Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Duggar News

It was big news on social media and internet news sites - it has recently come to light that the eldest Duggar child molested four of his sisters and another young girl when he was 14 years old.

The responses have ranged from moral outrage and demands, now realized, for TLC to cancel their show, to finger pointing with shouts of "Hypocrite", to exasperation that such a fuss is being made over a mistake made so long ago, to a presidential candidate expressing his support for the family at a time when the Duggars are being attacked by the blood-thirsty media.

I don't think any of them are wrong.

Should TLC continue to air the show? I've never watched it nor do I follow the Duggars. I think it would be morally irresponsible to continue the show without addressing the realities of child sexual abuse and its aftermath. Doing so might make obvious who Josh Duggars victims are and they may not want that known.

I don't watch cable, but to a large extent, from what I've read about the types of shows TLC produces, it's not a network that should be taking on any kind of educational or advocacy role regarding childhood sexual abuse in general.

For these reasons alone, and myriad others, canceling the show was the best decision on TLCs part.

Is Josh Duggar a hypocrite? He's certainly made a name and a substantial living for himself lobbying against civil rights while pointing the finger at homosexuals as a "danger to children" while not disclosing the fact that he was at one time sexually abusing children.

But, frankly, I think hypocrisy is part of the human condition. Josh Duggar just got caught being hypocritical on a HUGE issue that affects the lives of millions of children the world over and will continue to affect their lives in many ways for years to come.

Should presidential candidates be weighing in on this issue? It might be wiser if they didn't. Is Josh Duggar being attacked by blood thirsty media? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. Most of what I've seen in the media is an honest account of what was done and how it was handled by the family and law enforcement and how it became public. The media seems to be relatively fair and balanced in this. Every news report I read from every news source I used (from cnn to huffpo to fox) reported the same basic facts in the same basic neutral tone.

The attacks largely seem to be coming from news readers commenting on the stories both on news websites as well as on social media. And for every attack against Josh Duggar, there seems to be support for him as well, calling out the liberal dems who, from one comment made, would apparently be praising Josh if he were gay and had molested his brothers instead. (Seriously, who honestly fucking believes that?)

Josh Duggar chose to live in the spotlight in a time and in a culture where no secret that involves a paper trail is ever safe from exposure. He had to have known that this outcome was not only possible, but incredibly likely, when the Duggars began their reality tv show, at a time when Josh was already 20 years old and could have opted not to be a part of the show, could have chosen out of the limelight. He didn't and his life became open to public scrutiny. He invited the American public into his life.

The reactions I find most interesting and disturbing is the jump to defending him and discounting his actions - "he was only 14," "he got help," (we can neither confirm nor deny the promise that) "he stopped," "he's apologized," "he's asked forgiveness." "At what point do we forgive people and let them move on with their lives?"

I believe in forgiveness. I believe in redemption. I believe in sanctification. And yes, Josh Duggar is forgiven by God for his sins. That's the forgiveness that matters.

But he wasn't "only 14." He was a 14 year old boy who sexually molested four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Though the police report released by InTouch magazine is heavily redacted such that the names of his victims remain unknown, his next four younger sisters would have been between eight and twelve years old.

This was not sexual exploration between two young siblings who wanted to know what the body of the "other sex" looked like. It was the repeated victimization of much younger children at the hands of their adolescent brother.

Josh Duggar clearly knew what he was doing was wrong. He waited until other family members were asleep and only when sure he would not be caught, Josh Duggar proceeded to repeatedly sexually abuse his younger sisters and an underage female known to the family.

Josh Duggar did, according to his statements and the statements of his father, get help. He was sent away for a period of time to receive therapy and do hard work. His mother's statement, however, clarifies that he was not sent to a therapeutic treatment center that helped him understand the nature of his actions and why they are inappropriate or how they harm others (a fact that stands today as made glaringly obvious by this statement to the press).

Rather, Josh was sent to the home a family friend who made Josh perform manual labor. Josh was given stern warnings, by a police officer known to the family, about what would happen if he didn't cease his behaviors. No official reports were filed and the family never followed up with the legal system in addressing the sexual abuse of four of their daughters by their eldest child. The same police officer who warned Josh about the path he was headed down is reported to be spending several years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Josh Duggar's apology to his victims may never be known. It was ostensibly made at least nine and as many as twelve years ago. But the damage he did is obvious in reading the police reports which indicate that at least one of his victims became visibly upset, burst into tears, and was offered a tissue by the investigation office when police did become involved four years after the incidents, at which time the statute of limitations was up and justice could not be obtained via legal channels.

