Posts

Making Lists: One Mom’s Response to the Trayvon Martin Case

As a wife, mother, and clergy person I struggle with what to tell my son about Trayvon Martin.  As the mother of a five-month old black male, I am particularly concerned about what I will tell him.  There will be a day when my son will ask me some hard questions and I hope I am ready to answer his questions.  I hope that I’ve laid the groundwork for him to understand how incredibly valued he is and how racism is not his fault.

Because I needed to grieve for Trayvon and because I needed to think through what I was going to say in the future, I pulled together a list of the things we say to him now.  I have seen several of these lists already, but they all seemed to be missing something. They were all missing God and they were all missing an important lesson, that humans are valued.  This list is my attempt to make sense of a world that sometimes doesn’t make any sense, to myself or to the tiny human that is my son.

 

 

 

 

What I say to Isaac :

1).     You are loved. Isaac, you are loved and beloved by God.  God loves you and knit you together.  God loved you so much that he sent his only son to live, die, and be raised again so that you could have eternal life.  Isaac, God loves you every second of every day and will love you forever.  God loves you in your joy and in your sadness. God is always with you and God always loves you.

Isaac, your parents love you.  We love you and will do our best to make sure you know that every day.  Some days we will definitely fail and some days we will not get along, but we will always love you.  Your extended family loves you.  Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, (and because we are southerners all of those people we aren’t related to but call aunts and uncles — they love you too).

2).     You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are smart, and you are worth it.  God holds you in God’s hands and cherishes you as something marvelous.  God surrounds you with his grace, not because you are perfect, but because you are complex, interesting, and wonderful. Thankfully we are not made to be perfect.  We are made to stumble and fall, we are made to be human.  Our humanity makes us fragile, but we are made to be good.  We are made to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God.  You are so wonderful; you are so worth it, so keep trying.

3).     We expect you to strive to be a good man.  We expect you to be respectful, helpful, thoughtful, and kind.  We also expect that you will not live up to those expectations all the time.  You will eventually be a teenager, you will probably rebel, and that is part of your job as a child.  You will have to figure your own way to be a good man.  During all of this though, we expect you to be a good man.  We will work very hard to teach you all of this by modeling this behavior, but as I said in #2, we are all human and we make mistakes.  We promise not to just say these words, but we will try and live them out everyday.  I pray that we can live in a way that teaches you how to be a good man, and I promise, we are doing our best.

4).     Some people are mean and it has nothing to do with you. There are a lot of hurting and broken people in our world.  There are a lot of people that are mad and that don’t know how to deal with their anger.  You have seen firsthand that there are people that are hurting, both your parents are clergy; we are up to our eyeballs in the hurt and pain of others.  Some of these people might take their own issues out on you.  Their issues have absolutely nothing to do with you.  Some of these people will assume terrible things about you just because of the color of your skin.  Never. Ever. Believe Them.  Re-read #’s 1 and 2; there is nothing wrong with you.  Some people may even try and harm you, do not engage them.  I can imagine you will want to stand up to them, (you have a lot of me in you) but sometimes to survive you have to run.  Keep walking, run if you have to, call an adult, call the police, and ask for help.  (Sometimes the police will not be on your side, but please assume that they will be).  Do not try and fight crazy; crazy will always win.

Right now my little son is exclaimed as cute wherever he goes.  Our congregation lines up to exclaim at his cuteness, and little Isaac obliges with giggles, coos, and smiles; he’s already the overly accommodating PK (we’ll have to talk about that).  We live in the south and since we are all generally cousins and overly friendly, whenever we are out with him we are stopped and told that he is very, very cute.  It is true, I think he is absolutely adorable and his fans have fomented my belief that he is as cute as I think he is.

When most people see him they see an adorable little face they want to kiss and hold.  But what is society going to see when he becomes a teenager and then an adult black man?  If he is so incredibly cute right now, what are we all going to see when he is big?  Are we going to see that same cute face only bigger, with opinions, attitudes, and thoughts?  Or are we going to see a threatening face, meant to rob and kill?  Are we going to assume my little Isaac is nefarious or are we going to remember that he is Isaac?   Something changes in people when a black male child becomes a black teenager and then a black man.  And so I am working to prepare little Isaac for a world that is not ready for him.

I saw a cartoon the other day that hit entirely too close to home. It showed a mother handing her black son a sign to pin on himself that said, “Don’t shoot, on my way to school.”  Am I going to have to make Isaac that sign?  I know that most of the time we don’t know what to do or say when it comes to talking about race. And that makes me afraid for my son.

