Finding Love in the New Year

I didn’t exactly party hard this New Year’s Eve. Recovering from a cold, I stayed in with my dog, wore pajamas, watched the deleted scenes on the Parks and Recreation DVDs I got for Christmas, and toasted 2018 with a shot of cough syrup. Being under the weather takes the pressure out of New Year’s Eve. It tends to be such a couple-focused holiday—after all, you have to find someone to kiss at midnight, right? Judging by the number of engagements popping up in my facebook feed on January 1, the romance of NYE is not just in the movies.

It’s never quite worked out that way for me, though. For most of my adult life, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve alone or with friends, or occasionally as an awkward third or fifth wheel. Some of my favorites were the years when it was just one or two friends hanging out and consuming pizza rolls and champagne—the “New Year’s Eve of champions,” as we call it. The champagne really classes up the pizza rolls, I’m telling you.

There’s also the New Year’s pressure to make resolutions. “New Year, New You!” the ads proclaim as they roll over from the indulgent feasting and gift-giving of Christmas to the diets, exercise equipment, organizational systems, day planners, and self-help books that we all need to be better people this year than we were last year. The dating apps tell me that this could be the year I find true love, especially if I enroll in their premium plan. Of course, they said that last year, and the year before, and the year before that.

All this is premised on the idea that there is something wrong with who and what I am right now. The not-so-subtle underlying message of all the ads is that if I had changed my body with the right exercise regimen and changed my personality with the self-help books, then I could have found true love. Or the “new me” could have, I suppose. Read more

Epiphany

Epiphany

Buford probably never paid homage to another person
in her life. Widowed young, no children, innumerable
opinions, Buford got to work and never stopped—

fixing her house, tending her garden,
building porches, painting ceilings;
climbing on ladders, rafters, scaffolding, even

into her seventies. When she finally decided
to move to the nursing home, she ordered
a motorized wheelchair, in which she became

unstoppable, even if another–slower–
resident got in her way. And when she turned 104,
she proved every day that she didn’t get that far

by being weak-willed. (Move that. Stand there. Stop
talking so loud. My hearing is fine.)
Visiting
Buford was less an act of non-anxious

presence, and always more of an exercise
in following orders. Yet, one time, when I brought
my fourteen-week-old daughter to Buford’s room,

and placed her on the worn, yellow bedspread,
Buford stooped over her, as low as she could go.
And as my daughter started swinging

her small soft fists, Buford reached out,
allowing one of those squishy hands to catch her bent
knuckle, and she paused for a moment, letting

her finger be gripped by this other finger,
which had entered the world 103 years
and 10 months after hers. At this,

as flesh met flesh,
I knelt beside the bed
and bowed my head.

Discipleship, Not Diet Culture

The table at the heart of our faith

“New year, new you!”

We’ve all heard it before. As the holidays wind down, and New Year’s Day approaches, the onslaught of diet culture begins. Countless ads, commercials, messages, and our friend’s Facebook pages promise us that we will love ourselves better and live more fulfilling lives if only we participate in their weight loss program. For the low, low price of $19.95, the life we’ve always wanted can be ours! Except the cost is really so much greater than that.

Church, it’s time to get honest. Diet culture is big business. My friend Courtney always says:  follow the money. She’s right. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry entirely predicated on shame and self-loathing (particularly for women). The idea that “if only I were a smaller body size, my life would be complete” is an ages old tale that stems from the patriarchy. It also stands in direct opposition to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We proclaim the bold truth that we are created in the image of the God who created heaven and earth, fully beloved and good. There’s no stipulation in there that the Holy One will love us better if we are thin. There’s no asterisk that says God will love us better if we follow a certain eating plan (which by the way is another word for diet), or refrain from certain foods. Yet, so often we subtly send these messages in our faith communities.

Weight loss, food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk have no place in the body of Christ. I know this may feel hard to hear, but it’s important. Do you run a weight loss program out of your church? Are you known to comment at the pot luck that you “shouldn’t have had that cookie?” Clergy, do you use your social media profile to proclaim the virtues of the latest food you’ve given up, or your latest diet craze? Intended or not, all of these things communicate (especially to a younger generation) that God loves some bodies more than others. Read more

Christmastide

When candles lifted
for Silent Night
wax-dripped and wick-burned
lie haphazard,
dropped in baskets
forgotten;

When cotton ball sheep masks
tinsel halos
spray-paint gilded gifts of the wise
shepherd staff and wooden trough
find storage corners
to mark time til next December;

When liturgies recited
carols sung
luminaries extinguished
bulletins recycled
sanctuaries draped in cloak of poinsettia red
have held the promise, past tense.

