Good. Night.

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Home, Memories, Nostalgia, Uncategorized

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They say home is where you can wake up in the night and make your way to the bathroom without turning on the light.

In the old house where my mother lived, and where I lived through my teenage years and summers thereafter, I could drift through the darkness like a ghost, navigating by the creak of the floor, the ticking of the clock, and my feet’s intuition of where the furniture was not. Anywhere I put out my hand, it would slide gently across the edge of the table or touch the door frame, landmarks to confirm that I was where I thought I was.  My still-half-asleep brain could see just fine in the pitch dark. On the way back, my eyes would have adjusted and I could make out the inviting, soft outline of the tossed-back covers and the pillow and the midnight shadows on the wall. I would be back to sleep almost before my feet left the floor.

In the really old house where I spent most of my childhood, going to the bathroom at night involved a flashlight and the moonlight and a hoot owl. “Going to look at the stars” was the country equivalent of “going to see a man about a horse.”

Darkness was rural circadian gospel: at some point, at the close of day, you turned out the lights and you went to bed. You didn’t leave a light on, and if anybody tugged the string on the light bulb hanging from a long cord over the kitchen table before morning, it jarred the household awake like a knock at the door: “What’s wrong?! Who’s sick?!”  There was daylight and dark for a reason. “After dark” was not the time to tackle a project or take off on an unplanned mission.

It’s never really dark now in my house – too many chargers and phones and things that glow, and the blinds are no match for the street lights on the curb or the 24/7 flashing announcements outside the elementary school across the street. Occasional cars move quietly through the neighborhood, headlights signaling comings and goings to people they don’t even know. Even if the power goes out, the brave little army of solar lights stands guard on the front walk. Darkness doesn’t stand a chance in this neighborhood.

There’s not a single clock in my house that ticks. Even so, the silent rhythm of modern life is artificially consistent: we’ve replaced the ancient bellwethers of the sun and the seasons with human inventions of the clock and the calendar. Then we stick them in our pocket or strap them to our wrist and rarely make a move without asking their permission.

Even in the deepest dark of night, my house is just dim, and the only hard part about a trip to the bathroom – it’s barely a dozen steps away – is getting back to sleep.

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In The Crossfire

Posted: March 16, 2018 in Conflict, Doubt, Uncategorized, Worry

I can’t get away by myself. I would like to sometimes, but there are two sneaky little companions who seem you-know-what-bent on tagging along. They don’t like each other much, I don’t think they even like me very much, and they show up at the most inappropriate times.

Like shopping, for example. I think they are part of the reason I’m not that crazy about shopping. I might enjoy it more if I could do it in peace. But as soon as my gaze falls on something I think I might like, out they pop, one in each ear, like a grumpy old married couple, arguing with each other by pretending they’re talking to me.

“Oooh, that’s super cute!”

“Cute? No, you’re definitely too old for cute. Besides, it’s gaudy.”

“No, it’s cheerful. Go try it on. I bet you’ll love it.”

“Try it on? You know stuff never looks as good on you as it does on the hanger. It’s a waste of time. And did you even look at the price tag?”

Which is a dumb question: I have never not looked at the price tag.

So they accompany me to the dressing room, and it’s allowed because, you know, they’re in my head.

“Try this one first: it was on clearance.”

“Clearance: that’s code for another orphan sweater that you don’t have anything to go with. If you have to buy a pair of pants to go with that clearance top……I’m just saying……”

“No, look, it goes with your black pants.”

“That should be a sign up over your entire closet: Goes With Black Pants. That’s so boring. Maybe you should just buy another pair of black pants and get out of here.”

And the battle continues. They go to church with me (“That song is so pretty” – “If you like a big production…”), to work (“This project sounds exciting” – “Sounds like a lot of extra work, you mean”) and sometimes even to bed (“You’ve got to get some sleep: relax and clear your mind” – “Hey, remember that stupid thing you did that one time? ‘Cause I do. Let’s go over it again….”). Caught in the crossfire, all I can do is duck and cover.

As annoying as they are, sometimes their yin and yang is comforting. It’s the psychological equivalent of gutter bumpers at the bowling alley. They give my wobbly opinions something to bump up against, so I don’t get too far off center – Trouble is, all they do is push each other to the opposite extreme, so they wouldn’t know center if it rented them shoes.

