This week in Lent

Matthew 11:28–30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

From A Room Called Remember by Frederick Buechner
To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness — especially in the wilderness — you shall love [God].

I recently told a friend, “Nothing will make you pray to Jesus like having a baby.” And it’s true. Not always in some profound way, but often like “Dear God make him sleep” and “Lord have mercy, I don’t know if I can keep nursing him with all these teeth,” and “Keep me kind, keep me sane.”

In these weeks of teething, rocky sleep, and small but strong opinions, parenthood is breaking me, sapping me of what I thought I had to offer, what I knew, what version of self there was before, what capacities for accomplishment were wrapped up in my life and work. I’m deep down in my bones and deep down in my spirit tired. I haven’t done laundry, much less checked in with God beyond those stretched-thin mama pleas for present grace.

In the above passages, two of this week’s readings for Wednesday Eucharist, there was so much deep acceptance for those stretched-thin mama pleas for present grace. The difference between my tired efforts and the efforts of God in me is blurred, brokenness and wholeness together all at once. In the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are reminded, “to dust you shall return,” and I am dust and dirt, all broken up and low, and at once rich and full of life, more promising and complex than meets the eye, nurturing the next things in myself and in S.

Weekend Recommendations

Keeping it simple on the blog this week with some recommendations for the weekend. These are the things filling up my heart and mind and keeping our home happy on this Mid-March snow day.

Our dining room window looking out on a spring pollen tree and an inch of snow. Hello, climate change…

To watch: The Great British Baking Show 
If you haven’t found this gem, check it  out. A refreshing, positive break from US American competition shows, it’s all beauty and encouragement and delicious baking ideas.

To diffuse: patchouli and orange
High quality patchouli has more depth and complexity and less funk than you might associate with the name. It’s so grounding and relaxing. The orange adds some lightness and sweetness. Relaxing and sweet—what more could you want from your weekend?

To listen: Laura Gibson Pandora station
Mostly 5+ year old music, but I’ve been returning to this curation since college, and it’s perfect for a slow weekend of home project catch up and quality time with my boys.

To imbibe: stovetop chai latte
I mixed together some goodness this morning and it couldn’t have been easier. Put 1/2 tsp each of cardamom and cinnamon, a crank of black pepper, a smidge of coriander, a heaping Tbsp of looseleaf black tea in a saucepan and cover with water (about 2 cups). Bring it to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add almond milk and honey to taste, then pour through a sieve. This was enough for me and A to each have a big mugful.

To read: this article from The Atlantic
Since moving away from rural East Tennessee, my interpersonal encounters have moved more left of center, having fewer conversations with folks described in this piece. But these were, and still are, my people in North Georgia and East Tennessee. I think it’s important to remember, particularly for white leftist organizey folks, that the backlash against Muslims, immigrants, and people of color is rooted in fear. That fear might not be backed up by statistical evidence or historical experience, but it is real, and it makes itself known through violence. I must stretch myself to remember this part of my formation and to face my violent fears, the remnants of Trumpism that are in my heart. Otherwise I’ll just be responding from my own fear and anger in turn, unable to respond with the compassion that actually brings about change.

That’s all for now. I’m going to slow dance with my baby to Laura Gibson and maybe mix up another batch of that tea.

What are you watching? Listening to? Savoring? Thinking on?

God made known in generosity and courage

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Harriman, TN
15th February
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 and Matthew 5:38–48

Epiphany is that season of the liturgical year when we crane our necks and peel our eyes for all the ways that God is showing up around us. We are invited to see the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, to wonder at the proclamation of God’s glory written on creation, and today, we are asked to consider how God could show up in the way we treat one another.

Now, I know a lot about good behavior. I grew up in North Georgia, just a couple of hours from here, and was raised to have good manners and be a good girl, a nice young lady. In my little Georgia city, when we were about 12 years old or so, those of us from certain families found ourselves stuffed into our Sunday best and shuttled off to the gym of the United Methodist Church for afternoons of what they called “Junior Cotillion.” Do you all have this in Harriman? Did some of you poor souls undergo the same trial as children? It was excruciating! I can think of twenty things I would have rather done on a Saturday afternoon. And while we were beginning to like the idea of liking boys, to our horror, when we got up close, the girls realized that by and large, they didn’t know what they were doing any more than we did. They were all a head shorter than us and had terrible sweaty palms. And while the abilities to do a basic waltz, write a thank you note, and know my dinner utensils have served me well, being a nice girl has not.

