Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Those Could Have Been My Neighbors; That Could Have Been My Child


These are the names of the people who were targeted and shot in a Buffalo Tops grocery store this past Saturday:
  • Roberta A. Drury of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 32
  • Margus D. Morrison of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 52
  • Andre Mackneil of Auburn, N.Y. – age 53
  • Aaron Salter of Lockport, N.Y. – age 55
  • Geraldine Talley of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 62
  • Celestine Chaney of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 65
  • Heyward Patterson of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 67
  • Katherine Massey of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 72
  • Pearl Young of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 77
  • Ruth Whitfield of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 86
That could have been my grocery store, my neighbors. I live in a neighborhood which is still one of the few places in Seattle that is minority white, in which a majority are Black folks and other people of color. But maybe more terrifyingly, the young man who perpetrated this act of terror could have been my child.

The teen who committed this horrifying violence - and live-streamed it for others to see! - was scarcely older than the children who live in many of our homes. He was influenced by the same social media and streaming platforms that many of our children use. How are we countering the influence of white nationalism and white supremacy with the white children in our homes? Especially the white boys.

I found Britt Hawthorne's comments in an Instagram Live video very inspiring and practical. She is an Anti-Racism educator who, in response to the Buffalo shooting, shared specifics tips about how to talk to children about this or any act of racist violence. It's about 15 minutes long and worth watching in its entirety, but she provides a brief written summary if you don't want to/have time to watch.

What I found particularly helpful was the way she shared the conversation she had with her 15-year-old son about her boundaries and expectations related to how he engages with this or other violent content he encounters on social media. She invited him to consider the way viewing this violence would affect him, how the families of victims would feel about having people viewing it and why the shooter might want others to see it. She also told him very clearly that if he did encounter this or other violent images like in in social media that he disclose it to her so that she could help process it.


Hawthorn's child is not white. He is not going to be a target on social media for the white nationalism that the Buffalo shooter was influenced by, but he will absolutely be harmed by it. For those of you who love children of color your conversation may sound more like hers. My child is in the demographic of young people who will be recruited to white nationalist. Many of our children are. They too need to know our boundaries and values. We need to give them the tools that they need to counter supremacist thinking. They may already know more than we think they do and our silence will not protect them.

Here are a few resources that I've found that I hope will help you (and me!) start or continue the conversation. I started with the first link at Embrace Race (where there are many other great resources) and found the next three there.Four Steps for helping kids push back against white supremacy
  • Common beliefs and understanding of white nationalists, including how its spread online and in schools
  • Dos and Don'ts of talking to kids about white supremacy - written after the attacks in Charlottesville, but extremely relevant to today
  • How White Nationalism sneaks in through social media, calling out specific YouTubers and streamers.
Hawthorne starts her IG live with the encouragement to resist the ostrich effect, a strong temptation for those of us who are white and can easily give in to the overwhelm and stick our heads in the sand. But she ends with ideas for action and advocacy. This is where I find the most hope: taking action as an individual, as a family and in my community to identify and resist the ideas pit our differences against each other.

May God give us the strength and wisdom to be conspirators for love and justice.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Thank God for Abortion?


Maybe you, like me, have been talking in your households about the recent leaked draft opinion about overturning Roe v Wade. Maybe you've been talking with your partners and friends. Have you been talking with your church? There are people in your church who have had abortions. Maybe you are one of them.

We progressive Mennonites are not alone among progressive Christians who are vocal about many liberal leaning political issues but shy away from talking openly about abortion because of the shame and secrecy that surrounds our experiences of it. But one third of people who can bear children will have an abortion in their lifetime and the majority of those who receive abortion healthcare in the US are already mothers. We are not excluded.

My teen (whose most recent future career dream is OBGYN, incidentally) was listening in when her dad and I were discussing our disgust and disappointment about the likely SCOTUS ruling, asking questions about it, about the implications. We talked about some of the other likely outcomes: that this ruling will disproportionately affect people of color and those who are poor. That unwanted pregnancies increase poverty. That those who can afford to receive care will come to places like Washington to receive it, which will impact access for everyone. We shared our frustration that those who profess to be pro-life seem not to care much for the lives of the children and families affected.

Later, after some reflection she asked some more personal questions: Would I have an abortion if I got pregnant now. What should she do if she became pregnant? Yes, I said. Without hesitation, I would have an abortion. And while I would want the choice to be hers, I would support her in seeking an abortion. I believe all of our children who can or will be able to become pregnant and all of our children who might partner a pregnant person (ie. all of them!) should also hear this affirmation.

The God who created us cares deeply about us. About our children. God's love for us and for each human life is for the whole of our lives. I believe this means that I need to be sensitive to the ways that pregnancy and birth affect the whole lives of the people whose bodies carry a pregnancy and care for those who will be born. God wants us to thrive. That is the meaning of shalom. We are a shalom people.

