For Dr. Thompson

bloom

(photo credit, John Thompson)

“He’s the toughest grader you will have at Fuller!”

These words did not ease my anxious spirit that January as I geared up for my return to MDiv studies after the birth of my firstborn, Mercy three months earlier. I almost lost my life after childbirth. Post-partum hemorrhaging  and D.I.C. (or “Death Is Coming” as they call it) landed me in the ICU and after a miraculous recovery,  the road back to post-partum strength and health had been difficult. Mercy was an “always hold me or I will cry” and “I will only sleep while being held” newborn which made the physical rest that my body so desperately needed a very real challenge. But my scholarship required degree completion in three years, so “taking a break” or “easing back in” or “going part time” were not options.

I carried those fears and physical realities with my books and notebook into John Thompson’s 8am “Reformation Theology” class that January morning fourteen years ago. I found a seat, settled my things, and felt the absence of the baby in my arms. Having set an alarm to wake at dawn to afford time to nurse Mercy, get dressed, pack the diaper bag for the day, hand her off to Doug and make the stop and go slog through morning traffic from South L.A. to Pasadena, I remember sitting wide-eyed that first morning waiting and watching and wondering if I was going to be able to succeed.

There is a lot of language around women and theological education and training, and as one who endured the sort of “your eyelashes are distracting when you preach” comments from male seminarians (not at Fuller!) which do such harm, I would argue that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood were by far the steepest obstacles I encountered to successfully completing my seminary education. It all feels so profoundly fragile when I look back: like any number of things could have derailed me. Considering the challenges we faced during those years, I would have had every good reason to quit: to pause, to fade out, to fail, to never return. Dr. John Thompson, and Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson, are two of the reasons I didn’t.

That January morning, Dr. Thompson started the first day of class with a hymn. We sang loudly, intently, and it was both worship and consecration of the work we had gathered to do. He then led us in prayer. That pattern would continue-every 8am, every class began that way. The toughest grader at Fuller made sure we remembered and declared at the beginning of every class the source and purpose of what we had come to do, and who we were trusting for our success.

At 9:50am, Doug would arrive outside the classroom. Mercy would be encased in the Baby Bjorn, sleeping, usually covered in one of the swaddling blankets hand-sewn for us by a dear friend from my home church in Seattle. I could see them through that slit of a window in the classroom door, and I would watch Doug pace outside the classroom, rocking or bouncing a bit with a blanket-covered bulge on his chest, keeping the hungry baby asleep until those classroom doors would open and mom and her milk would return. He would hand her off and then head back to his office where Mercy had spent the last hour with him.

When I found out I was pregnant with Mercy, I was in a class with Marianne Meye Thompson studying the cross in the New Testament. Doug and I had not told anyone yet about the pregnancy when I hit that point in the first tri-mester where my extreme fatigue (falling asleep face-down on the living room floor at 7pm) and horrible nausea caught up to me. For the first time in my seminary career, this straight A student faced the prospect of not completing an assignment on time. I debated what to do because I hated seeing my pregnancy as a weakness. As a woman in seminary, I felt it was my duty to be able to do it all-to not let something tied to my gender be an excuse for any failure in my performance.

Something provoked me to talk to Dr. Meye Thompson about the assignment and I confided in her about my pregnancy, and stumbled over myself apologizing for its impact. She wasn’t hearing it. She beamed at me, drew a little closer, and said these words: “Being really sick early in the pregnancy is a very reassuring sign. It is a good sign that the pregnancy is secure and the baby is doing well.” There was such empathy, encouragement, understanding, and identification in her words, her tone, her posture. This fierce academic, this esteemed role model, this brilliant mind and teacher handed me much more than an extension on a paper that day. I was seen, I was accepted as I was, and my baby’s life was profoundly valued as part of mine in a way I had not realized I desperately needed.

“I will be hosting a weekly gathering in my office every Tuesday after class at 10am for any of you who wish to continue informal discussion on whatever topic we are addressing in class,” Dr. Thompson announced the second week. 10am. Post-baby-hand-off hour. Mercy’s nursing, burping, spitting up all over me and all of her clothing time. There is no way. Or is there…I wanted to be there. But I would be a distraction. She would be a distraction. What if she makes noise? Would my breastfeeding be offensive? Would our being there make someone uncomfortable?

