participant, not author

I had one goal for this summer, and one homework assignment from my academic advisor. The goal: to get active, and hopefully walk/bike/whatever my way to shedding the extra softness I’ve acquired from all the sitting, reading, typing, and snacking I did as I worked my way through my Master’s degree. I did a somewhat mediocre job at activity in June, and at the beginning of July, I caught the germs that keep on germing. Some kind of respiratory-plus-fever nonsense rendered me completely useless for a week, and since then I’ve been working super hard to cough up a lung. Which lung? Depends on the day.

So that’s been completely awesome.

My homework assignment was to decide which denomination I wanted to join. I did a lot of reading about what each branch believes, and if I’m being honest, there’s not a lot of variation within the Protestant sector. I have been a member of the United Methodist Church for my entire adult life, and as I get older, I find I’m a bit more left-leaning than the official church policy. I started out looking at the denominations that met my qualifications, which isn’t the best possible way to look for jobs when you work for God.

I’m not going into ministry because it’s an especially attractive or exciting line of work, I’m pursuing this because I feel drawn to it. Perhaps drawn isn’t the most accurate word to use; I feel like this is a unique opportunity that has been set in front of me, and I need to honor the opportunity and the giver of opportunity. Right now is a completely terrible time to enter the ministry on a whim. People are full of fear, racism’s ugly heads and claws are tearing into people of colour, into immigrants, into followers of Islam; the evangelical church has positioned itself as a supporter of the Only Pro-Life If You’re An Unborn Baby Party.

It seems like something happens every single day that makes me have a Lorelai Gilmore conversation/monologue with God, “This is what you want me to do? Are you serious? I mean, I know you’re serious, you’re God, you invented serious. I’ve read the Old Testament. I get it that you are not playing, but how do I respond to my friend whose newborn granddaughter just died? Will a solid Ugly Cry be okay, because that’s all I have right now.”

And while I carry on, I picture God looking at me with his lips pursed like Emily Gilmore, or like Edward Herrman playing Lorelai’s dad, casually reading the newspaper, waiting for me to stop talking, so that he can ask me if I’m finished yet.

Yes. I’m finished. Kind of.

The BMI people are unhappy with me, and I’m signing up with the Methodists. None of the other choices was the right one, so here I am. It’s not really about my preference at this point, anyway. (Yes, that is a line from my Lorelai monologue.) I feel like there is a plan, and I trust that there is a plan. And I trust the author of the plan enough that I’m freed to be present, and to participate.

 

apparently i’m the big bad wolf

“People are afraid of you. Who? Oh, you know… people. Everybody. Everybody’s afraid of you.”

I am told that this is who I am, that people dislike me, that people hate me.

I’ve always expected people to dislike me, and when I was a kid I would often do things to purposely sabotage my relationships. I’ve since learned that many adoptees expect that their relationships will fail, that their friends and loved ones will abandon them, and that self-sabotage is pretty common. We view ourselves as discarded, cast offs, unlovable, and we buy into the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Relationships are really difficult to navigate when you believe your efforts are futile. I’m very lucky to have found some very tenacious and patient friends who gently, and sometimes not-so-gently, remind me that I’m worth their efforts and patience.

But then there is that one person who feeds the lie; the one person who should probably be my biggest cheerleader, who instead seems to find satisfaction in taking me down a notch or two or fifty. They know where I am most insecure, and they find the mark every.single.time.  They casually tell me I am the source of problems, I am frightening, I am too much, I am hated.

Hated? Really? I know I am flawed, but to be hated for being myself?

Hyperbole (and possible gaslighting) aside, I really do hear what this person is saying. This person says that *they* dislike me. This person finds me intimidating. This person hates who I am, and the person I am becoming. I am too much FOR THEM.  It’s a painful realization for me, and it’s difficult to understand. I have to accept that this person has a really negative opinion of me, and figure out how to go on from here.

It has been two years that this person has been telling me how the world sees me. I’m ready to be done with that.

credo

One of the final assignments for this semester’s theology class was to write my own creed, or what I believe in. When I read it aloud in class, it was met with applause, which was much more than the silence or occasional nods I anticipated. I’ve been quiet over here for a while, so I thought I’d share it for anyone who’s still checking in.

Credo

I believe in one creator God, the artistic engineer of the natural world,
who, with precision and purpose, reached into the depths and brought forth a universe exploding with colors, patterns, sounds, texture, and patterns.

I believe that the Word of God was made human in the person of Jesus Christ, and that as a human, Jesus entered into relationships with people here on earth. He was a companion who shared in the human experience, a gentle teacher, and an advocate who spoke the truth about power which led to his brutal murder.

