Saturday, July 16, 2016

Just as I have loved you

A few days ago, a friend was telling me a bit about the Wild Goose Festival. Jim Wallis of Sojourner fame told the group that our sole guide for racial and social justice is our Baptismal Covenant. I replied that our Baptismal Covenant should be our sole guide for every aspect of our lives.

There is one Body and one Spirit;
There is one hope in God’s call to us;
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
One God and Father of all.

Were we to go no further in the Baptismal Covenant, this opening verse and response should tell us all we need to know.

We are a single unit, strands knitted together by God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. We, all of us, are one united through our baptism.

Yet, there is more. We are called into accountability.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Each child is brought into this oneness with a vow made by the parents and godparents – I will, with God’s help. This is a very serious promise. We enter into a covenant, with God, with that child, to bring that child up in the Christian faith and life and promise to help that child grow into the full stature of Christ. That is a very big deal. I wonder if we know what we are promising the first time we say it.

Personally, I failed miserably as a god parent. Twenty+ years ago, a young woman asked me to be a godparent to her two children. I barely knew the woman except for the fact that she lived near the parish and had been coming to church for a little while. I said yes. I should not have said yes. I made a vow and broke it in my ignorance. I did not understand the full nature of the promise. At the time, I had no idea as to the “full stature of Christ.” I am sure I continue to lack full knowledge of that phrase but I do know much more now than I did then.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I have always answered dutifully, “I will, with God’s help.” And I mean it, every time. I try to proclaim by example, if not always by word, the Good News of God in Christ; meaning, that I try to love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and love my neighbor as God loves me.

I am fairly good about these first two promises, at least, I am when I am at work. I am not always a shining example of God’s love, especially when my next door neighbors are shooting cannon firework off in front of my house on the sidewalk. Nor am I a very good example of God’s love when an unconcerned and seemingly selfish driver does something stupid and careless in front of me on the road. Nor do I do a very good job of loving my neighbor or being an example of that love when I read the ongoing fear-mongering on social media. 

Still, I try. I agree that Thomas Merton’s prayer “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you” is what pleases God; just the simple fact that, indeed, I do try. Yet, the first of these two do not ask that we “try”; rather, that we “proclaim” and “seek and serve Christ in ALL persons” regardless.
The third one calls us into action, asking will we “strive for justice and peace” – among ALL people. And that further, we “respect the dignity” of EVERY human being.

Again, at work, I do strive diligently to do this. And actually, it is far easier to love people than we might first think. I do try at home too. Sometimes, it is difficult. Like when I come home from work and feel as though every ounce I had to give was given away. There seems to be no more. Yet, I am asked by word, thought, or deed, to do so. I get grouchy and resentful.

But I know in all of this, in all of my lack, in all of my more, I know I am trying. The more I try, the more I practice, the more real it becomes. I am a slow work of love.

I told a guy that I loved him. I saw his face change. It was the first time I had ever said it to him. He has been coming to the pantry and hot lunch for over a year. I remember when he first came, he was dirty, belligerent, smelly, and totally disrespectful. He is still. At first, I reacted to his behavior. If he was nice, so was I. If he wasn’t, I reacted in a negative way. 

I don’t think that tough love works very well.

Over the past few months, I came to the realization that he is often “acting out” just as a rebellious teen might do. He expects people to be irritated with him, to be repelled, to be shocked; therefore, he is irritating, shocking deliberately. He said he played the piano, so I had the piano returned to the parish hall. He doesn’t play. However, there is a certain rhythm to his tunes that lends a certain quality to the music. It sounds like music, only a piece no one has ever before heard. More than anything, it changes him when he plays. I think it calms him. I believe that he knows that it irritates some people but that I allow it. I think he respects that. He always tells me thank you.

When he asked me why I do the things that I do, I told him, “because I love you.” He cocked his head to one side and laughed but then he realized that I was sincere. It mattered.

Does my love cure him of whatever caused him to be homeless? No. Of course not. Does he trust me in all things and will never argue with me again, be belligerent or irritating? No. But it lets him know that he matters.

I take seriously the covenant I have made with God. It is the basis for all things. I realize that now, at this age, after all my life’s yearnings and earnings. I know this now. It feels natural, finally. I don’t always succeed but it lives before me, pulling me onward, teaching me new ways to love God and to love my neighbor as I am loved.

