Five Minute Friday: How

Gentle Reader,

I shouldn’t be shocked by how much sleep I need. I shouldn’t be surprised by how long I can sleep. A nap is no less than two hours, and a moderately decent night’s rest is 12 hours. (No, I’m not joking). Sleep has been both dear friend and annoying enemy to me for years now, yet there are still weeks when I’m left nearly-amazed at how many minutes I spend with my eyes closed.

Anyway, Kate says: how.

Go.

How is it that we’re still unable to appreciate each other’s unique gifts and perspectives and talents?

I’ve been pondering this in relation to all of the upheaval we are collectively experiencing. While I do believe in objective facts and truth, I also believe that the way in which each of us processes those facts and truths is unique to us. Some need a lot of time and space to think. Some respond by feeling deeply and expressing those feelings immediately. Some need to talk it all out, throwing half-formed ideas into the air. Some require privacy. There are as many variations, a spectrum of sorts.

Again, I believe that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I believe there is good and evil. And I definitely believe that we, the Church, the people of God, have got our priorities out of whack, and this is being publicly revealed, almost as if the Holy Spirit is shining a brilliant spotlight into the darkest corners, the ones we’d rather ignore and never deal with.

So, yes, there are standards. This is obvious when it comes to issues of nationalism, insisting upon certain political affiliation/philosophy as a sign of “true faith,” and racism. The “other” is the enemy. Simply, we must repent and unlearn unChristlike habits of feeling, thinking, and living.

But there are other ways in which our discomfort with each other is shown. Less blatant. Less easily classified as sin. And that’s got me asking: How? Or maybe, why? When a person possesses a talent that we wish we had… When someone else is immediately good at something that we can’t seem to master… When you’re in a position of authority and another asks a question that reveals something you missed...

I wonder if we’re ultimately just not comfortable with ourselves. Unaccepting of ourselves. Unconvinced that God made us, and loves us, and that we have a purpose and role. Unbelieving that we are really are equal. Maybe the passive-aggressive moves, the stonewalling, the snide comments, the stealing credit from others…maybe it’s more about us than it is them.

And how can that be? How is that we trust God so little?

I suppose the answer to that, the way to address the less-blatant sins, is the same: Simply, we must repent and unlearn unChristlike habits of feeling, thinking, and living.

Lord, may it begin with me.

Stop.

Five Minute Friday: Stay

Gentle Reader,

It’s been roughly half a year since I’ve participated in this weekly writing challenge. I read that sentence a few times, hardly believing it. Tonight I intended to join in the chat and reconnect with dear writer friends, but caring for a blind wiener dog whose puppy sisters smacked him in the face yesterday distracted me. So late I am, but here I am. Ready to pick up where I left off.

Kate says: stay.

Go.

There are four young African-American women in the youth group. Each is full of potential, promise, and an incredible amount of sugar. (Youth ministry and candy do go hand-in-hand). As I watched them play games and eat all that sugar last night at our first physical gathering in months, I felt a profound sense of gratitude at God’s allowing me to be in their lives. They teach me much. They make me think.

And Church, we have got to start thinking. We have got to start coming to terms with the fact that some of the positions we have taken in regards to political affiliations and the treatment of marginalized populations in no way reflects the Gospel. Yes, I say we, even if these are not positions that you personally take, because we are in this together. When one of us clings to classism, nationalism, racism, or sexism, we are all impacted. We all, frankly, suffer. In turn, the world around us suffers, because the message of grace and truth is obscured by elitist, entitled, and false beliefs.

Church, Black Lives Matter. I shouldn’t have to follow that with an explanation, but I will: Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not equivalent to saying that no other lives matter. It’s not a no-reservations-or-disagreement endorsement of a political organization. It is saying that we have a deeply-rooted, evil problem in this country, one that must be clearly labeled and confronted. People are being murdered, and it’s captured on camera for all to see. No jumping in with some other argument here, some “what about…?” People are being murdered. Men and women who bear the image of God are having their lives taken from them, and those doing the taking must be held accountable.

Church, to say “Black Lives Matter” is to look into the face of our brothers and sisters and say: “You matter.” It is to watch those four young women, so full of life, and determine to do and be better, for them.

Church, we must stay in this discomfort. We must stay engaged in this process of confronting our cherished biases. We must stay standing alongside our brothers and sisters, ears open as they lament. This isn’t about choosing Democrat or Republican. We’re way beyond that. And the truth is that it never was political in the first place. All that is, is a distraction. This is about choosing what is right and just – even if it makes us squirm.

Stop.

Image Credit: Maria Oswalt

I Can’t Think of a Clever Title

Gentle Reader,

I’ve missed you. Legitimate things have gotten in the way of my writing regularly. Seminary requires just about all the brain power I possess. But there have also been illegitimate things, things that I should never have given as much attention and time to as I did. And so I find myself coming to you today from a place of mental and emotional exhaustion.

Without realizing it, I’ve been wondering whether or not to continue publishing in this little space because of the toxicity of much internet culture these days, and of social media in particular, and the fact that I don’t always phrase things in a way that others perceive as loving enough or gentle enough, and stranger’s questions surrounding the validity of blogging.

Well, screw all of that.

There I go again, not phrasing things in a gentle and loving enough way.

I loathe that word, “enough.” What even is “enough?” Who gets to define “enough?”

