Raging imperfection. That’s Real Life.

Today was a snow day. It was not a “day off” for me — I still had phone calls to make, emails to read and answer, and charting to finish. And then other minutia that I never get around to for work, until I have free time. And I did shovel the driveway and the front walk (and my arms will hurt tomorrow, I’m sure.)

But I had a huge list of things I wanted to do around the house, and none of them got done. Zero. No laundry. No real baking or cooking (a favorite snow day activity). No reading. No writing projects. (There’s a quite a few.) No clean-up in my study, which is a disaster area, after doing the tax prep. UGH.

It reminded me that so much of blogging and social media is about perfection, or lack thereof. A whole crew of comedians make their money by showing typos and embarrassing photos of other people. There’s even a show about “FAILS” which rewards someone who fails the least with $10,000.

So here’s some random photos from my day. And if you feel a little behind-the-curve on life, take heart. We’re all in this together. It’s just that we don’t put it up on Pinterest. Or blog about it. (Oh… wait…)

Not started – that baby will be in college before my gift is done.

Not put into boxes until Lent. Still in a pile of boxes in my living room.

 

Not vacuumed. Christmas gifts are put away (hallelujah). But the room is still cluttered.

 

See? This imperfect human is doing a fine job. OK… adequate. I didn’t burn dinner, and no one was hit by a runaway snow blower! (It was close, though.) I held a cat, watched the snow fall outside my window and even shot a few pictures with my “real” camera! (I’ll upload those eventually.)

My plea to you: Give yourself space. And grace. And tackle a little something tomorrow, once you dig out the car and feed the cat and make coffee and figure out if you have clean clothes for work and… (you get the picture!)

Tired and Mossy

Just in front of my parking space yesterday was this mossy trunk of a stately oak tree. The grass wasn’t sprouting yet. The branches were bare, and last year’s leaves blew around on the ground beneath her. No sign of spring anywhere…

I had a moment of familiarity. The cold, dark, and windy days we’re having, one after the other, are getting to me. I don’t mind the cold so much. It’s that grey and gloomy sky that seems to be stuck behind a blanket of clouds forever. I’m feeling tired and mossy. It’s true.

Ok, Ok. That’s a bit melodramatic. But that’s March in the MidAtlantic. The weather flip-flops between cold and grey, and has just enough peeks of sunshine to remind us that winter will, eventually, go away. But what seems to predominate are the gloomy, rainy, sleety days. It’s… tiresome.

I drove around, a little grumpy, a lot discouraged. I had received news lately (for myself and people I care about) which have not exactly been something to celebrate. Then there’s the general muck-and-mudslinging of our political mess here in the US. It was all getting to me.

At just the right moment, God seemed to weigh in, just to remind me that I was not traveling alone. I spotted these beauties later in the day while waiting at a stoplight. (It’s a little off-kilter, but I only had one shot before the light turned green!)

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Just a bit of color. A patchy blue sky. A reminder that, yes, I can get through this day/season/struggle. And you can, too.

Yes, you will go out with celebration,
    and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
    all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12 Common English Bible

 

et lux perpetua…

Today during our Hospice team meeting, we stopped at the 10 o’clock hour to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida just two weeks ago. Just two weeks…

I re-lit our memorial candles to read the 17 names. After two or three names, I could not go on. So I passed the paper to a co-worker… and to another… and then we stood in silence. And tears.

At my regular team meeting, I read the names of recent deaths, and we have a moment to honor them. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat and feel a little sad. The stories and lives of our patients affect us deeply. We know we are in a sacred work.

But this… this was so very difficult. So very, very different.

This was random.
This was evil.
This was violent.
This was full of pain.
This was senseless.

Right before I blew out the candles, I said to my teammates, “May their lights continue to shine.”

Indeed.

…et lux perpetua luceat eis…

And let perpetual Light shine upon them.

Amen.

On the needles

Recently a family member had an outpatient procedure. We rushed to get out the door on time. Rushed to the office, only to be parked in the waiting area. After the prelims were done I had a lot of time just sitting alone. Waiting. Usually as I “hurry up and wait,” I’m knitting. And that was how I spent my time that day. (My other reflective crafting is coloring, but that’s a little unwieldy for your average waiting room chair. So I knit.)

