Family, Mothering, Reflectionary

Jesus, Be a Shelter!

I would be having a better evening if not worrying about North Korea, and our President, and my daughter, LP, who is in Japan. At these times, I remind myself how many other moms are also worrying, sending their kids to school in Japan, where it is tomorrow morning. LP is there teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. It is a dream come true for her. But should she be there?

“When does it become too dangerous for US citizens?” is not the right question; it’s too dangerous for everyone, everywhere.

I guess this means we keep doing our work, living our lives, and whether that’s hopeful or foolish I do not know. I do know she loves it there. Today she might be teaching vocabulary to the elementary children who giggle and ask if she is popular “with the boys,” or coaching middle schoolers as they prepare to make speeches in English. She will work with the other teachers to protect the students in any emergency, because that is what teachers do.

She is far from Hokkaido, which is in the flight path for these missiles. Last time we talked about it, she had no idea where she would shelter if an alert went out for her region. She lives on the edge of town, near a rice field.

We are none of us safe. Violence won’t prevent violence. And you can’t fix crazy. I know some think God has worked a divine purpose through wars and human leaders, yet we are warned not to put our faith in mortals and princes. I’ve never admired the ones who threaten, who brag about their strength and power. Real courage lives in the ones who spread their wings over the chicks.

Cover us, Lord. Jesus, be a shelter! Not only for my child, but for all God’s children.

Children, Mothering, Reflectionary

See Your Memories

NEC Commencement 017
#2 Son’s commencement, 2013, New England Conservatory

At my house, Facebook’s daily memories take us back in time to lives before the life we have now. I brought to our marriage the kids we call “the olders,” and they appear in this season wearing mortarboards and graduation gowns and prom attire. My stepson, in my mind, begins as the toddler son of a friend, but in my public life, he appears later, a schoolboy, in baseball uniform, or walking our puppy. The separate time zones of our memories remind me how new this life is still.

Sometimes I miss the old spaces: the house in Maine on a street with an esplanade of maple trees, the place where we picked up donuts, the beach where I walked my dogs of blessed memory. At the same time I am thankful for the new life, for the blending of two families into one, for the hope represented by God’s power to make me see myself and my world differently even at midlife. I am thankful.

Holy One, give us a glimpse of the future and gratitude for the present when we glance at the past. You are ever working with us and on us, and we thank you for it. Amen.

(Written originally for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader. You can subscribe here.)

Girl Power, Grrrls, Mothering, My Girl

Go and come back

This morning my daughter took off on a plane headed to Japan for her Junior Year Abroad. She has been dreaming of this since she was the pseudonymous first Little/then Light Princess on my old blog. She started watching a Japanese cartoon with her brother and when the dubbed episodes ran out, she found the later seasons online with English subtitles. She came to love the language and began to dream of going to Japan.

Each of my children had some dream at a fairly early age. #1 Son started acting at 7 and never looked back. #2 Son followed in his brother’s footsteps but when the choice came in 8th grade between a leading role and an orchestra concert, he chose his clarinet and his path.

LP often lamented that she was not as directed as her brothers, not so clearly called to … something. She loves Japanese language and culture, but to what end?

It may not be possible to know until she spends the school year there.

LP, left, with other 5 College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.
LP, left, with other Five College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.

LP had her first opportunity to go to Japan last summer, for the ten day Kakehashi Program. Never one to take things for granted, she continued to work hard for this chance to study abroad. The Associated Kyoto Program is competitive. Her Dean’s List grades at Smith College, her straight As in Japanese, her (in my opinion) beautifully written essays about why she wanted to go to Japan: all these combined to make her an exceptional candidate for the program. We knew it meant everything to her and listened as she worried while waiting for the results of her application last winter, assuring her that, as kathrynzj put it, “If you don’t get in, there’s something wrong with the program, not you.”

AKP students attend class at Doshisha University in Kyoto. They live with host families, and LP received a very dear card from hers, which includes a father, a mother, a daughter her age, and a younger son. AKP classes include a language intensive and courses in Japanese history and culture, which are specifically for American students. We’re all especially happy that she got her hoped-for elective, a seminar that includes both American and Japanese students.

I am so proud of my LP, who combines wry humor and gentle manners with articulate feminism and deep faith as if those were the most natural combination in the world. The little girl who always knew what was going on socially in the classroom but never remembered her homework is now a woman and a scholar, and I am delighted to witness her launch.

The Japanese have many different ways of saying goodbye, each appropriate to different occasions or levels of formality.  Before she left, LP wrote her farewell in kanji, on our kitchen blackboard. This is the goodbye you would use in Japan if you are heading out to school or work. It translates as “I am going, but I will come back.” Eight months will go by quickly in some ways, although believe me, I write this with tears in my eyes. Eight months for her will be full of new experiences, friends and learnings. When we parted last week as she went off for a week with her dad, I wrapped her in a hug, held my hand on the back of her head and prayed for her safety and for a wonderful year.

