Children, Church Life, Family, Reflectionary

Why would anyone go to church now?

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

The Boy wondered this, watching the news about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He has reached the age where he hears about the news at school, so we have become more open to having him hear and see things on TV, rather than trying to shield him from the hard things that happen. We need to be able to answer his questions ourselves. I don’t know if you have heard the common talk of 7th grade boys lately, but it definitely requires some counter-influences.

“Why would anyone go to church now?” He asked us again. “The doors are unlocked! Anyone could come in.”

It’s true that in church we are a special flock of sitting ducks, focused in one direction, both physically and spiritually. I rarely look around in church, when I am sitting in the pews, other than when we pass the peace. I estimate how large a crowd is behind me by the sounds they make. I’m trying not to seem overly interested in who is late, or whose children are making noise; I’m trying to be a good pastor’s wife.

Up front, as the pastor and preacher, it’s different. I’m counting heads, noting who is missing. But even then, I am not worrying about disaster, or I haven’t been, even though I know Kathryn has a plan in case someone dangerous comes into the sanctuary.

Experts offering their two cents worth on cable news recommended that churches review their emergency plans and look into security systems of staffing appropriate to their size and situation. Maybe, they suggested, someone in the congregation is already wearing a weapon to worship.

I know this is true in some of my colleague’s congregations.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

It’s not clear yet what the shooter’s relationship to religion was. His social media accounts were quickly archived, but not so fast that some bad actors didn’t have a chance to create alternative “likes” and loyalties for him. What does seem to be clear is that a man with a history of domestic violence threatened his mother-in-law, and then he shot up the church she attended. This morning the President suggested that had a neighbor not fired at the shooter, there might have been hundreds of deaths. A better guess is had he not been given chase, his next stop would have been his mother-in-law’s house.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

We did our best to reassure The Boy, pointing out that the shooter did not choose a church at random. I’m not sure how comforting that is, really. How was a guy who cracked his infant stepson’s skull out on the street to do this? He choked his wife; he punched his dog. Why don’t we take these clusters of behavior seriously? We don’t because we undervalue harm done to women/children, overvalue white men and their chance of a future. This is magnified when we add race, sexual orientation, gender identity to the victim side of the equation.

The permission given to this man to keep assaulting other people, the pattern of abuse he inflicted on others before Sunday, the ready availability of a weapon that can kill, terribly, so many people, so quickly – all these factors remain for other abusers, other men who cannot manage their anger or their disappointment or their frustration, who cannot resist the temptation of power and have the means available to deal out death.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

It might not be fair for me to make suggestions about what churches should do about their security when I am not serving one right now. Our own history as people of faith is problematic. Joshua and his house pledged to serve the Lord, but in the Promised Land, they used all their available weapons and powers to kill the people they saw as enemies, and to gain the land they wanted. They saw being the chosen ones as permission to deal out death. We should not be surprised that righteousness and power have been confused and conflated throughout human history.

Why would anyone go to church now? Our boy doesn’t drop his questions until he gets a satisfying answer, and he usually asks them again, just to be sure. We will go because it’s what we do, just like we ride on a bike path, or go to the movies, or attend a concert. We will go because most of us cannot maintain the kind of hyper-vigilance required to be on watch at all times. We will go because we want to be with the people we know and love. We will go for solace, and solidarity.

That is not enough.

I’m not saying this is easy. In the United States, we worship our guns like no other nation in the world, and some will say more guns are the answer. I do not believe this. We need to be direct in saying the god of guns is a false god. As much as I believe Jesus is among the grieving, I believe he is also pressing on his church to engage with the powers and principalities and say “No more!” Our culture privileges the powerful; often our church culture does the same. Yet we know Jesus proclaimed a preferential option for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We need the church to be a place where we talk about why mass shootings happen. We need to have those conversations and let God be part of them. We need to decide whether the church will be not just a voice speaking but a body acting to bring change in human priorities and understanding. If we have any power left as an institution, we must work together for good, in Jesus’s name.

I could stay screened here across the street, watching for unfamiliar vehicles and people, but I want more than the safe view from my window.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

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Orientation, Reflectionary

Queerfully Made

I’m giving thanks for the whole queer family today.

We are pastors, soldiers, legislators, moms and dads, single people, educators, coaches, artists, musicians, welders, bureaucrats, athletes, and administrators. We are tired, we are wrinkled, we are smooth and young; we are beautiful. We are young urban radicals, comparatively dull suburbanites, and hardworking outdoorsy folk. We are every race and shade, every shape and size, all religions and none.