The statement Josh Duggar made to press, and published exclusively by People magazine, however, makes clear that his actions and apologies were for himself alone. Yes, as Christians we're called to forgive. But we are also called to be accountable for our actions. Josh Duggar never in his statement accepts accountability for his actions. The words he uses do little to acknowledge the gravity of the crimes he committed.

Josh Duggar tells us that he "hurt others" and "if [he] continued down this wrong road [he] would end up ruining [his] life." Absent is any mention of the reality of what he did. He didn't "hurt others." He repeatedly sexually abused his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Josh Duggar perpetrated incestuous sexual violence against people younger and less powerful than himself.

Additionally, he makes clear that he stopped not because he recognized the extraordinary damage done to victims of sexual violence, but rather that, having been caught, he was concerned first and only about his own life and what would happen if he were caught again.

Finally, his family's response is a clear indication that the church needs to do a better job of addressing issues of sexual abuse. And the church needs to start by those familiar with and speaking in the midst of such situations naming the abuse for what it is.

Josh Duggar may have "humbled himself before God" as his wife claims, but he certainly didn't humble himself before "those whom he offended." Josh Duggar didn't "offend" four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family when he was fourteen. Josh Duggar SEXUALLY ABUSED four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family.

By failing to call Josh Duggar's action what they were, Josh Duggar is given implicit permission to continue minimizing his actions and denying the consequences in the lives of his victims.

Josh Duggar (ostensibly) stopped sexually violating his sisters and family friends when his abuse came to light and he no longer felt safe continuing in his behaviors. But what of the safety of his victims, four of whom remained living under the same roof as their abuser until he moved out and whom he continues to see on a regular basis?

And now that these revelations have forced Josh Duggar to leave his position with the Family Research Council and for TLC to cancel the show, how long until the Duggars fade from the limelight?

And with young daughters under his own roof, how long until Josh Duggar feels safe to begin sexually abusing family members once again?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Loving From a Place of Privilege

1 John 4:7-21

*****

One of the most significant challenges in preaching is taking a text that is 2,000 years removed from us and finding a way to talk about it so that it comes alive and is found to be relevant to the audience. The importance of who we are and what we do as Christians extends far beyond the hour we warm pews on a Sunday morning. It is nice, certainly, to attend a service once a week and hear the feel-good, not-so-fresh, “news” that God loves us. And love is clearly a repetitive idea in this morning’s 1 John passage.

The word “love,” or some derivation thereof, appears in our passage 29 times this morning. Twenty-nine times! That’s almost two times per verse. “Let us love one another,” “love is from God,” “God first loved us,” “God is love.”

The central point of this passage, however, is much deeper and far more significant than the warm rush of joy that often accompanies being told that one is loved. The central point of this passage is that “we have known and believe the love that God has for us.” The word “know” in this context is about more than an intellectual understanding; it means to recognize, perceive, or realize. It means that the love of God for us has been made real, experiential.

It reminds me of the time that my partner first told me that he loves me. Of course, my heart sped up a little, and my cheeks got warm as I glowed with joy and delight at hearing him profess his love. But the words had substance and were made more significant by the fact that I had already experienced his love for me - in the way he cares for me when we’re together, offers comfort when I’m anxious or sad, takes my dietary needs into account, is mindful and intentional in the way he communicates.

We know the love of God for us, not merely by words that profess God’s love for us, but rather by the realized experience of that love. The love of God for us was made real for us in the life of Jesus and his sacrificial atonement for our sins.

Atonement, in this context, means the reconciliation between God and humans; and sin is the very real issue of social and systemic injustice perpetuated by the wealthy and powerful elite - systems of oppression and injustice that still operate today.

In and through his life, Jesus exemplified the reality of God’s love for the least, over and against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy the “other.” God’s love was made real by a humble man who lived a life of service to others, seeking to call out injustice wherever he saw it, and who ultimately sacrificed his own life by standing for what was right, rather than cowering in fear on the day he was judged by the powers of this world.