A View From the Pew

I am a newcomer.

That is an identity that I haven’t worn in 18 years.  But as a newly-staying-at-home mom who also happens to be an Episcopal priest, a priest whose family spent several months seeking a church home, I see church through new eyes….the eyes of one sitting in a pew.

My husband, two year old daughter, and I have visited about ten churches in the past three months. I am here to tell you that you all are doing a great job—the preaching has been very, very good, I am inspired by the opportunities for engagement in my own spiritual formation and that of my daughter and husband, and I see plenty of places where I can jump in to serve the wider community and world in the name of Christ.

But what I don’t know, is where to find the nursery. Or the bathroom. And I’m not sure where to park, or if you expect me to volunteer in the nursery, or if you consider me a member of your church.

When I reflect on my time as a parish priest, specifically one who worked with children and youth, there are a few things of which I so wish I had been more aware.

452px-Immaculate_Conception_Roman_Catholic_Church,_115_North_Cushman_Street,_Fairbanks_(Fairbanks_North_Star_Borough,_Alaska)

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs (or not)

Once my GPS has finished its work and I am parked somewhere near your church, I am 100% at your mercy. God blessed me with an excellent sense of direction, but even I don’t know where to go. Churches have many, many different entrances, at least 600 per church, and most bear not one sign. We newcomers really do read signs. Maybe ask some folks who don’t worship at your church to do a site visit, and have them tell you where they need direction. Those signs are a welcome sight for a newcomer, and they speak volumes about the hospitality of a congregation.

First Responders

Now that I have made my way into your church, I might need a little more direction from a live human being. I might need to know where a certain Sunday school classroom is or where the bathroom is. Churches are doing a much better job of appointing people to serve as “greeters,” a separate ministry from “ushering.” The challenge is that these greeters like to talk—with each other! I like that people are happy to see each other! But they forget to welcome newcomers! Train your greeters to be on the lookout for newcomers and to make a step towards us. (We are easy to pick out. We look lost and gravitate to the pews in the back.)

First Responders Part II

I was in charge of our church’s childcare ministry. I’ve been the one to receive the 8:55 phone call saying no one can work in the nursery at the 9:00 service. These things happen. And not every church has the finances or the ethos to offer childcare during worship, and that is okay. But, if your church does have a nursery, know that it is both a wonderful gift and an awesome responsibility. We newcomers are nervous about leaving our most precious treasures with you. If you are calm (not rushing in a minute before the service starts), ask about allergies, ask about preferences around being called if our child is upset, and ask about pottying, we will rest much easier. I sat through one service not listening to one word because I was worried about my child. A calm, professional, warm childcare provider makes a hugely positive impression!

Website

Not every church has a website, but if yours does, keep it up to date. Yes, a nice, crisp website is a good start. But if the information is outdated, the value of having a website is severely compromised. An outdated website does not a good first impression make.

Vocabulary

Even those of us who are well versed in church talk are sometimes at a loss when it comes to announcements about ministry gatherings. For example, “St. Margaret’s is meeting on Sunday, March 3, at 5:00 in the Parlor. Newcomers welcome!” I am wracking my brain to remember who St. Margaret is, and what the focus of her namesake group might therefore be. Many announcements use insider language. The person who proofs announcements serves newcomers well by asking if the language is inviting or informational to those who have forgotten Saints 101.

Expectations

My final thought is that the “welcome” stage is but the first phase of embracing newcomers. The second phase is newcomer integration. Now that we’ve decided to make yours our church home, what are you going to do with us? What are we supposed to be doing? Pledging? Transferring our membership? Volunteering in the nursery? Making cookies for coffee hour? I dare say, the newcomer integration part is probably more critical than the original welcome. We newly-committed newcomers are nervous that we’re not doing something that we’re supposed to be doing. Tell us what you expect from us, whether that is via newcomers classes, being connected to other members who can shepherd us, or a meeting with the clergy.

Welcoming newcomers is intentional work, and it takes time, training, and money. And, it’s often difficult for existing church members to have an objective perspective about their congregation, because they already speak the language and know every nook and cranny of the building. Don’t be afraid to visit other churches (hard for clergy) or have members of the newcomers committee visit other churches to walk in the shoes of a visitor. Or, think about the most hospitable places in your town (ours is probably the YMCA), and talk about what it is that makes those places feel so warm and welcoming. Then, do what they do! In the eyes of a newcomer, a little bit….a sign, a “Hi, can I help you?” or “Does your child have any allergies?”…. goes a very long way.