We are one in the Body. We are one in the Spirit. There is one hope in God’s call to us. There is One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.

Striving for life in this oneness is what our Baptismal Covenant is all about. There would be no need to strive for justice, mercy or respect if we heard and lived into the two most important commandment: Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes our only job is to show other people how much they are loved. But first, we have to understand that we are, indeed, loved. Regardless. Steadfastly. Realizing that we are loved, that we are worthy of love, offers us the ability to share that love.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:34

We can’t learn to love or fully understand how much we are loved unless we work at being in relationship with one another.

We have to practice love every day. If you don’t know how much you are loved, contact me. I will tell you. I need the practice.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Musical Escape from the Dis-ease

A large part of me wants to run, to hide, to escape. I love this video of Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole singing. It transports me into a safe place.

or this:  Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Healing. Soul-full. 

or this one: Carrie Rodriguez. Beautiful voice, mix of Spanish and English. 

Music heals me so that I can go forward. Live to fight another day. Because we are in a battle. A battle between love and hate. And I fully expect love to win. 

Music is a universal language. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

People want what people want

When the fight of the day was prayer in school, I had two questions. Do you want all people to be able to pray any prayer they want? And, how can anyone keep one person from praying when he or she wants to do so?

The things is, people want what they want. The ability for all to have that “right” is not even in the picture. Those people who fought to have prayer in public schools wanted others to allow them to publicly prayer in their own Christian way. There was no thought that a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Wiccan, or even an atheist might want the microphone to broadcast out over the PA system a prayer their own agenda or belief. Actually, that was exactly the thought - they feared that an atheist could make them stop praying. Those fighting for prayer wanted what they wanted and to hell with the rest. The others didn’t exist or, if they did, no one fighting for this “right” cared. No one should have the right to be an atheist. (point, not my thought)

It’s the same thing about guns. Gun rights advocates cite the “right” to carry a weapon. The advocates do not necessarily mean “They” get to carry a gun. “They” are the reason why others want to carry guns, to protect their homes and families – the individuals’ right to carry a gun.

The word “right” has many definitions: True, correct, morally good, justifiable, acceptable. It can also mean “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” It is an entitlement, a privilege, an advantage, a birthright. It is not something we earn. It is simply something that is accorded to us by the fact that we are who we are.

According to the Declaration of Independence, the rights of a citizen are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know about y’all, but I see these rights violated every single day.

In the Bill of Rights, Amendment I is the reason why formal prayer in a public school was banned. Because the prayers were always God or Jesus centric, it violated the “rights” of those who believed differently. By its public nature into a closed environment, it gave the appearance of forcing people to pray a certain way.

Amendment I is also the reason why we can protest publicly in a peaceful manner when we disagree with others.

Amendment II. Infamous Amendment II. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
A simple definition of militia according to Miriam Webster is “a group of people who are not part of the armed forces of a country but are trained like soldiers”

I could be wrong, but this doesn’t sound to me as though every idiot in the country who wants to walk around with an automatic or assault rifle strapped across their chests should be able to do so. In the first place, they aren’t part of the “militia”. They are not trained like soldiers (assumption on my part). Nor have all of the gun-toters ever been a part of the armed forces of this or any other country.

Therefore, since they are not likely to be called to active duty, even in the event that there is a national catastrophe, they have no “right” to keep or bear arms. But that is not really the point of this diatribe. Well, maybe it’s not actually a “diatribe”…it’s not a bitter attack. It is simply pointing out the fact that individual interests always overplay the ideals. The Bill of Rights are an ideal.

Most of the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights have been violated at some point, some of them often. Why is no one up in arms about “speedy trials” or “probably cause”?

What about this one? “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Can we define “eminent domain”? Or the idea that those who have means ($$$) rarely spend much time in jail even when they commit big crimes while those without means spend time in jail for petty theft. Can we define being killed by a police officer for a broken taillight? Or for selling music outside of a convenience store?

Law is like Holy Scripture. Not in the Holy part, but in that those ideas/words that pertain to MY belief system, I use against others or for myself. Those parts that do not apply to me or to my grievances, well, I ignore. (I/me used to express the point)

People want what they want and they don’t give a flying fig what anyone else wants.