I don’t remember how I decided to give it a shot but I did. After class that second week, I maneuvered my way down the walkway, down the stairs to the second floor, and into Dr. Thompson’s office. I settled myself and the diaper-bag backpack into a chair, cloaked my upper half in the swaddling blanket (we didn’t have those fancy nursing covers they make now!) and ducked my head underneath the blanket to settle and secure Mercy to my breast. I then resurfaced and settled in for a vibrant discussion of theology. Every week I would do this: I would breastfeed and burp my baby and engage in questions about atonement theory or Luther or Anselm and Abelard.

John welcomed us into that space. He welcomed both of us. He never made a spectacle out of us; he didn’t make a big deal about us being there; he never treated me, the nursing seminarian, as the aberration I so desperately feared being. But he also acknowledged my daughter and made sure there was space for me in the room. He never pretended she did not exist or cast an annoyed glance my way but instead offered a warm smile and kind comments on the few occasions she made noise. Those weekly discussion groups taught me something profound about myself and my calling: nursing a newborn did not require my mind to stop working, nor did it bar me from theological engagement with my peers. My vocation as a pastor and a theologian were not compromised by my vocation as a mother.

I  earned a very high A in that theology class.  And I completed my MDiv degree in the three-year timeline my scholarship required. During that time, I also helped to plant a church. I preached frequently. I co-labored in ministry with my husband. And I walked in my commencement ceremony with my seven-month old Mercy present in the cheering crowd and a surprise second baby in my belly.

I saw this week on Facebook that Dr. John Thompson was retiring from Fuller Seminary. I thank God for his life work as a professor, a scholar, and a friend to so many of us. His legacy is indeed a rich field of wildflowers, every size and color, pushing through every manner of soil and weather and season. Wildflowers he loves to find and notice. I am one of them.

I can’t find the photos from my graduation, so here is a pic taken at Doug’s Fuller commencement with Drs. John Thompson and Marianne Meye Thompson. And yes, I had another baby in my belly on that day as well. Her name is Hope.

DrsThompsongrad

 

 

 

Sides

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings
endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages
the tormentor, never the tormented.”

- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1986

By Mercy Haub
May 1st, 2018

I swore never to be silent.
Though there are always choices.
Hazardous decisions, hazardous competitions, and yes,
Even battles.
One side is dark, the other light, and every
Person is
Proud to be the light, for that’s where people place themselves, yet it’s all a point of
Opinion, for in war, all is
Smothered
In grey. Or red.
The only light side is if you choose to
Engage the war itself.
Only then are you in the right. This way, you silence will take
Flight, and
Left are those who will persevere, those who
Oppose good, and those who are silent. They, the quiet ones, create the most
Violence;
Every one of them who
Insist on
Sticking to their silence. They are
Negligent of their dangerous gravity, as the finger on their mouth turns to the tormentor’s sword.
Only those who are wise recognize
That fighting is painful, ignoring is dangerous, but silence, that is lethal.
How horrid is it that the majority of
All of humanity has endured the
Trial of the voice and lost
Everything just to keep their mouths shut.
Inside of every opposition is
The oppressor and the oppressed.
Inside of all of the oppressed is a
Solemn hope that someone will stand up for them
In the raging battle between them and their persecutor.
Never is the necessity to shatter the oppressor’s will to present pain greater than the
Desperate need to break the silence of the broken bystander.
If everyone
Found the courage
From deep inside the cavernous corners of their conscience to stand up for one another, most
Everyone who was abused would have been
Rescued and the border between hope and hopelessness, the silent, would be broken.
Even if there are still tormentors, those who
Never back down are the ones who
Cease
Evil in its tracks and carry on our duty as human beings to never stand by and be silent

 

“I Had A Miracle…”

When I was pregnant with Hope, our family celebrated a special milestone: Doug’s graduation from Fuller Seminary. He was asked to give the commencement address at the Fuller Northwest ceremony here in Seattle, and after he did so he received a phone call inviting him to fly down to Pasadena to speak at the all-school commencement as well. I am drawn to these words he spoke so many years ago right now as we navigate some choppy waters and many unknowns. Doug is one of the sharpest minds and most tender hearts I know, and I am so happy I get to be his wife, through sickness and health, through richer and poorer.