I believe this would be a great tragedy if this was the story of a normal human, but Jesus was God as well as man. The death of Jesus the human paid for the sins of the world. And when Jesus who is also God was resurrected on the third day, he shattered the bonds that held us captive to death.

I believe in imago dei, that we are created in the image of God, and that the Spirit of God is in and around us. The Spirit is our comforter, the one who whispers the cares of our heart into the ear of God. The Spirit delivers peace and joy, reminding us to seek the beauty and promise of the world, even when we least expect it.

I believe that all humans are valuable, that war is wrong, that violence does not provide answers. I believe in taking care of one another. I believe that God can be found everywhere, including a pot of soup and a fresh-baked pie. I believe in Sabbath, in quiet, in naps; nobody can run on empty. I believe in following the internal nudge to do or say something that might be out of one’s comfort zone—the Spirit moves in mysterious ways, and always seems to nudge the right person toward the right person at the right time.

I believe in peace, shalom, reconciliation, and love.

the church loves refugees now

My heart is broken for Syria. I have been closely following the civil war since before it was a war, back in 2011 when peaceful protesters gathered to declare their desires for a better, less-oppressive Syria.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Lebanon and spend time photographing refugee life in some of the informal tented settlements.

home

no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well*

The next two generations of Syrian leaders are homeless. Two years ago, it was estimated that more than half the population of Syria was internally displaced. More than 11 million people are homeless inside the borders of Syria.

And that is only a guess.

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This sweet babe was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He is not entitled to a Lebanese birth certificate, and his mama can’t afford to return to Syria to get a birth certificate because they live in abject poverty. It is likely that he will live his entire life as a refugee: lacking food, adequate shelter, and suffering chronic health ailments related to a lack of clean water.

The Syrian Crisis did not materialize one day last week. Aylan, the precious baby found face-down on a Turkish beach, was not the first Syrian baby to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of Syrians have drowned escaping the war, but Aylan was the first one that people chose to see. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the war –many of them children– but none of those images or stories grabbed the Church’s heartstrings.

The Western Church is, at long last, appropriately horrified by the situation facing the Syrian people. Christians on social media are hashtagging their indignation: #BeTheChurch and #WeWelcomeRefugees are everywhere. There are petitions asking governments to resettle refugees. Much-needed money and supplies are pouring in, and that is truly a benefit that will make people’s lives better.

Why now? Why did the Church decide to “Be The Church” on a random day in August? What made that day more significant than any of the other previous 1,640-ish days since the Syrian Crisis began? Cute babies die daily in Syria. I’m not trying to be crass or to downplay the significance of those deaths; it breaks my heart that people can cause such damage to one another.

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But where have you been, Church? Where have you been for the Palestinians? Where are you for the Afghans? For Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese, Myanmarese, Colombians, or Sudanese? Because from where I stand, it looks like you aren’t here for any of these, or as Jesus called them “the least of these.”

The least of these are mostly confined to their own countries, mostly out of sight, and definitely not affecting the West or Western culture in any way. But those Syrians… they have come to Europe. There are white people carrying the bodies of their dead away in front of white media, and white people are shocked. White people are sweeping in to take care of the poor people of color, white people making decisions, white people saving.

Is the Church really interested in being the Church, in being a servant to the hurting people of the world, in housing the homeless and feeding the hungry? This newfound passion has taken the Church by storm. It looks like a fad, like Christians have discovered the next cool thing to be on fire for, that will soon be forgotten. When was the last time you heard a Christian mention any of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria? Did you know that Boko Haram is still kidnapping and murdering people? Remember when all of the truly devout Christians in America changed their social media avatars to the Arabic letter that is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, to honor all the Christians in Mosul, Iraq who were being massacred? It was so important!

This movement to provide for the Syrian refugees is not an organically-grown movement. It is a public relations campaign that catapulted itself into existence off the body of a dead baby. It is a campaign of shock and awe– shock at the realization of the masses that babies are dying horrible deaths, and awe at the incredible spending power of Western Christianity. I do not see the “We Welcome Refugees” people coming alongside the servants who have been working to assist the Syrian refugees for the past four and a half years. I don’t see this new force even granting the benefit of a mention to the countless NGOs who started the movement to support Syrian refugees. The Church is once again using its financial power to control the lives of the less fortunate, and is steamrolling those who actually have been “being the Church.”

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“Be The Church” is giving Christians a quick and easy means to feeling good about themselves, but it lacks the relational component that is necessary to keep the short attention span of the West focused on people who don’t look or dress like them. The Western Church will show us what it means to be the church: it will burn hot and fiery for a short period of time, and then it will find something else with which to entertain itself.