As a society, we do not really care about others whose rights are violated. We don’t even recognize the idea that the rights of others are violated daily. For if it is true that one citizen of the United States is accorded certain unalienable rights by virtue of his/her citizenry, then, it is also true that every citizen of the United States is accorded those rights also. And that, my friends, means that regardless of whether a person is White or Black, Latinx or Native, male or female, cis-gender or trans-gender, gay or straight, Greek or Jew, first generation or tenth generation, and the many unnamed, ALL have the right to life (how many have died because they do not fit limited ideologies), liberty (how many continue to be trapped in a system that considers them ‘less than’), or the pursuit of happiness (check out the suicide rate among Native American young people).

We are not a land of the free. And certainly, there are a whole lot of cowards out there, many spewing a false bravado that simply aggravates their fear.

There are a bunch of trigger-happy, fear-filled bigots in this world and one is not different from the rest. There is no difference in those who are considered terrorists because they instill fear and pandemonium as they kill multiple people for a cause and those who walk around with their assault rifles terrorizing little children or adults because they believe it to be their right. It doesn’t matter that their intentions are, to them, altruistic. Those people detonating bombs believe they are doing it for good reasons. They are terrorists. They terrify people. 

But there are consequences to actions, even if one is a police officer with the “law” justifying his poor decisions and over reactions. He shoots a man point blank in the chest while the man is pinned down not by one person but several, well, that seems a bit excessive to me. Why the hell did the police officer even un-holster his gun? IF the man had been able to overcome the fact that he was pinned down, an officer should never un-holster his/her gun if he/she does not intend to shoot it. Since he did do just that, I’m guessing he fully intended to shoot that man pinned so close to the car on one side and by other officers regardless of the fact that the victim couldn’t move much less resist.

A police officer shoots a man in the arm, not once or twice but several times, while he is belted in the car, then watches the guy bleed to death with his gun drawn because he is afraid the belted in, bleeding man is gonna jump out and attack him? While the victim’s girlfriend is filming the entire thing?

Police officers are sworn to protect and serve the people of our communities. Too many are just scared humans with people’s lives in their hands and when these instances happen – which these instances happen far too often – they should suffer the consequences of their wrong actions.

To those citizens who want to carry a loaded weapon into a grocery store or a library or a church or simply walking down the street because you think you may need it to protect yourself or others? Buddy. I’m telling you that you need some counseling if you are that damn scared. I don't need your protection. And if you want to carry that rifle, it would be good to understand that all those people who look different than you and those who scare you senseless – those people have that same right. And it also has to be known that as a person carrying a weapon, you can be blamed for a shooting.

My rights are your rights. My rights extend to the exact point where your rights are being violated or infringed upon. And the same is true for you. Once you cross a line, your rights no longer apply. It is not a game of ‘my rights trump your rights’. (jeez…can’t even use that word any more without bigotry, selfishness, and individualism jumping off the page at me.) One’s rights do not outdo another’s rights. Rights are rights. Either we all have them or none of us do.

As for prayer, there is no one in the world who can keep me from praying. I can pray aloud. I can pray silently. I'm praying now. I pray for those who are soaked with the fetid stench of fear. 

Fear will always be with us regardless of how many times Jesus told us “Do not fear.” We are humans. We like control. Few things are within our control. Some people use money power to control. Some people use body strength. Some people use authority. Some people use all of the above. Some people use guns. When our control is threatened, we become controlled by fear.

There are few things in this world that we, individually or as a group of humans, can control. But we can learn that fear is not a healthy way to live. Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to supreme violations of civil rights.

There is one thing I know well. Fear. I allowed fear to keep me from living into the dreams I had when I was younger. Now, I am wiser. I know that fear alerts me to the idea that there is something I have not done, something I have not tried, something that I need to walk towards or into, or, most importantly, something that I need to overcome.

Fear lives with us, in us. Fear in itself is not the problem. What we do with the fear is the big issue. Do we allow it to own us, define us? Or do we use it as a tool to walk on into life in spite of the fear?

Fear allows us to see the crossroads in our lives. It offers us a chance to make a decision: do we continue on the road we are on, or do we realize that we have an opportunity to change, to be transformed?

I choose transformation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Homelessness is not the only issue here.

Back in Texas, through a friend, we met a woman who ran a shelter for men right out of prison. She had a tough love approach. Her motto was “Give a man a fish and feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Not that she didn’t give the men food, but she was heaven bent on making certain they left her with a knowledge of how to get on in the world without drinking, doing drugs, or committing crimes. I have no idea what the recidivism rate was at her shelter.

