24Dec

Adieu, 2012

The year is puttering to a stop. I see it in the drip-dried sky, its color and energy already spent on younger days, in the slow topple of routines as we roll into this final holiday stretch, in this gingerbread haze clinging to the silhouette of bare branches. We’re saying our final goodbyes to 2012, and I’m eager for whatever’s next, for the wide empty margins of an untouched year.

But first, there are snickerdoodles to be eaten, fuzzy Christmas Eve pajamas to be unwrapped, and stories to be read in a family heap on the couch… snowy trails to conquer and resolutions to dream up, husbands to kiss and little ones to snuggle under a rain of fireworks.

Wherever you are and however you’re spending this last week of 2012, I wish you warmth and peace and a treasure trove of golden moments lighting your way forward.

~~~

P.S. – Because, how could I not?

21Dec

Feeling…

Busy. Quiet. Mournful. Excited. Pulled into the glitter and joy and inevitable bustle of Christmas. Drawn back into the shadow and heartsickness of death. Dizzy from to-dos and not-dones (mostly the latter). Apprehensive about all the possible wrong turns a holiday can take. Tip-toeingly thrilled regardless. Heavy. Springy. Awhirl.

You?

19Dec

Above the Cloud-Line

The sun rose this morning. It rose, and I blinked and then ran for the camera because I hadn’t seen that kind of light in days. Certainly not since Friday.

After the initial gut-pounding shock and the waves of salty-wet grief and the anger carved onto journal pages and the carefully chosen conversations, I find myself in the next stage of my own post-Newtown journey: the doldrums. My soul wants nothing so much as a long nap, an utterly unconscious respite from the knowledge of evil, and my heart is trying to offset this weariness by emotionally disconnecting from it all.

I’ve stayed away from the news and social media these last two days out of fierce necessity, and now the facts of the shooting keep melting down the sides of my mind like timepieces in a Dalí painting. I can’t grasp anything. I can no longer feel the twenty-seven concurrent stabs of horror, the chest-wracking sadness, or the wild urge to do something, anything to change the way our world works. Feeling has been replaced with fog.

I know that the internal process of grief is not a matter of right way versus wrong way, yet I’m convinced I’m making a mess of it. I’m sure either that I feel too intensely, presuming a deeper connection to the victims than I have a right to, or that I feel too little, dishonoring the tragedy through numbness. I’m afraid that my timetable won’t fit into appropriate standards, that I’ll start forgetting about Sandy Hook before a mere slip of a week has passed or that I’ll be hanging onto it long after the rest of the world has laid it to rest. I don’t know when it will be okay to write about other things again, to absorb myself in this life that’s moving onward even as the lives of twenty-seven Connecticut families have shattered to a stop. At the same time, I don’t know if I should already have left them in peace.

In this swirl of unknowing, with sorrow simultaneously fresh and faraway and time playing tricks on my eyes, the sunrise is pure gift. It’s the most visual display of hope I could imagine—a light bigger than this world and beyond our ability to destroy, its effects constant even below the cloud-line, its rise after days of gray a reminder that darkness doesn’t have the final say. Ever.

17Dec

Our Right to Thumbs

As soon as I opened Facebook this morning, the site recommended two pages for me based on my friends’ likes:

Guns and Shooting.

Guns and Shooting, and my friends’ names alongside pixelated thumbs of approval. Guns and Shooting, and a Facebook feed bristling in defense of assault rifles. Guns and Shooting, and quotes from religious figures implying that God allowed the tragedy as an act of revenge on a school system that no longer sponsors him. Guns and Shooting, and the caps-locked screams of loved ones fighting for their unhindered right to weapons of destruction.

As a culture (and I speak in sweeping generalities here), we Americans have accepted that violence can only be counteracted with more violence. We see war as 100% necessary and place our hope in the Jack Bauers of the nation. We think that the only way to defend ourselves from guns is to put more guns into circulation. We claim that if only the Sandy Hook teachers had been packing heat, Friday’s tragedy would have been averted. We believe in our hearts that we will have to use deadly force against another human being at some point in our lives, so it’s best to be prepared. We state that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but we forget to count ourselves among the potential killers because we’re on the good guy team.

We respond to the massacre of twenty young children by defending the weapons that killed them.

As a child, I had fun shooting targets and small animals, and the cold cruelty of a machine made to destroy never entered my mind. Guns were just something every family kept in the coat closet. Even at university, when a classmate was expelled for stockpiling weapons and ammunition in his dorm room, I absorbed friends’ indignation on his behalf. “He would never use them to hurt anyone!” we all said. And on this point, we were probably right. My classmate enjoyed hunting, and where could he store his gear if not in his dorm room?

However, our university had rules in place to reduce the risk of mass murders, so they expelled the student who, regardless of motives, had stocked up on devices specifically designed to kill. And this is what the gun debate comes down to for me—risk reduction. No, there is no amount of legislation that will prevent psychopaths or terrorists from enacting violence. Yes, there will always be a healthy black market for weapons of destruction. Yes, people should have the right to defend themselves, especially on their own property. No, peace is never guaranteed.

But can we just step back for a moment from the mentality that violence is our birthright? Can we stop letting fear dictate our morals? Can we have the courage to take a fraction of the risk off the shoulders of innocent schoolchildren and hold it ourselves, in their stead? Rather than amending our lifestyles and outlooks and job descriptions to include more violence, can we consider amending the availability of its instruments?

I am not arguing to abolish gun ownership altogether, though my husband and I believe that as followers of Jesus, we need to take his teachings on nonviolence to heart. However, we need to talk and talk hard about why civilians are allowed to own assault machinery, why it’s easier to get bullets than to get Sudafed, and why the fiercest fight in the aftermath of Newtown is waged on behalf of the murder weapons.

We need to consider what we are saying about human life with our thumbs-up.