To “believe the love that God has for us” means to be entrusted with that love. God’s love for us is not just something that we hear about, learn about, maybe experience in a rush of warmth and affection from time to time. It is a power with which we are entrusted. It is a gift abundantly given and a gift that we are expected to share.

Sharing the love of God means being in this world as Jesus is: standing against sin, fighting systems of oppression and injustice, speaking against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy those was are “other” than ourselves. And if we truly know - recognize, realize, experience - the love of God, we can do so without fear, because we know that at the end of all things, we stand on the side of justice, just as Jesus did, just as God does.

This does not mean, however, that such a feat will be easy. Love is about abiding - remaining with those who are oppressed.

Through the power of social media and 24 hour a day cable news-entertainment channels, we are more aware than ever of the oppressive abuses perpetuated by those in power. This has also led to a “slactivist” culture in which we can sooth our conscience, if we’re paying attention at all, by posting pithy remark of sensationalist headline on face book before our severely diminished attention span is redirected to the latest celebrity gossip or internet cat meme.

But abiding is about far more than pithy status updates on facebook or hashtags on twitter. Abiding is about a sustained effort to understand, know, and to the extent that we are able, live into the experiences of the oppressed. It is about hearing their stories and validating their experiences. It is about recognizing our own role in a system that privileges a few at the expense of the masses and continually working to change these unjust systems.

Loving others is not a sprint, a short burst of concerted effort, and where we all go home at the end of the day feeling refreshed and self-congratulatory that our voice maybe made an impact, helped bring about a change. While using our voice from a place of privilege to challenge systems of injustice is vital and necessary, loving others is about being in it for the long-haul. It’s about paying attention and being present to the daily lived reality of millions of people who are different from us, who do not share in our privilege.

Privilege is a result of one group oppressing another; privilege is the ability to deny the experiences of the oppressed because they are not the personal experiences of the privileged. Being part of a group with privilege, however, grants us enormous power to love the oppressed, and in so doing, make tangible the very real love of God for the world.

We can enact the love of God entrusted to us through creating space for the voices of the oppressed to be heard; abiding with them, hearing and participating in their stories; affirming their experiences without judgment, offense, or defense of our own.

In so doing, perhaps we can make real the prayer of the traditional African American spiritual:

Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Personal Piety as a Bedrock of Oppression

Exodus 20:1-17
John 2:13-22

*****

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

There is a trend in the church, in the last one hundred years or so, to focus on one's personal relationship with God, to memorizes verses of scripture, and to take single phrases or sentences or promises completely out of context.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you....") is of comfort and gets someone through a rough patch in life, it's a lovely thing. Faith should be a source of strength. Faith should carry us through the hard times.

But if that's the farthest faith takes us, there's a problem.

The issue of divorcing scriptures from their context prevents us from understanding the wider social issues the scriptures were intended to address when they were written, and in so doing, can prevent us from understanding how those same scriptures can address wider social issues today.

The reality is that everyone subscribes to a method of biblical interpretation - a particular lens through which they read the bible. I'll be honest about mine - I read the bible, by and large, through a lens focused on social justice. This is in part because social justice is generally important to me and in part because it's an overriding theme of the text, whether you approach it with this view in mind or not.

A funny thing happens when we approach the lectionary texts for today from a social justice perspective - these two seemingly unrelated texts begin to make sense as a pair. Furthermore, the issues inherent in personalizing texts out of context become clear.

When we read the Ten Commandments as personal mandates, a couple of interesting things begin to happen:

First, we divorce the entire list from the context in which it was given - an entire people group, a nation, a whole culture has been delivered from slavery and oppression and is given a new way to live in the world, as a collective, as a group who are going to be held accountable to these laws.

While it is certainly a good thing to be mindful of our personal idols - the things we love more than we as individuals love God and God's people - and while I would certainly never suggest that honoring one's parents isn't, generally speaking, a wise course of action, the simple fact is that this is profoundly different from and has gravely difference consequences than reading this text as a collective - being mindful as a culture of what our community loves more than God and God's people, forgetting where our ancestors came from and how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

There is a world of difference between actively seeking as individual not to covet your neighbor's wife or servant or ox or donkey and actively seeking as a community not to covet the systems of oppression rampant in the neighboring nation that allows them to amass grotesque wealth at the expense of the poor, which subjugates women and makes them property of men, which enslaves people for the purpose of benefiting the few in power.

