair. I felt a pang of longing. I felt stuck behind my shoulder-length red hair. I felt hidden and weighed down.

The seed of the idea, planted in my mind, sprouted.

Here's part 2:
I should mention that four years ago, when I shaved my head, it was a week after my third miscarriage. I had one living child to show for my four pregnancies. My husband and I had seen our fourth fetus' beating heart on ultrasound just ten days before. When we went back to the doctor to look again, that heart had stilled. There was something intuitive about grief-inspired shearing, and I took to it the second my husband left for a weekend visit to his family, the one I was supposed to go on had I not been so anti-social and grief-bound.

Currently, there is no obvious source of driving grief in my life. My family members are healthy, for the most part, and contented. But I've found myself gravitating to the silence of being alone in my house, when the girls and Mark are off at the library or kids playplace at the mall. In the silence, I am aware of this ache inside me, comprised of longing. Longing for God. Longing for justice in my neighborhood. Longing and frustration that what I can do to help the single mom I know who threw her back out last week is not enough, does not even scratch the surface of her need. The snow is piling up in her driveway, just like ours, and even though I shoveled part of her driveway Sunday night, more has fallen in that clearing--6-10 inches more. And my husband and I are now barely able to keep up with our own snow.

I feel longing for the gospel of Christ to be experienced as relief and good news in the lives of people around me, the way citizens feel when they hear a catastrophic war has finally ended. That means people who couldn't walk walk. People who couldn't see, see. Depressed people rejoice. Acts of kindness abound.

Parts 1 and 2 merged sometime while I was laying on the floor crying and praying in an empty house this week. In retrospect, the merge makes sense, the hair-shearing being an acceptable form of catharsis I could provide myself, while stuck inside watching the falling snow, too sore to shovel my neighbor's driveway.

Shorn Scorn

Last night at dinner with my two young daughters, my husband, and my father, the five of us went around the table trading news of our days, the good parts and the bad. When my turn came, I said, "Well, this didn't so much as happen to me today, but I'm thinking that I"m going to shave my head." Really, I meant buzz my hair pretty short with electric clippers. But saying "shave" sounds a whole lot more exciting. I directed a big smile directed at the girls, one of whom immediately started crying.

"But Mom, I don't want you to cut off your hair. You'll be so UG-LY. Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it."

My father and my husband stared down at their plates while she spoke. Neither of them laughed at her melodrama. Mark had already commented earlier in the week. He prefers me with long hair, but won't argue with my decision. My father, I'm sure, was just trying to be respectful and therefore remained quiet.

In the quiet, after my daughter's comments I found myself riling up inside. I know my five year old is not alone in her opinion. Especially in Christian culture, where people toss around scriptures about women's hair being their glory, yada yada. The other thing I know that's true is that hair is associated with beauty in women--in secular or sacred culture. So what my daughter says is true: in a black-and-white, fitting-the-mold-is-what-matters, kindergartener view of the world, I'll be ugly.

Many of us know ugliness is an unpardonable sin in a woman.

I hadn't given up on my five year old, though. "Hey," I said, "If you want to shave yours too, we could do it together." I was picturing a female-bonding sort of thing while hanging our heads over the bathroom sink, sneezing together from all the short hairs we inhaled. For a brief moment I imagined how life altering this memory could be for my daughter. One day, she and her mother shaved their heads together, symbolically and actually forsaking externally imposed standards of female beauty. She and her mother lived to tell about it. This one subversive act would alter the course of her thinking for the rest of her life: she would remember how once she defied sexual objectification of herself, and she could defy it again, perhaps not with electric clippers, but with words, with confidence, with truth--in her workplace, in her classroom, in her service to others.

But my daughter, still distraught, asked, "Why??! Why would I do that when you know I've been trying to grow it out?" She grabbed the ends of her hair and held them up for me to see.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Minisry and Gender-Role Conversation w/ the Girls

Because I recently took on a new role at our church, there's been some explaining to do to the kids about why I'm going to such and such a meeting, or why I might go out of town to a conference in a few months.

"So, you know how Pastor R. is pastor? And how C. is a pastor?" I asked the girls.

"Yeah. . ." they said cautiously.

"Well, now I'm a pastor, too, and I help out with things in the church more now."

