Wednesday, May 09, 2018

One God Who Mothers Us All

One of my preferred ways of speaking the trinitarian formula is this:
     In the name of the Father
     and of the Son
     and of the Holy Spirit
     One God who is Mother of us all.

This is a favorite now but but when I first began to imagine God as Mother it felt really weird.  It made me feel squirmy and wrong when, in my prayers I began to experiment with female images.  I think this may be the case of many of us who grew up in traditional churches.  It's likely true even in non-church culture, where 'the man upstairs' is universally understood to mean God and with a couple of notable exceptions (Alanis Morrisette or Octavia Spencer for example) God has been portrayed in most art and media as an old white, bearded dude in the clouds.

Yet mothering imagery for God - even for Christ - has ancient roots.  These are words from Julian of Norwich in the 14th century (and from our Hymnal #482):
     Mothering Christ, you took my form,
     offering me your food of light,
     grain of life, and grape of love
     your very body for my peace.
Who else but a mother feeds and nourishes and sustains her children from her very body?  This Christ-like action that we all experience when we share at Christ's table and that I understood in a new way as a nursing mother.

And way, waaay before Julian, the Biblical writers understood the mother-ness of God, although we haven't always read it that way.  Hosea writes in the voice God: 
I taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;
     yet they did not know that I healed them.
     I pulled them along with humane restraint, with ties of love.
     And I was to them like those who lift babies to their cheeks,
     I reached to them and fed them.
Sure, dads can do that stuff too (thanks be to God).  But for the prophet and the culture and context in which he wrote, he was imagining the Mother.

When I was in college and spent a summer as a camp counselor in Alberta, I butted heads often over theological issues with a particular counselor who was much more conservative than I.  But I found on the matter of gendered God language he was completely on board with Mother God.  For him it was a matter of having had a father who was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive, who was anything but the nurturing and tender parent that we long for in the God.  To imagine God as Loving Father was painful and difficult and difficult for him, when for me it was comforting and tender because I have a dad who was comforting and tender.  Hosea's image could easily have been Father in my eyes, just as it has so often been understood by so many.

The naming and understanding of God is going to be as nuanced as the ones who name and call on Her.  For those of us who parent, we can understanding a parenting God through the lens of our experience of parenting. Calling on Mothering God can be meaningful both in our experience of mothering and in our longing for one who provides the comfort and tenderness of a mother's arms in our time of need when nothing will do but Mama.

Finally, if you have not heard it before (or even if you have!) I recommend Bobby McFerrin's adaptation of the 23rd Psalm.  His hymn of praise to God our Mother is transporting.  You should put it in your ears RIGHT NOW.  Happy Mother's Day all you who mother, who have mothers or who need our Heavenly Mother to give you rest.
Image of Julian of Norwich by Br. Robert Lenz.  Click on it to learn more about Julian (and her cat).
Image of hands by Jon Warren, taken about 10 years ago of my hands with my daughter.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

For the Love of Camp

Camp Shekinah, approx 1989
When I was a child, my Mennonite camp was called Camp Shekinah. It’s in the valley cut out of the prairie by North Saskatchewan river, which in some summers a trickle and some summers floods the banks as far as the lodge, but most summers is somewhere in between. Which always provides ample breeding ground for mosquitoes. It's the camp where I learned to canoe, tie knots, use a compass and build an excellent log-cabin or a-frame fire. It's also where I re-enacted the Exodus, learned the definition of the word 'statutes' (it's not the same as statues), had a counselor talk to me about why he got baptized and where I began to understand that following Jesus would be my choice too.

I loved camp. I could not wait to say goodbye to my parents and find the friends that I'd made the year before. I felt like I belonged there in a way that I didn't experience in other parts of my life and it fed my soul. That is the experience I long for every child to have when they go to camp. I see it now at Camp Camrec when I go as a staff person. The space might be different, but the essence is remarkably similar: the beauty of creation all around, children and youth invited into the work of God in the world, the joy of connecting with caring community, songs and stories and worship around the campfire.

My childhood camp isn't the 'Camp Shekinah' of the canvas tents and mud trails anymore. It's Shekinah Retreat Centre whose facilities have grown (past the flood line) and whose program is year-round. I've visited a few times in recent years and because my cousin was the program manager I even got to experience the new zip line. But the kids that I observed who were there as campers were still having essentially the same experience that I had, that kids at Mennonite camps all over the continent are having - a fun, meaningful, holy time of learning and connection.

I'm looking forward to being at camp again this summer with the older youth. I hope your families too will take advantage of the opportunities it offers. Registration is open.  :)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Palms and Marches

Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang. These are kinds of images and songs we like on Palm Sunday. Cute kids waving palm leaves while adults look on from their seats. A party or parade atmosphere. But Palm Sunday is not and has never been cute. And what I've been dwelling on this week is concurrence of Palm Sunday with the March for our Lives the day before. A march to protest the use of guns in this country and specifically they way they've been used to kill children.