I understand the idea that charity can be toxic. I suppose she was the first one that I heard with that idea. But what I have come to learn is that charity is toxic when the charity is all about the giver and little about the receiver. Too many people do works of charity for the glory they perceive they will gather.

Then there are those who seem to think that if people weren’t lazy or drunk or drugged out, they would be able to make it in this old world. It’s that ‘pull yoreself up by yore bootstraps’ ideology. Do it yourself.

Chief Sam Dotson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department appears to be a man of the latter ilk.

From an interview with CBS St. Louis, June 16, 2016, Chief Dotson is quoted:
“The whole idea is to help that population transition back into housing, transition back into jobs,” Dotson says. “And if we make it too easy – give them food, give them clothes, allow them to live on the street – they never go to those service providers.”

“…if we make it too easy”… Hell, son, this ain’t Texas. You don’t have to be so tuff.

This interview came in response to the police, under orders, ticketing people who come to the downtown area to offer food and clothing to people who live in shelters or on the streets. SLMPD has joined the ranks of hundreds of other police departments across the nation who are trying to save their city from the hordes of homeless people and those who see them as “the least of these”.

There are many groups that, all in the name of Jesus, trying to live out the Gospel, come into the downtown area to help people. Chief Dotson seems to think that this is wrong…that these meals and the hand-me-down clothes will encourage the people to forget about living in a place with walls, roof, utilities, and amenities such as indoor plumbing.

I would say that Chief Dotson has no idea what causes homelessness, how difficult life is on the streets, or even what hunger is like. Nor does he seem to know that many homeless people actually have jobs; they simply do not have the cash resources or credit to get into housing.

I think that it is safe to say that if one does not suffer from depression prior to becoming homeless, a brief stay in the open without shelter for the day and into the night could bring on a serious bout of depression. And paranoia. What must it be like to be newly homeless and deal with no shelter, no food, no idea where to go for help? How many times is that anxiety compounded if that person is a woman or a woman with children?

I know what it is like to greet people as they come in out of the heat or cold into a comfortable temperature with a hot meal awaiting them. I see their faces. I shake their hands and always, there are those who want a hug. For a few moments in time, they can relax.

Can we imagine what it is to wear the same clothes for days at a time? Can we feel the chaff begin from wearing the same pair of underwear or the blisters from the same pair (or no pair) of socks? I don’t even want to think about how I would feel if I were unable to take a shower or wash my face each night.

Does anyone know how many steps a homeless person takes each day or how quickly he can wear out a pair of shoes? Consider the fact that most of the shoes worn by people on the street are used to begin with, already set to fit someone else’s foot shape, the wear and tear is accelerated. Think about wearing shoes that are just off a bit, not quite the right size. Foot issues are one of the biggest health problems for people who are homeless.

Does anyone know how long a pair of jeans or a t-shirt will last if these are worn every day all day long?

I have to make myself drink water. It’s silly and certainly a first world problem when I consider that for a homeless person, drinking water can be hard to come by. It may be relatively simple to find a faucet or a fountain, but to have water to carry around to drink when the desire or the need arises can be a challenge. The challenge holds for toilets. Where does one go when one must go?

If I offer food to a person, it gives her the strength to get to the next stop along the way.

If I give a person a new pair of socks or shoes, it offers him a bit of relief so that he can walk for a little longer.

If I have clean clothes, it offers a few moments of dignity. A shower gives hope.

If I offer bottles of water, not only have I given water, but I have also provided a light weight container that can be refilled.

I would like to know of the providers that Dotson mentions – who are these that offer showers? Or clothing? Or socks and shoes? Or housing, for that matter? I know two places that offer showers. One is in the north part of the city; one is about one mile from downtown.

I know that there are several really special programs in the City of St. Louis that offer lifesaving services to many people. Yet, even if one is able to get through the maze that all must go through, housing is not readily available. Of the number of times I have called trying to find help for a woman who needs help, either I can’t get through to a real person or I have been told that there is a waiting list because the shelter is full. If a woman has gathered up the courage to leave an abusive situation and is seeking help, there should be immediate help available. Abusive situations do not respect waiting lists.

