Sunday, December 14, 2014

Parenting at the speed of children

I can't keep up with my kids.

When I became a parent it was whether I was ready or not. I wasn't. I thought I was, but alsa, i was not. What can prepare a person for this? Books? Therapy? Pet dog? Nothing. I entered in unprepared, and then with the title and responsibility of being a parent, these (wonderful) children of mine who made me a parent became a moving target that refused to sit still. They insisted upon growing up at what I have now determined is an unsustainable pace. They keep growing into situations for which neither they nor I are prepared to handle - only I am the one who notices this lack of preparation. The reality is that there is no preseason for parenthood, no scrimmages, no practice children to try parenthood out on. When you have children, it is game day, every day.

There is no getting used to this. It has been my experience that my children change faster than I can adapt to their change. Just prior to getting a grasp on one new thing they are on to the next. There is no getting used to this stage, because this stage is gone by the time its presence it detected. There is no time to detect, contemplate, adjust, and normalize anything. In making any effort to slow down and contemplate the current event I notice that I have missed something else. I have learned I must grow fast because fast is the only way my children grow. 

No reflection. The way I experience life is that I have the in the moment reality of what is happening in real time. In general, it is all I can do to be in the moment. But like heavy rain on my lawn, there is only so much life I can take in each moment before the majority of the experience becomes runoff. It's not that I don't want to soak it in, but rather than I do not have the ability. I need time to reflect, complate, make meaning, and turn experience into story. It takes a long time for me to do this and my children will simply not stop changing, growing, and moving along long enough for me to having any idea what just happened to me. I want to stop and smell the roses, to cherish each moment, and to just sit and enjoy the beauty of the moment. I almost never get this. Being a parent means living a double life, mine and theirs, and it means life approaches at such a speed so as to allow for little reflection. 

Never enough. I have been a parent for nearly 17 years and have come to realize that I will never arrive at some point in which I will conclude that I have done enough. Parenting offers no arrival. My work is not now done, nor will it ever be done. I will not brush off the dust from my hands and conclude there is no more to do. Once a parent; always a parent. 

There goes my heart. In becoming a parent, part of my heart was born into the flesh of another. I feel the loss of part of my own heart as it fills another. Part of my heart is at the mercy of another and goes out inside another and therefore I will be there, wherever there happens to be at any given time. It is not a portion of my heart that I can ever retrieve, nor will I ever desire to retrieve it. And even though I know that my heart is in another and I cannot and do not desire to have it back, there is the ever present experience of not having all my heart to myself. There is an ache and a vulnerability that runs deep and mysterious and beautiful. I cannot have it back, but I do want it close.

I love being a parent. I love my children more than I ever imagined I might - and I had imagined quite a bit of love. I wouldn't want life any other way.




Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Gender, Social Systems, and Change: Observations of Churches of Christ - and my 2 cents

Gender, Social Systems, and Change: Observations of Churches of Christ and my 2 cents
(This is a long post -- essay)

Each of us is embedded within a variety of social contexts that have their beautiful parts and have their ugly parts. To others who share my various social systems I may appear to be one of the beautiful parts and to others I may be one of the ugly parts. I accept this reality. I am honored, however, to share a social system.

Whether it is a family, a work environment, a faith community, or a neighborhood, there are no social systems that are perfect. None can be. People are imperfect and in relationships we connect imperfections and synergize them. People are also amazing and in relationships we connnect these amazing aspects and synergize them. Social systems bring together its members and create something more than the sum of the independent members. In short, it's a beautiful mess.

Each of these social systems has an emerging and evolving culture of their own. Healthy social systems move toward stronger and well differentiated interconnnections and strong secure attachments with healthy boundaries. This is enabled through constructive conflict, generosity, and a good dose of repair when there is hurt. Unhealthy social systems either impose or neglect, destory or disengage, exploit or abdicate. They result in hurts that go unreparied and often a drift apart into ambiguity or an explosion. All are destructive.

One of the social systems I am embedded in is the faith community called, Churches of Christ. It is a branch or tribe of Christianity that I was raised in, formed (and continue forming) my faith within, and work within (professor at a university affiliated with this branch of Christianity). I know this social system very well and I love it very much. It is my family of faith. It is also the religious social system for whom I have the most critique. I love us and I want us to be better - thus critique.

And like any family, there is diversity among its members. There are disagreements, concerns, struggles, and fears. But also like any family, there are the things that keep the family a family. There are overarching agreements, similarities, and deep rooted loyalties that facilitate the very life of the social system.

In Churches of Christ, there is an agreed upon high respect for scripture (Biblical scripture), unified belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and that it is through Jesus that the redemption of all things is even possible.