Then the tide of Christmas—
good tidings of great joy
heaven and nature sing,
the ebb of frenzy
the flow of good news
begins.

It is among my favorite words:
Christmastide.

This time that carries us to another shore;
these days that celebrate the one in the manger
who will soon admonish us to go across to the other side.

These moments to reflect and wonder,
to ride the waves of laughter
and the waves of grief that swamp our frail vessels
all the way to the One whose voice the wind and sea obey.

Hero

Everyone imagines themselves as the hero of their own story. Especially every child — and I was a child. They all imagine themselves as heroes. That’s not a new thing; it’s like that here in your twenty-first century American lives, but it was like that where I lived, in Nazareth two thousand years ago, as well. Your boys and girls have the heroes that they imagine: Wonder Woman, Iron Man, PJ Masks, Moana, GI Joe, Harry Potter. They’re inundated with them: hundreds of heroes, on television screens and in movie theaters, in newspaper comics and novels. Watch the children sometime, and see how they play: averting global disasters at the playground, setting up elaborate Lego battlefields, going on daring adventures through their back yards, covering themselves with temporary tattoos. They all want to be heroes.

So did I, but our heroes were a little bit different.

You have to understand that those Roman soldiers could do anything. There was no due process, no body cameras, no professional code of ethics — not that those things always make a difference for you, but even those flawed safeguards were not there for us. Rome had conquered my town and those soldiers could do anything they wanted.

So we would go to our religious services, passed off to the authorities as innocuous. They respected things that were ancient, and our faith was as ancient as they come: ancient stories, ancient scrolls, ancient traditions. They thought our religion kept us busy, kept us industrious, kept us docile. But every little child, boy or girl, wants to be a hero, and that’s what I was. So I learned the stories of our heroes. Moses, who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, who stood in the presence of God on Sinai. David, who as a boy stood fearless with his slingshot and felled the giant Goliath. Jeremiah, who heard the voice of God in his boyhood and fearlessly reprimanded the wicked and faithless. And there were other heroes, too: Ruth and Naomi, left widowed and making their way in the world. Jael, deceiving and impaling Siserah, Esther, risking everything to advocate for her people to the king.

Those were the stories that shaped me and formed me as a child. Read more

Zechariah: In Which God Redeems a Mansplainer

A painting by artist Alexandr Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Holy One, we come with many things on our hearts and minds. We come with grief and with joy, with heavy hearts and busy schedules. We come with certainty and with doubts. Bless the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, that each of us might hear your word for us today. Amen.

The silence changed everything. Everything. At first I tried to talk, I tried to hum, I tried to rasp, scream, whisper, grunt, whistle, anything I could think of. I lay in bed at night trying everything, my tongue working against my speechless lips, worrying at my teeth, begging in vain for my disobedient vocal chords to comply. Nothing worked – I was completely mute, every attempt to vocalize utterly noiseless. I might as well have been trying to fly.

It was so frustrating to be silent. I’d always been a big talker anyway. I loved to shoot the breeze on a quiet afternoon, to tell stories around the table, to debate about scripture in the synagogue. To be mute now, after this, was unbearable. I had so much to say!

It had been a lifetime of waiting for my wife Elizabeth and me. We’d waited for a child, waiting and waiting and waiting until slowly we accepted that it was too late. We’d waited faithfully for the Messiah, suffering year after year under the Roman imperial occupation, enduring the centurions and governors and their tyrannical puppet kings, praying for the day when God would save us and free us. And we’d waited years for my turn to offer incense in the sanctuary. Each group of priests served for a week twice a year, and each day one of us would be chosen by lots for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to approach the Holy of Holies. I had waited, time after time, for my lot to be drawn. The priests God chose for the task seemed to get younger and younger. Sometimes I wondered if God had forgotten us. But not anymore.

It had seemed like a normal morning as I set off to the Jerusalem temple, joining along the way with the other priests from the order of Abijah. I had pretty much resigned myself by that time, but that day my name was chosen to enter the inner sanctuary and offer the incense. I had entered the chamber prepared to experience the silent, perfect peace of the presence of the Lord. As I lit the incense, there was a rush of wind, and a breath-taking, awe-inducing something stood before me, all wings and eyes and sound. I was terrified; my memory is fuzzy, all flashes and snippets. Elizabeth. A son. Name him John. Something about Elijah. Prepare the way of the Lord. Read more

Sometimes I Really Hate This Time of Year

pregnancy test – negative

We are in the thick of Advent. Inside the church, we are quick to turn our focus to Elizabeth, to Mary, to drawing parallels between the waiting time of pregnancy and the waiting time of Advent. Outside the church, Christmas cards show up in our mailboxes each day with pictures of smiling families dressed to the nines for Christmas portraits, or religious cards with silhouettes of pregnant Mary riding on the donkey, led by Joseph, down the road toward Bethlehem. Singers on the radio remind us that it is “the most wonderful time of year.”