Evvy, the three year old, scrunched up her face and her eyes welled with tears. "But Mom!" she wailed, "Dont' be a boy!"

It took me a second to comprehend her worldview. "I'm not a boy," I said, confused.

"But Mom," she continued, tears on her cheeks, "ALL Pastors Have To Be Boys."

And then I got it. And I wondered how she had this all figured out already, at three.

"It's okay," I assured them, "All pastors dont' have to be boys. Girls can be pastors, too."

"Oh!" Una, five, jumped in, and as in contradiction to her sister's hard-line sentiments, jested: "Well, ALL Pastors HAVE to be CHAIRS."

"No, no!" shouted Evvy, in the same spirit. "ALL PASTORS HAVE TO BE DOORS!!"

By this point, they'd proved Ev's arguement ridiculous and were laughing uproariously.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christian Culture Anxieties, Part 2

A dear friend of mine was duped by a forward about a month ago. The email she received claimed that CBS discontinued the show Touched by an Angel because it used the word "God" in every episode. Madeline Murray O'Hare, the woman who succeeded in eliminating mandatory prayer and Bible reading from public schools many years ago, was blamed for the CBS/Angel fiasco. Not only that, the email claimed O'Hare had a hearing with the FCC, where, if her petition was successful, "all Sunday worshipservices being broadcast on the radio or bytelevision will be stopped." The email urged Christians to action.

Many of you reading this will think this sounds fishy. I immediately did a search and came up with a few urban legend-type websites that debunk these rumors (

The question that interested me most, once the rumor was debunked, was this: How does this sort of thing start? How does it spread? And why? The only true fruit of the rumor-spreading seems to be an increased level of paranoia among Christians. Paranoia and ignorance that prevents us from seeking real public change.

This brings to mind Y2K and my mother, who joined an organization called The Prophecy Club. After many hours on the phone with a "Prophet" named Tom, my mother took a carload of her possessions to Goodwill, applied for her passport, and pleaded with my brother to give his life to the Lord. What did she learn from her conversation with Prophet Tom? That there were Russian troops hiding out in WW2 Japanese internment camps, waiting for all systems to go haywire on January 1, 2000. When chaos commenced, these Russian troops would take to the streets, imposing martial law. Christians would be persecuted, Prophet Tom said, but there was a small farming community in Belize where Christians could survive by working the land, a safe and humble lifestyle.

Mom never made it to Belize, but she was damn sure immobilized by fear, not to mention bereft of her only copy of The Late Great Planet Earth, which she donated to Goodwill in her escape-planning frenzy. I know this story is a bit exterme, and most people I know are not this gullible. Still, there are plenty of organizations like the Prophecy Club making a whole lot of money off their products. And that money is coming from somewhere, likely from very anxious Jesus-followers.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Christian Culture Anxieties, Part 1

I got a forward last week from a friend of mine. The original email came from an Iowan who was urging her out-of-state friends to pray for the caucus on caucus night, that people would "vote according to the things that are on God's heart."

That doesn't bother me. But the rest of her email made me squirm. Here it is:

"[Iowa City] seems pretty conservative and 'harmless' to most outsiders. I live near Iowa City, one of the most humanistic cities in the US. Per capita, we have the highest rate of abortions in the nation. Nearly 5% of the population is murdered in abortion clinics every year. That's about 3000 babies. We are fourth in the nation per capita for homosexuality. The University of Iowa boasts a 13% gay population. We are also a hotbed for wiccan activity and all sorts of post-modern thought. And believe me. These people all vote and they vote proudly for the things that matter to them. Please pray that despite what we in this country have deserved, that God would set up righteous judges over our nation."

Here are some thoughts/questions that came to mind:

1. "That's about 3000 babies." I am not pro-choice (I can write more on that later), but this email reminds me of my beef with pro-life Christian culture--not so much with what the author is pointing out. For many Christians, one of the biggest factors determining a stance against abortion is the idea that life could begin at conception. If we are to be consistent with this arguement, why don't Christians, as a "pro-life" culture, have funeral or memorial services for fetuses miscarried ("spontaneous abortions") in the first trimester and embryos implanted in fallopian tubes (ectopic pregnancies)? And why do so many pro-life Christians use birth control pills, the function of which (advertised by the manufacturers), among other functions, is to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the walls of the uterus? These cultural observations make me wonder: are we really "pro-life"? Do we grieve the loss of life through natural (or pharmeceutical-related) causes in proportion to the grief we exhibit over the loss of life created through abortion?

