The Day After Christmas

The struggle is real.


I came downstairs this morning to begin a Christmas tradition with my family… Making the “monkey bread” that’s a special holiday treat. There was no time to bake it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When I did have a little down time, we ordered pizza or ate leftovers. Or I just put my feet up and had some eggnog with brandy.

I’m incredibly blessed to have ministry opportunities in two venues: my work as a Hospice Chaplain, and my position as Assistant Minister at a progressive Baptist church. But today, I am going to enjoy my family,  open some presents, ignore my phone, and share in the cooking of a good meal. I might clean up enough of the counter to have a place to sit down and eat. Or not.

But most likely, I’m going to rest. And count the blessings I see… because they are everywhere. Once I have a few moments to breathe, I’ll get some other blog posts up…

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah!

Joyous Kwanzaa!

And peace be yours…

I don’t speak for you

I don’t speak for you.

There. I said it.

I also don’t speak for people who look like me, dress like me, work with me, worship with me, or live near me. And, most importantly, I most definitely do not speak for someone who is nothing like me!

I am just… me. A wife and mom. A hospice chaplain. A progressive Baptist. A pastor. An LGBTQ+ally (and yes — I asked and was told that I am. If that matters.)

I look like women who voted for Trump in large numbers, and that pisses me off. (White, middle class, Christian.) I supported Hillary and contributed to her campaign. I tried to influence the hearts and minds of people around me to vote for her. And apparently, I was not very good at it.

Election night, I had tears in my eyes and felt frustrated. I had no words for those closest to me who were also devastated. I heard their fears. I was distressed with them. I am deeply worried about them because of the rhetoric and abuse we all heard from Trump during the campaign. They are vulnerable because of who they are.

Here’s what I have learned in the last few days…  (Sorry it’s in bullet points. I don’t have time to create fantastic, in-depth prose.)

  • By accident of birth, education and economic status, I could fade into the Great Beyond of white suburbia. But my Calling, my conscience and my faith do not allow that.
  • Those who know me already, know that when I wear a safety pin* or a rainbow bracelet, that I am visibly trying to signal what I believe and will do. And that I want them to be treated fairly, kindly, respectfully as I want to be treated.
  • Those who don’t know me personally might think I’m posturing.
  • The dying patients I serve, as well as their families, need my focus and care. Many of them are marginalized by their race, religion or gender identity.
  • My coworkers who care for the dying with me every day are sad, stressed and discouraged.
  • My family, friends, and parishioners have real fears, hurts and anxieties because of this election season.
  • I don’t have enough money, time or energy to respond to every need around me. That means I have to pick and choose, and I try to do that wisely.
  • I am praying — fiercely — for the projected new President.** (As of this date, the Electoral College has not met.)

 

I am trying to make a difference where I am. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. In my context. Wherever God takes me.

I will do this imperfectly. Incompletely. Ignorantly. But I will keep trying.

I will  continue speak up against hate speech whenever I witness it.

I will keep learning. Growing. Praying. Reading. Listening. Serving. I’ll wear a safety pin and a rainbow bracelet. And sometimes, a cross. And I’ll try to do a better job of being an example of Christ in the world.

soli deo gloria

 

*It used to be that when someone wore a cross, they were expected to act “Christianly”. But today, the cross has been co-opted by political entities within American politics. It seems that a safety pin might better express my effort to be a welcoming, affirming and listening presence, without the trappings of a particular religious group.

**[edited to add] This does not mean he has my approval or my trust. (Bless his heart.) It means I am fulfilling a Scriptural admonishment to pray for those in authority.

What shall I tell my daughters?

Oh Lord…

How did we arrive in this unholy mess? The latest kerfuffle with the presidential election makes me want to throw things. Or vomit. Or maybe throw vomit. How did things get so thoroughly mucked up? Is this really the result of an uninvested, uneducated electorate, who were distracted by the rhetoric of obstructionist Legislatures, both national and local? (…as some pundits would suggest)

img_2179What shall I tell my daughters? They are voting in their first presidential election. The big issues like our national debt and student loans matter to them. (Hello. To me, too!) So does affordable healthcare. Getting a job. A clean environment. Global warming. A safer world. Marrying the person they love.