Except when it isn’t.

“Sometimes I hate this time of year,” one colleague admits.

Because for those who long for children that they cannot conceive, for those who know the loss of a pregnancy or the loss of a child, for those who are childless beyond their choice or power, this intensely child-focused time of year is anything but wonderful. Hear the voices of young clergy women colleagues as they reflect on the tension of this season: Read more

The Divine Waggle

The author’s son having chosen a front row seat for the Lord’s Supper.

At 20 months and 2 days old, my son extended his hand towards his sister, and waggled his fingers back and forth. It was his first ever unprompted wave. As all three of us stood there in the haphazard transition between car and door of childcare, I whooped and clapped and started an awkward mom-version of the running man, complete with child in arms. My son was confused and my daughter even more so, at this unusual burst of awkward energy so early in the morning. But this was a touchdown for him, for me. It was a WAGGLE deserving of end zone celebration.

There is a mantra in the world of kids with Down syndrome that I have come to learn in the last two years: ‘Celebrate, Don’t Compare.’ Children with Down syndrome are late developers, hence the usage of the word ‘retarded.’ The milestone calendars so carefully laid out in baby books and emailed to your inbox are of no use to a family with a child with Trisomy 21. Those are more of a GPS—which will lay out when you will arrive at the place you desire to be. Families with Down syndrome are given only a wide open paper map. There are places to go, but arrival time is entirely independent of your carefully laid plans.

The crunchier among us might see this as a good thing—‘Hey, my kid will get there when he gets there,’ laissez-faire approach to parenting. I was similar with my daughter. But for a parent who is constantly asked how old her child is when they exhibit no signs of development appropriate to their age, a lack of a timeline is disheartening. Laissez-faire is a beautiful, intentional, approach. When involuntarily taken out of one’s hands, laissez-faire or no, the waiting, as Daniel Tiger might say, is hard.

Hence the mantra. It was gently given to us by the first of our neonatologists. It was quietly repeated by our four therapists. Seasoned parents of children with DS lived it out in front of us again and again. Celebrate, don’t compare. Have joy in what is happening, rather than lining the present up with your neighbor’s children or your own former expectations.

As a follower of Jesus, a priest and generally sunny kind of lady, I wanted to love the mantra. Read more

The Pastor’s Advent

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As I write this, I’m sitting on my living room couch. I showered this morning, but I’m wearing what my husband’s aunt calls “soft clothes” – a sweatshirt, and lounge pants, and slippers.

I haven’t worn mascara in more than a week.

“What are you going to do today?” my husband asked me, this morning, while he packed lunches and I spread cream cheese on bagels for our daughters, who are 7 and 3.

“I have some writing to do,” I said. “Maybe I’ll return those Christmas lights that are too short, and buy some candles for the Advent wreath.” That was the entirety of my to-do list, at least as of 6:30am. I tried not to feel like it was inadequate.

On my way back from dropping our youngest at daycare, I decided to make a lasagna. And then I decided that I would sit my butt down and actually read the two long-form articles that have been open in my browser for days, one of them maybe even for weeks.

The very idea of sitting down, uninterrupted, to read an entire long-form article – without feeling the whole time like I was supposed to be doing something else – was almost unfathomable. The possibility that I could just sit and read the entire thing, from beginning to end, rather than to read it piecemeal – a few minutes here while my kids are playing in the tub, and a few minutes there while I scarf down my lunch – made me happier than I’d like to admit.

I took the week off, you see. Read more

Ask a YCW: Sexual Harassment Edition

Dear Askie,

I’ve been really shocked and saddened lately by so many of my female colleagues, friends, and parishioners posting #metoo online with their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. I knew such things happened, but I had no idea how widespread this problem really was. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this kind of behavior in Hollywood or Washington, D.C., but it’s deeply upsetting how many of these experiences seem to have happened in churches. We have trainings and policies to protect children and youth in the church, but it seems like so many of my younger female colleagues have experienced abuse both by other pastors and by parishioners. What can we do to protect them as well as female parishioners? As a middle-aged male pastor, what can I do to address this problem? I want to be an ally, but I don’t even know where to start.

Signed,
Overwhelmed by the Stories

Read more