But the correct response to her farewell, in Japanese, is nothing so emotional or lofty.

The correct response, in Japanese, is just as matter-of-fact. So today, my dear LP, I say, “行ってらっしゃい” – “Go and come back.”

On our kitchen blackboard,
On our kitchen blackboard, “Itte kimasu” – “I am going, but I will come back.”
Mother's Day, Mothering, Prayers for Pastors

Because Mother’s Day (a prayer for pastors)

Us and ours. They are good sports. (Church picture directory, 2013)
Us and ours. They are good sports. (Church picture directory, 2013)

Heavenly Parent,
You are Father and Mother to all Creation.
You planted us and you nourish us.
You exist beyond our comprehension and
transcend the labels we use to describe you.

But we are label-makers,
and category-keepers,
and people-sorters,
and occasion-creators,
and this Sunday we face one
we just can’t get right.

Too much, and it hurts people.
Too little, and it hurts others.

Also, and you know this, we have our own stories.
Our mothers have died
or are still too close
or were never close enough
or never quite meshed
or smacked us too hard
or …
or nurtured us enough
or lived life with panache
or served you with whole hearts
or loved us unconditionally
or…
or all these things, in unequal measure,
over a lifetime.

That’s just to get started.

Some of your servants are mothers,
and some have lost children,
and some wanted them but never did have,
and some never wanted to,
and some had more than they expected,
and some gave theirs to other mothers,
and some feel it goes by too fast,
and some wish it went by faster,
and some worry what their kids think of them
and whether they will remember this awful card holiday
and sort of wish they would
even though it shouldn’t matter.

Bearing all of this in mind and prayer,
we ask, Holy One, with your heart for all people,
give us a measure of grace with one another,
an instinct for the places where some hurt and others chafe.
Give us a measure of mercy and a big dose of patience where our mercy is strained and a sense of humor when people get on our nerves and a heart full of the unconditional love you give so freely to us, ready to share with those who need it most. Amen.

Children, Mothering, Poetry

The kind of mother I want to be

On NPR they told the story
Of helicopter parent glory:
Moms and dads of grown-ups calling
Corporations to ask why they are failing
Evaluations and reviews —
Because it all reflects on who?

Perhaps they fear the future for them,
Comfortable kids who may be poor then.
We are punch lines of late-night jokes
And not the least bit like our folks
Who sent us off and wished us well.
Instead we hover, raising hell.

LP on her way to Vespers at Smith.
LP on her way to Vespers at Smith.

The kind of mother I want to be
Flies in when asked, and just to see
The way she dresses for the concert,
His gold tie jaunty with the black shirt,
A glimpse of mustache (is it curled?),
The ways they move in their own worlds.

These observations aren’t just surface,
They give a sense of inner purpose
A frame of mind, a turn of heart,
A choice to take the better part
All show the people they’ve become,
the things they carry learned at home.

Admittedly I miss the times they
sat and told me of their dramas,
making me feel like Wonder Mama.
I think they hesitate to say
the things that matter, which then might
move out of dream and into sight.