Here’s the thing about being a nice girl, about niceness in general. Nice is too often a poor replacement for loving. Nice is too often silent in the face of injustice. Nice is so accommodating that it begins to fear any confrontation. Nice keeps to itself. Nice cannot discern when, for the love of God and neighbor, we can no longer afford to be nice, and our love needs to be fierce and creative and courageous, rippling out from us to impact the world.

Today’s scriptures are about so much more than nice. This gospel passage is God’s invitation to a holiness that is huge, a move toward making ourselves and our world whole. In Leviticus, the law tells us not to hate anyone in our heart, but then situates this inner love is in our culture, society, and economy. This is a love far beyond nice. God’s love and justice are about setting our relationships and community right, and God is calling us now to gather courage and participate in this work. The Old Testament reading offers us first a vision of proactive love, courage, and generosity. The Gospel reading gives us a way to think about responsive love and courage in the face of oppression or hurt.

Stay with me this morning. This is hard and demanding and runs counter to most of the values of United States culture in our time. But it is also more creative and fun and satisfying and joyful than any other vision of ethics I’ve seen.

So first we have this call to proactively care for the vulnerable.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.”

Do you remember Ruth? Hers is the story behind this commandment. She was a widow and a foreigner in need, who went out gleaning in the fields, taking the bits of grain and produce left behind from the harvesters. Her story is a story of hope because Boaz, her late husband’s relative, kept this law of Israel and recognized that what was seconds to him could be more than enough for someone in need.

Leviticus is reminding us that there something more important than maximizing the profit margin. God’s telling us that our fields and our harvest are not really ours. We don’t possess any of this. Let the anxiety of owning nothing wash over you. Feel the precariousness of all we think we have sit for just a moment, and then notice if there is an inkling of relief along with the nervousness.  We are called to build in a margin, a gap between what we need and what we could take.

This generosity takes foresight and thoughtfulness. It sees that the laborer, the one living check to check, needs their wage sooner than later. This generosity takes the disabled person into consideration, seeking to make the community accessible.

And so we see that love, the creative, courageous love that God is inviting us to practice, moves from the state of our hearts outward and back again. We tend to our inner circle of a loving heart, then move from there to just work in the world. Then we come back to home base, think about what we have seen, what we have been doing. We meditate, consider, cultivate deeper thoughtfulness and compassion.

The laws go on to say, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” and this brings us to the Gospel reading.

We know from Jesus’ teachings on the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is rarely someone easy for us to love as ourself. Neighbor ends up being all kinds of people we’d rather not deal with. And here, Jesus is talking about how to respond to acts of aggression and violence in the context of Roman occupation. The way that we face unjust leaders and laws, the way that we respond in the face of vitriol is the response to a neighbor. More than ever, separated by partisan politics and the cloak of facebook comments, we need the reminder that we are connected, that our responses to one another aren’t just a bomb we get to set and walk away from, that the conclusive mic drop doesn’t exist.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

These instructions deserve a look at their cultural and historical context. First, turning the other cheek. Most people are right handed. A blow to your right cheek from a right handed assailant isn’t a punch in the face. This is a backhand slap of humiliation. If I’m hit like this, to turn the other cheek doesn’t mean that I’m being a doormat—saying, “Ok, hit me twice.” It means I’ve turned to look them in the eye. If they hit you again on the other cheek it will be after seeing your face, your humanity, and to hit you on the left side, your assailant would have to hit you as an equal.

If someone is suing you for your coat, that means that they are pressing you in court for resources you don’t have. You don’t sue someone for clothing, you sue them for money, for payment to right the wrong. Jesus is condemning the exploitation of taking someone to court when all they have is the clothes on their back. To give not only the coat but the cloak is to strip yourself naked, right there in the court. You are saying, “See me! See that I’m a human like you! See what your injustice is doing, stripping me of everything!”

