Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Citzenship of the Saints

I've been thinking a lot about identity this week.  I became a naturalized US citizen this week. This was after a wait of almost a year and a half after I first made my application.  The wheels of bureaucracy turn extremely slowing in this administration. So while this has been a day I've been anticipating for a long time, it's always been with deep ambivalence.  Unlike so many people who come to this country, while this was a choice for the sake of marriage and a job, it was also not something I had ever sought or dreamed of or aspired to.

As much as I have loved Seattle, I have also prided myself a little on my identity as an outsider, and particularly as a Canadian outsider.  Especially in these days when progressive Americans are crashing the Canadian immigration website with their interest in leaving the country, I think I've even felt a little smug.  So to add "American" to my identity has felt not so much like an addition but somehow like it's canceling out both my other identity and my identity as "other".

And that's a problem.  Not that I feel like American-ness is canceling out my identity as Canadian, but that I've been as tied up as I have been in my identity as citizen of any nation over what should be my primary identity as a disciple of Jesus.  If I am a citizen of anywhere it is of the Reign of God.

As I prepare my message for All Saints Day and think about the beloved saints who have shown me the way, I don't think about good citizens, I think of good disciples.  Sometimes they are one in the same, but sometimes, good disciples are troublemakers and rabble-rousers.  Sometimes good disciples don't follow the laws of the land (as I had to promise in my citizenship ceremony) but protest laws that are unjust.  Sometimes good disciples are noisy and nosey and get in the way of governance for the sake of peace.  Jesus was not a good citizen. And when I think about my own kids and the little ones whom we will dedicate in the way of Jesus on Sunday, I hope that they will be better disciples than they are citizens too.

At this time of year All Saints and Veteran's Day (Remembrance Day in Canada) converge to make me turn to the people who I remember as witnesses for peace.  (I've written about that before here and here). I hope that as I continue to figure out what it means to live as a citizen of two countries, I'll keep remembering the people and identity that root me in my identity not in nation but as God's beloved child.
me and my freshly minted citizenship certificate

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Youth and Anxiety

Do you know, friends, that until this year I have never seen a therapist? I've never had a specific mental health concern or issue. I've never experience a significant trauma. And so I didn't think I needed one. But recently, for a variety of reasons, I thought I should try this thing that a) has been so helpful to so many people and b) I've always recommended to everyone else. And (surprise, surprise) I have started to realize that mental health, like physical health, is better when professional is helping you see what needs tending and regular check ups are super helpful.

I still don't have any specific diagnoses, but I'm feeling what seems to be the collective cultural sense of anxiety. According to healthychildren.org, anxiety in teens actually is rising; it's not just in our imaginations. According that article, one in three adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder. That seem incredible to me, and yet over the past year or so I've become aware of multiple parents whose children or teens are facing mental health issues of varying degrees, anxiety among them.

I bring this up now in part because Delaney Rustin, a primary care physician and the creator of the film Screenagers has a new follow up to that film called Screenagers Next Chapter: Uncovering Skill for Stress Resilience. It looks more closely at young people experiencing anxiety and the intersection with social media and screen use. So many people - teens particularly - turn to screens to escape feelings of anxiety, but avoiding anxiety through social media and screens can exacerbate its symptoms.

The good news is that as young people confront or face a challenge that makes them anxious will decrease their overall level of anxiety. You can read more about the new film here and you can hear Delaney Rustin and her colleague Laura Kastner talk about their approach to anxiety as medical professionals and their suggestions for parents here (scroll to third segment). I am really looking forward to seeing this film. Unfortunately (for me - but maybe great for you) the only showing in Seattle that's open to the public in the coming weeks is next Wednesday and I can't make it.

While I wouldn't say it applies to our congregation, Christian culture more broadly sure is new to the idea that mental health is an important part of our whole selves. If you suspect that you or a young person in your life is experiencing some form of anxiety (some tips on how to figure this out here) or even if you don't, talk about it with someone! Your primary care doc is a great place to start. And many, like Delaney Rustin, may ask questions about mental health in their routine wellness exam. And if you're pretty sure you or your child are experiencing anxiety then seek therapy! Under the ACA insurance has to cover it.

Good medical and therapeutic help is important, but friends, as a believer I am also still rooted in the One who created me. We are all created good and with a spark of God's divine light within. My prayer for all of us - and most especially our children - is that we may become our most full selves, the ones that God knows us to be.
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Christians are not the only religious community new to the therapy bandwagon. So I leave you with this. A little comic from one of my IG faves Huda Fahmy. She's also had funny posts recently about Muslim youth ministry. Go follow her @yesimhotinthis on Insta and Twitter.

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Photo above by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Does God Fight?