 

For Tamir

My friend died this year
His cancer, amoral
Cancer comes like rain,
That good and evil alike receive
It chokes children, rich , smart , poor, valuable, throwaways alike
There is no judgment, no possible prosecution
No conviction or indictment that can come
Cancer cannot take a witness stand or hear a verdict
Cancer only kills

This is not cancer
Or is it?
Killer cells, masking, multiplying
Blue bullies disguised deflect, defy our natural defense
What radiation can burn Whiteness?
A terror not even hidden
Whiteness wails: aggression! justification! threat!
Always under attack
Defining, always defining
Enemy, other
Deserving
“She seemed older” does not help the rapist escape conviction
“I didn’t see clearly” does not absolve the drunk driver
The blue wall too high for such burdens to climb

We don our shiny white goggles and we all see red
Rivers of red
Black bleeds and negative space looms and this is not cancer
It is not indiscriminate
The tables never turn
It has laser like precision
An assault weapon fit for war

A child’s un-being
Unbearable lightness of a boy extinguished
Matter not mattering enough
When will it be enough
One, two…
White souls bleeding out
We reek of death

My pastoral prayer for Charleston, SC

Our church has been preaching from the book of Revelation in recent weeks, so I chose words from that book to lead our congregational response to the events of this past week at Mother Emanuel.

“There in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!”

We come to you, Almighty God, because we believe this-that you indeed occupy the throne of heaven and earth.

This week we have seen a beast of Revelation proportions-we have seen racism in its most evil conclusion. We have looked wrath, hatred, and sin in the face and watched their fruits flow as blood through the sanctuary of your people. We have lost brothers and sisters. Pastors, servants, faithful witnesses. People who committed themselves to studying your word and to prayer. People who opened their door and welcomed and blessed a stranger.

“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’”

We join our voice with churches throughout our nation today, and we cry: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne”

Remind us of this game-changer, God. The truth that our Savior, our Redeemer, the one through whom we are victorious, stands in heaven as one who is slain. Remind us that our victory comes through suffering. Our conquering comes through sacrifice. Evil is conquered by forgiveness, mercy, and love.

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

And now, dear Father, we ask that you would come this morning. Send your Holy Spirit to us with the ministry of conviction of our own sin: personal sin, corporate sin, sins of omission and sins of indifference. May we hear your voice, in the midst of the horror of Charleston, South Carolina and Mother Emanuel Church, which we confess we could choose to keep at a distance. To the Church in Laodicea you gave this invitation:

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me… Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

Amen.

The Measure of a Hero

Last Wednesday morning, I paused for a moment in between sandwich making and wiping the face of the three-year old at the table to open my laptop on the kitchen counter. My first grader wanted to bring his basketball schedule to his teacher: she had asked him when his games were so that she could come to one of them. I think he had reminded me eleven times in twenty-four hours about the need to print the schedule. It meant the world to him that his teacher wanted to come and watch him play.

As the screen lit, my Facebook page came into focus with a startling image. It was a photo of the intersection in front of my kids’ school. And it showed men with bulletproof vests and guns next to police cruisers and SUVs, blocking traffic completely. The person posting the image did so to alert drivers that they might hit some pretty rough traffic. It took a few minutes of flying through websites and my Facebook feed to interpret the image: an armed man at my kids’ school…verbal threats against all the schools in our district…lockdown procedures in effect…a school district closed. Elijah’s teacher would not be receiving the basketball schedule that day after all.