~~~

Further reading:

On Violence by D.L. Mayfield, who shares her thoughts on how to do radical pacifism

Breaking News, Bearing Arms by Rebecca Woolf, whose husband is with her today because of his stance on nonviolence

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This? by Nicholas Kristof, who shows that we’re more worried about regulating ladders than about regulating firearms

Speed Kills by William Saletan, who holds Friday’s tragedy up against school attacks outside the U.S.

God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule by The Onion, who brilliantly, profanely, and heartbreakingly speaks the obvious

Love Your Enemies by Jesus, who lived it

Feel free to add your own suggested links in the comments!

15Dec

Grateful to Care

Today’s my day off from writing—a day allocated for errands and ironing and all manner of riffraff that didn’t get seen to during the week. Yet I can’t not write today. I have a desperate desire to make sense of yesterday’s massacre, though I realize there is no sense to be made, nothing that could possibly make the murder of twenty young children into something as succinct and graspable as sense. Still, writing down the whirlwind in my head makes it easier to keep my footing. A little.

I have a kindergartener, and I don’t say this to claim dibs on grief or to cheapen a single facet of people’s heartache or even to play the I’m-so-glad-it-wasn’t-my-child card that has to twist dagger sharp in the ears of bereaved parents. I say it because my kindergartener trotted off to class yesterday morning hand-in-hand with a friend, their little heads bobbing in enthusiasm, and that that could have been a death march… that we live in a world where a room of bright and busy and trusting five-year-olds can be sprayed with .223-caliber slugs… it’s unendurable.

This heartbreak feels so literal, the actual sinews in my chest threatening to rip loose, and I know you’re feeling it too. We’re all breaking apart and trying to hold ourselves together in different ways, whether by anger or action or silence or advice or prayer or time with loved ones or time alone. My social media feeds are full of opposing viewpoints, but they all come from a similar ferocity of grief, and I’m comforted, like Mr. Rogers, by seeing “so many caring people in this world.”

Every one of us is shouldering a tiny portion of the pain that the Newtown parents are going through right now. Every one of us is united in grief, though we might process it very differently (and that’s ok). Evil was done yesterday, and we care. It doesn’t make sense of the violence and pain we experience to different degrees in this broken world, but it does lighten the load.

I’m grateful to care alongside you.

14Dec

Honest Bones

There’s a short story in the Bible*, barely a blip, which recounts how a man named Philip insists on his buddy Nathanael meeting his new friend Jesus. Nathanael doesn’t buy into the hype that Jesus is the legendary figure they’ve all been waiting for, but he goes along with Philip anyway and is taken by surprise when Jesus greets him with a compliment: “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”

“Where did you get that idea?” Nathanael asks. “You don’t know me.”

I imagine at this point in the story, Nathanael is feeling equal parts cynical and creeped the hell out. But then Jesus answers: “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”

And just like that, everything changes for Nathanael. He instantly recognizes Jesus as divine and joins his posse.

I can’t stop wondering what Nathanael had been doing under a fig tree that would hold such significance when brought up in conversation. It would have had to be something spiritual and deeply personal if Jesus’s noticing him translated to God noticing him, and it would have had to be something of incredible importance to Nathanael for him to know exactly which tree and which long-ago day Jesus was referring to.

Had he been wrestling with doubts? Having a meditative breakthrough? Contemplating suicide? Encountering God in a new way? Facing his life with honesty for the first time? Giving the universe an ultimatum? Feeling like he was at the end of his life? Feeling like he was finally at the beginning?

Don’t worry; this isn’t becoming a Bible study blog, and if you’re still reading, thanks for not bolting in terror at the prospect of Preacher Voice (you know what I’m talking about). It’s just that this little story lodged itself in my mind last night, and not even sleep was enough to shake it loose. I keep imagining Jesus’s expression as he said “I saw you.” Under the fig tree in that moment of personal victory or anguish, long before meeting face to face, in a state of such profound aloneness that only God could have known, I saw you.

