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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.

Quotation of the Week

To the question “Who do you say that I am?” we cannot give a merely theoretical or theological answer. What answers it, in the final analysis, is our life, our personal history, our manner of living the gospel.

Peter’s affirmation, ‘You are the Christ,’ is fundamental. But what is demanded is that we make that affirmation the guiding thought of our life — accepting all the consequences, as dire as they may be. Only so is our response valid, as honest and sincere as it may be without it.

Our response to the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?” does not end with a profession of faith or a theological systematization. It is a question addressed to our life and that of the entire church.

From Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (p. 51). (H.T. Scot McKnight)

A 2009 Benediction

It is no secret that there has been little activity here this past year. It has been a year of great transition, and I have found myself in a more quiet, internal place as I find my footing in life’s new landscape. I have not always known how to speak freely here, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I struggle to speak without transparency.

But I also do not feel finished with blogging, and in this new year hope to discover what it is I have to offer and say from this green, wet land I again call home.

Tonight the house is strangely still. The kiddos were asleep hours before what normal has been these past days in a large house filled to capacity with family and friends. Doug is driving the last of our guests to the airport and the silence feels thick after the sudden departure of so much chaos and activity and noise.

Snow White is resting next to the animals inside the Playmobil Pet Clinic Mercy got for Christmas, and a hearty stash of Aaron’s Hot Wheels are nested in the couch cushion beside me. Baby Jesus safely sleeps next to a brown bear beneath the lip of the coffee table with John Goldingay’s last volume of Old Testament Theology offering him shelter. The stack of metal folding chairs borrowed for Family Feast 2009 are stacked in the doorway ready to be returned to the church building and I am simply ignoring the laundry reality of piles of sheets and towels in every room.

As I sit in tonight’s quiet, I offer this New Year’s Eve benediction:

Elijah received a cool drawing pad from his grandparents, and it is the kind where you have both magnetic shapes and a magnetic pen that “color” on the white tray and can be erased by sliding a little yellow lever along the bottom. It’s a bit like an etch-a-sketch only without the shaking. At one point yesterday, Doug came up to me and said: “Your daughter has a story to tell you.”

I came out from the bathroom where I had been changing Elijah and found Mercy on the couch with Elijah’s drawing pad on her lap. “Mercy, tell me your story”, I said sitting down beside her.

Taking the blue square, she quietly and steadily began shading in the entire right side of the tablet. Her little hand moved quickly, side to side, until everywhere she had colored was grey.

“This is death,” she said, finishing her last swipe across the board.

Putting the blue square down, she moved her hand across and reached for the yellow lever. Sliding the lever across, a line of white took over from the left, pushing every last black pixel away until the tablet had been swept clean.

“And this is what God did,” she said in a sober voice, her own eyes glistening.

Tonight I remember the loss of a friend’s wife and son two years ago, and the loss this past year of a dear member of our community here, and I cling to and celebrate the truth my daughter shared with me yesterday.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Quotation of the Week

Every so often I hear someone say “I want to see the Glory of God in all spheres of life.”

Really?

I wonder. I really do. If it moved us all out of our political/social/religious/personal/financial comfort zones- if it even challenged the opinions of our favorite pundits or preachers!- would we recognize such a thing?

Or do we mean: I want to see more of the way I think, the way I operate, the way I justify my words, attitudes and actions. When more people agree with me and act like I think they should, then Glory to the Gospel.

From The Internet Monk (HT Scot McKnight)

An Easter reminder

My kids love to be read to, and part of our nightly ritual is sitting on one of their beds after they are all tucked in and reading sections of a longer chapter book. We alternate between books from the library, books we own and have read before, and the big children’s Bible they love.

The big kids can have a hard time settling down at the end of the day, so one of the expectations during the reading time is that they lay in their beds, practicing being “quiet and still”. They can of course ask questions, and there is typically a fair amount of “Excuse me, Mommy…” and “Excuse me, Daddy…” and the waterfall of questions that we have come to expect, especially from Mercy. (Someone made the comment this past week that if we could somehow charge admission for entry into our daughter’s mind, we would be rich!)

At some point, either if it is late, the kiddos are extremely tired, or there have already been enough questions asked, we will tell the kids that they need to lay still, with eyes closed, and no more talking. This is often what it takes for them to finally settle down enough to come anywhere near to sleep.

The other night I had reached the point with Mercy (Aaron had already passed out) where we were at the eyes closed/no more talking stage, and I was reading for her the story of Jesus’ death. This is almost always the story she asks for when I open up the big Bible.

As I finished reading about the crucifixion, I chose to keep going with the story and I read this:

“Peter and John returned home, but Mary stayed by the tomb weeping. Suddenly she looked up to see two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had lain.

“Why are you weeping?” they asked her.

“Because they have taken my Lord away.” As she spoke she turned and saw a man standing behind her in the shadows. It was Jesus, although at first Mary failed to recognize him.

At this point, Mercy’s body grew completely tense and her face started to twitch, yet she managed to keep those eyes closed and remain horizontal on her bed. I continued reading:

“Why are you weeping?” he said. Believing him to be the gardener, she asked him if he knew where the body had been taken.

“Mary, it is I.”

“My Lord!” she cried, her face full of joy.

As I read these last words, Mercy suddenly erupted into a grin that seemed to cover her whole body and her eyes flew open. And through that giant smile, her voice breathless, she hurried to explain: “Mommy, my face just always has to smile when she says “My Lord”!”

Mercy’s joy, uncontrolled and overwhelming, at hearing about that moment when Mary recognized Jesus; when she realized that her Lord was alive, is a good reminder for me of what this Sunday is all about.

Another Mercy

When we were deciding what to name our first child, Doug and I had a funny experience where someone made a joke about a name we could use and then commented that the nickname for that name could be “Mercy”. Neither of us said anything to each other in the moment, but later we both commented to the other that we thought “Mercy” would make a really cool name.

I have known a lot of Faiths, Graces, Hopes and Joys, but I have never met another Mercy. I have enjoyed that Mercy’s name is unusual. I have enjoyed the way it makes people stop and think about the word and what it means, because it is not familiar. I have loved how her awareness of her name has so often reminded me of this central, shaping theme in our life of faith. And I have loved how she has journeyed in her own understanding of what her name represents.

As I sat in the ER on Saturday, I noticed a little news item scroll across the bottom of whatever news channel was playing in the room, and there was a word that leaped out at me: Mercy. The announcement had to do with Madonna and her pursuit of adoption of a Malawian girl whose African name translates into English as “Mercy”.

So now with the celebraddiction that dominates our culture, I expect that Mercy’s name will have lost a bit of its novelty, and now instead of a discussion about our faith with people who comment about her name, we will instead likely end up talking about Madonna.

Creative parenting

“Why does Aaron think there are dragons that live at Ronald Bog?”

“Oh, they don’t live there. They only sleep there at night.”

“Why does he think this?”

“Well, because I told him.”

“You told him that Ronald Bog is full of dragons?”

“Only at night!”

“Why did you tell him this?”

“Well, he didn’t want to leave Pioneer Club on Wednesday night and he was really starting to throw a fit about not wanting to go home so, in a very calm voice, I told him that I didn’t have to take him home; I could drop him off at Ronald Bog for the night, but he might startle the dragons who sleep there and sometimes when they get startled they sneeze out fire and…”

“I can’t believe you told him that…”

“It worked.”