The next day I sat in a meeting with a young man who works in before and after school care at one of our local elementary schools. He described for me the events of those early morning hours the day before: making quick decisions with spotty information; managing the range of responses from “I’m scared” to “I’m bored” to “I have to use the bathroom”. “I just kept running scenarios through my mind,” he told me. “What would I do if someone came to the door…if I heard shots…if the glass broke…”

He continued: “I had to keep my hands in my pockets the whole time because every time I took them out they would just shake…I couldn’t get them to not shake. After a while of praying ‘please not me’ I started thinking: ‘why not me? Why not let me be the one?’”

I sent an email to my kids’ three elementary school teachers Thursday morning and I ended my email with this: “Thank you for your service to our kids and our family. We recognize that being a teacher today carries with it a heavy burden of ‘what if’ in light of school shootings and the like. You walk into that ‘what if’ daily, and I know you would boldly and bravely protect my kids, so thank you.” My brother serves in the military and I have often thanked military servicemen and servicewomen for what they do. It felt unsettling, out-of-body like, to write these words to the people who teach my kids algebra and different ways to construct an egg-drop.

Thursday afternoon I arrived at yet another local elementary school in our district to help in the after-school homework club started this year by a few concerned teachers. I saw one of the fifth grade teachers I know well, and we waited until the last child had left before we spoke of Wednesday’s events. “It was really hard coming here today,” she said in a moment of quiet honesty. “If I still had kids in school, I don’t know if I would have sent them.” I hugged her and thanked her for being there. I told her I could not imagine how that must have felt.

Friday night I stayed up late baking muffins. Our church had volunteered to cook breakfast for an early morning event at the grade school down the street. Every year around Christmas, the teachers at this school take up a collection and raise enough funds to take a group of about twenty-five students on a generous shopping spree to buy new coats, a new outfit for school, and maybe some new shoes: things the kids get to pick out and “buy” for themselves.

Saturday morning, the alarm went off at the unfriendly hour of 5:30am. My daughter and I packed our muffins, and headed out on dark empty streets to a completely unlit parking lot outside of the grade school. A small light shone from a crack in the front door that was propped open by the school’s Family Advocate to allow us entrance.

We entered the cafeteria and began to set up quiches and pancakes, sausages and orange juice, and of course my daughter’s favorite muffins. Kids arrived at 6:45am and entered, some shyly, others with eager smiles spread wide over their faces. Teachers dressed in Saturday-morning casual sat sprinkled throughout the room. One teacher in particular noticed every child who entered. Without fail, if a child hesitated for even a moment at the door, she would quickly rise from her lunchroom table and rush over to greet them with a warm smile and gentle touch.

The volume rose as the room filled and laughter and smiles were contagious. I looked around at the faces of the teachers there: leaning in, listening, making jokes, eating sausages and pancakes with these wide-eyed kids. The setting was one of welcome, safety, delight. These cafeteria tables were filled with a whole other set of “what if” scenarios than those rehearsed earlier in the week. What if these kids did not have the gift of these teachers in their lives? What if…

After everyone had eaten their fill, a teacher rose and gathered the attention of the kids in the room in that clever “speak really softly to get the kids quiet” way. After bathrooms were used and bus-buddies chosen, the group lined up and walked out into the foggy morning for their shopping adventure. As we cleaned up, the principal mentioned that his wife was home preparing for his daughter’s first birthday party that would be held later that day. As a wife and mom myself, I thought of his family at home, working hard at party preparations while he was here at school, on a Saturday. It sounds small, perhaps, but I recognized the cost in his being there that day.

It can sound cliché to call classroom teachers and school staff members “heroes”. But this week in Shoreline I saw each one of them that way: from trembling hands running scenarios of sacrifice to an early Saturday morning shopping trip, to the possibility of showing up at a first-grader’s weekend basketball game. From the quiet bravery of coming to school no matter what to staying that extra forty-five minutes to offer homework help week after week.

These are the measures of a hero. And I am humbled and grateful for each and every one of them.

Are you writing these down?

Elijah, from the couch yesterday afternoon:

“Hey! Did you know the alphabet has a space for ALL the letters?”

Elijah, while eating his dinner and discussing the baby’s upcoming first birthday celebration:

“Mommy, why does everyone have to have a birthday on the day that you lay a baby?”