I grew up with Bible stories in a way I'm not repeating with my own children.  We sometimes will a story or two from Desmond Tutu's Children of God Storybook Bible.  But I'm not systematic and don't, as my parents did, have multiple additional bible story books or do a daily family devotional.  I'll admit that in part it's because I don't want to have to deal with some of the problematic Old Testament stories of conquest, war and (not to put too fine a point on it) genocide.  I can't even remember how my parents dealt with that.  I think maybe we just breezed over those many other people that Israel conquered and killed to enter Canaan or somehow I saw that land as empty (besides the rivers of milk and honey, that is).  I didn't see those conquered people as people.

I'm not willing to do that now - let the conquered be invisible or non human; there are too many contemporary and historical examples of oppression based in these texts for me to let it go.  So how do I approach this?  For one, I think Desmond Tutu has it right - in his retellings of the Biblical stories, he focuses on love and justice.  And many stories of the Old Testament left out altogether.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori based Sunday school program our congregation used at one time, didn't introduce the Hebrew Bible until children are at least nine - and then began with the prophets.  Early focus is on Jesus' care, welcome and love.

In the high school Sunday school class this fall we're looking at some of the stories of war and violence.  Together we're trying to examine them with some nuance.  I'm using as my starting place a curriculum called Does God Fight? from the Mennonite publisher Faith and Life Press.  Some of my takeaways from that and from my experience with these stories are these:
  1. The Bible is written by people who had a particular understanding of God.  Oppressed themselves, their God was one who delivered and did so absolutely. 
  2. The God of these war stories is the one who delivers.  The people are to depend not on their own power but on the God who fights for them.
  3. Jesus has priority.  We believe Jesus to be the most clear interpreter of God's desire for humanity and model for how we are to be followers of God's will.  And when Jesus interpreted scripture he did so in a way that pointed to non-violence, compassion and God's love for all nations and peoples.
Do does God fight?  Well, in the Biblical narrative, yes.  If children and teens can understand the nuance of historical context and the human need to describe a God who completely and totally has their backs then maybe these stories can still have some meaning.  There are still communities of oppressed people for whom a story of a God who leads people into safety and to a home of their own is important.  I absolutely do not count myself as a part of such a community.  Instead I lean into Jesus.  Jesus who loves and blesses the the imprisoned and the weak.  Jesus who welcomes his disciples questions and chooses little ones so sit beside him.

May we always have Jesus at our side
as we struggle to be a people
who says no to violence and oppression.
Amen.
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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Keep Breathin'

There's plenty of pop music that make me roll my eyes or straight up gag (I do not love it when you call me senorita). But always like it when Ariana Grande's song breathin comes on the radio. Sure, it's a little repetitive, but the woman is handing out some pretty good advice, honestly. Ariana sounds like she might be living with anxiety, frankly. I hope she has a good therapist. But maybe, like me, she is just stressed out. I've been stressed out, friends. I admit it. Pastor Megan's absence left me with more on my plate than I'm used to and I'm starting to feel it.

A couple weeks ago when we blessed our kids' backpacks for school and all our totes and bags with the assurance that God breathes within us. I even preached this whole sermon about breath and feeling the breath of God give life. Sigh. Sigh again. Seriously, that's how I'm breathing these days. Held breath and sighs. I'm having to remind myself of my own and Ariana's advice constantly.

With adults - and even teens and tweens - sometimes we can offer a simple reminder: 'Remember to breathe!' or 'Let's take a deep breath,' when we notice stress being held in the body. Helping younger kids to breathe when they're feeling stressed or anxious isn't always that easy. For one, who likes being told what to do? Second, it might seem counter intuitive, but I think we actually need to be taught how to breathe. I have a couple go-to methods for breathing and focus and mindfulness that I come back to. And I recently found one that I'm adding to the list.
1) Balloon - take a deep breath like you're going to blow up a big balloon. Form a small round balloon shape with your hands by your pursed lips (they're around the balloon's opening) and blow out, watching your hands grow larger. Do this again a few times until the balloon is the size of your open arms. Then let the balloon go up into the air. (I know: the balloon isn't knotted and full of helium; just go with it.) 
2) Birthday Cake - pretend you have a birthday cake full of candles in front of you. (You're really old, I guess). Take a deep breath and blow like you're blowing them out. Count aloud with your child or have them count in their head - how many candles did you blow out? 
3) Snake Breath - I is the new one got this one off of this resource from Barefoot Books. "When they are coiled and resting, snakes look around calmly, and when they are ready to move, they are slow and smooth. Sit up tall. Take a deep breath in, filling up your whole body. Pause and breathe out slowly and smoothly, making a hissing sound for as long as you can. Repeat for three to five rounds, feeling yourself slow down and become calmer each time."
Breathe, everyone. And then keep breathin'. The God of life breathes in you, in your kids, and in me too!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Blessing the Beginning


Beginnings and endings have me thinking about blessings. There's something about the beginning of the school year and the changes and transitions that it brings that is always a little nerve wracking - both the school year and (for me) getting ready for the beginning of programs at church. In fact I went back to my Midweek Message from last year because i knew I'd written about a back-to-school litany and I thought maybe I could take my own advice and give myself some language for remembering God's presence with me and my kids during stress.

