Step Back, Breathe, Reengage

Oh, Reader, what a day.

It will be a feat of heroic proportions if I can make it to the end of this work day in one piece because I’ve been ready to go home and curl up in a blanket fort since I got here.  (This is unfortunate.)  Part of that is that I simply don’t like my job and so want to go home every day (not necessarily to a blanket fort), a dislike made so much harder to bear with every new sortie into pieces of the Church because I see what gives me life but I can’t have it (yet).  That was thrown into sharp relief this week because of Annual Conference (which I posted on last week and about which I will post further next week) and the moments of being mad as hell at the Church and loving it still.  To come back to a job where I do not fit, where I watch myself becoming someone I don’t like out of frustration and disenfranchisement, is a quiet form of torture.

But it is also that this week follows Orlando, this week holds the ninth-longest Senate filibuster, this week has been my heart breaking over my country once again saying that we are more afraid of our government than our weaponry, more determined to protect our right to have guns than our right to continue breathing with lungs not torn asunder by hot lead blasting through our bodies.  I have been unable (not that I’ve tried very hard) to keep myself from continually getting into this conversation—not out of a desire to antagonize but out of sheer befuddlement that this is still happening.  Again and again I have been asking how this works, why even the smallest steps of gun control are shunned outright, and to their credit my more conservative friends have responded.  We still don’t understand each other, but it has mostly been civilized.

Even when my newfound “liberalism” makes them question my faith.

Reader, I came to Christ in college and fell into a beautifully loving country Christian church with all the insularity you might expect.  God, guns, and the American way are very important in that church; gay folk are sinners to be loved, divorce isn’t spoken of, women don’t become pastors, and abortion is an abomination against God.  Even then I disagreed on some things but I was loved there, and I will spend the rest of my life pushing against the stereotype that people who think these things are horrible human beings without hearts.  They were my family, they were my support network, they quite literally fed me and gave me a home after I finished college and realized I had no idea what I was doing next.  I worked part time there, I built the foundation of my faith there, and they wept with me when I left.

Since I’ve moved away we have all changed, and though that love is still there we are far more prone to seeing the places where we disagree than the places we are family.  So for some to question my advocacy of gun control and my stance against violence and my blatant feminism in the frame of lovingly correcting me in faith and steering me back to Jesus…God, Reader, it breaks my heart in half.  I see still their compassion and understand that they believe wholly in this gentle remonstrance, but I cannot stand by and accept these tenets anymore.  I will not wash my hands of this gunpowder and blood, especially not when a life of professional, pulpit-based ministry beckons me forward.  But this…this is my family who look at me in concern and sorrow.  These are the people who taught me what love looked like in the first place, and every rift between us hurts that much more precisely because I cannot mend it and (to the extent that it would mean walking back my beliefs) will not try.

Add to this, then, betrayal by my very body.  Perhaps one of the cruelest things the Church has done in terms of doctrine is to tie women’s menstruation to Eve’s sin, ’cause damn, this shit sucks.  (If you’re uncomfortable with talking about this because you think it’s gross, skip to the next paragraph.  Then go apologize to all the women in your life whose bodies and voices you’re denying by refusing to acknowledge this as a biological reality.)  Beyond that fact that it can feel like someone is attempting to pull out your spine through your abdomen while twisting the surrounding muscles in an unpadded vise, going on your period really can and does screw with your mental state.  I realize it’s a social stereotype to show the wigged-out woman eating a pint of ice cream and crying at nothing in particular, but seriously, your chemical balance is getting thrown off and you can’t stop it.  So it’s been a legit intense week and today my brain is magnifying everything a thousandfold because its busy trying to overhaul its entire hormonal state.  Once I figured out that was a factor it made the day slightly easier because I can tell myself to step back, breathe, and reevaluate the way I was reacting to people, but before I got there I thought I was losing my damn mind today.
The spiritual implication of all that?  We are not only spiritual.  I would love to be, trust me, but we are living in mortal, political, social, emotional, and physical plains as well as the spiritual one, and that is a hot mess sometimes.  And somedays—many days—we carry the grief of the world on top of our own and we shudderstep underneath that weight.

Good think God keeps telling us to give it to Him.  In so many ways, Lord, we pray for healing.

 

 

“Teach me and I, for my part, will be silent;
explain to me how I have been mistaken.
 How painful are honest words!
But what does your reproof prove?
 Do you intend to criticize mere words,
and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?”  (Job 6:24-26, NET)

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Lent, Week Three: Reconciliation

The image quality isn’t very good, I know; I thieved it from a PBS article and am working on an older computer that doesn’t do image capture all that well.  But you get the idea—each red balloon is a mass shooting in the United States.

In 2016.

Reader, it’s not even March yet.  I come to you on this Saturday in Lent because my Friday was thrown off, my whole week was thrown off by the fact that my town is now on this map.  My town now has a little red balloon saying that some are dead, some are injured, all are now on statistics lists of this country’s numerous dead born out of an unnatural love of violence.  My town now has made the national news, the international news, as another place holding vigils and wondering why; as another name that scrolls across the screen while talking heads say maybe this time, maybe this action will be the one that causes us to unfurl our fingers from our guns and step away from the fear that drives us to this mortal embrace.  My town now is another in a chain that will not be that time.

And Reader, I am so, so angry.

The sacrament this week is that of reconciliation, formerly known as penance.  Reconciliation has three aspects:  conversion, confession, and celebration.  Conversion is the recognition of being in the wrong, of turning back toward Christ and the life and choices He would have us lead and make.  Confession is the telling of what went wrong to another—for Catholics, this is a priest; for many Protestants, this is God Herself; for some, this is a pastor or deeply trusted friend.  (You can ask your pastor to do this; it’s not an official sacrament, but many clergy will hear confession as part of spiritual growth.)  Celebration is the recognition that a new way is forged, that the wounded are healed, and that the freshly forgiven are charged to go out into our lives and forgive others in the courage and love of the Spirit.

I find this a somewhat perfect sacrament this week because it is so easy to demand that the shooter be brought to justice.  It is so easy to demand that he be the one to confess, to be crushed by the full force of the law even as he senselessly crushed the lives of so many others.  It is so easy to call for celebration that the wicked shall be judged by a righteous God Who cries with us at the rising death toll.  It is, in fact, too easy.

Reader, I confess that I have harbored anger against a brother, a fellow creation of God.  I confess that I have numbed myself to the suffering of others because I cannot stand the spineless promise of prayers from politicians anymore.  I confess that I have not done as much as I could to petition those same politicians and everyone I can find to change this, to see the way our culture is killing itself one bullet at a time.  I confess that I have walked away from important conversations because I felt too empty to argue any further.  I confess that I have not returned to the spring of living water to fill that emptiness because I am filling it instead with wrathful frustration and scathing cynicism.  I confess that I no longer try to bear the sorrow.

The shooter was wrong.  He was wrong to take life that was not his, he was wrong to drive a community into shock and fear, he was wrong to be so careless about his fellow humans.  I am not in the least advocating for any judicial lessening of this understanding.  But Reader, we cannot continue to demand the reconciliation of the violent without acknowledging our own places of turning away from God.  I cannot rage at the empty speeches of those far away and far removed without acknowledging that I don’t continually write their offices to tell them to fix this.  I cannot despair at the American love of weaponry without acknowledging the many ways I glorify the rough-and-tumble violence that promotes it.  And I cannot call this man evil without seeing that I am not perfectly good.

My heart aches with my anger at this, Reader.  It aches with my sorrow and the pain and my ever-dimming hope that we might one day say we have had enough.  But the only way to soothe that ache is is to turn from my part in creating it, however small; to confess that I have had that part in creating it, that I have left undone various aspects of the Kingdom building God asks of me; and to celebrate that I have been set on a new way that will never be easy and will require more and ever more reconciliation but that will continually bring me closer to my Lord.

Psalm 13 begins, “How long, o Lord?  Will You forget me forever?…How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”  How long shall we stand vigil for the lost and pray for the fallen?  How long, o Lord, will You leave us to this violence?  Yet verse five is the psalmist’s hope:  “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.”

I do not have the answer to this violence, Reader.  I do not have the shooter’s confession.  I cannot say when we as a nation will turn away from this path.  But I can seek reconciliation for myself; I can ask forgiveness of my God and His people that I might go out into this fallen world and forgive.  And in that, I might celebrate the Spirit that breathes within me to allow forgiveness even of the enablers, even of the silent, even of the shooter.  For God’s love manifests in unconditional forgiveness, drawing us ever and again to Himself that we might never be lost or left behind; in gratitude, may we strive to do the same.

 

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalm 13:6)