Sitting

Facebook has opened up opportunity to connect with people’s grief in new ways and with greater scope. As news of my “friends” trickles past me at points throughout my day, there is almost always an update about someone’s loss, someone’s sickness, someone’s tragedy. And I have been drawn near to grief that, in reality, is quite relationally distant from me simply by reading posts or following links and facing the heartbreak of others from the very safe distance of my sofa.

Recently a friend posted a link to one of my favorite scenes from Lars and the Real Girl that shows the love of a community for someone who is grieving. As one of the women explains her presence (and casserole): “That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over and sit.”

I remember stepping off an airplane in Portland, Oregon after a ministry trip to Chicago turned into a week-long stay mourning the tragic death of a young man I had loved dearly. My roommate and friends met me at the airport with words of kindness; they got my luggage and drove me home, and later that night I found myself alone in an empty house. I recall walking down the stairs from my bedroom and crumpling part-way, and there I sat for some time sobbing on a middle stair.

Later that evening there was a knock on my front door, and as I opened it, I was surprised to see Doug standing there alone. We were nothing close to romantically involved at this point, and I don’t remember what he said or if I spoke; what I do remember is the wet of his raincoat surrounding me as I sobbed like a child.

“After a tragedy, those of us on the outside often wonder what to say. We look for the escape hatch of a platitude or a verse. Or we are tempted to think we need to offer a reason, find a purpose, or defend God. We shouldn’t. A simple, “I’m sorry,” is appropriate. God doesn’t need us to be his PR reps, and people in midst of calamity aren’t asking questions, at least not yet. Usually they’re simply trying to keep going, take the next step, and figure out how to live this new, strange life.”

After a while, Doug asked if I had eaten anything and I answered that I had not. He asked me what a comfort food was, and I must have answered tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, because I found myself walking the block to what was then the un-Safeway and going through the motions of buying groceries. We returned to my house, Doug fixed the food, and we sat and ate together.

“The ‘I’m sorry’ won’t feel like enough. There is a tension in suffering, a stress in its very existence, even if not our own. When something horrible happens to someone we know, for a moment, we realize this terrible thing is possible in our world too, and that’s scary. It’s the rare friend who is willing to hunker down with you in the mystery of deep sorrow—knowing full well it could be their own.”

I read this today at Scot McKnight’s blog, and when I think of the many faces of grief I encounter, I am reminded that while online words of encouragement are meaningful and good, it is the act of “sitting with” that moves us most from the death of grief into life.

“To remember someone in this way is to be a part of their healing. To respond to a person’s cry of lament, ‘Remember me!’, is to live in solidarity with that person in their struggle and pain; to tell someone that we will not forget them offers hope and reassurance in the midst of loneliness and despair. In pastoral ministry, not only do we remember who we are as God’s people, we also ‘re-member’ one another.”

“You eat. We came over to sit.”

A Confirmation Blessing

For your head: may the words you have committed to memory today return to you often to guide, encourage, and sustain you. And may this day mark the beginning of a habit of lifelong study and learning. There will not always be a hefty notebook and tests, but there will always be those with something to teach you and those needing you to teach them.

For your mouth: may you continue to speak aloud what is true about God; may you regularly confess your own faith to those who understand and affirm it and to those who do not; may you learn to pray often and to sing loudly.

For your heart: may the words of faith you have spoken here today take up residence in your heart and may they define you. May you never forget how very deeply you are loved by your Father in heaven and may you cling to your identity as His child. Do not listen to any voices that seek to tell you differently.

For your hands: may your profession of faith today take on flesh through a life of service: service to God and service to others, when it is comfortable and convenient and when it is not; when people are easy to love and when they are not; when it takes you down the paths you expect and when it does not.

For your feet: may you understand that the story you have told us today; the story of God and the people of faith; that is your story. You are the next pages of this history, and there are adventures to be had and roads to travel. May you walk boldly, knowing that God is with you, the Good Shepherd who knows you by name; the One who will never leave you nor forsake you.

“And God looked at all he had made…and it was very good.”

Amen.

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.