When you look at images from palm processions from parts of the world where it's kind of a big deal, they look a lot like protest marches. People en mass holding up palm leaves like protest signs. That is likely closer to the original procession than having children traipse around the sanctuary half-heartedly singing a hymn they don't know. The first procession, in which Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey was an act of prophesy and a political send-up of the Caesar-worship of the time. With boldness and courage, Jesus and his followers took to the street to perform some radical street theater. To protest the domination powers that occupied them and would later kill Jesus.

Our marches to protest violence against black lives, to protest the violence wrought by guns against our children, to protest the power of the state - I believe that is very much in line with the protest that Jesus had in mind when he mounted a donkey and invited his followers to name their allegiance not to Caesar and the Roman Empire but to the Prince of Peace,

You may or may not be participating in the March 24 March for Our Lives. But I pray that we all may be invited - along with our children - not to cute-ify the procession. That we may be bold and courageous in our prophesy. That we may walk in the way of Jesus.

*fabric palms above created by the Seattle Mennonite Church junior youth

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When God Made You

It's hard to find children's picture books about God that don't make me cringe a little or change the language to re-interpret the theology while I'm reading or have pictures that reflect a diversity of people and culture. But recently I found Here Wee Read (@hereweeread) on Instagram. 

The reason I started following Here Wee Read, (which is also a website) is that Charnaie, the creator of the site and all its social media is an 'expert in diversity' and makes excellent suggestions of books that feature people of color or tell stories of black and brown leaders and innovators, and that help to introduce conversations about race even with very young children. I was delighted to learn that her suggestions sometimes also include books about God and/or the Bible.

When God Made You and When God Made Light are now regular reading at bedtime in our household. The illustrations are absolutely delightful and engaging; we pause at almost every page to talk about what's in the pictures because there are new things to notice, or we notice the same beautiful thing again and again. (It can take a long time to read these books because of this.) The lyrical, silly-serious lilt of the writing is fun to read and, as the kids say, gives me all the feels. Plus - and these are actually big ones for me - I never have to edit-as-I-go because the pronouns for God are Capital H He's, language for humanity is exclusive, or there's questionable theology, which I have to do even with the wonderful Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

The illustrations are such a celebration of the beauty, creativity and personhood of little black girls that I was surprised to learn in an interview with the author, Mathew Paul Turner, that both the author and the illustrator are white dudes. (Read the interview here with Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families). In the interview Turner talks about his own frustration with reading to his kids. wanting to acknowledge the light of God's creativity and love within his own children and not finding anything that quite fit what he was looking for. So he wrote it himself.

There are some lines I can barely read without busting out crying with the beauty of imagining my child and all our children and each of us in all our belovedness.

"You, you, when God dreams about you,
God dreams aout all that in you will be true.
That you - God's you - will be hopeful and kind,
a giver who live with all heart, soul and mind...
A mover, a shaker, a lover of nature.
A builder of bridges, you the peacemaker...
'Cause when God made you, all of heaven was beaming.
Over YOU, God was smiling and already dreaming."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hearts and Ashes

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." These are the words we hear or sing or recite each Ash Wednesday when we come before God in petition.  When we invite God to make our hearts new, having failed to love God or God's people as fully and wholly as we should.  We are marked with ashes as a reminder of our humanness - that very thing that identifies us as created in Gods image and that causes us to mess up.

Still God is faithful.  God's heart is for us.  As we progress through Lent this year we will hear in worship (or you can follow along yourself here) the story of God's covenant love for all creation and for us in particular.  One of my favorite texts of this season comes near the end. "I will put my law within them," God says, "and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." This is written in Jeremiah to a people longing to feel connected to God again.

This is an intimate kind of law.  It is a law of love that will be known to us because God is within us, loving us from the inside out.  A love so known to us that we cannot help but show it and live it.  A love so strong and so much a part of us that when we don't show it and live it, it will endure because God endures.

People often give something up for Lent.  I have, myself, opted for the classic giving up coffee or chocolate.  I've also fasted from Facebook or other media.  If that's a practice that works for you as a posture of prayer, a way to connect your heart to God's heart, great!  If that's not your gig, or if you're looking for something to practice with others, or with your family, what about some of these:
  • send a handwritten card or note to someone each day (or let's be real: each week)
  • deciding on an amount per ounce of water everyone consumes to donate to a water charity
  • collecting and donating a bag of toys, clothes or clutter, one item each day
  • doing a random act of kindness each day
  • reading through one of the Gospels, (this year it's Mark - the shortest)
  • print out a 'Praying in Color' lent calendar and fill in each day with a doodle or a color that illustrates a prayer (scroll down a little to see the pdf links) or make your own.
  • Create and decorate a donation box and put something in it each day to bring to a local foodbank
  • Create a thanksgiving wall or poster and add a note to it each day. Or go the extra step and make it a tree - by the end, as spring arrives, the tree will be full of leaves
Most of the suggestions above are from the Practicing Families site or my own head, but for more and more detail try Traci Smith's website.  Her book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Spaces at Home has wonderful ways of making room for God in the everyday life of family. 