They are at their loudest when I’m at my weakest – when I’m tired or weary (not the same thing, by the way). When I’m overwhelmed and obsessing over dumb stuff. When I feel like a big fat imposter. When I just can’t even.

Or maybe that’s just when I listen to them. I let them play tug-of-war with me because the paralysis of indecision is safer than the regret of a bad decision. And I listen because I’m afraid not to put at least one egg in every basket I can find.

If you’re concerned about me, relax: I don’t actually hear actual voices. And I can joke about being the world’s worst shopper all by myself. As an INFP, I am a dreadful decision-maker, not because I can’t pick the thing, but because I can’t not pick the other things. My relationship with my imaginary frenemies, into whose mouths I am constantly putting words, is complicated. I think I need to start seeing other people. It’s not them – it’s me.

And I also need a new sport: bumper bowling is really not that much fun. Turns out, the occasional spectacular gutter ball can be very liberating.

I work downtown in a fair-sized city, and I walk around a lot during my lunch hour. Whether I’m walking a couple of blocks to the gym or taking a longer walk to clear my head, sometimes it’s quite an education. I saw something just yesterday I don’t think I’ve ever seen before — a man wearing a mink stole. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody walking during the day downtown wearing a mink stole. But there he was, waiting to get on the bus.

I see a lot of the same people who are not actually the same people. I see the health-conscious office worker striding along purposefully after trading her heels for the New Balances she keeps under her desk.  There’s the conventioneer, with a name tag the size of a Kindle on a lanyard around his neck, checking his phone for the nearest bourbon distillery. There’s a home school group, a crowd of public school kids on a field trip, a special needs class holding hands, a group of oblivious people walking 5 abreast on the sidewalk. More people than you would like to see are talking importantly into the air, while their headset faithfully delivers all the annoying street noise to whoever is on the other end. There are tourists, concert-goers (either Ms. Cowboy boots and cute little dress or Mr. Ponytail and 1994 tour shirt), sports fans, bourbon aficionados, the old couple from Indiana trying to figure out the digital parking meters, and slim young executives watching for their Uber.

There’s a substantial but unpredictable population of homeless people. Professional panhandlers make things hard on the legitimately unfortunate. One neatly-dressed gentleman asks everybody politely for 38 cents. There’s a woman who always needs money for feminine products, and a guy on the corner who silently holds a dog-eared hand-lettered sign.

In the middle of this microcosm of urban America, there’s one more group of people, more odd and more out of place by a long shot than any of the others. In groups of two or three, in five or six different locations, they stand beside racks of religious literature and talk…to each other. In fairness, they are probably allowed to take up positions on public sidewalks as long as they don’t “bother people.” And bother them they don’t. Headlines on their literature tout happy families and a successful life, but I’ve never seen a soul pick one up. Meanwhile, the pamphlet attendants in a lot of polyester look pleasant and nod politely, while all the aforementioned characters and more stream past them  in desperate need of Jesus.

I hear how critical that sounds, and I don’t mean it to be: I actually admire their dedication and conviction, driving downtown and standing out on the sidewalk in the heat and the cold. But here’s why I mention them: it’s like looking in a carnival mirror. Fairly or not, I see what a lot of people see in Christians, fairly or not – overdressed proselytizers with blinders on, who care about what’s in their own literature and not much else. Worse, I fear I see what people see in me – a pleasant person with admirable convictions who does a whole lot of standing and watching.

I am a conflicted Baby Boomer: I have the right birthday, but that’s about it. I somehow missed out on most of the positive characteristics that hallmark my generation. Thankfully, I also missed out on the Woodstock, free-love, flower power, anti-establishment shenanigans of some of my generational peers, so I’ve got that going for me.

There’s a disturbing refrain I hear all the time, and I’m so sick of it I could scream: I won’t, because that would make me look like a shrew, which is a bad look for a Southern lady pushing the upper limits of middle age. It’s about those pesky millennials: their bosses at work keep trying to reel them in, people at church wonder where they went, and even their Boomer parents sometimes express the same resignation about them as about the elderly parents they are trying to either coerce or placate: (wry smile, shoulder shrug) “What can you do?”

I’ve spent a lot of time around some of these kids – who, by the way, are not kids anymore – and I’d like to say on record that I’m a big fan. I’ve learned a lot from them. And as I am steadfastly refusing to join the “Get off of my lawn!” club, I plan to keep learning from them as long as my learner works. And also from the ones who came before them (those Gen X-ers with the middle child syndrome) and the ones who come after them (okay, those kids kind of are still kids).

