Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cell phones get lost. Earing's fall out.  Toddlers toddle off.  Teenagers forget to check in.  Coins fall out of pockets.  Edward Tulane got lost.  Edward is well dressed, proud, and not to concerned about anyone else in the world.  Edward is a china rabbit doll. Edward can think, and Edward can feel, but Edward can do nothing to save himself.   When he finds himself on the bottom of the ocean, he cannot close his eyes, he cannot move, he can only lay there.  When he finds himself on the bottom of the ocean Edward can do nothing to be found.  It is an astonishing metaphor, being stuck on the bottom of the ocean and not being able to do anything about it.  Maybe you have felt that way, maybe you know someone who has felt that way. 
A china rabbit lying on the bottom of the ocean is an image that points to the real pain that goes with the real joy of living.  Growing up includes real pain, real heartbreak and real joy.  We tend to tell two stories about growing up: one that it is all sunshine and lollipops and blissful graduations into ever widening freedom.  But there is another story.  It is the story that explains why most of the Psalms are laments.  It is the story that everybody knows, it hurts to grow up.   The first time you get meanly, cruelly dumped.  The first time you gave it your all and still failed.  The Breakfast Club, Stand by Me, Mean Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, high school is hell and to survive you must work with your friends and pray it will all be over soon.  Growing from childhood to adulthood is about learning to be a steward of pain: managing the hardships, finding the blessing that lies within them, and learning to keep on moving on.    Edward the china rabbit gets lifted from the ocean floor, but later finds himself laying in a trash heap and then strung up as a scarecrow.   
Maybe you have felt that way too.  Maybe, just a little bit.  Maybe that is why you gather with a community and with God when you could be sipping latte's elsewhere.  You go because even with all your privileges and blessings you still feel something is missing.  Maybe you are a proud china rabbit who feels like he is lying at the bottom of the sea. You go because raising children is a trying adventure, and you know you cannot be found by doing nothing at all.  In the Gospels parables like the ‘found coin’ and the ‘found sheep’ are immediately followed by the story of the ‘forgiving father’, more commonly called the parable of the prodigal son.  Sometimes we are like that so called prodigal son, joyfully tripping into our own lostness.  There are times when we are like the sheep: we have heard the directions, but simply lack the talent to follow them.  Then there are the times when we are like the coin, and get lost by the fault of nobody at all. 
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is by Kate DiCamillo.  Intended for young readers, it is a fine story for all ages, and rather appropriate during Lent and Holy Week.  I have also leaned on the book when working with distressed young teens.  Edward Tulane begins his story being able to love, but only himself and the little girl who owns him.  Some of us are like that.  Some of the people we love can be like that.  Each time Edward gets found he has to learn to love more widely, more freely, more charitably.   And the lesson for those times when we feel like we are stuck in the middle of a trash heap, the lesson is that Edward doesn't stay lost, even when he is lost.  He doesn’t stay broken, on the inside or the outside.  He evolves. He grows.  Again and again he rises from what seems like the deepest darkest pit.  He does not become truly lost because of his love.  Love for a little girl, love for a lonely woman, a homeless man and a sick child.  Edward doesn't stay lost because he learns how to be loved by the unfamiliar and the castaway.  Edward, an immobile, stiff, stuffed china rabbit is found because he learns how to love.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's in a name

Erik Erikson alerted us, now more than forty years ago, to what he called the dangers of 'destructive forms of conscientiousness.' imposing global preconceptions on the multitude of diverse personalities and motivations in a give group of children may be one of them.  Rushing ahead too much to fill up silences when children hesitate while trying to explain something about their lives to us may be another.  Children pause a lot when reaching for ideas.  They get distracted.  They meander - blissfully, it seems - through acres of magnificent irrelevance.  We think we know the way they are heading in the conversation, and we get impatient, like a traveler who wants to 'cut the travel time'.  We want to get there quicker.  
Jonathan Kozol, Ordinary Resurrections

Some phrases leap out at you.  Others stick with you.  In this case this phrase about blissful wandering has stayed in my brain for the decade since I read it.  It has also morphed in a predictable way.  Just as how in compline I always say 'that awake we may walk with Christ' (instead of watch), acres of irrelevance became acres of irreverence in my head.  I drew this image not long after I read that precious book.   And I kept it.  The book is about the children of Mott Haven, a desperate portion of the Bronx, it is about how and what we do and do not do for the children who are our responsibility, and the small Episcopal church that does extraordinary work in that neighborhood.  Kozol is deeply wise about children, and I strongly recommend this book to religious educators and parents and pastors.  Ordinary Resurrections is a reminder of the socio-economic forces that sacrifice our children more brutally than the fiction of 'The Hunger Games'.  