 Jet Lowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Rev. Mary Davila and her husband and daughter are new members of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, which does have a wonderful childcare ministry, greeters, and signs galore.

Sabbath is My Kryptonite

This month’s Moms in Ministry article is an excerpt from the third book in the Young Clergy Women Project’s imprint with Chalice Press.  More information about this partnership can be found here. MaryAnn brought so much joy to the project as our conference leader at our 2012 conference in Chicago.  Please visit our website regularly to learn more about YCW books and the plans for the 2013 YCW conference.

Sometimes, the so-called mommy wars are waged over breast- feeding versus bottle, or crib versus family bed. Sometimes, they begin over baked goods.

It all starts in a very silly way. I post an offhand comment on Facebook gushing about the glory that is Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix. It has provided spicy goodness, fresh from the oven, on many a sabbath day this winter (not to mention random Tuesdays and Fridays). You only need an egg and some oil, as opposed to canned pumpkin and a bevy of spices I don’t always have on hand.

A friend responds dismissively, asking why someone would need a mix in order to make pumpkin bread, which after all is so easy. I feel an angry flash of Who asked you? followed by the briefest tremor of shame—if I really loved my family, I’d make them something homemade. Then I decide not to take the bait. To each her own, right? I celebrate pumpkin bread in all its forms. Later though, I feel unsettled. Our kitchen feeds five people several times a day. What’s wrong with using a mix when the result is just as good?

“I don’t know,” I tell Robert later. “It’s so stupid, but it hit a nerve. I mean, I agree with her. I do value the handmade and home- made. We live in such a cut-corners society. But the thing is . . . it’s kinda fun to find a good shortcut.”

“Maximum impact, minimum effort,” he nods, sharing his father’s famous approach to cooking. Both Robert and my father-in- law are whizzes in the kitchen.

“Exactly! Do I have to be judged for my approach to breakfast food? Come on.”

“Hey, it’s pumpkin bread. Don’t overthink it.”

While I’m glad he doesn’t share my angst, I know that the issue of domestic chores runs down gender lines. There are entire indus- tries devoted to helping people save time and offload household tasks. At the same time, there’s still a view of motherhood that values the loving hands at home. Working mothers in particular can feel caught between the necessity of delegating certain domestic chores and a feeling of guilt because they “should” do those things.

Sabbath is not making this conflict easier; it’s complicating it. On the one hand, it’s robbing me of an entire day of labor each week, which makes the time-savers feel necessary. On the other hand, the unhurried nature of Sabbath makes me want to slow down for the rest of the week and not cut corners. It’s a curious irony: Sabbath reminds me that I don’t have to be Supermom, but it heightens my desire to try.

I feel this tension as I consider what it means to be a “host,” to provide gracious space not only for guests who might enter our home but also our own family. The biblical practice is hospitality, a word that’s almost as old-fashioned and foreign to our ears as Sabbath. Yet hospitality is a deep and vital spiritual practice in the Jewish and Christian faiths and in other traditions. Scripture is rife with examples of people welcoming friends and travelers alike into their homes and lives. We are called to greet strangers as friends and to share abundantly with them, and Jesus offers harsh words for people who fail to show adequate hospitality.

In recent decades, the picture has been complicated by Martha Stewart’s magazine and other resources that equate hospitality with handmade place cards and expensive flatware. These magazines miss the point of hospitality. I’ve sat at immaculate dinner tables and felt like an unwelcome afterthought, and I’ve been served wine in a plastic cup and felt like a treasured guest. A spirit of hospitality cannot be faked.

Still, there’s no denying that, all things being equal, a spirit of hospitality comes through when someone has taken the time to prepare for the presence of another—and not in a slapdash way.

Much of my life feels slapdash. I love finding ways to save time—a new route to the church, a quicker way to put away the groceries. (If I were a superhero, efficiency would be my power. Sad but true.) Sabbath has forced me to face the shadow side. Why am I trying to save all this time? For what purpose do I hurry? So that I can do more and more stuff? To feel useful and efficient?

Sabbath-keeping makes the idea of saving time feel ridiculous . . . like we’re trying to cheat at a game, but the joke’s on us: this game’s rules are unbendable.

Maybe Sabbath is my kryptonite.