Sunday, October 26, 2014

Marriage poem after almost thirteen years

Thirteen years ago my frog prince and I paraded out of the church hand in hand as husband and wife. 

Here's a little poem to celebrate:

children sleeping
dishes drying
laundry folding
summer planning
my family
          your family
                    our family
pin points on the map
we can not please or be with them all
our words begin to hurt
voices rising
time to brush clenched teeth
sheets rustling
children whimpering
I say they peed
You say they’re fine
talking in circles we get no closer
upstairs the girls are wide legged frogs
dreaming soundly on wet lily pads
you carry them down and peel off the wet
then slide on the dry gowns
and lay them on our bed
I strip urine soaked sheets
breathe in a kiss of
damp hair on sweaty foreheads
we stake a claim
to either side of
these sleeping proofs of love made
washing machine fills and agitates
I ask if I can warm
my cold feet on you
and you say yes
 as always
our feet touch
I say
I love you
I do

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This path towards becoming a writer

Last January Helena called and asked if my son could spend a week in Canada with their family in the summer.  Helena had allowed me to write the story of their son Adam who had died in a farming accident. It was the first piece I ever published (outside of newsletters).  Our families have stayed in touch through letters, phone calls and prayers.  We wondered over the phone on how we could get our family to Minnesota so that they could meet us there and bring our son back to Canada.  I started to plan a road trip from Georgia to Minnesota.....if only I could find a way to buy only one plane ticket for him and get a free plane ticket home from Minnesota.... and something for me to do for a week....

In February there was a small blurb in Conspire magazine about an all expenses paid writing workshop led by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove called "Writing to Change the World" in, you guessed it, Minnesota.  Well, I thought, I want to learn more from Jonathan and I want my writing to change the world and I want my son to spend a week in Canada and this could get me to Minnesota.  So, I applied.

In April I was accepted!  The Collegeville Institute is a gem of a place that has nurtured writers like Kathleen Norris, Parker Palmer, Laura Winner, Krista Tippet and now little old me.

We spent May and June planning the road trip: camping at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, visiting friends and  family reunion in Chicago, staying with my husband's extended family in Minnesota, planning for my mom and dad to care for our daughters in Ohio and for Michael to drive back to Georgia.  We got our son a passport and signed and notarized a letter for our friends to drive him across the border.

In mid-July we took the trip which is another story in and of itself.

All that planning so that for one week in August I could sit with 12 other writers and say, yes, I want to keep paying attention and listening and adding my voice to the conversation.  I want to be a writer.

What brought me here?  I wanted a way to get to Minnesota so that my son could go to Canada for a week.

My son and daughters and husband all had wonderful times scattered across the continent in Manitoba, Ohio and Georgia respectively.  For one week they managed just fine without me doing their laundry, cooking or telling them what to do.

That week may not have changed the world but it changed me.  It might only be an hour or two a week, but I have resolved to keep writing.  I want to write to figure out what I think and hope that might help others along too.  I want to write even if I don't have all the answers.

It connected me to a wonderful little community of people that want to write too and they have invited me to share in their conversations.

Many of our workshop folks have written or write for Red Letter Christians. Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, Paige Cordial Brtiney Winn Lee, Joshua Hearne, and DL Mayfield have all written really beautiful and though provoking things in that blog to help us along in following Jesus. Here are my posts on the long term psychological impact of police misconduct and the humbling work of parenting.

Danielle Mayfield (who I admire immensely and I can't wait to read her new book) invited me to write in her blog about "The Book That Changed My Life"  Since I wrote this essay I've thought of many others like Beyond the Rat Race by Art Gish, Left To Tell by Imacculee Iligabiza, With Our Own Eyes by Don Mosley 12 Marks of a New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin,  Celtic Daily Prayer the list goes on... Maybe I'll write about them another day.

Because of my community's work with refugees from Sudan I got to attend a preview of the film the Good Lie this summer and I wrote a review about it. Danielle encouraged me to offer it to Christ and Pop Culture and here it is.