In a chapter about the visit of Fred Rogers to Mott Haven, Jonathan Kozol continues:
'Mr. Rogers told me once that he regrets the inclination of commercial television to replace some opportunities for silence in a child's life with universal noise.  At quite times, he said, "young children give us glimpses of some things that are eternal" - glimpses too, he said, "of what unites us all as human beings.  He also said that after forty years of work with children, he does not believe that being clever is the same as being wise.  These seem like observations that are easy to agree with and then, just as easily, dismiss.  I hope we won't dismiss them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everyday Consciousness

Everyday.  You never know which version of your spouse or child will awaken each day.  Sometimes something is a little off, he or she is just not themself today. Now imagine there is another side of the coin.  Imagine a personality without a person.  An essence without a being.  Everyday you wake up in a different body, in a different life.  Everyday you find yourself in a new home, a new person who can be male or female, who is your chronological age, who always is in close geographical proximity to the day before. Maybe this could explain those days when you did not feel like yourself.  Maybe you were inhabited by A.

In the YA novel Everyday by David Levithan we are invited into a story about a personality, a personality that has no body,  no home, no parents, only a self, which calls itself A.  This being, (is it a being if it doesn’t have a permanent material form?) this A, is a consciousness that does not have one body, instead A has dwelled with thousands.  Always.  One day with the life and body of an immigrant girl who cleans houses with her family, and only speaks a language you do not know!  The next day an immense football player, the next day his twin brother.  Everyday is based on a provocative premise: how do you live not only with other people, but within their lives.  Can you stay unattached, can you never interfere?  This A, for it the answer is complicated.  How do you live without connection and friendship? How do you do no harm in a life where you are the guest?  A strives to do no harm in the bodies and lives it inhabits.  This is rather difficult to do!  Imagine ‘Freaky Friday’ without the insider information of the parent child relationship, or the appalling ‘Wife Swap’ without the handbook. Everyday offers a complex narrative that draws us into the multiple lives that A inhabits: and how this complex life demands a morality, empathy and respect for neighbors and strangers.  A approaches most days as a stewardship of lives that are not his//hers, of people who will have to live with the consequences of her/his choices.

Even when we cannot see it, everyone, every body, heart and mind and soul is as precious as the most precious object you can conceive of.  Everyday. The word became flesh and dwelled among us.  God became one with humanity, one with us, one for us in the flesh and blood and heart and mind of a regular guy in the middle of nowhere.  It means a whole lot of things, and I can direct you to tomes full of strong suggestions.  It may mean that every day, any day, God himself could be present in anybody you meet. 

One of my favorite storytellers, a moderately famous writer-director of the action-adventure-fantasy genre is frequently asked:  why do you write strong female characters?   His answer is ‘because you keep asking me that question.’  What if all people, the ones you like and the ones you don't like so much, what if each were regarded as precious, as capable of being heroic characters?  What if the question and answer were expanded to all people, to guys and gals alike? What if we treated each body as a life with which to do no harm and empower when needed?  The news has recently been thick with terrible stories about young men and young women, families and communities and bodies and tragedy.   American and international headlines and trials that lay bare that we have done a dreadful job of raising young people to know that not only are their bodies precious, but so to are the bodies of the people around them.   

I have been working with young people in churches for the entire span of life of the young people involved.  And I want to believe that those headlines could never involve our young people, ‘my’ young people.  But I cannot.  I know to much.   I know there is so much that we have left undone. We, by which I mean my Episcopal Church, we have done a lot of work on gender expression and sexuality, but have we even begun to talk about a healthy theology of the body?  Have we chosen to wrestle endlessly about being inclusive (which we should) at the cost of failing to grapple with leading people into a healthy stewardship of all bodies?  EVERY BODY is should be loved and honored in ways that do no harm. We need to say this.  We need to help people understand that while we do not occupy each other’s lives like A, the reality is that in some ways we do.  We need to raise young people of strong character, people who know this truth to be as firm as gravity.  We need to teach and show and practice a way of life that understands what A learns, that doing no harm also means standing up and intervening to protect someone in harm’s way.   

So friends, compadres, fellow pastoral, formational leaders, parents and life companions: what can we, what can we do to shift this situation? ??

Mischief managed. Amen.

Such a simple way to live.
More fun than stiff.  
More open than clenched.
A young friend once said something like: Jane, you are cool.  Cause you understand how much fun it is to burn stuff.  I am a lover of burning things. It is more fun than the paper shredder and more effective than the batting cage.!
There is something powerful about de-construction.
Holy, Holy, Holy.  
Mischief dancing.
Mischief burning.
Mischief managed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Teens and privacy.  The teenage years are an invention of modern society.  It is created by the social changes in economy and standards that leaves us with nearly-full-grown people who have limited responsibility and varying degrees of independence.  They need our help and push it away at the same time.    This starts young, very young.  Young children have private lives from as early as nine months.  I once worked with a thirteen month old who was concealing her ability to walk from her parents.  There is an important power in this.  It lets a child become their own person.  Someone able to disconnect and cut the cord, hopefully with love.  However, it also scares the crap out of most parents.  The desire to love and protect makes the unknown into an overgrown monster. There is also the parental desire to celebrate.  Those parents lost out on the joy of watching their daughter take her first steps.  I once served with a young man who was a rather good pianist.  I accidentally discovered that his mother had no idea that he could play the piano at all.  She laughed it off, but I could tell she was a bit hurt. 