How shall I explain what their parents’ generation has done…and not done? They know as well as I do that it is a complex world we live in, far more complex than when I snoozed my way through “Principles of Democracy” (aka “civics”) in high school. It’s more than sound bites. It’s more than tabloid-driven news (God, help us!) It’s more than he-said-she-said.

This much I do know… I believe these young women, these wonderful daughters of ours are, inherently and personally, people of value and promise. They and their friends have much to give to our nation and our world. They have drive and dreams. They are articulate and compassionate.

They are watching and waiting with me, Lord.

I know You guide the hearts and actions of the nations.
I know You are able to steer even the most stubborn autocrat.
I know that whoever is elected will be flawed human being… just like me.
May Your peace reign.
May we hear Your direction.
May we know Your heart.
May we have Your mind.
And may those of us who are tasked with spiritual leadership
guard our tongues and increase our prayers…

Amen.

Pizza box flambé

One time I put cat food in my daughter’s lunch. 

I left a child at school after a concert and had to go back and get her. 

I have left sugar out of apple pie and burned dinner on many occasions. 

And in the interests of full disclosure, tonight I forgot we had left pizza boxes in the oven… and set a pizza box on fire. As in, real flames and smoke. 

Holy cow, what a mess!

Then as I tried to hastily get the smoke out of the house, I stepped on a cat’s tail and overturned his water dish. 

And then — because apparently that wasn’t enough — I discovered as I started getting ready for bed that I had worn my sweater inside-out ALL DAY. All the freaking day. (I guess I should be grateful for unobservant friends…)

In all of this mess that is a pastor-chaplain-mom-wife-friend-relative… There is still love, joy and grace. There is a large serving of humble pie, and a genuine attempt to obey the 11th Commandment:

Thou shalt not take thyself so damn seriously.

I think I’ve fulfilled that one today. 

Little foxes

The day started with a sense that it was not going to be my day. SQUISH!  Yes, I stepped in a fresh pile of cat hork… and had to change my socks… and wash my feet…

EWWWW! Really, cat?

I cleaned up some of the mess and left the rest to dry. Not to worry, I was ready to leave on time and headed to the car. I was looking forward to going to church. Except… the battery was dead and my trusty, rusty Pilot would not start. Not even with the battery charger.

RATS.

I had two choices. I could sit and whine and grumble. Or, I could spend the morning in relative quiet with 2 cats, my Bible and some music and be thankful for a warm home and some lovely amenities.

I confess I started off grumbly. Reverend Chaplain Cranky Pants had to have a little pity party, and then get over it.

I mean, really. I wasn’t out on the highway. I had three or four electronic devices at my disposal, plus two cats and a warm afghan. And the last cup of coffee from the pot… and I realized what my problem really was.

Catch the foxes for us,
        those little foxes that menace the vineyards,
    For our vineyards are so vulnerable when they are in full bloom.
Song of Solomon 2:15 The Voice

My problem is called INGRATITUDE. It’s a picky, little, conniving thief of Contentment. It creates an issue when there isn’t one. It’s the kind of sin that creeps in and robs us of joy and the ability to see alternatives or options. My “little foxes” colored my perception of my health, safety and well-being.

I stopped and changed my attitude. Played my piano. Colored a labyrinth. Made plans for my Lenten discipline, a coloring template from Praying in Color. Prayed for my family and my patients. Held a purring cat.

This evening, (after we got the car started… fingers crossed for tomorrow!), I saw this lovely sunset.

IMG_0612

And even more striking was the reflection of the sky in the snow melt at the bottom of our driveway:

IMG_0608

 

Maybe that’s all I need to remember… to reflect back to the heavens the faithfulness of God. Even when I don’t feel like it. ESPECIALLY when I don’t feel like it.

1 Praise the Eternal!
All of you who call yourselves the children of the Eternal, come and praise His name. Lift Him high to the high place in your hearts.
2 At this moment, and for all the moments yet to come,
may the Eternal’s name ascend in the hearts of His people.
3 At every time and in every place—
from the moment the sun rises to the moment the sun sets—
may the name of the Eternal be high in the hearts of His people.
4 The Eternal is seated high above every nation.
His glory fills the skies.
Psalm 113:1-4, The Voice

Thanks be to God!