Under the rule of the Roman Empire, a soldier could force a subject to carry his gear for one mile. It didn’t matter what you were doing, going about your day. If a soldier wanted your help, he could command it, no questions ask. You can imagine that this experience would range from an aggravating inconvenience to a humiliation that drains the last of your time and strength when you’re just trying to hold things together. But imagine, won’t you, the soldier who’s conscripted you to walk his gear. He stops and says, “Ok, that’s your mile.” But you don’t stop. You grimace under the weight of the work and keep trudging along. “Wait a second! Stop! That’s your mile!” Now he’s jogging to keep up with you. Maybe other travelers on the way have stopped to watch, surprised and laughing. By continuing on, you are confronting the soldier and the unjust practices. You have forced him think twice about his behavior and the harmful system without moving toward violence or detraction in your confrontation.

I recently heard a story about Martin Luther King Jr., when he was marching in peaceful protest alongside the community in Chicago. This was during the same time that he was hit with a brick. As they were marching, they passed one of many angry counter-protestors, a white man there to harass the marchers, screaming profanity at them. Dr. King looked at him and said, “You’re too smart and too good looking to be filled with so much hate.” The Civil Rights protestors saw that the hatred and racism was eroding the souls of white antagonists who were so bent on racial segregation and oppression. Calling for a more just world meant calling out the humanity even of the most hateful and harmful people.

And this is how we go, in the path of a Christ who drove the moneychangers out of the temple, but put his whip not to the human beings, but to the tools of oppression. We follow his footsteps, with our eyes on the grace and goodness of the Father, accepting the invitation of the Holy Spirit to deeply notice ourselves and one another, the invitation to move beyond nice, to take the sacred risk of generosity, love, and courage.

I want to leave us this morning with a few questions.

What is your field and harvest?

Are you stripping it bare, keeping the plenty and resources all for yourself?

Who is the neighbor who could be nourished by your abundance?

How are you experiencing that backhanded slap?

Where do you see the abuse of empire at work in your community?

Who is looking you in the eye, inviting you to see their humanness?

Whose eye must you look into, to commit that brave act of vulnerability and asking that your humanness be seen?

May the God who created us, lived among us, and breathes in us now, be made known through our treatment of one another, glorified in our generosity and courage. Amen.

We admitted we were powerless…

“Dagnabit!”

I drop my toys in the den and leap up, bare feet slapping hardwood and thudding across carpets in the big house on my way to the picture window in the dining room that looks out over the backyard.

There he is, waving his arms, yelling PG-rated slander, slamming the door of his Volvo over and over again. My silver haired granddaddy, who so handsomely plays 18 holes at 75 years old, so nobly blesses family meals in that deep voice, so diligently keeps a book going at the breakfast nook and the bedside table.

He’s out there coming undone with anger about the starlings, and my sister and I watch the tantrum unfold from the picture window, enthralled by the annual loss of control.

It happens each year. The masses of drab little birds descend, raising their shrill voices, voiding themselves any and everywhere, especially on that red Volvo. They linger in our Georgia town for a week or so, congregating in the pecan trees, and my grandfather, the wretched warrior, goes out again each morning until they depart. He flaps his arms right back at them for the satisfaction of watching the swirling wave of little avian bodies rise and fall away to another yard. Temper beyond lost, he acts a fool with complete seriousness.

Now I’m grown and he’s gone. I live in a condo with a carport, safe from yard maintenance and bird shit. My little boy is in a stage, fussing for me, then my husband, then me again. Is it teeth? Is it a growth spurt? Is this the new reality? I’m supposed to know what he needs, but I’m so out of sync.

One day he poops through the diaper in his crib, then again in our bed. Later I get the call from desperate dad to come home from a meeting—baby won’t take the bottle—and arrive to find that he’s refusing the breast as well. The smile on my face is somewhere between grin and grimace and I say horrible things in a sing-song voice as he whines and squirms. We try a nap. A dance. A song. A book. I rub the side of my breast, the beginnings of a plugged duct. I’m fighting tears. I call my husband, “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t know what to do, but this isn’t working! I’m going to have to quit my job!” And of course, at the faint sound of Daddy’s voice over the phone, baby begins to smile, then giggle. I put him down on the bed and muffle my screams in a pillow.

Phone call over, the crying starts again.