Reading the Ten Commandments as mores for the collective, rather than rules for the individual, allows us to keep them in the context of a nation that was just delivered from those same oppressive and abusive systems of injustice. God delivered the Israelite people from that system and then tells them "Yes, change is hard, but don't go getting nostalgic for the very injustice I just delivered you from."

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Second, reading the Ten Commandments as personal rather than political allows us to focus on the letter of the law rather than spirit or heart of the law and in doing so, we begin to engage in the process of "othering." In taking the commands as personal dictates, we begin to compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors, setting ourselves apart as better than, and creating in groups and out groups.

What starts as a small matter of personal pride can quickly devolve into systemic injustice and oppression of entire groups of people as an in group seeks to gain or maintain wealth and power at the expense of the out group(s). The law, rather unifying a group, instead drives a wedge between them. Rather than bringing a community closer to God, creates roadblocks for the least of these, and even separates those in power from God as well.

The problem with systems of oppression and injustice is that while the view might look good from the top of the pile, in dehumanizing others so that we can justify our acts of oppression, we inherently dehumanize ourselves in the process.

Divorcing the scriptures from their context, holding to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the, creating in groups and out groups, using the law to solidify unjust systems of oppression is a perpetual reality.

We see this time and time and time again.

We see this when Jesus comes on the scene in John 2. Jesus shows up at the Temple during Passover, a time when the Jews celebrate their delivery from slavery in Egypt, a time when Jews remember and honor the sacrifice of their ancestors, a time when the recall the faithfulness of God in delivering their community from an unjust system of oppression.

What Jesus finds when he arrives at the Temple is the very definition of irony.

Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. The Temple system, which had been intended to keep the culture accountable, to protect the weak, the widow, the orphan and the poor, and to aid the culture in maintaining their relationship with God and with each other, has been turned into a system of oppression.

The Temple became a system in which the “haves” ruled over and against the “have nots.” The wealthy and powerful used their position as the in group to penalize the weak and poor. In othering the least, the in group found new ways to oppress and enslave the out group.

Part of Temple worship included animal sacrifice. The rules for sacrifice were laid out in the Hebrew bible. Animals set aside for sacrifice had to meet certain standards in order to be acceptable. This goes back to notion of giving God your best - choosing the most perfect cow, sheep or dove as the offering to God.

Those who had wealth and power in the Temple, however, began inspecting these sacrificial offerings and over time began insisting that the animals brought on long journeys were not fit for sacrifice. This put them in a position of demanding that more fit animals be purchased from them, at a premium of course.

For their part, the money changers had determined that coins bearing the visage of Caesar was tantamount to making an idol. They declared that these could not be used to purchase the animals required for sacrifice. Instead, they insisted that worshipers exchange such currency for Temple gold, at an exorbitant rate of exchange.

Is it any wonder that Jesus responded with anger and violence when he saw that many of the priests and pharisees appeared to see some worshipers, especially those who live in the predominantly poor outlying areas, less as faithful congregants to be protected and aided in worship than as potential sinners and sources of revenue?

There is much to be lost when we treat faith as a personal issue only and fail to consider the wider social implications inherent in texts written to a community for the purpose of building and maintaining a more just community. Treating faith as a personal issue only, without also engaging in faith within community, leads to an in-group/out-group, us/them mentality in which we seek to elevate ourselves above others, which in turn allows us to be blind to our own privileges and societal sin. This kind of thinking has always and will always lead to dehumanizing and oppressing entire people groups for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Where are we, collectively, forgetting history today? And how are we repeating it?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

I love pancakes.

I do not eat them often, but they're one of my favorite breakfast foods. Right up there with scrambled eggs with ham, chihuahua cheese and green chili sauce; scrambled eggs with ham, goat cheese and chives; scrambled eggs with ham, cheddar and sriracha; Eggs Benedict; D's waffles and fried ham; scrambled eggs with any assortment of tasty things and potatoes fried in duck fat.

Okay, so the truth is, I actually just LOVE breakfast foods. And D does scrambled eggs SO WELL. And he makes amazing waffles. And we collaborate weekly on Eggs Benedict because I'm good with tempering things and he's good at poaching things.