I zoned out. I prayed. I tried not to worry. I counted the folks who got there ahead of us and hoped that I might hear some news soon. I wondered about the results. I thought about all the “what ifs” and “whens” and “what’s nexts”. And I knitted…

Now, if you’re a yarn snob, you’d recognize that the yarn on my needles is that commercially made “homespun” yarn. It’s acrylic. And I hear your eyes rolling. Can I be honest? It’s soft. It’s soothing. It feels sweet under the fingers. It washes and wears beautifully. And… it’s affordable. (This is especially true because I’m knitting from my stash this year.)

And as I sit and try not to stew, it comforts me, because its soft warmth covers my lap and my jittery nerves. Knitters and our crafty cousins, crocheters, keep our hands busy while the blur of the waiting room goes on around us. Usually, with knowing smiles, we check out each other’s yarn, needles and bags. On this particular day, a fellow knitter looked over and smiled, and moved into an empty space near me. We shared a chair between us for our  work bags.

Finally, she broke the silence. She said, “I knit to stay calm.”

I smiled. “Yes, me too!” I answered. “And I try to remember to breathe. And pray.”

She nodded sagely. We both return to our work… counting rows and stitches… praying… waiting… knowing God is there.

k3p3k3p3… k2tog… k 2 rows…

Time moves slowly. Three rows done. Twelve… I start a new ball, and am mid-row when I get the word… All is well. Procedure done. Recovery room soon.

As I let out the breath I had been holding unconsciously, my sister knitter smiled. “Good news?” she asked.

“Yes… good news…” After a pause, I said, “I’m glad you were here… It’s good to have company while you wait.”

“Yes, and someone praying beside you, too.”

Yes, indeed. Can’t ever have enough of that. The next time I’m in a waiting room with you, please know I’m praying for you, too.

Snakes on the Plains! (Lent 4B)

A sermon offered to the people of God at Greenbelt Community Church, Greenbelt, MD. Rev. Glennyce Grindstaff, pastor. March 11, 2018 (Lent 4B)

SNAKES ON THE PLAINS

Scriptures: Numbers 21:4-9John 3:11-21 (Common English Bible)

The lectionary editors brought these texts to us in Lent, of all times, because they contain elements of the journey to the Cross that are worth our thoughtful consideration. Both of the texts deal with questions of disbelief and wonder, judgment and grace. And isn’t that what we know to be true about the narrative of the Crucifixion and Resurrection? The stories that, very soon, we will be reading during Holy Week?

Today let’s take a step back and consider how God uses these two stories, the portion from the Hebrew Bible in Numbers 21, where the Israelites meet “snakes on the plains”, and the Gospel of John, where we listen in on a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. What is there message for us, the Church, today?

THE ISRAELITES AND MOSES

This story is part of the Exodus narrative, the journey of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. The themes of humans rebelling, Divine correction and mercy, and then God providing all they needed (not wanted) are told over and over in the book of Numbers. Our text this morning begins after the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister, and Aaron, the high priest. Moses is still leading the people (and will until they reach the banks of the Jordan River). They had just been turned back from Edom, losing that battle. God directs Moses to go around Edom, not engage them in battle again.

The loss in battle stings. They people were frustrated. V4 says they were “impatient” – a better word might be discontented, or discouraged. The Hebrew suggests wanting to “shorten” the time or cut to the chase. Weren’t they supposed to have a God who could do ANYTHING? And if God is so powerful and Almighty, couldn’t they have something to eat besides Manna?

In this moment of change, where their first goal was frustrated and they were embarrassed by losing, they responded the way we might. When something doesn’t go the way I want, first I get a little mad. Then I get mouthy. Then… I have a choice to make. Because it is what I DO in that moment of decision that shows where my heart truly lies.

Logic doesn’t always work. The Israelites were defeated by Edom. God directed Moses to lead the people around them. This made for a longer trip. Like kids the back seat of the car, they complained. “Why aren’t we there yet?”

But to be clear, it wasn’t their complaining that was the real problem. It was their “speaking against” God’s provision and leadership. It was a pattern of wanting to do things by what their human minds thought was the best course of action. Their faith was on shaky ground. If they couldn’t see it, taste it, touch it, and experience it, they didn’t believe God could do it. It wasn’t that their faith wasn’t strong enough. It was that they made choices which defied God leading them through these difficult circumstances.