In addition, do the politics that typically ride along with a pro-life sensibility fit harmoniously with that sensibility? In other words, the pro-life plank is typically found on the platform of a Republican party candidate, and Republicans are notorious for their cuts on welfare and assitance to the poor, the poor being mostly women and their un-aborted children.

2. So Christians believe the gay lifestyle is not a representation of God's ideal when he made human relationships, but I don't understand all the fear implied in the email. Gay people are just more people to love, right?

3. "hotbed for Wiccan activity and post-modern thought." Wiccans, too, are more people to love. And I'm not sure I understand why Wicca and post-modernism are lumped together here, and why there is an implied moral stance against post-modernism, as if modernism (which I'm assuming postmodernism is being pitted against?) did much for proving God's existence.

Many of you reading this know a lot more than I do on the subject of modernism v. postmodernism, so feel free to add your two cents

I guess the bottom line is I'm so tired of Christian culture anxieties, the "us v. them" mentalities that keep us out of the public square, and from befriending the multitudes of people to be found there.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Friendly (?) Produce Man

I love friendly people. Friendly people who go out of their way to smile at the grocery store, friendly people who say, when you tell your kindergartner she can't buy Hi-C because it's full of sugar, "It's horrible what we're feeding kids these days!" and shake their head, in full agreement with your decision to go for the box that says 100% juice--I like people like that. Secretly I want to be one, to insert myself more into the airspace when I'm in public places, sidle up to the woman debating which brand of diapers to buy and say, "Isn't it nuts how much diapers cost these days?" because that's exactly what I'm thinking and probably what lots of parents are thinking. And the two of us diaper-shoppers would grimace together and then maybe smile and then go our separate ways, having connected with some other in the universe, even if the connection is on a minute scale.

Today at an Amish-run grocery store (aka Bent and Dent) in the country, my father and my children and I ran into a man on the juice aisle. He heartily approved my 100% juice selection and then held up his own bag of cookies apologetically and said to me, "I'm a produce man and I"m buying cookies!." I laughed and shook my head, thinking this man looked awfully familiar, which I then stated. Yes, he told me, we had met. He looked in my eyes and smiled. "I told you you had beautiful hair," he said.

And then it all came flooding back. I'd run into him this past summer at the same grocery store; he'd followed me around for ten minutes, trying to talk me into stopping by his produce stand in Iowa City in front of the Ace Hardware. He had corns and canteloupes, the best prices around. As I made my way to the parking lot with my full cart of groceries, he was just leaving in his truck. He stopped in the middle of the lane and rolled down his window. "I have to tell you," he confided, "You have beautiful hair."

"Thanks," I'd said, and shrugged and moved on, glad to have met another friendly human. But today, when he reminded me, I saw caution lights. I let my dad talk to the friendly produce guy--who kept him talking a full five minutes by the mixed nuts--while I scurried around the store hoping to avoid a conversation. The two kids were getting restless and I didn't want to get caught in another produce conversation.

My father was able to part ways with the produce man eventually and I ran into him again at the checkout where he was in line ahead of me. "Have a great day!" he'd enthused when he left. "See ya!" I'd smiled. A few minutes later, as I was paying for my groceries, the produce man, having come back into the store, materialized before me with a box of chocolate covered cordial cherries, the sort that taste like choclate covered cherry Ny-Quil. He stuck it in front of my nose. "Happy New Year!" he said. I said thanks, of course, and as he was walking away said the only other thing I could think of, patterned after his earlier confession about the cookies:

"The produce man is handing out chocolate!" He looked back and smiled.
My father, after our shopping trip, opined that the produce man was lacking in social skills, or at least had little regard for the shopping other customers needed to do. I wondered aloud if he was merely misunderstood, a friendly soul society had not crushed and pounded into an emotionally repressed man. On the other hand, the hair comment and the chocolate cherries seem to add up to a little more than that, leaving me with a nagging little feeling of distrust, and the sadness that some super-friendly people after something other than friendship.