The Syrian Crisis is going to continue to be a crisis in October. It is going to be a crisis in 2016. It will still be a crisis in 2026, and for decades after. This isn’t a problem the Church can fix. It is one of the most complex social issues facing the world today, and it is one that will outlive my children, and possibly my grandchildren. If the Western Church is going to have any lasting effect on the lives of refugees, it needs to ditch its Saviour complex and learn from the people who have been battling this crisis since the beginning.

*excerpt from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire,
you can find the entire poem here.

 

 

.one hundred seventy-four pages.

I have a paper due next Tuesday. I love writing papers. It’s a sickness or something. I love researching stuff, and writing my notes on little blue Post-its, and typing and footnotes.

I have no explanation for this.

But. The book that I need to read in order to write the paper, y’all, it’s like wading face-deep through a swimming pool full of words. I read and read and read and read, and then I go back and read all the stuff I just read again, except out loud this time, and then I put my finger under the words like they teach you in Kindergarten and read it AGAIN.

It goes like this for pages and pages, until the author throws a bone and writes a couple paragraphs using words in combinations that make sense to me.

I have been slogging through this book ALL DAY LONG and I am on page 46. FORTY-FLIPPING-SIX. (Full disclosure: I was on page 32 when I started this morning.) Yes, I did school with my kids, and yes, everyone has been fed today, and yes, I did play games of BS and Go Fish, but SIXTEEN PAGES??? At this rate, I will be almost done with the reading assignment when my paper is due.

Please. FOR THE LOVE. If you have a suggestion to improve my reading comprehension or to get this stuff read in a way that takes way less time with way better results, PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE help a girl out.  I will love you forever and like you for always and never climb into your bedroom in the dark of night after driving an extension ladder to your house.

that speech in congress today.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this morning. This was a very controversial appearance, because instead of receiving an invitation from his political equivalent (the President) as is customary,  Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner effectively ignored the chain of command, while at the same time ignoring the practice of not permitting foreign heads of state or foreign political candidates to speak in the United States immediately prior to an election. This avoids the appearance of an endorsement of a foreign candidate, and keeps the United States from openly influencing election results.

Netanyahu was trailing in the polls when he left Israel. His former chief of staff was interviewed following the speech (you can read the whole speech here), and said that many were eagerly anticipating the results of his speech, because they knew speaking in America to an enthusiastic crowd would drastically boost Netanyahu’s standing in the election. The Washington Post claims that more than 80% of Israeli voters are expected to view Netanyahu more positively because of his performance today.

Netanyahu was aware that his visit was in violation of American policy, that the President was not in favour of the visit, and that many people in this country– almost 50% of registered voters— disagree with how this whole thing went down. Sixty members of Congress refused to attend the speech, which caused every referee to exhaust their supplies of political red cards given for bipartisan behaviour. I have to give the Prime Minister a political BS red card, too, for his opening statement:

I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Sir. Or, in this case, the road to continued conflict and nuclear war is paved with “good’ intentions.

The speech was political. The talks between Iran and the United States are very complicated, and that the leader of Iran’s mortal enemy was allowed to stand before the US government and offer a scathing report of Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, was quite possibly counterproductive to diplomatic efforts. Further, Netanyahu’s comments will not change the position of the United States, but likely will deepen the rift between Iran and Israel.

The timing of the speech was a last-ditch effort to influence voters by Netanyahu; hopefully the Israeli voters are wiser than he believes them to be.

It’s going to take more than polarizing speeches to have an effect on Middle East politics and national relations. The rhetoric only serves to deepen the conflicts and strengthen the foundation of fear and hate on which Middle Eastern politics is built.

diffusing joy

I have been unreasonably crabby today. In a horrible stroke of luck, or –possibly– bad planning, we ran out of heavy cream. See, I don’t play around when it comes to coffee. I know what kind of beans of like, I know how to make my cuppa exactly how I like it, and I like my coffee with heavy cream. No sugar, no half and half, none of that non-dairy powder or milk-like flavour syrup.

So that happened. I’m practically decaffeinated. And to give you a little mental picture of the sort of things happening here, I offer this list of things I have said today.

“Please do not touch him.”

“NE PAS TOUCHER!!!”

“Control your feet, sir.”

“We do not use kicking as a form of communication.”

“Please explain to me how you accidentally kicked him? You do understand that when you thrust your foot away from your body, toward his body, when he’s close to you, that it gives the impression that you intended to kick him?”