Perhaps you saw the articles last week about the growing dislike for the world of facebook.  To quote the Slate article, "while some teenagers interviewed by Pew claimed they “enjoyed using it,” the majority complained of “an increasing adult presence, high-pressure or otherwise negative social interactions (‘drama’), or feeling overwhelmed by others who share too much.”  Well, I know plenty of adults that feel that way.  Some are there and not there at the same time.  Others opt out.  And others..well they share to much and like to much.  There is drama.  I don't know why we would think that second lives are that much different from first lives.  And for all the constant adjustments to privacy on the site, it still has controls that you can control (mostly); however you have to use those controls and some self control as well.   Facebook feels like it has a better balance of privacy and interaction; social media sites like twitter and tumbler, well to me they are more like graffiti or loud shouts across a crowded room.  Everyone can see or hear whatever it is you are saying.  

Still, I wonder if I should I feel guilty.  Culpable for being a loud part of the large adult presence in teen facebook experiences.  I urge parents to sign up if their children are participating; I contact parents if something posted is worrisome.  And  yes, I tag parents in your photos.  It is so much easier than when I used to send mission trip photos to yearbook editors!  I wonder if my love for y'all and desire to celebrate has tripped over that boundary.  I wonder if this feeds into that feeling of being overwhelmed.  Have I become the embarrassing parent in the parking lot??  I am deeply appreciative of social media connections with the young people I serve with.  It is a way to interact in the middle of our spread out and busy lives.  I know more about the young people I work with because of facebook.  I know more of what to celebrate, but I am also faced with more to pray for and sometimes more occasions to seek assistance.  

A friend of mine is fond of the grounding technique of 'losing the door'.  The bedroom door.  That famous slamming boundary marker.  If you cannot play by mom's rules, then you lose your door.  I have often wondered if doors in childhood and teen years are something that should be earned.  Like a drivers license.  Anyways, the reality is that online there are no doors.  Only the uber-powerful have the ability to build online doors. So please remember that if you don't want your parents to know, then you should start with not doing it!  Then when that notion fails, please for goodness sakes, leave the house with NO DOORS.  I am not encouraging dangerous choices, I am simply acknowledging the romance of risk.  Anyways, if you don't want people of power and influence to know about something...then DO NOT POST IT.  Government and private agencies are cataloging everything that is ever on the interwebs.  If your parents and youth workers can find it then so can possible employers. Phone lines still work, pick it up and have a conversation.  Find a loud cafe with a cozy table and speak your truth.  And, please, also find a way to have a space for folks to love you and communicate with you and be with you when everything else is creating 'too much drama.'   So this is a bit of an apology for opening the doors, for posting and tagging and shouting across crowded rooms that we are proud of you.  I am cool with being the embarrassing parent in the parking lot.  

Do Not Fear the Pavement

A Reflection in Remembrance of Oscar Romero, March 24, 2013
On warm summer nights in Berkeley, California, there used to be a small group of skateboarding friends. Long after the streets had rolled up, they would begin their game.  The goal of the game was to catch the light at the North Gate of Cal (University of California at Berkeley).  To catch it on their skateboards, to catch a light that from the direction of their travel was more often red than green; the game was to catch this light, and go sailing onto the skateboarders heaven of an auto free campus. They would begin this game five blocks uphill, and around a left hand turn and beyond 3 stop signs. They could not see where they were going.  They could not see the light.  It wouldn't matter because it could change at any time. 

I didn't watch this adventure because of the game itself.  I watched because their play, their practice of the game was a thing of beauty. They were like dancers, like surfers, riding imaginary waves.  They were free within their passion for their craft. It was as if the pavement was no threat at all.  I don't know about you but I don't feel as if my life is frequently in danger.  I lead a fairly safe life.  I do not fear for my life the way Romero's parishioners did.  Romero, like so many nameless martyrs didn't seek out danger.  They sought to proclaim Good News in word and deed.  They rose to the test because their ministry was performance art.  The risks were real and apparent, but they didn't stop because of fear.  They kept going down the hill as if the pavement was made of pillows. 

How do you keep going when the risks seem overwhelming?  How do we strive for justice when the final peace is blocks away, around the corner, with stop signs and red lights all along our route?  Live this faith like we mean it.  Do not fear the pavement.  Practice as an artist in love with the subject.  As the famous prayer attributed to Romero says, we plant a future we may not see. “We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.  We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.”

Let us set our wheels to the pavement, let us build up our desire for the kingdom as our friend Archbishop Romero did.  Let us follow in the footsteps of his witness, let us take a ride that leads through risk to a green light that we cannot even see.  Love the Lord in pursuit of freedom, and let God's grace lead us through the rest.