But his birthday was earlier this week, so I wanted to make him breakfast and I wanted it to be something I thought he'd really enjoy.

Since I know his love of all things lemon, and since I know he likes blueberries, I decided I'd have to find a way to make gluten-free lemon blueberry pancakes.

As the company whose gf all purpose flour blend I like best seems to no longer make gf all purpose flour, and as I can no longer find their pancake and waffle recipe to use as a baseline for using a different flour, I had to go a different route.

So, I visited another site that I've good luck with and decided to modify this recipe as follows:

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes:

  • 140 g white rice flour
  • 50 g potato starch (the original called for 47 and I spooned it in too quickly and couldn't retrieve the extra)
  • 23 g tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar (talk to AB about this one)
  • 5 tablespoons butter flavored Crisco (don't judge me), melted and cooled
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon mixed with enough whole milk to make 1 1/2 cups fluid
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • fresh blueberries
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients and whisk to fully combine.
  2. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Lube the skillet with a little oil.
  3. Pour batter into skillet, about 1/3 of a cup per cake.
  4. Sprinkle 7-10 blueberries in each cake.
  5. Cook until the cake is bubbly and the edges have become noticeably dry.
  6. Flip the cake and cook the other side until it stops emitting steam.
This recipe makes approximately 8 good sized pancakes. Enough for 4 people (technically), but who really wants to eat leftover pancakes? And who wants to risk the batter going funky in the fridge overnight?

Nope, as their were just 2 of us at the table this morning, that made for 4 pancakes a piece. Pure bliss.

Next time I might cut back on the sugar and increase the lemon. Just to see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lemon Thyme Pudding

Lemon is amazing. Pudding is delicious. Thyme is delightful.

And since I had a few leftover yolks and some lemons in the fridge and a few sprigs of thyme that were quickly headed toward "beyond the point of usefulness," I decided to make a lemon thyme pudding.

It's phenomenal.

*****

Ingredients:

  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cups demerara sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons very fine fresh lemon zest
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, heat thyme, half-and-half, and milk until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a medium saucier, whisk the sugar and cornstarch to combine. Pour the milk mixture through a sieve to strain out the thyme and whisk thoroughly into the sugar mixture.

Add the egg yolks, zest, and salt. Mix until fully incorporated.

Place the saucier over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and holds to the whisk.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the lemon juice and butter.

Divide among dessert dishes (6-7 4oz ramekins or similar) and allow to come to room temperature. Cover loosely and chill for several hours before serving.

*****

Chef's Notes:

This recipe used slightly less than 2 1/2 lemons worth of zest and juice, using a very fine microplane to zest the lemons and wooden reamer to juice them. (I would have just used to two whole lemons and called it good, but I had a 1/2 lemon left over from our Sunday eggs Benedict and I wanted to get it used up).

I might up the amount of thyme with the next batch, as I'd like a bit more of that flavor. However, since the point of experimenting with this today was to use up all of the thyme in the fridge (which I did), I'm extremely pleased with the results.

With the remaining zest and juice, I made a loaf of gluten-free lemon poppy seed pound cake. Because I'm awesome like that.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Expectations

"Resolve to Adventure" the Eddie Bauer coupon on the dining room table reads.

What is a resolution other than our stated intention to meet some expectation?

Expectation are heavy burdens.

I once knew two sisters who were as different as night and day.

The older of the two was beautiful and artistic. She could paint, draw, and was incredibly musically gifted. She also really wanted to be an only child. And she made certain everyone, especially her younger sister, knew it.

The younger of the two was an awkward child. Neither beautiful nor artistic, she was your classically fumbling fat kid. And she knew it.

While the older sister made friends everywhere she went and captured entire audiences with her voice and her talents for any and all instruments, the younger often stayed back, away from the fray, and poured herself into her academic studies, as that was where she felt safe and comfortable.

The older sister was often praised for her beauty and her talents; she even earned a full scholarship to an elite institution to study music.

The younger sister was rewarded with high grades, told she could do anything, be anything she wanted, that education was the key to any life she chose, and was otherwise left to her own devices as she seemed to being so well.

The older sister eventually fell in with the "wrong crowd" and began using drugs and alcohol. Despite all the previous accolades, it was the voice of her first serious boyfriend that stuck with her. Told she had no talent and would never amount to anything, she quit high school a few weeks before graduation and proceeded to live down to every societal expectation of a drug addicted, high school drop out, single mother.