Lydia Wylie Kellerman started a blog called Radical Discipleship and invited me to write for that.  I have gone back and forth about what I think regarding gay marriage and the church.  Meeting Lydia really pushed me over the fence. When I met her I instantly valued her voice and saw her as a fellow mom and sister in Christ.  Then I realized that she is married to a woman and is part of an affirming Christian community.  That friendship  has pushed me over the fence.  This is what I wrote about going to a revival and hearing a pastor preach against gay people and Christians that love and welcome them.  Walter Wink was a genius and I appreciate his liberating read of the Bible.

So, there it is.  I schemed a way to get a free plane ticket home from Minnesota so that my son could go to Canada. In the process I've decided to go ahead and keep writing and see where it leads me next! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The dogged faith of the Syro Phonecian woman

This is a reflection I just shared with Jubilee today on Matthew 15:21-28, the lectionary reading for today:

Maybe every week the news is bad, but this week has seemed especially turbulent- the riots in Ferguson, MO, ongoing violence in Gaza, the war in South Sudan, children and families languishing in the militarized zone of the US Mexico border.

When I read the gospel passage for this Sunday I groaned, “Oh no, not the one where Jesus seems like a real jerk!”  How could I make sense of this passage that has always left me and lots of others befuddled?  How could I even read a passage where Jesus apparently drops a slur on a foreign woman during this time when relationships between nations and races are exceptionally tense? Maybe I would just skip it altogether, it is not like we have to follow the lectionary or have a thoughtful reflection at every worship service.   We could just go heavy on the songs and prayers, read the psalm about unity and leave it at that.

So, I said to my husband that we would just have a long prayer service because I didn’t want to tackle the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman.   He said, “Oh, I just read Kenneth Bailey’s commentary on it in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes,” and he tossed me the book that his parents had given us for Christmas.  So with the help of that gift, a little book by Elton Trueblood called The Humor of Christ, and more on-line commentaries than I care to mention, I seized the opportunity to take on the challenge.  Between visiting with old friends, getting my kids off on their first day of school, cleaning bathrooms, peeling pears, snapping beans, hanging laundry and washing dishes, I took some time to be reminded about just how good Jesus is. It is now clear to me and I hope to you by the time I am done that Jesus is definitely not a jerk, even in this story.  

 Jesus calls all people to unity in him. This is very good news, especially during a week like this.

Before we tackle the story from Matthew, let’s look at the context of the other lectionary passages for today.  In Genesis 45 we see Joseph forgiving his brothers in Egypt.  The tables have turned and the one who was sold as a slave now has the power to destroy or help his starving family.  After shutting the door and weeping so loudly that everybody can hear, he calls his brothers to him and says, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph’s tears on his brother’s necks, mingling with their tears on his neck are like the precious oil running down over the robe collar in Psalm 133; the oil of unity that restored these men as brothers after circumstances that could have sealed them as eternal enemies. Today’s reading from Isaiah 56 says: “Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed……for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered."

 So, if the Old Testament themes for this week point to forgiveness, unity, and gathering people together why are we given this Gospel passage in which a woman seeking healing for her demon possessed daughter seems to be humiliated? Remembering that Jesus is the embodiment of compassion and that all scripture points us to that truth, let’s look at the story together:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."

Jesus and his disciples have entered a gentile community and this woman has gone further than even his disciples at this point by publicly calling Jesus “Lord, Son of David.”  She declares him to be Messiah- which Bailey points out is very unexpected for a gentile woman.  He has gotten her attention because through her greeting she has shown him that she knows just who He is.  
Bailey sites eleventh century doctor theologian Ibn al-Tayyib who notes that the mother cries out “Lord have mercy on me.” Bailey notes “the caregiver is at the end of her rope and also needs healing.”

But he did not answer her at all. 