If you tell your mother, it must be true,
that conclusion you’ve held for only you.
I love them, even tied in knots.
To help them rearrange their thoughts
Is still a loved, familiar task
But mine now only if they ask.

~~~~~~~~

(Inspired by a conversation between Krista Tippett and Brene Brown.)

Disaster, Forgiveness, Mothering, Politics

On my ball cap

imageLast week, while the world focused on Boston, I drove to another part of Massachusetts with my high school Senior daughter. At our destination, we celebrated her college choice with a trip to the bookstore to purchase flag swag for the whole family. I came away with a ball cap clearly identifying me as a “Smith College Mom.”

Meanwhile, two other ball caps drove the search for the Boston Marathon bombers. The white cap, in particular, stood out in photos. In a scene out of the movies, the FBI and other authorities gathered in a hotel to scour thousands of images and videos from private surveillance cameras, professional and amateur photographers, and the offerings of ordinary people much like me who can’t stop snapping pictures with their phones. In this time-stamped world, some picture would surely show enough to make a case. Some image would reveal the perpetrator’s identity.

My identity is multi-fold. I am a Christian pastor (UCC flavor), a writer, a wife and mother, a Bernese Mountain Dog obsessive, a knitter of mostly socks, a Virginian by birth, an adoptee, a recovering Southern Baptist, a coffee drinker, a lesbian latecomer, a lover of books and music, a Volvo owner, a registered Democrat and a soon to be Smith College mom. Observing me on last week’s trip to Northampton might have provided insight into a few of these things. I drove the Volvo. I bought the ball cap. I shopped at WEBS, America’s Yarn Store. I pretty much chased down a woman walking a Bernese puppy.

If you asked my new neighbors in Pennsylvania about me, they might be able to get as far as the Volvo.

Since last week, we’ve heard stories from classmates and neighbors, car repair clients, guys at the gym. We’ve seen school pictures and boxing profiles and heard about a scene made at the mosque. In Cambridge, people proud of their diverse community cannot understand. They include everyone. There is so much variation of language and culture, religion and national origin. How could this happen?

We don’t know all the pieces. I left some off my list: raisin hater, New York GIANTS fan, trained Interim Minister, short, grey-haired, brown-eyed. On a hot dog, I like all the condiments. My ears are pierced, but it took more than one try.

Do you have a better picture of me now?

When I heard the news on Patriot’s Day – there’s another thing, for 25 years I lived in the only other state that celebrates it – when I heard the news, I first thought, “Please, whoever did this, let them not be Muslim.

Please, O God. Let it be someone else. Their perceived otherness is too easy, too reflexive and accustomed. Let it be a man whose wife left him for a marathoner, or a faux-Baptist or a white supremacist. We could identify with them instead of running the risk of condemning a whole religion. We could question our culpability, our resentments and prejudices and past injuries, all the things that can influence human behavior toward darkness.

For a short time, I felt close to the situation. I listened to the Thursday night press conference on NPR, in my Volvo, driving home from Smith. When I heard photos would be released, that they would be pictures of two young men, I wondered for a long, hard minute what it would be like to see my son in such a picture.

I have a son in Boston, age 22, studying at New England Conservatory. (There is no ball cap for a conservatory mom.) He was on the Orange Line with his clarinets, A and B-flat, when the bombs exploded. When he arrived at school, getting off the T at Mass Ave, he heard the news. His cellphone didn’t work, so we messaged on Facebook.

A few days later, for a long, hard minute, I pictured my son’s face. I had a heart for some other mother.

imageSoon we heard words associated with that mother’s family: Chechnya, Dagestan, places I’ve heard of but needed Google Earth to locate for sure. I hear Chechyn and remember a rebellion against the Soviet Union. I hear Chechnya and think violence. Despite my sympathy for people formed by countries where violence is so daily it is hardly news — imagine that — despite my sympathy for their suffering,I feel immediately free to take a big step back. Her cap says Marathon Bomber Mom. Not mine.

This change, this freedom, comes at a primal level, the one where I considered my own child’s safety last Friday morning, texting him before 6 a.m. to say the T was not running, learning he was already halfway to the station, breathing deeply again when he returned to his apartment. I would do anything to protect him, just as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan’s mother is trying to do in a press conference from Dagestan today.

In my higher mind, I continue to wish the bombers were not young Muslim men. I think about how it feels to have your name mispronounced, an experience familiar to me. I listen to Robin Young’s nephew talk on “Here and Now” about his high school friend from Cambridge Rindge and Latin; I see the picture of the two boys dressed up for prom. I reflect on the desire to celebrate his capture, certainly understandable and especially in Watertown, and the celebration of law enforcement. I feel relief that the tone of the local conversation is less about Islam than one might expect. I note the uniquely local ritual acts, Neil Diamond’s appearance at Fenway Park and the Red Sox in their uniforms proudly and simply reading Boston.

imageI wonder if either of the brothers ever wore a Red Sox cap?

I ponder the very small differences between first century Jews and Samaritans, and how from those small differences grew an abiding hatred. Jesus told a story about a Samaritan, encouraging his listeners to look beyond the identifying marks that bias us to the actual hearts of people.

It’s hard to make ourselves want to look into the hearts of young men who set their backpack bombs down next to children. I can’t pierce that darkness. It’s so easy to condemn reflexively. People I know to be intelligent and thoughtful Christians murmur about Islam, “I don’t like the attitude toward women.” “Isn’t there something … violent … there?”

But wait! Isn’t there something violent about many practitioners of *our* faith? Aren’t their people wearing our team colors who also oppress women? I don’t like to be identified with them anymore than imams in Boston want to be identified with the Tsarnaev brothers.

After a week of listening to news and commentary, here’s what I know about the young man in the white cap. He is 19, and in the hospital. He is in terrible, terrible trouble for committing a horrific act while automated cameras unwittingly made a record of it. His identity will forever be Murderer, Terrorist, Bomber.

I admit, I find it hard to pray for the young man in the white cap and his mother. I’m interested in the psycho-social mysteries that beg for solving. Deservedly disgruntled immigrants? They wouldn’t be the first. Displaced persons who never found a sense of home? Sleeper agents? Pursuing these theories keeps me at a distance, and that dark distance of perceived differences breaks the world in pieces.

I find it hard to pray for him, for his dark heart. If he knew what he was doing — how could he not know what he was doing? Yet the hope of forgiveness extends to him, by God’s grace.

My heart is pierced, but it took more than one try. God can pierce our darkness. Forgiven. It would look pretty smug on a ball cap, but it’s assured for all who open their hearts to God. That’s my hard-won prayer for Dzhokhar, that someday he will wear a different cap. I have a picture of it in my head, a white cap with red letters, a sign of the hope and grace we all need, an identity God grants to every one of us.

(Also posted at There is Power in the Blog.)