In Churches of Christ, there are also many differences such as how to understand scripture, what the implications are for Jesus being the son of God, and what and who is involved in the redemption of all things. There are also differences on such relevant matters as gender roles in family and in church.

This "Open Letter" is such a case in point. It is a response written by blogger Adam Faughn to a congregation who has a female preaching intern and embedded within the "open letter" is a video of the preaching intern. What the "open letter" contrasted with the embedded video allows for here is a case study in how a social system is going about trying to both stay together as a system amidst diversity while at the same time trying preserve the integrity of the system itself.

For many outside the Churches of Christ, the idea of a female preaching intern may be a big fat yawn because "we dealt with that 20 yers ago (or 40 years ago)." If this is you, I urge you to consider that each soacial system changes at its own pace and addresses issues more organically and locally than might be assumed. Just because such matters have been "dealt with" in one social system does not determine when they should have been dealt with in another. Your social system has yet to deal with some issues that others have long since resolved.

For others outside the Churches of Christ, this is evidence of the embedded sexism within the social system called, Churches of Christ, and therefore serves as evidence that their choice not to associate with Churches of Christ, Christianity or perhaps religion itself is justified. I understand. But please also understand that every social system in which each of us is embedded has its own injustice. All injustice is ugly. This one happens to be one of ours - one of many.

What we see here is a family, a family of faith, having a a disagreement. One side is excited to assert its freedom and putting into practice the gender equality ethic asserted by the Apostle Paul when he said there is no longer male nor female. The other side fears that such actions are sinful disobedience and reference other words of the very same Paul. Thus, an "open letter" such as this serves as feedback into the larger social system in order to make things right.

However, each side asserts their position is right and has used scripture to support their claims. My assumption for both sides is that they are doing their very best to go about doing justice and at the same time both cannot be correct. This is a social dilemma that will likely not be resolved by one side convincing the other of its position, but rather will be resolved being able speak without being silenced, to share their views without being shamed, and to be accepted based on the extension of trust rather than compliance.

I want to make three statements on the matter and then close.

1. It is my desire that this family argument can be conducted in a manner that brings out the very best in each of us. In our fellowship we have a history of just giving up on each other and splitting and then not associating with each other. This is an embarrassing legacy. We have an opportunity right now to genuinely disagree while not pulling the plug on the very meaningful and important relationships we share. We cannot make claims of unity by cutting off all who disagree. The inevitible end to that process is being "right" and very, very alone.

2. From a theological position, I side with those who affirm gender equality in all church matters. We owe it to God, to srcipture, to society, and to young girls and women to no longer read scripture into sexism, but eliminate sexism by use of scripture. But I assert it locally, not generally. What I mean is that I hold my beliefs to myself and do not require others to hold them in order to remain in the same social system. It impacts my selection of a local congregation. It impacts how I converse with people at work. I hope I conduct myself in a manner that is generous toward others and authentically me. It is my hope and desire that I will not be cut off for how I geneuinely and honestly understand scripture. It is also my hope that although I have no intention of imposing, that I will influence. I want to influence without coercion so that if change happens or when change happpens it is authentic and legitimate.

3. If someone or some group does decide to cut off from me or my home congregation or various other shared social systems because of my beliefs or because of this matter, I will openly say this: that is going to hurt. And the closer the relationship the more it will hurt. Cutting off, however, will not convince me to change my mind. Perhaps there is some other way to engage in discourse that could change my mind as I am open to truth, but cutting off will not be a successful strategy to change me. I can understand if cutting off for the sake of preservation of a set of beliefs is more important than remaining in relationship (sort of), but I cannot deny that it will hurt. I will hurt and pray and grieve and heal and move forward with less of a social system.

In conclusion, this is an important conversation to have in its context. Let's have it without hurting each other. Let's show that we love each other.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Call to Clergy and Communities of Faith

A call to clergy and communities of faith

If we are on the dawn of a second wave of the civil rights movement, communities of faith had better be engaged and leading as opposed to sitting on the sideline. Pastors, ministers, clergy of all kinds of all faiths must assert their public positions to be voices of peace and love and change. They must motivate their congregants to find meaningful, productive, and transformational ways to do the same.

If clergy and communities of faith remain passive onlookers, what they will be passively onlooking upon is leadership taken by those who spread violence, stir hearts of people against each other, of people who have no higher calling but resolving their own angst at the expense of others. These are leaders whose logic can amount to nothing more than blame and their actions and leadership will take on the base and senseless actions that blame necessarily requires - revenge. Will we stand by and watch revenge take root? Will we let revenge and counter revenge spiral completely out of control? Will we let this day pass and it cost us two or three more decades until we can find a way to heal through all that revenge and try to move forward again? 

If this is not the dawn of a second wave of the civil rights movement, then clergy and communities of faith should make it one. The energy is there. People are in the streets, literally, demanding some meaningful direction. Millions more people are in their homes awaiting the very same direction and leadership.