His silence was typical for a Rabbi in that context.  According to the social laws Jesus the rabbi would not be expected to speak to woman and a gentile.  But why did he speak to the Samaritan woman at the well but not this woman?  Jesus, the one who healed on the Sabbath and touched the lepers was not one to uphold societal expectations.  I wonder if his silence could have been a time of prayer.  Maybe he realizes that this encounter would be remembered by his disciples and he was careful about just how to respond.  His disciples interpret his silence as disapproval so they say:

 "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."

Just as they asked Jesus to send the children away from him, they felt the same way about her: she doesn’t belong, they don’t want to be bothered.
So Jesus puts into words what they all must be thinking
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Thus begins a dialogue that can be seen as an exam. Bailey interprets these words as the beginning of a test for this woman who has already shown courage and wisdom. As a good teacher Jesus wants to draw out her strengths even more.
  According to Bailey, Jesus is teaching his disciples by voicing and exposing their deep prejudices. They interpret his words as “Of course I want to get rid of her! We have no time for such female Gentile trash.” Meanwhile the woman is challenged to stay in the conversation and not go away because she believes that Jesus will heal her and therefore he does not mean what  he says.

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
Grieving parents of tormented children will not go away.  Like the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina or the mother of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and all the other mothers around the world whose children are oppressed by powers and principalities- be that mental illness, demon possession, addiction, systemic oppression and violence, miseducation- they have already had their hearts torn open, they have nothing left to lose or fear. Mothers will do anything to get help for their kids. Whether it means a modern mother sitting on hold for hours on end as she navigates mental health care bureaucracy, or suffering through miscarriages of justice that lead to mass incarceration, sending her kids unaccompanied into the US, and enduring social stigma as this woman surely did, mothers of hurting children have got to be tough.  They also are bearing an incredible burden that can sometimes feel worse than what their children are enduring.  They will humiliate themselves for the sake of their children.  They and their children have already been treated like trash, they can’t get any lower.  Things cannot get any worse.  She saw in Jesus hope for healing and she would stop at nothing to get it.

Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Really Jesus, you said that to her?
In The Humor of Christ, Elton Trueblood says:
“If there is a harder problem than this in the New Testament interpretation we do not know what it is.”  I take great comfort in knowing that even people who have spent way more time on this than I have find this to be a particularly challenging bit of scripture. He goes on, “Taken at its face value the sentence is rude and contemptuous.  Above all, it is at complete variance with the general picture of Christ which we receive from the rest of the Gospel, particularly in connection with the poor and needy…..As it stands alone, the situation is intolerable, but perhaps the completion of the dialogue can provide us with a clue”
Here, Trueblood points out, “We must remember that words are made very different in connotation by the tone of the voice and by the look in the eye of the speaker.  There are things which we can say with a smile, but which cannot be said, without offense, with a straight face.”
Bailey sees this as part two of the exam.  He says what the disciples are thinking, “Jesus is only for Jews.” Because he trusts, that of all people, this woman has the wit and the tenacity to prove them wrong and thus make clear his purpose to spread his healing and love to every corner of the earth.  Bailey says “is her love for her daughter, her faith that Jesus has the power of God to heal, her confidence that he has compassion for Gentiles and her commitment to him as Master/Lord so strong that she will absorb the insult and press on, yet again with her request?”  

 She knows that Jesus loves her and so kneeling at his feet she says, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

She has touched upon a mystery of our faith: The stone that the builder rejected shall be the cornerstone; from discarded crumbs Jesus is feeding his people and growing his kingdom; there is healing in a single thread of his garment, in the spit from his mouth, the sound of his voice and even the crumbs from his table.  His grace, even if it comes as crumb, is all sufficient.

Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. 

In humble, relentless trust in God’s infinite goodness she laid her burdens at the feet of Jesus and healing came.  Can we do the same? How does this story speak to our broken world today?