The God who created us cares deeply for our freedom. God wants us to make choices that will care for our own health, the health and vibrancy of our communities and the health and flourishing of the earth. God gave us both this freedom and the responsibility to steward and care for the earth through the choices we make. God values our personhood and the ability we have to care for creation and for our own bodies.

I thank God for abortion. I thank God for abortion in the same way I thank God for birth control and for the miracle of medical science that can offer non-fertile people the ability to bear children. In the same way I'm thankful that after I miscarried, I was able to receive the surgical procedure that I needed to prevent abnormal cell growth in my body. I thank God for these interventions which give us the ability to create families (or not!) and have lives and children that can be healthy and whole and thriving in our and God's loving care.

If you are looking for more faith-based support for abortion care, I encourage you to check out the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. For scholarly Biblical understandings that counter the conservative Biblical narrative try the writing of Rev. Dr. Cheryl Anderson. And for a compassionate look at the balance between the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of freedom of conscience see the Salt Project. Please also learn more about Viva Ruiz, the artist whose work is pictured above at ThankGodforAbortion.com.

If you are advocating around abortion as healthcare, I encourage you to do so a person of faith. As a person who is seeking shalom in the world - God's vision for a Just Peace for all of creation. May we together grow into God's vision.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Show Your Childfree Friends the Love


I sometimes listen to the podcast "Mom and Dad are Fighting" in which listeners write in to the show's three hosts to answer parenting questions. I subscribe to a few different advice podcasts, though I usually gravitate more toward the comedic. In this case, though, while the hosts Zac, Elizabeth and Jamilah don't take themselves too seriously, (especially when sharing their parenting fails), they do take their listeners seriously. They often agree and support each other but come at parenting with different experiences and perspectives.
In a recent episode, they heard from a person who does not have kids but who wants to support their friends who do. The writer reflected with disappointment and grief their experience of feeling uncared for and unsupported by their friends with children after a big accomplishment in their life. This hurt in a particular way because of the care they have always tried to show their friends and their friends' children. (I mean, this person without kids listens to a parenting podcast!) They wanted to know: is this just their friends? How should they talk to their friends about it?

I immediately thought about the church's history of either wringing out or hanging out to dry people in the church who don't have children. Weird how these two laundry metaphors both get at the way we take our childfree folk for granted, either assuming that because they don't have kids they have all the time and energy in the world for all the church tasks and roles OR planning events and activities only with children and their nuclear families in mind.

I think we do okay in our congregation at not making assumptions about people based on their age and/or life stage. I think we try to be inclusive. But I have had conversations with people in our church who feel like they have not been celebrated in the same way as their peers who are having babies or left out of conversations about aging when their peers are entering empty nest phase. I feel personally implicated. It's too easy to get busy with all the kid stuff and to gravitate to other parent-friends because our paths cross at kids' activities or in the school drop-off line.

If you are a parent, I hope you reach out to someone in your life who doesn't have children to ask what's been up with them lately, celebrate a milestone or offer encouragement. Having people in my own family's life and in our church who do not have kids, whether by choice or by circumstance, is a gift! Beyond the ways these child-free folks share themselves in love and care for us, they model for our children multiple ways of living full, connected, meaningful lives as adults that have nothing to do with raising children. It is so important to name their belovedness.

Elizabeth, Zac and Jamilah of "Mom and Dad" encouraged the letter writer to share their disappointment and hurt directly with their friends. But I hope that our friends and siblings in the church won't have to say something before we let them know how beloved they are in God's eyes and in ours.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Jesus Came to Live, Not to Die


I made my child cry this Easter when I acknowledged that the Easter Bunny does not exist. I'm not sure where he got the idea that the Easter Bunny would bring him Easter goodies. It has always been pretty clear that I am the one who prepares the Easter baskets, write the treasure hunt clues and hides the eggs in the back yard. But there we were, a crying kid who's asking me, if Easter isn't about the bunny and candy and baby chicks, what is it about?? I did scramble a little to explain.

I've been in conversations with a few people recently who have been confounded about how to explain what Easter means to the young children in their lives. They haven't wanted to replicate the harmful and violent stories of God making Jesus die sacrificially or even as an example of Jesus' great love for humanity. So many of us had it drilled into us: you're a sinner and Jesus died for your sins! But if it's not about that, then what is the death of Jesus about?

The most succinct way of responding is by reframing the idea altogether: Jesus didn't come to die, he came to live!

I've been impressed by the work of Traci Smith and her approach to faith formation with children and families, so I really appreciated her conversation with two other folks who have been reconsidering how we frame Jesus' death. She, Daneen Akers and Herb Montgomery talk about the cross in way that both rejects the violent and harmful understandings we may have been taught and distills it in a way can be understood by children.