Letting this moment pass without action IS an expression of leadership. Letting this moment pass and hoping for things to just calm down and get back to normal is in itself a serious political and moral statement that the world in which we live is normal and good. Things are not normal and good. We do not live in a normal society. We do not live in a normal culture. We do not live in a normal America. We live in an American where shooting people is controversial, not horrible to everyone. We live in an America where rioting in the streets makes sense to far too many people. We live in an American where taking sides and protecting one's own smaller interests at the cost of someone else's interests makes sense. In short, division is what is normal in America. Standing by and hoping for things to return to how they were is an active and aggressive stance for division, for future violence, and for more of the same. 

If communities of faith have struggled for relevance in a culture that is trying to ignore them, then here is your chance to show what you are made of. Here is your chance to demonstrate your calling, your mission, and your ancient-future truth of peace, love, and reconciliation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Paul's Privilege Smackdown

I just read the book of Galatians. Whoa! The apostle Paul is not messing around. He is pretty serious about the whole "you can't work your way to Heaven" mantra. He pounds away at this message over and over again.

One of the most important things he tackles in this letter is the idea that doing the right thing or things that are deemed in certain circles as right are not what matters. These things do not make you better than anyone else. It is merely an attempt to assert privileges.

He specifically addressed one of the most important cultural issues of the day for Jews - circumcision. This tradition dates back to their father Abraham. For them it was the identification of proper faith. It is not easy for 21st century Americans to relate to circumcision as some holy thing, but we might relate to "going to church," reading the Bible, or some other good thing that seems to mark purity of faith. Don't get me wrong - these are great things, but not things that make us great. Make sense? What Paul said was all of that meant nothing if there was a void in loving others. While the topic of circumcision is not very relatable, the process of bypassing true love of others by some privilege asserting behaviors is alive today.

Asserting some level of cultural privilege necessarily gets in the way of loving each other. In Paul's most revealing and striking statement on privilege, he unambiguously attacks privilege by saying that "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female for all are one in Christ Jesus." One, two, three, Paul takes on three of the most significant categories of privilege and destroys them: ethnicity, gender, and power.

Finally, Paul is completely transparent about his motivation for being so strong with his words. He is dead to himself and alive in Jesus. He gave up all of his religious privilege to follow Jesus. He was on the fast track to leadership in the Jewish religious system. Proclaiming a faith in Jesus was a career killer for him. He gave up status and most likely wealth to side with the minority, to side with the Greeks, to side with the poor - the very thing he was eager to do.

Paul's rhetoric is so powerful and so relevant, even 2000 years later.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

On the Injury and Healing of Innocence

So much has been said of the loss of innocence and how it cannot be regained. It is narrated as though a death happened and a new and darker way of being has begun with the prior, lighter and better way gone permanently.

It is our of exposure to the dark, the dirty, or the sinful murder innocence and puts it in the grace forever.

In such a narrative the one who lost the innocence has lost it completely and cannot make claims of innocence any longer. It is as though they are themselves lost forever, permanently stained, and have gone beyond the reach of anything that could redeem them.

I do not believe this narrative. It is a lie.

Innocence is not an all or nothing reality. Exposure to some dark stuff or even experience in the darkness is not some instant death of innocence. Innocence, in my understanding of it, is not easily killed off.

In fact, so long as a person lives, there is innocence. Innocence does not die while the person lives, but instead it can be injured. And anything injured can be healed, attended to, or adjusted to.

We do not walk this earth with or without innocence; we walk this earth with an amount of injury to our innocence.

Is it true that someone cannot unsee what has been seen? Undo what has been done? Unfeel what has been felt? Yes, all of these are true. But that does not equate to a loss of innocence, but rather a relative injury to innocence.

If I believe innocence is lost, there is nothing that can be done. However, if I believe innocence is injured, then the question of healing and way to heal begins to take on significance.

Healing innocence come at believing that innocence is injured, not dead. What comes next is believing in the state of being made in God’s image – an inherent reality.

Spiritual genetics dictates that we have one and only one father. Therefore all are by definition created in God’s image and therefore inherently innocent. It is the injury to innocence that must be addressed, not whether there is any innocence left living.

The next step is to know the injury. I saw this. I did that. I felt this, this and this. Whatever it is must become part of awareness.

The next step to love God and to love others as God would have us love ourselves. Sometimes injuries to innocence stifle loving other people, loving God and loving self.

Another next step is reclaiming healthy innocence. Seeking to be reminded and refreshed as to what innocence is. This can be pursued in so many ways – prayer, reading scripture, simplicity, hospitality and more.

Another thing to do while healing innocence is to heal with others who are healing. Healing our individual innocence with others helps heal our collective innocence.