It gives me shivers, but not the creeped-the-hell-out variety. They’re the deliciously warm shivers of knowing I’m seen. The Bible is such a complicated and mine-sown book for me that I don’t usually have this reaction to it. I’m much more likely to end up crying or furious or weary or curled into a fetal position sucking my thumb. This is not a dignified thing to admit to, especially as a churchgoer who would rather people not notice her Bible closed tight the entire service, but the contrast between forced religious devotion (hi, fundamentalism!) and Jesus is just too much a part of my life not to share.

Fundamentalism leaves no room for doubts or questions or honest soul-wrestling sessions. Its version of faith is inseparable from putting on good appearances, from reciting the script of holiness at all times. Meanwhile, Jesus says I saw you back then, under the fig tree, working through the messy realities of your own heart. I saw you, and I love your honest bones.

~~

* John 1:45-51. I quote from The Message, which is usually the only version I can read without an allergic reaction.

13Dec

For What She’s Worth

I am not an angry feminist. In fact, I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of feminist; gender inequality was never more than an infrequent blip on my radar, and part of me secretly thought that outspoken feminists were like kids whining because their friends have more toys than they do—technically correct, but irritatingly focused on the comparison game instead of gratitude for their own unique lives.

Which is why I was a little shocked to catch myself writing the following in an email to Sarah Bessey about her upcoming book, Jesus Feminist:

I grew up a pastor’s kid and have been a full-fledged member of eight separate churches, plus a visitor at many, many more, and rarely have I heard a women’s Bible study discuss anything except 1) submission, 2) homemaking à la Proverbs 31, or 3) modesty. We as women in the church do not discuss the power of our prayers. We do not discuss our spiritual gifts or how God might have uniquely equipped us to use them. We do not discuss the strong female leaders of the Bible. We do not discuss the fact that our church-approved roles as women seem to be cobbled together from a select mix of Paul’s instructions and sitcoms from the 1950s. We do not discuss the damage done to our hearts every time men in the church label our gender as defrauding, disruptive, or deceived.

No. We discuss how a too-tight shirt will cause our brothers in Christ to stumble, how assertiveness or reluctance in the bedroom will drive our husbands into sin, and how not keeping our homes in order is a matter for repentance.

Boom. Apparently I’m not as apathetic toward gender inequality as I’d thought. I know I wrote about male-female roles last week, but that was in a very personal scope, untangling my own thought processes from fundamentalism. This is something bigger. This is about a lie that is such a universal part of the human experience that we only recognize small parts of it at a time.

Like the part that says darker skin is inferior to lighter skin.

Or the part that says inhabitants of one country are inferior to those of its next-door neighbor.

Or the part that says people with empty wallets are inferior to people with 401(K)s.

Or the part that says humans with higher estrogen are inferior to humans with higher testosterone.

This lie that has so thoroughly infiltrated our way of thinking says that one category of people can be worth less than another… and nowhere is this more disheartening to see in practice than among followers of Jesus.

I grew up in a very extreme subculture of Christianity which relegated women to husband-helpers, children to automatons, and Democrats to hell-fodder. Rare varieties of prejudice thrived in that sealed-off environment, and I happily recognize that the perspectives I grew up with are not the norm. However, most mainstream churches still support the doctrine that women, by sole virtue of their gender, are less qualified than men to make decisions, offer advice, or—God forbid—lead. If a woman believes that her true gifting is that of a pastor, most Christians would either take that to mean she is deceived (Eve’s contribution to our sex) or channel her controversial calling into “acceptable” outlets, like teaching children’s Sunday School or possibly running a women’s-only group.

Most churches don’t forbid women to braid their hair, though a Bible verse speaking against that very thing is followed by a verse calling wives “the weaker partner.” The latter is accepted as God’s truth and used to demean women’s minds, skills, and hearts while the former is understood as a) metaphorical, or b) culturally irrelevant. The same thing happens over and over again throughout the pages of this book we call our foundation. I know of very few pastors who still teach that women are saved through childbirth, but the following chapter’s mandate that deacons be men is followed unquestioningly. Women are no longer required to remain silent in church, but they are usually prohibited from teaching men—which makes two different interpretations of the same verse. Reading a single line of Genesis, we latch on to the fact that woman was made to be man’s “helper” while failing to read the rest—“a helper comparable to him”—or noting that the Hebrew word for “helper” is most often used throughout the Bible in reference to God. (Providing help makes God worthy of devotion but women worthy of disrespect? Please explain the logic of this to me.)

How can we believe that both male and female reflect God’s image but the male reflection is superior? How can we think that men have individual and divinely-inspired purposes in life but that women are universally designed for one lifestyle? How can we possibly justify thinking that one soul carries more weight than another because of the body attached to it?

I see this men-lead/women-submit mentality as just another facet of the insidious lie proclaiming that some demographics have the right to lord over others. Once God’s name is attached to the lie, it becomes harder than ever to uproot… and meanwhile, women are absorbing the idea that God thinks of them as less and men are shouldering burdens that were always meant to be shared and the church is missing out on the beautiful power of men and women contributing their strengths in harmony. It’s heartbreaking and discouraging and utterly maddening… which I guess qualifies me as an angry feminist after all.

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