“Well if you do not intend to kick someone, you should stop flinging your feet away from your body, and into the body of your brother.”

Yep. It’s like that. I’m combatting the combat with a couple drops of Joy in the diffuser, a bowl of popcorn, and some chocolate.

 

 

 

 

real winter is cold.

Apparently we have been having pretend winters up here in the great white North-ish-but-really-Western-New-York. Snow, thaw, cold, not-so-cold, freeze, snow, thaw. FOR YEARS. Like a decade.

I have been hibernating, happy as an introvert can possibly be, trapped in the house for days on end with four stir-crazy short people and a super-bored cat whose goal in life is to eat the parakeet. We got a LOT of schoolwork done until this week. We are now studying building mechanics and physics and figuring out the velocity and force of impact of an airborne 9 year-old who weighs about 70 pounds, when he leaps from the back of the sofa. (Answer: the force is strong with that one.) Also, we eat a lot of popcorn.

Earlier this week,  Facebook News Service reported that Lake Erie had frozen over (YAY!!!), thereby ending Lake Effect Season. Lake Effect Season happens from the time the lake isn’t frozen and the wind blows magic air over the lake and BIG ENORMOUS SNOW happens, until the time the lake freezes and kills the magic. It is a very ambiguous timeline. The people of Western New York rejoiced! Huzzah!

Alas, our joy was not to be. The Weather Poltergeist has issued a Lake Effect Advisory/Watch/Warning/Thingy, because Canada hasn’t turned off their wind-maker that’s on the north side of the Other Lake, also known as Lake Ontario, or The Lake So Deep It Doesn’t Actually Freeze Because It’s Hateful And Despises Us All.

So now, not only do we have wind chill temperatures that are so low, the only places colder than outside my house are Antarctica, and a tiny village in Siberia, BUT we also are expecting an additional 6-10 inches of snow in the next 12 hours.

New York is awesome. You should all move here.

taking a trip

I’m going to Lebanon in June.

I am part of a team of 15 people from my church who are going to serve in the poor communities surrounding Beirut. About half of the team will be working with a children’s ministry, running a summer-camp-like experience. Some of the team will work on a building project for the Near East Initiative. I will be serving in the refugee community.

There is an enormous refugee situation in Lebanon due to the civil war that rages in Syria. As of March 13, there are said to be near 750,000 refugees in Lebanon. Almost a million displaced people crammed into a country the size of Western New York. Lebanon isn’t the only country receiving refugees, there are refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, along with nearly 4 million homeless Syrians who are still in Syria. Nearly a quarter of the Syrian people are displaced.

I have been following the news about Syria for over a year. I read the news every day; I read about children freezing to death because they don’t have even the simplest tent to sleep in at night, because they don’t have clothing that’s warm enough. I read about them starving and contracting typhoid because the only water that is accessible to them is poisoned with sewage. I read about the women; wives, daughters, mothers raped and murdered. I see their photographs, and their wide-eyed faces are the faces of my own babies; the women are my friends, the dead soldiers wear the faces of my husband and brothers.

These people are so very real, and my heart is broken for them.

They have been discarded, thrown away by their corrupt government, murdered by thugs, starved by a hunger for power.

Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.

So I will go, and I will do. Maybe I will serve food, give clothing, hand out clean water, scrub the toilets… I really don’t know what my job will be. Yes, I would be thrilled to not scrub toilets for seventeen days, but if seeing this white American girl scrub poo is what I need to do to show the love of my God to people who have nothing, then so be it.

Part of going on a mission trip is raising money. This trip costs about $4000, not including renewing my passport, all of the immunizations, and other random expenses that will pop up along the way. One of the opportunities the team has is to sell Twice Cleansed organic olive oil soap. It has three ingredients: olive oil, water, and lye. Olive oil soap is wonderful for people who have dry, itchy skin. You can click here to read more about the soap, and to make a purchase. A single bar is $5, and a 4-pack is $20. It takes a whole lot of soap-selling to reach $4000, so I would love if you would share the link with your social media circles.

If you aren’t interested in soap, but would rather just make a donation to support my fundraising efforts, please let me know, and I will provide you with my paypal address or send you one of the fancy donation envelopes that the church provides. (Fancy donation envelope = tax deduction, btw.)

And as much as I appreciate your financial support, I ask you to pray for my team. We are fully aware that we are travelling to a dangerous place, and that there will be enormous demands on our mental and physical abilities. If you are not a pray-er, we’ll take your good thoughts and intentions.

Have questions for me? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comment section, unless it’s something a little too personal to share with all the interwebs, in which case I’ll send you an email.