Innocence is not lost. You are not lost. It is time to heal.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I am not a person by myself

I take my paint
            And my make-up
            And my brains
            And my muscles
            And my avatars
            And my Twitter handle
And I keep telling the world who I am
            Who I want them to know I am
            Who I wish they would believe I am
            Who I hope someone might get fooled and think I am
                        Someone I don’t even believe exists
                                    But seems better than…

Better than that one in the mirror
Because the mirror can get so lonely
            When there is a stranger looking back

I need your love
            I need it directly from you
            I need it indirectly, flowing through people around me

How in Hell am I supposed to know who I am
            In the Hell of isolation?
            In the Hell of apartness?
            In the Hell of all by myselfness?
            In the Hell of secrecy and hiddenness and loneliness

I am not safer by myself;
I am not even a person by myself.


Help me build me in you and in those you put around me 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pedicure

Pedicure

456 pounds of flesh
            In the ICU
            Mounded up on the bed
There was a man hidden in all that flesh
            Covered in hair and scars and moles and skin grafts
Machined up
Tubed up
Wired up
            Like a failed Borg
            Like an experiment
            Like Frankenstein giving it another go
                        Praying for Lightning

Sedated flesh
            Slowly.
                        Shutting.
                                    Down.

Organs lining up
One by one
For their chance to check out

A mountain of chest
            Swelling
            Contracting
            In rhythm with machine sighs

Death paced the hall
            More impatient than ever
            Its foul stench oozing in
            Toward Kelly’s desk.
Where she measured life
            In beeps, blinks, and blips
Without grimace or contempt or judgment
            Of the fat man in the ICU
Half naked, squeezed into an oversized bed
            Everything in the world
            Too damn small for him

Kelly rummaged around in her bag of compassion
            Dignity looked like clippers
            Honor looked like a file
            A quick pedicure before Death barges in

A generous and unanxious pause
             Between the violence of life

            And the violence of death

Decorating a Christmas Tree

Decorating a Christmas Trees

Somewhere
Between blatantly intentional
            And helplessly random;
Somewhere
Between concrete fact
            And magically inventive;
Somewhere
            Between true recollections
            And recollections understood as truth,
I hand pick life events
            From the stores of life events
Stacked up in closets
Stuffed under beds
Buried in the backyard
Junk left here by friends
Some events large
Some small
Some just made up
I string them along
Like popcorn and cranberries
Hanging on Grandma’s Christmas tree
And that’s my story

I hang it up on the tree
For all to see
Right next to Aunt Judy’s wooden elf
            A story of her own
And Great Grandma’s handmade tinsel
            A story no one really believes
And this weird glass snowman
            That appears each year,
            But no one knows whose it is

I hang it on the tree
For all to see
            With reruns of War of the Worlds
                        Playing on the radio
            With wall to wall news of wars
Playing on the television
With culture wars songs
                        Playing on an ipod

This is my story
This is my song

Inside of your story

Inside of your song

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We are the flesh

This is a prayer for professors and instructors of MFTs, counselors, psychologists, and anyone involved in the work of teaching and training healers. 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
We Are The Flesh

What we find in our hands
Is the tender beginnings
Of the careers of our students
Multiplied by the aches and fears of their clients

And now hundreds, no thousands of lives
Are touched by us
For the touch of our hands goes with them
For the words of our mouths goes with them
For the tone of our voices goes with them
Yes, our voice goes with them
Everything we do becomes context for everything they do

What have you done?
Did you not know we are just humans?
Mere men; mere women; mere flesh
Our flaws can ripple
Just as our successes
Our pathology can be multiplied
Just as our health
Our ugly can be seen
Just as our beauty

And yet it is only flesh that can do this
And for whatever reason
We are the flesh chosen to do this
We are the flesh privileged to do this
We are the flesh that must do this

Humble this flesh
So that humility flows through our students
Strengthen this flesh
So that strength flows through our students
Make courageous this flesh
So that courage flows through our students
Heal this flesh
So that healing flows through our students




Monday, October 20, 2014

Little is the Beginning of Big

You give us little things
Itty bitty things
Seeds, handfuls of seeds,
Sometimes nothing but seeds

When we stand in forests and fields
With hands full of seeds
We will not weep for the smallness of the seeds
We will not despair that everything else is so grown
We will not run away for some better place to be

We are here
We have these
We can do this
We are alive
And ready to be planted
To be aliver

We are not masters
We are untrained
All we ever have to do
Is let go
Of the seeds
Whatever seeds you gave us
And let them go
To the ground
And in little things
You do big things
Little is the beginning of big
We can’t do big all alone
All on our own
All at once
But little is the beginning of big

You give us little things
Itty bitty things
Seeds, handfuls of seeds,
Sometimes nothing but seeds