Friday, October 26, 2012

Take back the night

In honor of last night's marking of "Take Back the Night" and the brave survivors of sexual assault, rape, violence, and abuse that spoke, grieved, and continue to seek healing, a prayer:

God of love,
Shatter our silence with words of truth, with works of justice, with songs of hope,
Bring your light into the darkness, into the unspoken, the hidden, the cowering fear,
In our anger, bring change,
In our sadness, bring peace,
In our words, may others find community.
Break our hearts for what breaks yours, and into our broken places, bring your healing.
Remind us that our cracks are what lets the light in, so let our scars be a way of connecting with you and sharing your love with those who are grieving.
Let us not live in fear, but courage and hope and strength.
Help us to stand, one day at a time, and each day stand a little straighter and stronger.
Surround us with your loving presence so that we are never alone.
When we question your absence and your uninvolvement, let us feel your tears and know your suffering for us and with us.
May our sorrows be the beginning of healing for ourselves, our sisters, and our world.
In your compassionate name we pray,

photos from Hollins University's CASA (sexual assault survivor assistance) clothesline project, 
October 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Like throwing spaghetti at the wall

I'm the type of person, who, when confronted with a problem, heads to the nearest library to get a stack of books with the answers.  Parenthood has been the greatest tester of my skills, and so I've read approximately 1013 books on getting your kids to sleep through the night, and more recently, at least a 205 on "the strong willed child(ren)".  You would think I would have figured it all out by now.  Sigh.

It seems that life itself is an exercise in trial and error.  I'm sure that's pretty self-evident to most, but I like it nice and tidy, with a nice set of rules and a "if you do _____, then ____ will happen" set of expectations and outcomes.  Instead of my sets of organized plans, it's more a task of throwing spaghetti at the walls and seeing what sticks.

As a parent, my days are full of so many instructions and reminders ("Chew with your mouth closed!  Say you're sorry.  No sitting on the table.  Take your shoes off.  That's inappropriate.  Do your homework.  Go to SLEEP!!) that I'm sure I start to sound like the wah wah teacher on Charlie Brown.  I never know when they're really listening until they surprise me.  Recently, on a short stop in Williamsburg (short because we needed a diversion for the grumpy travelers in the backseat), we were browsing in a toy store.  Brady picked up something and asked what it was.  It was a colonial firearm of some sort and I told him it was a gun.  He put it down gently and said, "I know we can't have that" without me even having to explain, for once.

In the car on the way to church the other day, the kids were adding to the ever growing Christmas list (in spite of our efforts to derail our consumerism).  Brady was arguing for a Kindle Fire and spouted off lots of reasons why he wanted one ending with the convincing, "You can also read books on them."  Maryn was quick to chime in, "Yeah, it will help me learn to read."  Just as if they had rehearsed their strategy.  Brady even explained to Maryn how they would have to give up their current game system (a Christmas gift of years past) as he knows we have to give something away to get something new.

Ministry has its own parallels.  I wish that I could find a system, a method, a strategy that would draw seekers and meet their needs.  But ministry is relational, and relationships are messy and unpredictable.  And yet, God works through the mess, continually providing new connections and new inspiration.  Not everything "sticks", but sometimes the important things do.

I'm thankful for the uncertain, never ending, yet hopeful process of work.  As I heard the great preacher Fred Craddock once pray,

"God, we are grateful for work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.  Amen"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An acceptable sinner

In support of my friends on National Coming Out Day...may you feel God's love and acceptance on the journey, and find many allies along the way.  Count me as one.

I thank God that I'm an "acceptable" sinner.  My life is pretty easy.  I can sit in the pew and not risk condemnation.  I can preach, and be relatively sure that people aren't judging my lifestyle (or even investigating it too closely).  I'm considered a good person and not many people question that.

I thank God that losing your temper isn't preached on that often.  I yell way more than I intend to.  I may be calm and patient to those with whom I work and serve, but unfortunately my family bears the brunt of my impatience and frustration.

I thank God that judging others isn't looked down upon.  In fact, we Christians do pretty well at that and remain pretty smug in how we help God decide who is right and who is wrong (and I mean this on both sides of the political and social spectrum).

I thank God that struggling for perfection is highly lauded in our society and culture, even though I get the nagging sense that God would frown in disapproval over the time I spend worrying how my actions will be perceived by others instead of wondering What Would Jesus Do.

I thank God that I was born a heterosexual.  It's so much easier this way.  I don't have to struggle with my identity or worry how I will be received in society.  I don't have to fear losing my job or be denied benefits just for whom I choose to love.  I don't have to argue for my choices with people who don't even know me or my background.  I don't have to worry, as a Christian, whether I will deny my heart and live a celibate life, or deny God's word and "live in sin."  I don't have to worry about being a poster child for an issue that is deeply political and religious and personal.

Thank God I can be me, with my only worries and stresses being those I bring on myself.

Dear God, help those who have real and daily struggles, with identity, with inclusion, with faith, and with finding their place in such a polarized and hateful world.  May God's love shine upon them.  May that light shine through me.

(and Dear God, help this to be received with all the love I intend, even as it is a little tongue in cheek.  Help me to be brave to stand up for those I love and support even when I know not all will agree. )

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Freya love

Walking shadows, lit by the light within
and candles.
Crunching leaves in a march that surrounds the campus with hope.
You are held in the light of community,
you are surrounded by love.
We are more in our connection than in our individuality.
We are never alone.


Freya Walks
Freya Walks take place on nights of special events or issues. Members of this secret society walk at night to call attention to or celebrate current events. They wear black-hooded robes to protect their anonymity and carry candles to symbolize hope. Since 1903 Freya has sought to emphasize the notion that "concern for the community is a creative and active force."

Tonight, Freya walks in memory of Klaus Phillips, Professor of Film and German language and Brandon Brown.
Freya walks in a spirit of tolerance and community for the entire Hollins sisterhood, past and present.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moments of parenthood beauty

His small hand grasps mine and we walk down the road.  He picks the direction, and as we walk, he talks.  He opens up about his day, which is rare, and instead of "I don't remember" or a sigh and "Why do you always ask me so many questions?" it's "Hey, Mom, guess what?" and I hear the real reasons he got in trouble at school for the first time all year.  We stop to look at lichens on the tree branch, and he asks about the plants we see (and I'm tempted to make up names like his daddy does when I don't know).  He is glad to be walking with me, and there's no place I'd rather be.

I visit him at school for lunch, and even though he knows I'm coming, when he sees me at the bottom of the steps, his face lights up like Christmas.  And in between the boys posturing their coolness, my little boy runs and jumps straight into my arms, covering my face with kisses.  I feel like a celebrity as he drags me around, introducing me to everyone in the cafeteria, "This is my Mommy!"  And though the cafeteria smell takes me back twenty years to times of awkward isolation, suddenly I feel cool for the first time in my life.

She sits behind me in the car and chatters about her day and her friends.  Sometimes, she speaks so properly and grown up for a four-year-old that I have to hide a smile, or she would become embarrassed.  This morning, she reminded me as I was getting shoes that I "needed socks as well".  And when she was asking for clarification she said, "Am I correct in that we went there yesterday?"  She grows before my very eyes and sometimes I don't recognize her for her blaze of beauty and confidence.  But I know her in the shriek of excitement when I open the door every evening and that sweet smile that lights up her brilliant blue eyes.

These are the moments I want to freeze time and savor.  I want to replay these when the hurtful words and tearful tantrums make me fear that nothing we are trying to teach them is sinking in.  I want to hold their tender hearts in mine and be reminded that their sweetness, not their anger, is really who they are at the core.  I need to see this beauty when the chore of getting through the day seems an insurmountable task.  I want to feel their strength, confidence, and resilience when I fear sending them out into the big, bad world.  I want to know, deep down in my soul, that every day is oh so beautiful, just the way it is.  Let me love them just for who they are, even in the moments that aren't so profoundly sacred.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Who is Not Busy

I recently had a conversation with a student in which I confessed that I had not been practicing what I preach.  I feel that my calling as the university chaplain at a small yet bustling and stressed campus is to be a minister of sanctuary, providing the space, opportunities, and reminders for all to find Sabbath to rest, pause, breathe, and to care for their souls.  It is hard to fight against a culture that measures success by how much we get done, and a rite of passage to complain about how busy we are.  As I was preparing for this new school year, I heard the still small voice inside my heart reminding me to stop.  To do less.  To be more.    And yet, in each interview for my position, I was asked what MORE I would be doing, which NEW programs I would add IN ADDITION TO what I was already doing.  And the loud and numerous voices overpowered that still small voice within.

I scheduled an array of programs, one for every day of the week.  I have been visible and have had well-attended programs.  I have reached more students and developed deeper connections.  I have been able to minister and share God's love.  But I have not been able to rest.  I have hopped from one activity to the next until my brain is a jumble and my body is at the point of collapse.  And after several tearful nights of taking home work in order to plan for the next day's events, I've realized that I can't keep going at this pace.  I am exhausted.  And I'm not modelling the rest and peace that I want students to value.

I've made my commitments, though, and I can't see anything that can be surrendered at this point (certainly not my sweet family, who is seeing less and less of me).  But I know my focus and my attitude must be adjusted, and I must find Sabbath in whatever pockets of time I can.  I've been working to shut my door more when I need that boundary to process and plan, and yet, I also appreciate the renewal that visiting with my students can bring.  Sometimes human interaction is strangely just what this introvert needs.  I have been trying to walk weekly with a minister friend, giving us time to catch up.    Lunch dates with my handsome husband are always good for my heart and spirit.  And when I truly need to hide and have some "me" time, sneaking away to the library to catch up on a little reading is always a treat.  Running as often as I can and my weekly yoga class allow me to care for my body and renew my energy.  And I've canceled one event this weekend (with some prodding from my students) so that I can take a much anticipated trip to the beach with my family.

I realized, though, that I can't always control my schedule or its demanding pace.  A minister's job is full of unplanned crises.  So I must learn to somehow find calm in the midst of my busyness.  I've been reading a book entitle One Who is Not Busy: Connecting with work in a deeply satisfying way.  It uses some Buddhist koans and meditation exercises to teach the principle of "simultaneous inclusion" which is the ability to be both "busy" and "not busy" simultaneously, finding focus and flow in our work so that we find pleasure in each task we complete and doing everything with our whole heart.  This is the antithesis of multitasking; instead, it is about applying singular focus to what we need to work on right now.  It involves not classifying tasks into "work", "home", or "pleasure", but engaging all of life in a flow.

Many studies have shown that true contentment comes from living in the moment, not anticipating what is to come, or longingly holding on to the past.  The trouble is that the present is often stressful and messy, especially in a household of two young children.  There are tantrums and lessons to be learned.  There is noise and clutter.  Something always needs to be fixed or explained or taken care of.  But I'm seeing more and more in my children's insistent voices is what they really need is for me to stop and listen.  One exhausting night, my daughter was insistently repeating, "listen to me, listen to me!" over the clamoring of her brother, and when I finally did, she took my face in her hands and just looked into my eyes.  Nothing else needed to be said.

It's a journey for me, but I'm working on embracing the William Morris quote I found while reading Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home:  
"The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life." 

I'll start now, with this moment...