Angry Tears: When We Ignore the Rape Victim

139136870I walked to her bedside. She had bruises on her face and arms and was rather stiffly trying to sit up in bed. She saw me enter and her eyes immediately grew wary.

“What do you want? Another SAMPLE? More EVIDENCE?” she snarled, lying back with a sigh and starting to open her legs.

“No, no!” I quickly said. “I’m a chaplain. I’m only here to see if there’s anything I can do that ISN’T “Evidence.” I am here only for you.”

Her body relaxed against the gurney and she started to cry. I gently touched her hand and she grabbed it and held on tightly.

“Oh God, no. I just want this to be over! I want to go home and forget!!!”

I said nothing. I was learning to wait and listen until the patient asks me a question. I handed her tissues. And waited some more.

~—o0o—~

 

This was one of the first rape victims I cared for as a student chaplain. It was over 4 years ago, and she was like  many of the sexually abused I have seen in my ministry. They are visceral memories that pop to the surface when I read articles like the one recently published in Christianity Today (CT). An article (which I am not linking to because they don’t need the traffic!) that was from the perspective of the perpetrator, a now-penitent youth minister. An article in which the perpetrator was given a voice, but not the victim. And an article that (in fairness) has been pulled from the on-line journal edition, and the publisher states that the revenue gained from the ads on the page will be given to (in their words) “Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse.”

I appreciate the publisher’s apology. But it was unkind, wrong, and completely insensitive to publish it in the first place.

A felon’s confession of regret is laudable — please hear me. But the victim of the abuse, and it WAS abuse, has again been marginalized. The male, dominant, patriarchal culture of CT didn’t see a problem with publishing it. They allowed someone who abused pastoral trust, who took advantage of a position of authority in the Church, to again have a “pulpit” of sorts.

The victim can only feel violated again.

“But he’s SORRY for what he’s done,” you say.

I am sure he is. He lost his job. He hurt his congregation, his family, and broke his ordination vows in the worst way possible.

But there is something we are all forgetting here. He has hurt someone deeply. He has affected her trust in God, in her spiritual leaders, and in the Church Organizational. And he probably has damaged her trust in people in general. (In fact, one such victim’s account of her struggles and her faith are here. READ IT. There’s important messages for us who are pastors, chaplains and church volunteers!)

Publishing this article contributed to the “modesty police” subculture of reminding women “to dress so that his eyes don’t wander.” (Which by the way, is complete fertilizer.) As I have written before, modesty and self control are part of everyone’s responsibility. And we are tasked with not just teaching a dress code, but an approach to sexuality and humanity that has a proper perspective:

The images of misused sexuality are everywhere. To teach our children good judgement and a “strong moral compass,” we have to teach them to first see the men and women around them as human beings who are sexual, not sexual beings who are human. [From: “Dear Mrs. Hall, We Need to Chat.”]

Here is the greater issue. And it is much more difficult to accept.

The Church is called to be a refuge. A place of nurture, safety, comfort, encouragement and peace. A place where those who have been hurt, abused or cast-off can find security. It’s why many churches are seeking to be a place of safety, to have a culture of acceptance. A community where they do not have to justify why they are afraid or enumerate their scars, but be accepted as they are.

We write policies about nursery and Sunday School and youth group “safe church practices” and take them seriously. And then a publication allows a convicted felon to talk about how he violated them.

We teach our children and teens that “No Means ‘NO!'” and then re-victimize someone.

We preach about a God of justice, of One who commands us to care for widows and orphans and the strangers among us. (Deut. 10:18) And we continue to thwart God’s redemptive work among us.

Maybe if enough of us protest, past this moment of “take down the article,” the Church will gain a collective self-awareness and act with compassion towards the victims in our midst. And maybe our publishers and editors will figure out that this mindset has to go. Just maybe.

~—o0o—~

 

chaplaingearI sat with this young women for over an hour. I listened. I silently prayed and raged inside at what she had experienced.

She talked about everything BUT God, the rape, the perpetrator. She cried. She raged. And then she said, “I don’t know if I am strong enough to go through with pressing charges.”