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Moses and the Snake. St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham. Photo by Mark Young.

So… the snakes. I can tolerate snakes. I appreciate that black snake that has visited our back yard in search of small rodents. (You go, dude.) I don’t even mind copperheads, as long as they nest some place else. They have their place in the ecosystem, even if I don’t exactly like it. But God unleashing snakes? Really?

It should not surprise us, we who are lovers of God, that there would be a way through this crisis. A place of mercy. An option to be healed.

The seraphs had a bite that burned like fire, and killed. But if the Israelites only looked up to see the bronze seraph on the pole, as God asked, they could find their healing. In the moment of crisis, even when they did not understand why, or like the circumstances they were in, they could look to God for mercy. If they were a “stiff-necked” people… (NO I’m not looking!) …well…

Consider that the very image of their pain, the seraph, was what prevented their death. Perhaps they had the memory of the blood of the Passover Lamb, smeared on their doorsteps, which brought death to the households of the Egyptians, but saved them. In any case, those who accepted the offering of mercy and healing, responded to the covenantal God who delivered them from slavery.

There was a choice to believe. Or not. To look up. Or Not. And this was the quandary where Nicodemus, a Pharisee, found himself. To put the Gospel reading in context this morning, let’s recall the story of Nicodemus.

NICODEMUS

Tanner - Study of Christ and Nicodemus on a rooftop

Study for Christ and Nicodemus on a Rooftop by Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Nicodemus was known to be a Pharisee. He was one of the leaders of the Jewish faith atthat time who were not too thrilled with this upstart rabbi, Jesus… One of the leaders who were actively plotting to see Jesus killed. But Nicodemus, to his credit, comes to see Jesus because of his unanswered questions:
Who is this guy and what is God doing?

Jesus, in his fashion, answers in a circuitous way: In v. 3 Jesus tells him that you can only truly see the work of God in your midst, the KINdom of God, if you have been given new eyes, or in biblical language, “be born again.”

(An aside: The phrase “born again” has been co-opted by some Christians to mean a specific prayer, moment in time, and religious response. I’m not saying that isn’t a valid understanding, but it is not the only interpretation and application of this text!)

If we understand this phrase, “born again” to mean more than just a one-time moment, there is a richness to Jesus’ response. It suggests the concepts of regeneration, renewal, being delivered FROM something you understood before, being born TO something new. It suggests a process, a lifetime, a concept that includes growth and change, acceptance of God’s guidance and… dare I say it? Obedience!

Twice in the third chapter, in v4 and v 9, Nicodemus says, “How are these things possible?” I read these words to be more along the lines of confusion, not disbelief. I think Nicodemus came to Jesus because he truly wanted to understand. He wanted to see and believe. He just didn’t see how it could be true. In the words of Commander Spock from Star Trek, “it is not logical!”

Jesus uses words which are the language of choice, of expectation, and of revelation. Nicodemus, aren’t you a teacher of the law? Didn’t you spend a lot of time studying this? What are you choosing to see, Nicodemus? What did you expect God was doing, Nicodemus? The responses are gentle, calm, but to the point.

V 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Jesus uses language and images that someone who has studied the Torah should immediately grasp. There is kindness in his rebuke but also clarity. V 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness” (this is a simile, Nicodemus, are you paying attention??) so must the Human one be lifted up…

Just as God brought healing to rebellious, doubting, complaining people bitten by snakes (remember that from the Torah, Nicodemus?)
So must I (Jesus) be lifted up for your healing.

This image of the Crucifixion is on our minds in this Lenten journey. From the other side of Holy Week and Easter, we can superimpose the image of Christ on the cross, Christ first being raised and suspended on the transverse beam of the cross. Dying there. Being buried. And then, on Easter morning, Christ being lifted up, resurrected from the grave.

But even though we are still in Lent, we must not forget that Jesus being lifted up includes the action of the Ascension, of Christ’s return to the right hand of God, a place of power and judging. We must reflect on the exalting, the empowerment that Christ gave us through the Holy Spirit, to effect change in ourselves and in our world. We are lifted up from where we live in the struggle and frustration of day-to-day sin and pain. Where it is far too easy to say, “Lord, no. Not again!”