Chief Dotson suggested that the Biddle House would soon take the place of the Bridge – a group that has offered many services for several years to those who are homeless. It closes officially at the end of June. Many services have already been terminated. The Biddle House is not scheduled to open until the end of July…and I read that there are issues with it. The North City area is claiming NIMBY and I can’t say that I blame them. They have worked hard and long to reclaim an impoverished neighborhood and suddenly to have people who are aimlessly standing around with nothing but time on their hands and a hunger in their hearts is a message that the neighborhood has been working to erase. Hopefully, those problems will be worked out. Regarding the renovations that must happen prior to residents moving in, last I heard, these have not even begun.

The people who offer food and clothing to those in need are following what they believe they have been told to do: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And the answer? When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:37-40)

We have been commanded to love one another, just as Jesus loves us. (John 15:12) When we love one another, we help one another. It is all we can do.

We are reaching a moment of decision in this city. The people who are homeless have not always been so. They are people who made a wrong turn, had one of those life-changing moments, or simply are not well. Not one of them is too very different from any one of the people complaining about “the homeless”. The lack of compassion is the frightening thing. The idea that people could treat those who need help as though they are a throw away part of society is simply sad.  

The idea that someone could believe that people would rather live on the streets, receive food and clothes from strangers than to be able to “transition” into housing and employment is small minded. If it is “too easy” to get food and clothing on the street, the people who have to carry everything they own everywhere they go; the people who must go days without showers; the people who go 24 hours between meals; the people who have to walk miles if they want more than one meal a day; the people who sleep during the day so that they won’t get attacked at night, those people will “never go to those service providers”.

How sad it is that people can justify their actions by convoluted thinking such as this.

Homelessness is not the only issue here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Into the Waters of My Baptism

One week ago, I stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean on Cannon Beach, Oregon staring into what felt like the face of God. As the waves caressed my feet, I knew the feel of ruach, the breath of God, encompassing my whole being.

I remember the same feeling as I stood on the shores of Lake Erie at Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. The power of the wind coming off of the water, the feel of the sand beneath my feet washing away as the water rushed forward and returned to its being, staring into the sunset, hearing the words of the Phos Hilaron; God was in that place.

When we were traveling in 2007, as we made our way across Missouri, we stopped at Eminence, Missouri. Near there are the two rivers, Jacks Fork and the Current. It was a fairly low water year and there were pools on the Current. The water was icy cold on that summer day. I walked into the water, thinking I could never dip all the way. But the thing about cold water is that after the initial shock, the skin goes numb. I have never been able to float and I can hold my breath quite a while. As I went into the water, I stood on the floor of the river with the water just over my head. I stared into the water, watching the baby trout as they explored this new thing in their home. I was mesmerized. I felt no need to breathe. I felt a peace that passed any expectation or understanding.

Suddenly, I realized that there was a loud but muffled noise above me. It was Debbie and Tucker shouting at me to come out of the water. I had been under for so long that it frightened them.

That is what the waters of God do to me.

I was baptized when I was ten years old in the First Baptist Church in Lipan, Texas. I had been asking to be baptized since I was about six but was told that, no, I had to wait. I was told that I wasn’t old enough to understand. But I knew that I needed to be baptized. I knew I needed to go into the water. Finally, on the same day that my step-grandfather was baptized, so was I.

It was, of course, a full immersion baptism. I remember the instructions of the preacher telling me how to hold on to his arm, that he would hold my nose as he laid me in the waters, and that he would immediately bring me back up out of the water. Then. Then, I would be Christ’s own forever.

When I first watched the movie, Big Fish, I fell immediately in love with it. While I do have some tales I can tell that might sound like tall ones, it wasn’t the main character’s ability to tell the stories that got to me. It was his need to be in the water, to be a part of the water, to be one with the water. That idea resonated clearly.

This past Sunday, we baptized three people into the body of Christ. Each time I witness a baptism, I feel the water being poured over the head of the new child of God. In the name of the Father. In the name of the Son. In the name of the Holy Spirit. The waters of baptism flow across the head…and sometimes into the eyes…of the baptized. Each is marked with the sign of the cross; marked as a child of God forever. We are one in the Body of Christ.

There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

That is what the waters mean to me. One Body. I felt that so clearly standing on the edge of the vastness of the ocean. Looking up the difference between ocean and sea, I found a piece of knowledge long ago learned and quickly forgotten: the oceans are in reality one large interconnected body of water. That re-memory heightened my sense of interconnectedness with water. To stand on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and to look into that never-ending greatness, I sensed the world in its first days of creation. There was the sun. There was the dome. There were the great waters that I stared into and the semi-dry land upon which I stood.

