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.