This choice we must consider, one of believing and choosing to live empowered lives, Holy Spirit lives, is the process of following Christ. If we share in this life with God, we are “lifted up” people. We experience the same love of the covenantal God for the people of Israel. We are relationally drawn to God, and to one another, and how we live out our faith should demonstrate to the world around us that we are CHANGED!

THE CHURCH

Where do we take this message of healing and mercy and hope and grace, Church? How does it impact our lives personally?

One of the problems with the Gospel message is that it seems to have two classes of people: the IN crowd, and the OUT crowd. The Jesus people and those… SINNERS. The people who love light and the people who love DARKNESS. If we are people of redemption, people who want to demonstrate love and forgiveness, what do we do with this?

First – can we bring light to the darkest situations around us?

As a church, you already do – donating food, helping the homeless, providing safe clothing for children, and volunteering in many other places around the community. Who have you ignored? Who are you too uncomfortable to go and serve? We all have our areas of challenge and are ill at ease. Who are you choosing to NOT serve?

As a person, just walking around the planet, what could you do? Who can you listen to, provide safe haven for? Whose voice needs yours to amplify its cause? Many times we sit by, silently, and shake our heads and say, “oh that’s a shame.” (I do it, too.) Our youth, like the ones in Parkland, Florida, are showing us the power of a few voices. They are bringing the light of their very lives into a very dark conversation. And we can do that, too. We can bring our voices alongside others who are marginalized and ignored.

Second – Can you expose the lies of darkness for what they are?

When wicked things come into the light, it is hard to stand the stench that they bring. Our first response is to shudder and look away. Snakes. On a plane. UGH NO THANKS. But someone, like Samuel Jackson, in the film Snakes on a Plane, has to lead. (spoiler alert!) You might have to yell at people to strap in, and then punch a hole in the side of the plane so that the snakes get sucked out… and people can live.

That “stench” may be how you feel about politics… and as pastor, I can NOT tell you who to vote for. But I CAN tell you that you need to examine the deeds of politicians as they are brought to the light. And then use your gift of citizenship to campaign and vote.

Third – and perhaps the hardest – can you, in your heart of hearts, experience change? Can you embody the love of God – a love that, as we learned in John 3:16, “so loved the world” that Christ was sent for us?

How does that change express itself? Perhaps it is in realizing who God loves and how God loves them. In the gospel of John, it was the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritan woman at the well.

For us, it is a Love Unknown… A way of caring for people we don’t really know, but who we think are not love-able by God.

There’s the people we might be so quick to condemn because of their life choices… “for God so loved…”
Or the people who have seemingly rejected God… “for God so loved”
The people who sit beside us in the pews… “for God so loved”
The people we work with (and sometimes disagree with us)… “for God so loved”

God demonstrated love through Christ to us, not because we understood it, but because our humanity, our stubbornness, our sinfulness demanded it.

That’s grace.

That’s mercy.

That’s God.

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me;
love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake,
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

-Samuel Crossman

Book Review: Raising White Kids

Book Review and Give-Away! (see below)

Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), hardcover, 306 pages.

raisingwhitekidsThis is a must-read book for white parents, educators and adults — and even if you are not a parent! The dominance and ignorance of white America has contributed to the racial tensions and injustice today. This book will help you unpack where you can and should change.

As a pastor and former educator, I know first hand that there IS a difference in how children are treated in the classroom. Non-white children frequently receive accelerated classroom disciplinary action, are less likely to be offered classes of academic challenge, and not given a “pass” for bad behavior choices.

As a white, suburban-dwelling wife and mother of two white children, I also know that despite our efforts to expose our children to a variety of experiences and people, we were far from perfect (and frequently made many of the parenting errors mentioned in this book!)

Since the election of our 45th President, I have become acutely aware of the disparity and prejudice faced by persons of color, particularly immigrants, undocumented workers and Blacks. Add to that a lack of intentional intersectionality in the public arena, from Congress to Cub Scouts, and the reasons for racial tension between us are clear. From criticisms of The Women’s March to the #MeToo movement1, the disengaged and unaware actions of white Americans have not helped the situation.

And I am one of them.