Tears streaking down her cheeks, and responsive tears welling up in mine, I said, “You can be. You must. He must never get away with this again. You are WORTH it.”

She stared at me. “I’m worth it? God knows I’d like to be.”

“God knows you ARE.”

Her chin went up and there was a glint in her eye. “Yes. I AM!”

She left the ER that night with a friend. I had to leave and attend to a death elsewhere in the hospital and I didn’t see her again. I didn’t find out if she pressed charges or not, nor if the perpetrator was convicted. I’d like to think so.

Her story is like countless others I have heard in my role as a chaplain. They are each filled with anger, self-hatred, self-blame, and a furious distrust of a culture that glorifies dominance and fear.

It grieves my heart. It surely grieves the heart of God.

And it is time that we do all in our power to give a place for their voices to be heard. The voices of the victim and injured.

Lord help us hear their courageous, broken hearts
and respond with Your justice, mercy and hope.
Amen.

 

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, please visit these websites where you can get help! You are WORTH being cared for, listened to, and supported!

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
After Silence

Dear Mrs. Hall: We need to chat

Hey friends…
I don’t usually get involved in these “my thoughts on your post” kind of things. But since I happen to have two lovely young adult daughters, I kinda took this post personally. You may disagree with me… but I wanted to share my heart on this.

Dear Mrs. Hall:

I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Friends of mine with young sons posted the link to your blog post. I read it. Said, “huh, well I think she’s wrong. To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to, let’s move on.”

Except that friends have been posting it all day and cheering you on. And I said, “Huh. Well, I get that moms want their boys to make good decisions. And to help them make good decisions, sometimes they get a little over-protective. Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. Whatevs.”

But then it continued to bother me, and I figured out why. I realized that I was a little put off by your post chastising young women for their social media pictures. The photos you described were ones that you discovered while you looked at their social media accounts — something you do regularly with your kids — perusing the pictures and videos that are posted by their friends online. You noted:

“We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your pajamas this summer! Your bedrooms are so cute! Our eight-year-old daughter brought this to our attention, because with three older brothers who have rooms that smell like stinky cheese, she notices girly details like that.

I think the boys notice other things. For one, it appears that you are not wearing a bra.

I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout.”

Ah yes. Duck lips, I believe we call it. But really – going braless was an issue? Was it because you could see her nipples? Maybe she needs a thicker bra. Or a warmer room. Sultry poses? Goofing off and being silly, perhaps? Are you sure she was trying to be a siren and cause your sons to crash on the rocks?

One of the standards that you mentioned in your blog post was this:

Girls shouldn’t post pictures in poses which are provocative.

That’s fair. But what is “provocative” might I ask? I think it is in the eye of the beholder. You put up a picture of your four, lovely children in their bathing suits. The young men’s suits were all below their navels. Well below their navels. In fact, you could see their tan lines. Isn’t that a little too sexy for a post on purity? And they were making “muscle” poses – yes, in fun. I get that. However, based on the blog comments, I wasn’t alone in thinking that perhaps you missed the point that what is “sexaaay” for the goose is “sexaaaay” for the gander.

You said,

“Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”

Do you think the picture of your boys in their bathing suits will just be deleted from their female schoolmates’ minds? That once they walk into school in their uniforms or their Tshirts and jeans, that they won’t remember pictures from this summer? And for the record, I think this is a bit over-stated. What I think you are suggesting that only males are titillated by the visual. I would suggest that you are wrong. If not, then why would females spend so much time pouring over pictures in magazines? Why do they notice when someone is hawt?

You don’t give room for teens and young adults to grow up.

There’s no room for grace. Jeff VanVonderen in his book Families Where Grace is the Place talks about the need for learning the difference between our job and God’s job. He says,

“God’s job is to fix and to change. Our job is to depend, serve, and equip. This is the work of grace… God and you can build anew with the people you love, relationships that let in fresh air and light.”

He goes on to talk about premarital sex, which I think is what you are worried about by your hard and fast rules…

“When a teenager becomes involved in premarital sex, is it just because of raging hormones? Is it simply a matter of ignoring the rules? Or could it be an attempt to feel loved and accepted, important, or not alone? I think so. …They need to be reminded that they are unconditionally loved.”