What other feeling could I feel but an overwhelming sense of being a part of something so much larger than myself; something so beyond my understanding; something so omnipotent. Thankful. The gratitude for being able to experience this greatness washed over me, baptizing me in a newness that healed yet left me longing for more.   

All praise and thanks to you, most merciful God, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Solo Dios basta. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The certainty within the Mystery

When I first saw her, I could tell she was near tears. A volunteer had come to tell me that there was a young woman that I needed to see. She was a small woman with a backpack cutting into her shoulders. She looked as though she was carrying the weight of the world.  

As soon as I said hello, her eyes filled with tears. She told me her story. She was homeless, her car was out of gas, and she and her two month old baby had spent the night in the park. She had three more children with her but she was able to find them a place to stay for the night. The problem was that she had nowhere to spend the night and this night, she would have all the children with her. She was frightened.

A major blessing of working at Trinity Food Ministry is having a nurse from Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries ( there. While my resource list is growing, I am often at a loss as to help people when their needs are so far beyond the immediate need of food. I introduced her to our nurse.

This was all just a part of the story. She began working for a man four years ago. He was disabled and needed help around the house. She and her little girl moved in with him. The man had two children of his own that came to live with him after their mother went to prison for drugs. At some point, the relationship between the man and the young woman became romantic and later, she became pregnant.

She left his house with all the children after the man was arrested for hitting her. While she had a place at a domestic violence shelter, she could not take his two children there because she did not have custody of them. As a result, she couldn’t enter into the shelter until she found a place for the two. Their grandmother was coming from Kansas City to pick them up but would not be able to be in St. Louis until the following day. That left her one more night with four children.

After many phone calls, we were able to get her into a motel for the night so that she and the children would be safe. Arrangements were made for her to meet the grandmother and for the shelter to pick her up. I filled a bag with food and other necessities for the evening and she was on her way. As far as we know, all things worked out.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? The Mystery. The Great Unknowing. We do what we think we are supposed to do, to help, to pray, to offer food and drink, then we simply have to rely on the idea that it all was enough. That it was exactly what we were supposed to do. That God heard our prayers.

As a culture, we seek certainty. We want to know that what we do matters. We want to know that if we do good things, good things will follow, that all will be well simply because we think that is the way it should be.

Yet, the only certainty in life is that it will end at some point. We can try to force the issue but all in all, life happens and sometimes it is very messy regardless of how we try to fix it. At some point, all we have is faith.

Faith is a mystery. God is a mystery. It is what it is. Simply. Profoundly. Mystery.

We accept that we have been commanded to help the “least of these”, to feed, to tend, to care for the children of God who are less able to care for themselves.

No car. No phone. No money. The young woman could have turned the two children over to Family Services. But she didn’t. She put herself at risk to make certain they were handed over to a family member rather that slipped into a system where they could disappear under mounds of red tape. She had a faith that she was doing the right thing.

It often feels as though the problems of this world are so large and so numerous that it threatens to overwhelm me. I feel smothered by the need surrounding me. But community pulls me out from under the cloud, fills me with the breath of God so that I can walk up to the next person with God’s smile in my eyes and say, “Hello. How can I help you today?

It is in that common core of community that I find my life. It is in the midst of that community that I know I am called to beckon to others. How do I know that? I don’t know “how”, I only know that I do know. It is that mystery.

It is in that mystery that regardless of where that young woman ended up, I know that along her way, she found a short respite where people cared enough to sit, to pray, to listen, and then to do what could be done. She searched out and found a community that could help her. I trust that it was what was needed at that moment in time.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

It is not a simple thing

Being the parent of a child, even though that child is an adult, has a lot of baggage. The fact that the child was abused psychologically and verbally by a father takes its toll. Further compound that issue with a physically abusive partner, well, hope feels as though it is always at the moment of flying out the window.

The abuse is always about the abuser. The chances are high that the abuser was abused himself. This is true in this case, for both of them.

But the costs of abuse are high. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or being a victim of violence. That violence can be a one time thing. Or it can be something that happened over a period of time, short or long. Violence that happens over a long period of time can manifest itself in Acute Stress Disorder.

Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate. These are not the problem. These are simply a reaction to the problem.