This book is written to help white parents in the challenges of parenting in an increasingly diverse, increasingly divided America. Racial tension is here. Chanting slogans and wishing  divisions would go away will not help. There is a lot left to do to dismantle racist thinking, and proactively work against racist laws and their enforcement.

Several of the vignettes shared by the author, Jennifer Harvey, parallel some of my own parenting experiences. She recounts innocent questions from her child in a public space about a person of color, and not always rising above her own anxiety to help them learn from their questions and their experience. She also brought to mind instances where, in encouraging my children to be respectful of others, I did not engage or teach them about systemic racism.

Harvey’s book is laid out with “Takeaways” at the end of every chapter. These would make great discussion points for a book club or honest conversation between white and Black parents. I wish I had her wisdom in hand when my children, now in their 20s, were in public school!  The “Takeaways” also help clarify the main points of every chapter (for those of us who need a review on a regular basis.)

There were two main areas that I found most helpful. First, Harvey is careful to explain why this is not about “equality” but about injustice. She identifies the main problems with “color-blind” parental approaches, which do not combat racist practices and biases. Instead, she emphasizes race-conscious parenting, suggesting that white parents notice and name issues of race “early and often,” and use age and developmentally-appropriate words and methods. As Harvey explains, the “color-blind” mindset allows a child “to just keep breathing in ‘society’s smog’ without benefit of a face mask.” (p. 35) Raising race-conscious children helps them see how and why our words and actions are perceived as racist.

The real and most truthful questions, I think, are what our children are going to teach us if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to make it possible for them to do so. And what might they teach us if we then slow down and listen to them when they try?
from: Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. (p. 256)

I hesitate to highlight one chapter over the others (because I gained some significant knowledge from all of them), but I especially appreciated Chapter 4: Do we have to call it Racism? In this chapter, Dr. Harvey helps shape the conversation about racism by encouraging parents to explore kids’ experiences through naming, acknowledging and examining them, and remembering that we are on a journey of self-discovering and change. She suggests not just teaching about racism, but being explicit about “white peoples participation in racism.” (p. 160).

The book includes several pages of resources, some of which I have personally used, and others that I have added to my links. There are also books, organizations, curricula, and organizations which will help you in the ongoing work of raising color-conscious, caring children and impacting your own engagement with our world. (Care to read the Forward? Check it out here!)

As a pastor in a predominantly white congregation, finding ways to have this conversation is now increasingly important. We cannot ignore the ways our society has crafted a schism between white America and persons of color. Living out The Gospel demands we hold one another accountable for the ways in which we treat one another, and in particular, the ways in which we do not honor the Imago Dei (image of God) in one another. Racism, at its core, is refusing to honor a human being created in God’s image, even though they may go through life and look/cook/dress/worship/speak differently than we do.

God help me. Change starts with me. And you.

Now, about that GIVE-AWAY! Would you like to read this book? I have a copy to share and I’ll pay the postage if you live in the continental US. Comment below or on my Facebook page or Twitter (if we are connected that way) and I’ll draw a name on March 10th!

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1 The #MeToo movement was created by Tarana Burke in 2006 and she deserves the credit for organizing and empowering girls and women of color to fight back against sexual harassment. It was co-opted by white women, who have since credited her with beginning this work.


Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Jennifer Harvey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017. Hardcover: 306 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501856426

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The 63rd Day

It’s the 63rd Day of Christmas. I counted.

I’ve changed vestments from Advent to Ordinary time to Lent.

I’ve had the flu, traveled to a conference, and worked too many hours, and have been so tired that One More Chore wasn’t gonna happen. The Christmas tree stayed up.

Then February came. It was time to watch The Olympics as any dedicated couch potato would do, and lead the Ash Wednesday service. And a family member had minor surgery.

But that was not enough! I procrastinated on tax preparation (that’s almost done) and ignored the vacuuming until the dust bunnies picketed me. I have several sewing projects piled high. To keep my mind sharp, I am reading three books at once. My ability to find things to do except for that one task I MUST do is legendary.

How do I know this? It’s simply that, finally, on the 63rd Day of Christmas, we took down the tree. I think that to celebrate my birthday in June, we’ll put the boxes away.

I just wanted to let you that besides making procrastination an art form, I’m a real human being who loves Jesus and hates certain chores.

As you were.