My own distillation of their conversation is this:
  • Stick to the story - Find a good children's book or bible that sticks to what the bible says or use the Bible itself. There's not much need to extemporize if you say: "This is the story that Easter celebrates," and then read or tell it. (I'll include some suggestions below)
  • Acknowledge Jesus' death as execution - God didn't kill Jesus, people did; scared, angry people who were worried that his power might mean they wouldn't be powerful any more. God is never please when a person is harmed or killed.
  • Speak the good news of new life - the power of the Gospel story is that God raised Jesus from the dead. That doesn't mean that those who we love who have died will live again, but it does mean that Jesus' story wasn't over. Jesus lived again to keep preaching about God's love and to send his disciples to share God's message of love, forgiveness and new beginnings.
The reason for the eggs and bunnies and flowers, I told my distraught child, is that all of those things show us about new life. Plants and the earth around us have been cold and dark and dead all winter. In spring, when plants are growing, and animals are being born, we remember the new life that Jesus experienced and that God's love brings us new life and new beginnings too. (I actually wasn't quite as eloquent as that, that's the gist.)

I think that an Easter that celebrates the newness of life, the power of God's love over the violence of the world can engender empathy for the pain and suffering of the world in a way that believing God required suffering does not. May we all understand ourselves to be loved and blessed by this God who brings life.

Books for telling the Easter story:
  • Children of God Storybook Bible - Desmond Tutu
  • Growing in God’s Love: A Storybook Bible - edited by Elizabeth Caldwell
  • Jesus is Risen - Augostino Traini
  • Miracle Man - John Hendrix
  • This is the Mystery of Easter - Amelia Dress Richardson
For a more middle/high grade look at the theology of atonement through a non-violent lens, the profile of Herb Montgomery in Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints sums up Herb's approach. (There are several other free profiles there as well, including Bayard Rustin and Gustavo Gutierrez.) And if you want to go even further down that rabbit hole, check out his talks on nonviolence and the cross, where he draws heavily on liberation and womanist theologians.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Seize Joy Where It May Be Found


"What if I was in Sophie's body and Sophie was in my body?"

Sophie is our big, goofy dog. I am not a dog person. I did not particularly want a dog, but my family wore me down and I'll admit, she's a very good girl. Like all dogs, she loves treats, gets very excited about going for walks, snarfs up any crumb that falls on the floor, goes nuts for a squeaky toy and licks her butt. She was doing this last one as I was asked the question above by my six-year-old.

I said, because what six-year-old doesn't like to talk about butts, "Do you think you would lick your butt like Sophie does?"

"What? No!"

"Would you wait at my feet while I'm cooking, just in case I drop something?"

That one he thought about a little more. I started laughing, thinking of how silly it would be if my child acted like a dog and if Sophie started acting like a human child. Together we giggled as we thought of the different scenarios and ways that it would be funny and ridiculous to experience a human/dog body swap.

Even in the best of times, I have a personality that tends more toward curmudgeonliness than the whimsy. I lean more toward critique than appreciation. More staid than silly. Even more so than usual, in the interminable days of the pandemic, I find myself struggling to engage in delight and gratitude and affirmation.

To fend off the panic and sorrow, I turn the radio off when another doom-laden news item is being reported on. I try and sometimes succeed in not being entirely critical and demanding with my children and spouse. I use screens for escape. I get outside. Still, I haven't found anything that truly feeds and nurtures a sense of joy that is hard for me to come by at the best of times.

So I was surprised to find myself not only enjoying the ridiculousness of our little flight of imagination but returning to that moment in my mind all the next day. That moment - and it truly was only a short interaction - got me thinking about how I can seize moments of joy when the Spirit presents me the opening. I could have said, "Oh, you're so silly, Dogs can't be people." and that would have been that.

I did have that inclination a day or so later when I was asked, "What would you wish for if you could wish for anything." Just at that moment, the conflict in the Ukraine was being reported and true to form, my first thought was, How can I choose between world peace and the end to the climate crisis and for the pandemic to be over and, and, and... So I said something boring and dumb like, that all people would care about each other and the earth.

But then I backtracked. I said, "But really, if it's just for myself, I wish for a swimming pool."

"Where would we put a swimming pool?"

"How about on the roof?"

And again, we were off. Imagining how we'd get to a pool on the roof, deciding that actually a hot tub would be better in this weather, that definitely we'd some very good floaty toys.

"God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit." These moments when I let myself seize the tiny moments of joy were a gift of that same Spirit - blowing in unexpectedly.