The younger sister did "everything right," striving to live up to every expectation placed upon her: graduating from high school, going on to college, and an elite institution for graduate school.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

Living down to the low expectations of others nearly killed the older sister as she fell deeper into drug use and moved from one emotionally and physically abusive relationship to the next. Eventually, she had had enough and began to listen not to the voices of those outside of herself, but to the voice within. She got clean and sober and created a life for herself and her children that, while less than what she might have had with more education and fewer children, was enough and more than anyone had told she had a right to in a very long time.

Expectation are heavy burdens.

While desperately seeeking to live up to the expectations of greatness placed upon her from her earliest years of formal education, the younger sister became perfectionistic and more than a little neurotic. Anxiety plagued her at every turn and she became, in many ways, independent to a fault. She was never one to ask for help, because if she wasn't strong enough to manage the burden on her, or smart enough to find a way to outwit any obstacle, what was she?

When a medical crisis forced her to take a leave of absence from her studies, the younger sister (for just a moment) considered the possibility that suicide would be a better alternative to disappointing everyone who knew her by admitting weakness, defeat, failure.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

I wonder if this is the reason the Christ child - Jesus - grew and became strong. Expected to cause "the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that [would] be opposed so that inner thoughts of many would be revealed" must have worn on Jesus. Yet "he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

How does one carry the burden of expecations of an entire family, society, world? Do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations set for us?

This is the time of year when people are beginning to resolve to meet certain expectations in the coming year. How do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations we set for ourselves? And how much do family and societal pressures influence our New Year's Resolutions?

If I resolve to lose weight in the coming year, am I doing so because I want to be healthier? If that were the case, knowing the power of language as I do, I would likely resolve to eat more vegetables and lean protein, walk more often, and dust off the weights.

Usually, when I resolve to lose weight, it stems from the expectation set for me when I was an awkward, fumbling, fat kid that I would be pretty if, more valuable if, worthy of love if.... I would just lose the extra weight.

If I resolve to do things right, if I read everything I can find, if I seek out the best advice and follow it to the letter, am I doing so because I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well? If that were the csae, I'd likely resolve to give my best effort to the things that matter most.

Usually, when I resort to unreasonably high expectations of myself, aiming to be the best, when nothing apart from something better than absolute perfection will suffice, it stems from a belief that following the law will ensure success, and that I will be successful, valuable, worthy of love if I can do all things right.

Expectations are heavy burdens - or they can be, when they come from the unrelenting voices outside of ourselves. Jesus certainly had unrelenting voices with which to contend. And yet, he was strong and wise; the favor of God was upon him. Different from the rest, Jesus seems to have mastered the art of living up to the expectations set by his Father, god. Jesus listened to and followed the inner voice of the divine that every child of God, every heir to God's kingdom carries within them. And by "every child of God" I mean everyone, no matter what.

Expectations can certainly be heavy burdens. And yet, here we are, at the close of another year, and many are making resolutions - stating their intention to meet some expectation in the coming year.

If you resolve in the coming year to do anything, I hope you'll take time to deeply contemplate the source of those the expectations, and choose wisely the voice you will heed. And remember, regardless of the expectations of others, "the greatest gift you ever give is your honest self."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Loss is Gain

The thing about pastors is, we're human, too. We're actually no different from the people who sit in the pews of churches. We just have a different view on Sunday mornings.

Any pastor who tells you they've never doubted God is either lying or has a faith not worth trusting, in my humble opinion.

Any pastor who pretends they never have evil thoughts is full of shit.

I am not a nice person, but I like to believe I am incredibly kind.

Today, I may not even be all that kind; in reality, as a child in early elementary school, I was not all that kind. I was angry and violent a lot of the time.

Things changed when I was ten. There are reasons for the change, but I'll not go into those now. Suffice it to say the rage and violence remained, but I chose to direct them inward rather than outward. It took a very long time for the violence to end and the rage to dissipate and healing and joy to take their place again.

Two years before the change, however, there was one boy in my third grade class. His name was Andrew. This is the only time in this blog I will ever use a real name.