Joseph and the Syro-Phoenician Woman both responded in love rather than resentment.  They both had every right to hold onto anger and bitterness but instead they chose the path of love.  Joseph’s brothers and Jesus disciples were forever changed by the love shown in those stories.  Our liberation and healing is bound up in the liberation and healing of our enemies.  By exposing the evil thoughts of his disciples Jesus offers them a path to transformation.  By using and thus taking away the power of hurtful words to hurt Jesus does far better than lessons in political correctness that might change language but never expose or eradicate the rottenness of our hearts and thoughts.

Are we willing to be humble – to face humiliation- before the Lord and before others for the sake of healing?   People that were trained for sit-ins and freedom rides sat through mock sessions of verbal abuse and ridicule so that they would have the courage to endure the genuine cruelty they encountered.  Jesus was despised, rejected and acquainted with grief.  He saw in the Syro-Phonecian woman a sister who felt his pain and the pain that was to come.  He offered her healing in that moment but the story did not stop there.  Immediately following that encounter he told his disciples to feed thousands with a few fish and small loaves of bread.  There was enough.  Later, He said to his disciples take this bread, and this cup, my body and my blood and let me live in you.  In his final hours he endured every insult and injury so that we would stop insulting and injuring one another.  He invites us into a new way of living in and through his body and blood.  Just a crumb, just a drop of faith is enough.

In her article "A National Shame" in the August Sojourners, printed before the Ferguson debacle, Ruby Sales exposes the tragedy of unarmed black youth being killed by police. In 1965, when Ruby was 17 a deputy sheriff in Alabama leveled a gun at her and her friend, a white man named Jonathan Daniels, took the bullet intended for her and died instantly.  The murderer was acquitted by an all white jury.  After Jonathan Daniels’ murder Ruby could not speak for seven months. But then she found her voice and went on to seminary, the very Episcopal seminary that her friend had been attending when he was killed.  She has dedicated her life to being a voice for human rights.  In her article she asked the prophetic question, “What does it mean to be church in the 21st century when too many of our black brothers and sisters are still seen as disposable waste?” 

 She didn’t offer any easy answers except the assurance that we are all beloved children of God.   Do we believe that of ourselves and our neighbors both seen and unseen? Do we see and treat ourselves and others as beloved children of God? If Jesus were to speak and bring to the light all the prejudice that we try to cover up would we be humbled and transformed.  Would we have the courage of his disciples to write it down even if it makes us squirm? In the face of insults and injury can we be like Christ? Would we respond like Jonathan Daniels or Jesus Christ and lay down our life for our friends? When we cry out in prayer and are faced with silence, do we keep praying? Do we trust that Jesus and his provision are truly enough?  Is there room in our hearts for a mustard seed or a crumb of faith to take root and make miracles in our own lives and communities? Are we relentless in our prayers and our pursuit of Christ no matter the cost?

I have no other hope for this world but the poor, homeless, rejected man named Jesus who smiled as his healing flowed to that mother and daughter.  May it be so for all the rejected, hurting souls throwing themselves at his feet.  By God’s grace, may we grow closer to Jesus through this story of the faith of the Syro Phonecian woman.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Standing against capital punishment

This evening I joined about 25 people ranging in age from 18 months to 94 years old on the steps of the University of Georgia for a prayer vigil.  About 20 came from our community and there were a few folks from Athens there.  We unfurled a large banner that read, "Did you Know that the state of Georgia is planning to Kill Marcus Wellons tonight?" Smaller signs read, "Choose Life," "RIP Death Penalty" and "Execution is not the Solution." I stood with a sign that read, "Let the One without Sin Cast the First Stone" beside a friend who survived the Khmer rouge in Cambodia. She propped up a large banner that read "Execute Justice not People."We just stood there in the heat on the street, bearing witness to the fact that while we go about our business a man will be strapped to a gurney and have his life taken by lethal injection.  We wanted people to stop and think, "This is wrong."  Some people asked a few questions.  A few folks took pictures.  Some glared or looked puzzled, most gave affirming smiles and nods. 
From what I have heard, Marcus Wellons has changed a lot since the day he raped and murdered his fifteen year old neighbor.  The biggest change has been his growth as a follower of Jesus. What a tragedy that our society favors vengeance over redemption, recompense over forgiveness.  It seems to cheapen a belief that Jesus died for our sins if we support killing people for any sins.  Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing.
The vigil we attended was one of many across the state, organized by Georgians for Alternatives to of the Death penalty any day that an execution is scheduled in Georgia.  Find out more about their important work here
For more information about the death penalty this is a good