I pray that you all may also find and seize the joy that the Spirit want to offer you
--
Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels




Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Year in Review, 2022


Have you ever felt bad for not writing a year-end letter like all those put-together families who dependably send an annual year-end card? A card that's filled with beautiful pictures of their family along with a note or letter that shares what's happened in the past year. I have. I have also absolutely delighted in the pictures and the updates from some y'all or friends I'm mostly not in touch with anymore. Some of them are propped up on my desk or stuck to my fridge.

If you've felt the pressure to conform with the Christmas-letter masses, I'm here to release you; sending the letter or card isn't going to make you more worthy or interesting or lovable. You are all those things no matter what. If sharing a family picture and letter gives you joy, yay! Keep it up; your friends appreciate it. If you'd like to try a low-ish pressure letter-writing method that I started a couple of years ago which makes this task feel a less like a chore and more like a Spiritual practice, keep reading.

Real quick, though, here's a hot tip: a "Christmas" letter doesn't have to be at Christmas. I recently received an All-Saints Day letter (by email - a letter also doesn't need to be in the mail) from someone that included both her life update and gratitude to people who were her 'saints' in 2021. And I've sent both a Valentine's Day Letter and a Lunar New Year letter when those were the holidays nearest when I got around to sharing updates to my family and friends.

Okay, here's what I really want to share. I learned it from another family's annual letter. No point keeping secrets - it was Rex and Lenae. They shared (and still share) interesting or eventful or fun things about each month and I wondered how they remembered all the details. Turns out they were keeping track! Simple as that. So I started to keep track too. With no set schedule or routine, just whenever I think of it, I write down events or achievements or things of note that have happened that day or that week. I try to do it at least once a month.

I might take note of the start of school in person, a birthday, a funny thing someone said. Maybe it's getting vaccinated or planting a garden or a new interest someone's getting into. I also try to think about what I've been thankful for each month and to notice what's felt especially hard. No surprise there was a lot of Covid-related and things-we-did-at-home content in my 2021.

At the end of the year (or at Lunar New Year) I take a look back over the notes I've made. Not everything makes it into the letter. I edit things down a bit. But part of the beauty of this way of doing the letter is the opportunity to remember where we were and what we were doing throughout the year and giving thanks. This year especially I was thankful for all we made it through!

You might already be a journaling type and have a place to put these little notes. But a notes app on a phone would probably work pretty well. Last year I set aside a couple pages in a notebook I use for doodles and hand-lettering. The year I just tucked a couple pieces of printer paper into my planner that I'll move along to wherever I am at the moment.

I also include pictures in my letter, which seems slightly redundant in the age of social media, but it does liven up the page a little. May you find grace and blessing in the moments of 2022, whether or not you are writing them down.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A Wombat, A Nativity and A Mystery

 I've been pulling from my pile of Christmas stories for use in worship during Advent.  In one of my very favorites Australian animals put on a nativity play.  Wombat is eager to try out for a part.  Not only do we learn that a numbat and a bilby are animals (both - no surprise - marsupials), we see these adorable animals comfort poor Wombat when none of the roles is quite right for him.  Until...they all realize that there's one role that's just perfect.  


Oh. My. Goodness.  This book will definitely make your heart grow three sizes.  Pastor Megan read it on Sunday because I was keeping my coughs and sneezes at home.  You can see that portion of worship on our YouTube channel.
Another one of my favorites for Christmas is The Nativity.  This gem takes the King James Bible version of the nativity story (I edit liberally while reading) and adds Juli Vivas' gorgeous illustrations.  I wrote about it a couple years ago and many of our families received one with their Advent materials last year, thanks to the generosity of Rex and Lenae, who also love it.  If your family didn't get one yet, please let me know!

The Christmas Mystery: Gaarder, Jostein: 9781559213950: Amazon.com: BooksFinally, I'm currently on Day 7 of The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder.  This one's not a picture book, though it does have lovely chapter illustrations by Rosemary Wells, whose style I recognized immediately from the Max and Ruby and Yoko books. In a little bookshop in Norway, Joachim discovers an old advent calendar label "Magic Advent Calendar." Each day when he opens a door he's thrown into the story of another child - a little girl from 50 year ago.  In the company of an angel, a lamb, a shepherd and likely other characters I haven't learned of yet, a little girl named Elisabeth is running backward in time and space to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. 

I love a story within a story. I love a little magical realism.  I love fiction that takes faith seriously. And I love that at this moment there isn't much that interests both my teen and my six-year-old but so far they're both into it!  The chapters are short, fun to read aloud, and I could totally see this becoming an Advent tradition in our household.  One that's way better than chocolate - however fairly traded it is.  I offer gratitude and appreciation to Cindy Spencer for introducing me to this one. 

A blessing on your Advent reading and other activities.