May your hearts be pliable to God's to the writing of God. 
May God's heart be the heart in which you find home.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Black Lives Matter At School

RESOLVED, that the Seattle School Board declares that the lives of our black students matter, as well as the lives of all of our students of color; and therefore be it further
RESOLVED, that the School Board encourages participation district-wide in the Black Lives Matter At School Week from February 5-9, 2018 through discussions in classrooms and in homes."

I feel grateful to live in a city whose school board encourages its educators to embrace an active role in naming injustice and promoting equality.  One of the reasons I love my neighborhood school in Beacon Hill is that I know that in addition to being majority minority, it's intentional about having a global agenda, identifying inequity, teaching students to think critically and celebrating black lives and the people of color who have been shaped history and culture.

That said, having a child in a school like mine let's me off the hook a little.  Or rather, I let myself off the hook by leaning on the great stuff the school is already doing and not getting too involved in the day to day.  I pay the PTA membership and I show up to the occasional event, but I've never gone to a meeting.  I'm busy with all the things and its hard to think about adding one more.  I know I'm not alone.

Then I read this article on the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) website: "Act In" Where You Already Are.  The author talks about finding allies in the activities and organizations in which we're already a part and advocating and agitating for racial justice there.  "Racism is everywhere," she says, "We don't have to go to a special meeting to take action for racial justice. As families, we engage with a lot of people outside of “activist world” and can bring them into racial justice work through the mutual interest of raising kids in a world without racism."

So I don't go to PTA meetings.  But I do have several other involvements (including this church gig with all of you) where I can think about putting anti-racism energy.  Maybe you do go to the PTA meetings (I know some of you definitely do) and you can find allies in inviting a guest speaker or panel to talk about raising race-conscious kids.  Maybe you go to a library storytime that would entertain the question of using more people of color in books (and drawing attention to it).  Maybe you're in a book club that would choose to read books by people of color.  Maybe you work in a workplace that would be willing to support systemic anti-racism training like this one. I don't know...but you might!  And there are some concrete suggestions in the article and all over the SURJ website.

Last week a flyer got sent home in the backpacks of the kids in our school saying a little bit about what was going to be happening in school this week and suggestions for follow up.  But I know that using the curriculum is voluntary.  So I hope you're able to find way to advocate for justice in your communities and with your kids.

And a couple more resources to end on:
If you are interested in a workshop on how to be a better ally, check on the White Ally Toolkit this Saturday hosted by Valley and Mountain, The Well, and Kids4Peace Seattle.
Second, I've always got you with the book suggestions.  I just discovered a new Instagramer to follow: @hereweeread is a 'diversity and inclusion expert' and her Instagram features books (mostly for kids but some for adults as well) that celebrate black lives and accomplishments. Below are a couple of screen caps from her good!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Patronus is a Snow Leopard

This weekend in our congregation we are going to host an event in which we hear the story of the relationship between Lakota folks and white descendants of settlers in Minnesota.  A part of that will include the story of land return and will challenge us in the Northwest consider what our responsibility is to the First Nations of Washington.  For us in Seattle, that means the Duwamish.  The elementary children will have the opportunity to learn from a Duwamish teacher, experiencing songs, stories and even learning to dance. It's going to be pretty great. 

Even after living in Seattle for more than a decade, I've had few opportunities (largely because I haven't gone out of my way to find them) to learn about or expose myself to local indigenous culture.  I want to change that. I'm noticing that, like the cultural shift in awareness of the way white folks are blind to our privilege with respect to black folks, there's an increased understanding that we can easily commit micro-aggressions even in some common english expressions.

For example, consider, "So and so is the low man on the totem pole," or "let's pow-pow" or "such and such is my spirit animal." These take cultural, possibly sacred, images, appropriate them and trivialize them.  A totem poll has no hierarchy; there is no 'bottom'.  A pow-wow is a social and ceremonial gathering not a quick meeting in the break-room. And isn't it just so much cooler to say "My patronus is a snow leopard"? (Actually my patronus is probably a house cat.  Anyway, you can read more here, here and here).

It's exciting to me that our congregation want to be challenged to examine our whiteness - including the kind of language we use about and originating in indigenous culture - and I've go a few more resources for adults and children to help us learn and become more culturally sensitive.

The Seattle Public Library has great recommendations for books from toddler through Young Adult.  Also, at the Central Library location there is currently an exhibit of photography highlighting local First Nations.  I always find going to the downtown library a fun outing.  Another local resource with permanent exhibits highlighting indigenous culture is the Burke Museum.  Go for the dinosaurs stay for the basketry, beading and kayaks.  And finally, a built-in opportunity to be hosted in a Duwamish space is the Sunday afternoon portion of our event at their longhouse.
Photo: Haida bentwood chest. Burke Museum cat. no. #2291.