This Sunday we repeat what has become a beloved transition to me: blessing backpacks (and bags and purses and briefcases and phones and tool kits etc; the things we carry). I know blessings aren't magical. These things aren't imbued with some kind of special power. I'm not a wizard. (Or am I? *cocks eyebrow*) They do, however, have a special place in the life of a community and in our relationship to God.

Weirdly, I often think of this advice column by hard-rock partier Andrew W. K. when I think about why prayer - and blessing as a specific kind of prayer - is important. He frames prayer as a way of letting go of our need for control and power and acknowledging instead our need for help and putting ourselves in a position of love and community. I also like Walter Wink's take. He calls prayer an aperture through which God works. Calling on God's presence and letting ourselves become magnifying glasses to focus the light of God into those places where we want to concentrate love and caring and peace, that seems very worthwhile to me.

So we've been blessing backpacks for about a decade maybe. And we bless food and babies and goings out and comings in. We bless students and teachers and service workers and council members. We bless all the things but we've never blessed our Sunday school rooms! At least not since I've been here. But that all ends this week. I was inspired by a post on the Dove's Nest blog by Allison Brookins, who talks about praying the 23rd Psalm over the children of her congregation. This Sunday, in addition to assembling school kits and eating sandwiches, I invite you to join me in doing a blessing tour of our Sunday school rooms. We'll bless these spaces in which we trust that our children will learn and laugh and create community and experience the love of Jesus, opening ourselves and those spaces to God's loving care and attention.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Memories of Grandma


A few months ago a package arrived in the mail for our family. In it was a small Easter gift from grandma: four delicately crocheted and impressively starched cross bookmarks and a card with an Easter message. This reminder of resurrection and new life is a blessing to me as I hold the work of her hands in mine and remember all the things that her hands have made over the years. Beautiful and practical items that were her way of reaching across the miles - even around the world - at times when her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have been distant. Mittens and pajamas, tiny Barbie dresses and snowflake ornaments, cozy afghans and warm sweaters. Works of love.

Beautiful and practical seem to me words that aptly describe my grandmother. Beautiful in her sweet smile and sparkling eyes - that sometimes seemed to hold a little mischief. But also the beauty of deep love for family and community. While we are many - the children, inlaws, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Helen Reimer - I have never felt forgotten or unloved. Grandma wanted us all to be included and cherished. And practical. Strong. How could she not be? To not only raised five daughters and care for many grandchildren over her life but also to financially support her family by being a part of the workforce. To physically nurture their bodies by growing a garden and making preserves and pickles, baking and noodle making, sewing and knitting. Practical, beautiful, loving provision and care.

While I’ve been distant in recent years, my childhood was full of hours spent in grandma’s house, in blanket forts in the backyard and eating creamsicles on the front steps, playing with the same games and stacking toys that were still in the cabinet in her Bethany apartment for my own and other children to play with. I will still think of grandma every time I ride the bus with my children and let them ring the bell the way grandma showed me how to do on the way to Safeway. I will remember her in homemade white buns with jam. When I knit mittens with stitches I first learned under her patient guidance. And when I open my bible to the place where it is marked with the cross that she made.

Proverbs 31 asks,
“A woman of valour, who can find?”
“...She is clothed with strength and dignity
and can laugh at days to come.
Her children arise and call her blessed…
“‘Many women have done noble things but you surpass them all.’”

May grandma’s laughter be met by her smiling Creator,
who is delighted to welcome her with loving arms.
May we children who have been blessed by her surpassing love
be people of valour, beauty and love,
reflecting the love that she has shown to us.



Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bathroom Sign Blessing

"We welcome a diversity of gender identity and expression. Please use the restroom that best fits you." 

These are the words posted under our gendered bathroom signs. (The ones with a person wearing a dress and a person wearing pants - hello, gender normativity!) We hope that this along with the addition of clearly labeled all-gender restroom signs our congregation is clearly communicating our welcome and blessing of people of all genders. Before they were posted, these signs sat on our altar - the first and only time a toilet will hold that sacred place - and they received this blessing in worship:

God who is all gender and no gender,
God who became incarnate in a body, who is no-body
God who created our bodies and identities
    and is present in each of our bodies,
    expressed through our identities,
Bless the work of the Gender Hospitality Ministry Team,
As, on behalf of our congregation
    they seek to make explicit our welcome
    of your beloved queer and trans bodies into our worship and spaces.
May we truly proclaim, holy and what you have called holy.
May we proclaim welcome what you proclaim welcome.
May we, like Peter, see clearly the vision
    that allows us to lean deep
    into our identity as a body of radical hospitality
    without partiality.
May these signs - markers for our doors and windows -
    also mark us.
May they mark us and our doors as open.
Open to your Spirit and open to all who enter,
That your welcome may be our welcome.
And that even when we harbor fear and uncertainty
    we may use these as an opportunity for understanding
    - of ourselves and of our neighbor.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
    whose Spirit is with us and welcoming us still.
Amen.