We closed our vigil by reading this prayer written by --Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.:
Please join in praying for the victim's family, Marcus Wellons and his family, especially his mom, and the warden who will have to carry out the orders.
A Prayer to Abolish the Death Penalty
God of Compassion,
You let your rain fall on the just and the unjust.
Expand and deepen our hearts
so that we may love as You love,
even those among us
who have caused the greatest pain by taking life.
For there is in our land a great cry for vengeance
as we fill up death rows and kill the killers
in the name of justice, in the name of peace.
Jesus, our brother,
you suffered execution at the hands of the state
but you did not let hatred overcome you.
Help us to reach out to victims of violence
so that our enduing love may help them heal.
Holy Spirit of God,
You strengthen us in the struggle for justice.
Help us to work tirelessly
for the abolition of state-sanctioned death
and to renew our society in its very heart
so that violence will be no more. Amen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

mulching and the danger of reading newspapers

 I was having a conversation with a friend about the need to fast from the news at times as a spiritual exercise.  I had also just loaned her a book of poetry by women called Cries of Spirit.  She asked if I had a favorite and I said no, it depends on the moment.  She likes Margaret Atwood so we turned to the index and found this title, "It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers."  It fit our conversation perfectly.  The following week I used newspapers to mulch a weed patch near my  house where I hope to grow some black raspberries.  Here is the poem that got scribbled from the intersection of our conversation, Atwood's poem (copied at the end), and my meager attempt at being a gardener.

Margaret Atwood wrote
And I agree
It is dangerous to read newspapers

So I gather the pages
To spread over
Broken down cardboard boxes
Where I hope
Next fall
To plant black raspberries
right outside my bedroom window

Like an addict
I say
I’ll just look at this  one
story of a beloved father killed by a fallen limb

story of a murder victim’s family hoping for no parole

picture of a mother found guilty for murder of her newborn infant son
                        her pregnancy a secret
                                    his murder now public
                                                she faces life behind bars
Have you seen this missing teen? Car found burned
Or this one? Has tattoo on neck
Or this one? Has pierced navel
Or this one? May have a hair weave

I spread out the pictures of
lavender lips
and beautiful food
and premium wines
the happy couple who sold their town home in just two weeks
and all the advice
and empty crossword puzzles
never started

I cover them with warm hay
So sweet in my nose
I want to cry

and walk away

I will return in fall
I will plant black raspberries
Small sticks in the ground will look dead at first

The newspaper will
be dirt under my nails
that will wash away

And here is Margaret Atwood's poem:

It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers
While I was building neat
castles in the sandbox,
the hasty pits were
filling with bulldozed corpses
and as I walked to the school
washed and combed, my feet
stepping on the cracks in the cement
detonated red bombs.
Now I am grownup
and literate, and I sit in my chair
as quietly as a fuse
and the jungles are flaming, the under-
brush is charged with soldiers,
the names on the difficult
maps go up in smoke.
I am the cause, I am a stockpile of chemical
toys, my body
is a deadly gadget,
I reach out in love, my hands are guns,
my good intentions are completely lethal.
Even my
passive eyes transmute
everything I look at to the pocked
black and white of a war photo,
can I stop myself
It is dangerous to read newspapers.
Each time I hit a key
on my electric typewriter,
speaking of peaceful trees
another village explodes.
(by Margaret Atwood, 1939-)