Desperate to stop the nonstop fuss, I strap him into the carrier kicking and screaming. We step out the door and he is finally, finally calm. After a few hundred feet of gritted teeth and fantasies of running away from home, I’m finally, finally calm too. We turn into the woods behind the cul-de-sac and head up the access road when I see them, the wave of birds cresting over the hill, falling into the trees. And now this fickle little maniac watches with eyes wide, faintly humming along with the cacophony of chirps and shrieks as the starlings swirl up and away again.

Diffusing lavender and bergamot

Bitch, a meditation

In Nashville last weekend, there was a Friday inauguration day march, explicitly intersectional and put together by a conglomeration of groups whose concerns and members will be negatively affecting by the new president. Renters’ rights, refugee and immigration protection, and LGBT advocacy to name a few. S and I were running late (first we nap, then march) but caught up to the march as they walked across the downtown pedestrian bridge with signs, chants, drums, and even a small brass section. We were peaceful and law-abiding, with a significant number of marchers in reflective vests working to keep things moving and signal vehicles. We sang, “We Shall Overcome” and “Which Side Are You On?” We laughed and looked out for each other.

How many times that night was I called “bitch,” walking in my city with my baby, singing and chatting? Two times? Ten?

How many times have I been called “bitch?” From those first murmurs in junior high when I came back at a boy who touched me to now, leading meetings and challenging colleagues… how many times have I been called “bitch?” And why that, in particular? That word originally meant to describe a dog, used now to dismiss and dehumanize, to reduce me to animal property.

This week I came across this beautiful essay about the difference between a “nice girl” and a “kind woman.” This author was too gracious to offer the other term for a strong, kind woman: “bitch.”

Consider the (not unproblematic) white feminist embrace of “Nasty Woman,” our new president’s verbal attack on his debate opponent. I was not a wholehearted Clinton supporter, but this slur was not directed at a political rival, a debate opponent. It was an attempt to verbally diminish her right to be there. It was a slight to any woman with the nerve to question, resist, stand up, formulate independent thought, do the homework, and assert herself.

“Bitch” is for a woman with the gall to march and sing through the evening, bringing her baby and her anointing oils, all her vocations, into the public realm. “Bitch.” That one jarring, harsh syllable so discordant with the snaking line of determined and joyful people moving through the city like a stream, so wrong for a healer, so untrue of mother, partner, and friend.

“Bitch.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

Vetiver, palo santo, geranium, basil, sage, grapefruit, bergamot

Tomorrow…

My baby boy has been this side of the cervix for 201 days. Probably 100 days of this I have talked to him about being kind; about using words in conflict; about how it’s ok to be afraid or sad. I tell him that want him to feel all of his feelings but that he’ll need to learn to express them in healthy and responsible ways. I tell him that his dad and I are doing our best and that’s the most anyone can do in this world. I tell him that he has been unjustly given power and he will have to learn how to give it away, and I tell him that we baptized him because he has also been given grace, which is very different, and also needs to be given away.
Tomorrow I might cry and wonder why and how, but then I will tell that little white man all these things again, and then we will march.

Talking with kids about Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have the great joy of working part time at St. Augustine’s Chapel in Nashville. It is a beautiful community of people who are actively seeking healing for themselves and the world.

We’re a predominantly white congregation, and in preparation for our participation in Nashville’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March, I developed this quick sheet for talking with kids about King and the Civil Rights Movement. For well intentioned white folks, it can be a struggle to know what words to use, because many of us were taught that to speak of race at all is a racist thing. The last thing we want to do is mess up and instill harmful ideas in our kids. But studies have shown that not talking about race replicates our white supremacist social structures about as well as outright racist propagation. So however muddy and difficult, white people of faith and goodwill, we’ve got to do our work around race, and we’ve got to start at home. Talk to your kids. Read the books. Head out to local MLK Day events, and for heaven’s sake don’t let that one holiday be the end of it. Keep an eye out for ways to plug in with Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to local legislation that might replicate injustice for people of color and the poor. Patron black owned businesses on purpose. Listen deeply to the world. Take your kids with you, and keep talking about it.

This is written with white families in mind, and I wanted to share on the off chance that it can be useful to your family or faith community.