Even with professional help identifying the triggers that cause the panic attacks or nightmares or insomnia or any of the other symptoms of PTSD, the road to recovery is long. Add to that nightmare addiction. The road becomes even more difficult.

What does it say about society…or a parent…who is able to recognize a drug problem before recognizing the source of an anxiety disorder?

What does it say about a mother who is unable to have seen the damage done by an alcoholic father while she could see the damage being done to herself?

What does it say about a mother who could see that something was wrong but couldn’t imagine that her young adult child was being beaten to the point of having broken bones?
What does it say about a mother who was willing to blame the victim when she couldn’t get her life together for her own little boy?

It took me twenty five-plus years to understand the full extent of what damage the term “Goddammit, A!” did to a young teenage girl. It took me that long to understand the full effect of the physical damage done by my child’s partner. She laughed one time when she told me she thought it was a part of her name. It wasn’t funny. It has taken me a little bit longer than that to realize that drugs were not the main problem.

But I have lived with the fear of the drugs and the unpredictable behavior for so long that the first thing I do at a sign that points to the past is to react in fear.  

When a child who has been diagnosed with acute PTSD and has used drugs to self medicate, even though that adult child has been through rehab, counseling, and is involved in a 12 step program and appears to be mending…when something happens, I panic.

It was a simple thing of not having heard from her in a few days. I had not even thought about it until I had a dream about her. Then, the next morning, texting to say “hey, all things ok?” and no response. In the afternoon, calling, the phone went immediately to voicemail. Fear gripped my heart. Worry that here we go again. Prayers to God asking why why why and then please please please.

It goes against my nature to confront my fear with reality. Reality can be even more frightening than my imagination. A simple thing would have been to go to her apartment to see if she was there.

But no. My mind obviously relies on unhealthy speculation of realizing the worst of my fears come true.

Thank God I have a pragmatic spouse who is nothing if not always willing to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it out of the way. We had to go out anyway and before I knew it, we were turning down the street where she lives. My beloved simply asked, “Do you want me to walk up there or do you want to?” Meaning, one of us was going to find out if she was ok or not.

Uncharacteristically, I said I would do it. Meaning, I would face my fear and knock on the door all by my big girl self.

From behind the door, I heard the exclamation, Mom! The door burst open and there she stood, looking well and alive and unencumbered by all things that clouded my mind. She grabbed me up in a big hug and said, “I am so sorry! I know you were worried!” Her phone had been stolen out of her pocket as she stood on the bus.

I was limp with relief. But that too familiar fear had gripped me so tightly that it took its toll and left me with my own form of hangover for a couple of days.

I don’t suppose that I will ever get over the fear. All I can do is muddle through it and watch and wait and offer love. And pray, of course. Because without God, I know I would not have made it through this. Without God, I am sure she would not have made it either.

There are lots of questions in this story that have answers but the main thing is that abuse is cyclical. I think of the disciples asking Jesus when did they not feed him and he answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45) It’s all about paying attention to things outside of our own interior selves regardless of the claw-like grip these may have on us.

My own concern for survival in the past caused me to miss big clues that damage might be done. My own worries about self blinded me to what was happening to a beautiful little girl. My own need to live a life of isolation allowed me to set aside speculation…until the ignorance veil was parted and I was able to see a glimpse into reality. But even then, my concern was misdirected – directed at the effect and not the cause.

Abuse is caused by stressors that the abuser cannot control. Abuse is a learned behavior that sometimes is directed at others; sometimes it is directed at self. Either way, it is dangerous.
I guess the point in mentioning that scripture is that too often we are unwilling to reach out and ask, hey…what’s going on and can I help. We might not get a response at that moment but if we continue to be seen as one who is willing to listen, maybe it can open a door to freedom from whatever is tormenting someone.

We have the choice as to whether or not we are willing to ‘do unto others’. But it seems to me if we want to stop being abusers, stop being abused, stop the abuse then we have to be open to seeing the causes rather than the effects. And that is not very easy. The effects are so blatantly in our faces – addictions, crime, homelessness, violence.

That doesn’t mean we stop offering band aids when there is blood, but the cause of the bleeding has to be found. We do have to begin to see that there is a bigger problem beneath or behind the problems that we can see.

It isn’t just a simple matter of bad people doing bad things. Sometimes very good people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. It is a matter of the ways we find to cope with life.