I do not remember Andrew's last name, but I was mean and hateful and cruel to him. For many years now I've wished I could look him up, find him, and apologize for the way I treated him. I carry the shame of my childhood sins with me.

But that is not what this post is about. This post is about this morning.

The thing about being a pastor is you end up on everybody's email list. Every church you've ever served, every church you've ever attended, every church you've ever preached at. They all get you on the roster, and the roster never gets cleaned out.

I received an email this morning from the church I grew up in. A young man passed away this weekend. He was thirty-four years old.

And I thought to myself that the world had become a kinder and gentler place with his passing.

This man was a year ahead of me in school. He was cruel to me. Not in the same ways I was cruel to Andrew, but in other ways. Constant torment and verbal abuse that was ignored by the adults in every setting.

He largely ignored me at church, but during the summers, he and his step-siblings would dunk me in the pool and hold me under water, they would taunt me about being an overweight kid from a dysfunctional and incredibly impoverished family. The lifeguards did nothing but tell me that if I didn't want to be picked on, I should go on a diet and not be so fat. The pool management said the same thing.

During the school year I only had interactions with him on the playground because he was a year ahead of me. That is until we were both transferred to a different school district some 20 miles away.

I tried to think kindly of him. He had a physical disability and came from a family not much different than my own, though perhaps slightly more well off. I didn't like the way he treated me, but I couldn't bring myself to be cruel to him. I couldn't bring myself to be cruel about him. Mostly, I just felt sorry for him, because I knew what had caused me to become an angry, bitter, violent five year old.

This all changed one day on the way home from school. There were three of us being bused from our district to the district up north. We rode in a white minivan with "SCHOOL BUS" magnets on the panels of the van.

This particular day, this boy had ridden to school, but he was nowhere to be seen in the bus on the way home from school. I asked about his very noticeable absence, and was told by the driver that he'd gotten sick at school and gone home early.

I genuinely hoped he was okay.

Then, the 25 minute ride home. I was grilled relentlessly about how I felt about this boy. I was goaded and picked at and pressured to say terrible, mean, hateful, hurtful things about him. Repeatedly I was asked, "But you really hate him, don't you? You think he's terrible, don't you?" These questions were asked by the third student and the bus driver, a woman in her late 40s.

I had never thought such things about him and I said so.

The onslaught of questions continued, but I heard a scuttling on the floor and looked under the seats. There he was, this boy of eleven, who had conspired to get me to say terrible things about him; there was the bus driver, a grown woman with adult children of her own, colluding to make a fool of me.

"It was just a joke," they said, trying to pass off their horrendous behavior as something we could all laugh about.

But it wasn't a joke when I was pressed into saying thing I hadn't thought - until that moment; when it was demanded that I admit to feelings that I did not have - until that moment.

I wasn't so angry with this boy or our fellow student for their stupid and childish prank as I was with the bus driver, a grown adult who sought to humiliate me, who intentionally created circumstances and participated in behaviors designed to trap me into saying something they could use against me later, an adult who was supposed to be a safe person, who had insisted this bus was a safe space, and who violated that safety with trickery and abuse.

I exploded when I got home and screamed at her about what a vile and disgusting human being she was.

As for this boy and the third student, I cried a bit. I couldn't understand their betrayal. Weren't we all in this together? Hadn't we all been kicked out of one school to be bused to another, one with more resources for "problem children" like us? Why was I the one singled out as the object of torment and insult? Weren't we all struggling with similar things?

The next day we had a new driver, the adult son of original driver who gave me an earful about how disrespectful my behavior toward his mother had been. I laughed in his face. Defending myself was not disrespectful. What she had done was disrespectful.

I read on the bus from then on and refused to speak to either this boy, the other student, or the new driver who continued to pick us up and drop us off for the remainder of the year.

But I never forgot that experience.

Some years later, while I was in seminary, the new pastor at my church mentioned that this boy, now a grown man, was in a facility, got precious few visitors, and since I was in the area often, it would probably be appreciated if I stopped by.

I never did. I didn't owe him anything.

This morning, I wanted to feel compassion. He's someone's son. He's someone's brother. He's someone's uncle. I thought briefly of sending my condolences to his family, telling them I'm sorry for their loss. But I'm not sorry.

And I do not feel compassion.

I feel relief, because my world feels a little safer and a little kinder without him in it.