It hit me the other day that I have some real codependent tendencies. Codependency is about control, but not in a way that most of us understand control. I tend to take on responsibilities that aren’t mine to bear in the hope of managing other’s emotions and expectations, because I am afraid of everyone, everywhere, all the time. I want to control other people’s responses to me, so that I avoid getting slammed. Typing that out makes me feel ridiculous, but it’s a real struggle. Some of this is ingrained in my brain chemistry; all those misfiring neurons and broken synapses. But a lot of this is learned. There are many examples that I can point to throughout my life when I’ve chosen to be open, vulnerable, and just not perfect (i.e., not what someone expected me to be, meaning, a flawed human being) and I have been ruthlessly rejected and smeared. Not just a conflict over a difference of opinion. Not just “that thing you said/did hurt my feelings and we need to work it out because we care about each other.” Legitimately (but metaphorically) pounded into the ground for stepping outside of the zone someone else had constructed for me, almost always confusingly hinted at but never fully revealed to me until making the “mistake.”

And I’m mad.

I’m also tired.

So me putting this out there today is an act of defiance against a broken system. No pointing fingers or vaguely throwing shade at any specific person. This is me recognizing bad habits and patterns that I continually fall into. This is me saying, “Hey. Wait a minute. I don’t expect anyone to be or do or feel or think exactly the same way that I do. Why do I have to fit the mold that others create for me? That’s the definition of unfair. And it never works. This cannot be what God wants for me. I truly just want to be able to be myself.”

Perhaps strangely to your eyes, I thank God for the place that I’m in today. I can see the broken system, and I can see my place in that system. I don’t want to participate in it any longer. If I am going to be a person who preaches the Good News of freedom in Christ, then I sure as heck am going to be a person who lives in and out of that freedom – whether anyone else likes it or not.

Love in the Time of COVID-19

Gentle Reader,

I stayed home from church today. I feel completely fine, but took the opportunity to get some extra rest as my pastor made the decision to cancel second hour discipleship groups (aka Sunday school). I didn’t have to be there to teach, or to do any administrative work, so it was sweats, a cup of coffee, and tuning into the livestream for me.

And you know what?

It kinda sucked.

I appreciate that my church streams its services. This has been important for me in the past, when I’ve been stuck at home for weeks at a time due to illness or surgery. But there really is nothing like being with people who have become part of your family. There really is nothing like hearing your voices blend in a not-always-pleasing harmony as you worship God together. I missed seeing my friends. I missed hugging my students and listening to them talk about things completely unrelated to the lesson I prepared.

So, I get it. Social distancing is annoying; who wants to remain six feet apart from friends and loved ones? Choosing to go beyond that and stay at home when you feel fine seems stupid. Go ahead and complain.

But do it.

Some of you want to roll your eyes and flip the bird at me. It’s no big deal. People are overreacting. It’s just the flu. I’ll do what I want.

And that, my friend, is unloving.

That, my friend, communicates to vulnerable people – those with underlying conditions that make catching “just the flu” far more complicated, the elderly, those without financial resources and medical insurance, and those with crap immune systems – that you don’t care what happens to them.

To us. Because I fall into that vulnerable category. My liver wants to kill me and my immune system sucks.

I know that I am responsible for taking care of myself. I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to hurt. I’m checking my temperature twice a day. I’m not hugging anyone. I’m allowing myself to take naps as often as I need to, because it’s vital that I don’t become run down. I’m drinking lots of water. I’m eating good foods. I’m figuring out a good exercise routine, because I need to stay active, but, again, I can’t become run down. As to going out in public, I’m taking that moment by moment, asking God to give me wisdom as to when to brave the wider world and when to stay tucked away at home. A lot of this, I do all the time, because I have to be vigilant; I can catch anything at any moment and be knocked down.

I’m not asking you to do any of this for me. I’m not asking you to bear a burden that is only mine to carry.

What I am asking of you is that you take a moment and think. While you may contract COVID-19, have a mild case and recover quickly, or even remain asymptomatic, that’s not the reality for everyone around you. By being flippant about it, you can easily spread the virus among people who are not as naturally equipped as you are to fight it.

That said….

Some of you are in panic mode and you’re buying very strange things in large quantities, like all the toilet paper in the land.

STOP IT.

Over-reacting, my friend, is just as unloving as under-reacting. Yes, it is good and wise for you to take care of yourself and your family. It’s not wrong to have some extra supplies around. But you do not need to hoard. Your hoarding means that the vulnerable population mentioned above does not have access to the things they need to take care of themselves.

Arrogance and ignorance are plagues upon our ability to love and reason well in the best of times. We cannot afford to indulge either during this crisis. Yes, it is a crisis. It may not seem so to you right now, but the truth is that our medical system is not equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of people flooding the hospitals, whether they actually have COVID-19 or they’re just afraid they do. If we do not all practice caution, we will end up as Italy is at the moment: doctors without necessary tools, leaving them in the anguished position of choosing who to treat and who to leave to fate.

It’s annoying and crappy and weird and unsettling. Nobody ever expects to live through a time like this. But if we all choose to exercise caution and love our neighbors, we can flatten the curve. We can get through it.

What does loving our neighbors look like right now?

  • Accept the fact that you won’t get to socialize as much as you like. It’s okay to feel annoyed or depressed about it while you process the situation. But you have to reach the point of accepting it, otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. Take it from one who’s been on medical house arrest before: it’s much easier to get through if you choose to look for the good and the joy, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do or have.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.
  • Check in on people, especially those who are vulnerable. A text or phone call means a lot to someone who’s worried or stuck at home.
  • Pray. For others. For yourself. Ask God for both peace and wisdom.
  • Listen to the experts. They actually do know more than you do.
  • If somebody needs soup or toilet paper or Oreos and you have some to spare, share.
  • WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • DON’T. TOUCH. EACH. OTHER.

Love is going to look a lot like common sense and compassion. It’s also going to look like making decisions you’d rather not make, like canceling group meetings and vacations. But that’s what the people of God do. We don’t just think of ourselves. We think of others.

With apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for the riff on the title of his novel,
Love in the Time of Cholera.