We are funny, and sympathetic, and no better dancers than the rest of you, and sadly some are really terrible people, because we are human.

File Oct 31, 11 24 28 AMWe are the ones people look at twice and the ones people never identify as LGBTQIA+. We are the young cashier at the drive-through, and the brilliant professor in high heels, and the linebacker who hits the hardest, and the butch who looks smoking in a black t-shirt, and the spruce executive with the beautiful neckties, and at least one silver-haired mama wearing pearls and drinking a mocha at your local Starbucks.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of God, whose diversity is beyond human imagining, categories, prejudices, and phobias.

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.

#amwriting, Reflectionary

Better When Writing – interview at A Sanctified Art

Recently, I was the WholeheARTed Guest at A Sanctified Art, where I answered questions from Lisle Gwinn Garrity that inspired contemplation of my creative process. Thanks, Lisle, for thinking of me! Check out the resources being created by A Sanctified Art here.

SA: When did you first consider yourself a creative person?

MS: From the time I was a little girl, I loved thinking up stories. I would draw (very bad) pictures of the children I hoped to have and invent names and identities for them. I retold myths and adapted adventures of favorite characters from literature. I especially loved Bible stories and would “tell” them on the flannel board I stored under the high old-fashioned bed in my childhood home. A wonderful Sunday School teacher at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, gave me permission to expand my storytelling when she developed curriculum for 5th and 6th-graders that taught the Old Testament through drama and the New Testament using puppets. We learned stories, wrote scripts, and acted or performed the stories.

SA: Tell us about how you express yourself creatively?

MS: I experimented with many forms of writing both in school and personally, but I never found a form that suited all my interests until I started writing for church—plays, sermons, and liturgies all felt like lively and faithful ways to use my gifts. Even when I write about my life, as I began doing in blog form in 2004, the most meaningful storytelling happens in dialogue with scripture. I now write prayers especially for pastors. My newest favorite thing is combining words and images using Canva, Prisma, and Instagram.

SA: What is your creative process like?

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MS:
My creative process almost always starts with a text I will be talking to, and I wish I could say that inevitably means I study and pray, but often it means I read the text and go for a walk, or have to run an errand, or find myself waiting at a child’s choir practice or watching a Little League game, and something flashes through my mind. Ten years ago I would rifle through my purse for a tiny notebook, but today I open the Notes app on my iPhone and one-finger type or dictate the thought before I lose it. It happens that way because I cultivate openness and privilege originality.

(Read the rest at A Sanctified Art.)

Prayers for Pastors, Reflectionary

After a Sunday off (a prayer for pastors)

Dear Holy,

After a Sunday off,
I find it hard to come back.
I am grateful for the rest,
but still managing re-entry.

It’s probably true that
I haven’t forgotten how
to write a sermon, to craft
a prayer, to offer a blessing,

after a Sunday offbut somewhere in the middle
between“I got this!”
and “what was I thinking?”
is the post-vacation muddle,

not so much “not ready”
as “not fully present”
not so much “unwilling”
as “not sure I’m able.”

Ground me, dear Holy,
in this time and space,
with the people I serve,
and a true word from You.

Amen.

Reflectionary

From this thin place (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,
From this thin place I pray:

For the women who

Gathered here

Long ago

Living together,

Away from their worlds,

Yet in yours, devoting

Their lives to prayer and service;
For the women who

Gather here

On retreat

In temporary community,

Away from our worlds,

Yet in yours, sharing

A time of prayer and respite;
For the women who

Need a break
Right now, 

But do not have it,

In the midst of their worlds,

Which are also yours, serving:

Their work continues.
Grant us all

Times of renewal,

And the will to take them,

To center ourselves

And return refreshed

To serve you wholeheartedly

In the work that never ends.

In Christ’s name. Amen.

Prayers for Pastors, Reflectionary

What the world needs to hear (a prayer for pastors)

Dear God,

We have studied,Jesus
poring over our Bibles,
parsing ancient languages,
picking through commentaries,
penciling notes in the margins,
pondering your meaning.
picking out the words
the world needs to hear:
grace, mercy, justice.

Jesus.

Bless the work we have done,
and the words we will say,
and all those who will hear them,
we ask in His name. Amen.