You wrote:

And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.

I see. In doing so, you remove any possibility of being able to speak into these young women’s lives. You put them in the category of “forbidden secret.” You mark them as “undesirable” or as “forbidden fruit.”

Do you not remember your own teen years? Forbidding something does not mean that it is going to make it go away. Just because your children can’t see these photos or videos on their devices, those which you deem objectionable, doesn’t mean they can’t see them on their friend’s computers/smart phones.

If your children are friends with these young women, I would assume that you could possibly live in the same general area as their parents. Have you talked to their mothers? Have you sent them an email? Have you called them? While many parents do not have a social media review as your family does on a regular basis, there is something about parenting “in the village” that is very, very helpful. If you are pro-active instead of re-active, you can offer more than one chance.

It may be that you have been rejected for being “too strict” but by making things so iron-clad, you have shut down what could be an ongoing, healthy conversation.

You state that “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

Iron-clad, no-exceptions means that if someone grows and changes, you won’t know. You won’t be around to encourage them, to remind them. You won’t be among the trusted women who can talk frankly with them about their wardrobe choices.

You are obsessing on the exterior and are not giving your sons practice at living with integrity.

They will be heading to college soon. Very soon. Sooner than you can possibly imagine. Even if they go to the most restrictive Christian college, there is still temptation and sexual tension. By not helping them wrestle with it — while they are in your home — you are going to set them up for some hard days when they are on their own. Perhaps you are a family who does not send your children away to college. Even if they are on a community college campus, they will meet up with men and women who are very different from the standards they are learning from you. And instead of being comfortable talking to them and gaining an understanding, you have a hard wall of NO.

Life does not work this way.

Even if you clean out every objectionable image in their social media files, the world has many more staring them down. I used to take my children through the “no candy, no tabloids” aisle at the grocery store when I checked out. And then I discovered that the magazines (non-tabloids) had low-cut, sexily-posed models on the front. I realized how low-cut when one daughter said, “Mommy, is that a nursing top?”

The images of misused sexuality are everywhere. To teach our children good judgement and a “strong moral compass,” we have to teach them to first see the men and women around them as human beings who are sexual, not sexual beings who are human. You can’t do that if you try to install electronic blinders on them.

What is the best way to encourage the personal character of our teens and young adults?

Is it by judging them? Ignoring them? Refusing them entry into our Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram lives? I don’t think so. You’re removing yourself from the conversation.

Here’s what I would love for you to reinforce to my daughters, actually to any mother’s daughters:

You are made in the image of God. You were created to make a difference. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are bright and caring and have much to offer this world. You are more than the clothes you wear or the make-up you put on your face. You are more than a test score, a percentile or an athletic achievement. The number of pounds on the scale mean nothing. You are loved by your parents, but even more by God. Go chase down the dreams you have on your heart. And don’t let comments about your outside make you think there’s nothing inside.

One last thought. Talk to your sons about outward images and inner self-control. Make them own their sexuality and their choices. Do not blame or suggest that any mistakes they make are because of how the women around them dress themselves. Teach them that clothing is not a “message” — it is a cultural trapping. It is not an “invitation” to do anything other than respect and respond in accordance with their own personal guidelines. This is a shared responsibility. One that young men AND women should take seriously.

I’m glad we had this little chat. To be honest, I almost didn’t post this essay. After all, it is easy enough to just roll my eyes and move on. I’m not even ‘outraged’ or ‘mad’. I am frankly a little sad. Because you are missing an opportunity to become a mentor and surrogate mom to young men and women who would otherwise never cross your path. And they are missing out on getting to know you and to understand your point of view.

 

 

ADDENDUM: Friday, September 6, 2013:

Mrs. Hall took out all of the pictures of her boys on the beach (really) because of comments from readers and bloggers. So you can disregard my comments about boy tan-lines etc. But the rest I still hold as true…

Here’s her comment on her blog update and changed photographs:

“Readers, two days ago I wrote this post for my normal audience, which is usually very small. That said, I included recent pictures of my kids at the beach, and many new readers found that to be a grave lack of discernment, considering the topic.  I agree, and have replaced them with different photos than the original post. Thank you for your counsel.”