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, 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.
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.

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.
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash