Faith, Generation Hug, If I Were Preaching, Mothering

Loving Ferociously

At Confirmation class the other night, we did an exercise called Spiritual Gifts Bingo. I'm not sure I ever understood the rules as laid down in the teacher's book–my co-teacher has taught this for so many years, I get to skate on some of those details–but what we did in practice was go around and suggest to one another which of the gifts listed the person might have, and if they agreed they put their initials in the appropriate square.

I loved seeing the reactions of the students when I suggested to them they were "fair" or "empowered others," the smiles that crossed their faces in surprise or appreciation. I liked the things they thought I might be: "caring leader," which I accepted, and "patient," which I did not. Sometimes I'm patient…but not always. I'm quite patient with them, but generally not at all patient with myself.

And I wonder if these aren't things so programmed into us from early life that they are nearly impossible to change, at the same time I would, no doubt patiently, encourage the Confirmands that our faith is all about the possibility of transformation.

A long time ago, so long ago it seems like another life, I moved to Maine and started attending a church where they used Inclusive Language for God. What that meant most of the time was leaving out the masculine pronouns. We still sang from the very old-fashioned Pilgrim Hymnal (which I love in many ways), but our Doxology spoke of Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father and Son. Coming from a Baptist background, I didn't have much experience with liturgy, so that part didn't throw me. 

But later, later, I realized there were people around me thinking of Goddess rather than God, of Mother rather than Father, and I had to grapple with my understanding of God. It was the beginning of a long period of transformation, a spiritual turning point with no apparent destination at the moment the turn began. I came to love the idea of God as Mother, and eventually I moved onto a place where I could see both masculine and feminine characteristics in the First Person of the Trinity, but to have neither of them feel very important to me.

Jesus, however, remained a guy.

George_HenWithChicks_Large  Today I talked with a group of women about the feminine image of God in tomorrow's gospel lesson, when Jesus speaks of feeling like a mother hen, wishing to gather her chicks beneath her outspread wings. I shared a Barbara Brown Taylor piece from the Christian Century that pointed up how brave the hen is as she defends her young with nothing but her body. She has no weapons to use against the predators. She puts herself in the way to give the little ones a chance to escape. 

I struggle when I hear of the triumphal theology that some contemporary Christians have, the kind that says Jesus is the buff defeater of evil. 

No. His wings are spread, his chest exposed, his life given vulnerably, going down without a fight. 

It's a ferocious love, that willingness to sacrifice yourself, to be hurt yourself.

At the end of our session this morning, I asked the group, and I'm asking myself, to look around us this week and see who or what needs our ferocious love? Now, I'm not suggesting we can be Jesus. We can't. Everyone in the room identified with that image of the protective mother, of doing that protecting, and I'm pretty there's a place for us to employ it.

But I'm not sure I've ever been on the receiving end of such love in this life.

And in a phase when I am quite impatient with myself, I wonder if I don't need to show it to me, to fend off my own predatory perfectionism, to own my vulnerability as a shield instead of a weakness.

Children, Generation Hug, Grrrls, Psalms


Today I got an email from LP during school hours, which seemed unusual. She titled it "Passing Time."

The school has been on lockdown since 9:30. We don't know why, but I'm sure we're okay because the principal made an announcement about ten minutes ago, telling the teachers to check their email. Everything seems to be under control. My whole math class is crammed into one corner of the room. I'm using my new netbook to write this. BORED. And hungry. And my feet hurt. My back is okay, though. Anyway, I love you!

The ordinary concerns of the day slipped into the background as I looked for news on the local paper's website. Suddenly I understood why there had been no answer when I called the high school, hoping to arrange an early pick-up for a doctor's appointment. 

I heard from her again.

The vice principal came in and searched us, but we're still on lockdown and don't know what happened.

Soon after, a friend posted the link to my Facebook page, explaining there had been a threatening note left on the wall of a bathroom–a specific threat, they called it–and Pure Luck called to report a robocall from the high school explaining the lockdown. 

I think the last lockdown they had at Downtown High School was on 9/11, when someone appeared to be brandishing a weapon in the general neighborhood, and it seemed like a good idea to keep everyone inside.

In both cases, it wasn't a real emergency. The person with a weapon didn't actually have a weapon. And today, after a thorough search, school officials found nothing. 

LP says they missed her backpack. I hope that wasn't just Goody Two-Shoes profiling, but an actual oversight. She also says the vice-principal was a nice lady who apologized for patting her down.

Most of the girls in high school these days aren't wearing anything bulky enough to conceal a weapon, in my humble opinion.

They let the kids out at 12:30 and sent them home. When we finally saw each other, and as we sat in the waiting room at the doctor's office, I asked how she was, really? It's hard not to imagine the worst case scenarios we've read about in other schools. Could there have been a student running around the halls with a gun? But LP said that although she imagined the bad things, she had a sense that her life was not over, that she had more things to learn and do, that it would not end this day.

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. (Psalm 71:1-6)

There are several people in my general circle of church and friends in a kind of lockdown right now, holding for more information, feeling inspected or searched, wondering just what the future will hold. When I read a Psalm like the one above, I don't fall back into a child-like belief that God will rescue me just because I am a good girl. I know too much for that, now. But I do feel the comfort of knowing that on a day when I am crammed into a corner, crowded by others, waiting to hear the outcome, wondering what lies beyond the door, I am not the first person to talk her way through it by calling on God. 

Children, Generation Hug, Men At Work, Photos

Mutton Chops

#1 Son's status update on Facebook last week read:

The Chekhovian muttonchops only continue to grow more potent. 

And here they are: 

Three Sisters trip 001

And here we are after the show with his girlfriend, Poesy. 

Three Sisters trip 002

(Thank you to kathrynzj, who took the pictures. If you're friends with both of us on Facebook, you can find more there.) 

At dinner, kathrynzj said to Poesy, "I understand you're a poet."
"Oh," she answered. "That's just how I pay the bills. My true passion is being a paralegal." 


The trip was great, the play was wonderful, #1 Son marvelous as a PTSD-stricken Russian inclined to making, as he put it, "deranged bird sounds."
I would encourage you to go see it, but all the performances next week are SOLD OUT!!!

Dogs, Generation Hug, Gospel


PitBullHannahBoneShe looked a lot like this good girl, though her brown parts were darker, and she was thinner, and she shivered the way Sam does when I take him into a new and overwhelming situation.

It's new, letting dogs come with their owners into the soup kitchen. The other dogs I've seen are tiny, except for one rather oversized pug who still counts as small. I wondered what the exact rules were, and as I crossed the crowded dining room to bring milk to another diner, I went toward them, because for me, all dogs are irresistible, wherever I meet them. "Hello, lovely," I thought, but we never got a chance to meet properly, the dog and I. Only our eyes met, and then things began to happen.

I saw a staff member come over and ask her owner something.

"She's a service dog," he said.

While he talked to the staff member, he accidentally took off her slip lead as he fumbled with her and a backpack, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I was right next to them, and I wondered how this anxious dog would respond.

She went into a "down" and stayed put.

"I need to see her papers," said the staff member. 

"I know my rights," said her owner, a young guy with stitches in his chin.

Soon this escalated into a call to the police, a few minutes of high tension, a physical encounter I couldn't quite see, the dramatic spill of a bottle of red gatorade, various angry words spoken and the departure of the brown and white dog with her person. 

I have to admit my first thought in all that happened was for the dog. She was a good girl. In the midst of being challenged, her owner was opening his backpack to get her dinner out, a bag of Beneful.

Beneful One of my youth group members asked the question that really mattered, when we checked in to see how everyone was, to explain the underlying issues (the patron was intoxicated, and it probably wasn't the best strategy to use the dog to get him to leave; he put his hand near a police officer's face, and that's when things got worse). She asked what I want to know, too. "If you don't have anywhere else to get your dinner, what would you do with your dog?"

I'm glad I was able to say, because I heard the police officer say it, "The dog was not the issue."

Because she wasn't.

At the soup kitchen, the rules allow the person working the door to deny entry to people who are clearly high or drunk. But I know from many years of volunteering, and from discussions when I served on the board, that you or I might judge differently who is too out of it to come in, and who might just be better off sitting down to dinner. You or I might judge differently just what it means to be "beneful" on any given night.

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40, NRSV)

I wonder if I will see them again. The soup kitchen is just a few blocks from Downtown High School, and I drive through the area often. I think I'm going to get a bag of Beneful and put it in the car, just in case.

Generation Hug, Grrrls, Living in This World

Generation Hug

At a meeting with returning students, the class of 2013 heard a lot about how at Downtown High School "we don't put our hands on each other."

This is Principal J's euphemism for the "f" word. He doesn't tolerate fisticuffs and is ashamed that most years there are as many as three or four incidents of "hand on behavior," as he put it to the parents on Wednesday evening. He is proud of a recent year with no such incidents, practically unheard of for a large, diverse American high school.

Not yet indoctrinated to the language of the Downtown High School culture, the freshmen were a bit puzzled.

Perhaps if someone had said, "We don't fight here."

But they kept hearing the words, "We don't put our hands on each other."

So someone asked the question, "Is it okay if we hug?"


I first noticed this hugging thing when #1 Son went to college five years ago, or rather when I went to pick him up for Fall Break and all his male friends hugged him goodbye. I'm a hugger myself, and I have to remember to let others take the lead when I'm in the role of their pastor. Even asking doesn't make it right when you're in that position. But I love to hug even my less huggy family members — you know who you are — and my friends.

Hugging at Downtown High School, apparently, is okay, though LP clearly distinguishes between the
friendly greeting and the icky PDA that couples really ought to keep to
themselves in her opinion, thank you very much. I'm sure there is further refining of the ground rules to come.

(And if I once got in trouble for smooching by my locker, we'll remember I was young then. And foolish. Because my boyfriend's mother worked in the school attendance office. And she had my mother's phone number. And she wasn't afraid to use it.)

I'm happy that people have become less formal, more open and more expressive. It gives me hope for the day the world is in the hands, or the arms, of Generation Hug.