I probably should drop a disclaimer here: they don’t all fit neatly into their category, any more than I do into mine. But in general, here are some millennial characteristics I admire:

1. They work hard, under their own terms. A lot of what is criticized as laziness is usually just reluctance to kowtow. You cannot outwork a motivated, empowered, millennial on a mission. Unless you try to make one clock in and out of a 9-to-5 office with outdated technology. Which brings me to #2.

2. Technology is their native tongue. I’m so jealous of this. It makes me feel the same way I feel when I’m around a bunch of people speaking Spanish. I’ll catch a few phrases, but keeping up with the conversation is a challenge. I try to keep up with the technology conversation, but I’ll never be as tech-fluent as they are. Which means I need them sometimes. (By the way, anybody know how to set up a Smart TV? Asking for a friend.)

3. They care. They care about the planet, about poverty, about injustice, about animals, about the marginalized: why else would so many of them have rallied around a gray-haired Democrat who looked like their Papaw in the last presidential primary? The underserved have a friend in the millennial.

4. They are tolerant. Now, it is entirely possible to be so open-minded that your brains fall out, but even if we can’t quite write tolerance a blank check, millennials can teach us a lot about living and letting live. And hopefully a little something about getting along even when we disagree, because the world needs more of that right now.

These last three are big. Because my circle of friends and relatives is a little heavy on the churchy side, it’s only natural that a few of the things I’ve learned from the young folks – oh, wow. I just said “young folks” – apply to religion.

5. Commitment trumps obligation as a motivational mechanism. Boomers do not get this. We tend to think in “oughts” and “shoulds.” That’s how we were raised — by cautious, Depression-era parents who seemed to have a clear picture of where the lines were. So we don’t know what to make of it when millennials of faith don’t fall in line behind our “shoulds.” Nowhere is this more apparent than at church, where sometimes the coin of the realm is attendance. But millennials are not inclined to play church. They may just be a lot more committed to Jesus than to church. This does not compute. To us, it’s the same thing: not necessarily to them. And if “one of these things is (perceived to be) not like the other,” our old friend Duty will not keep millennials in the pew. If church matches Jesus, Duty can retire and move to Florida: his work has been outsourced to Commitment.

6. Similarly, millennials are not bound by brand loyalty. If they stick with something, it’s for a reason. They research product reviews and have very well-developed malarkey filters. If they stick with the same make of car, sports team, or religious affiliation as their parents, it won’t be because “we’ve always driven Fords.” But of course, if it were just about what car we drive or what color our game day shirt is, we Boomers could just swallow hard and get over it.

7. They ask hard questions. Information has always been at millennials’ fingertips: they like to know stuff. If you’re approachable, they may ask you about what you believe and why you believe it. If they know you love them, and you don’t act like they’re trying to steal your birthright, they are surprisingly open to hearing you out. But if all you do is toss marshmallow platitudes in their general direction without real relationship, it’s just a matter of time until your church gatherings start to look more like Cracker Barrel than Whole Foods.

These are good people, these millennials, and we Boomers are the ones who made them — literally. Since we are planning to stay in the game for a while yet, we need to learn to adult with them without polarizing. It is going to take what is best in all of us to make a world worth living in and a church worthy of the name.

A new president will take office in a few days in a ceremony that has been repeated every four years, give or take, for more than 200 years, and people around the world will watch (or not) in unprecedented disbelief. How it happened and how it turns out will long be analyzed in political science textbooks.

But I don’t think it’s premature for every voter to do some serious navel-gazing: why did I vote the way I did? Here’s some click-bait for you: we didn’t need a woman president. But that doesn’t mean what you think it means, because neither did we need a black man. Or a Hispanic. Or, before a crowd comes after me with pitchforks, a rich white guy.

Here’s why. I live in a large and culturally diverse school district. I pass one of the district’s more than 75 elementary schools on a busy intersection on my way to church. Next to the school is parked a cheery yellow school bus that serves as a billboard advertising for bus drivers. On the side of the bus is a carefully posed banner: a sampler platter of a dozen or so smiling children and teens, almost comical in its carefully intentional diversity. I think if I were the parent of the kid in the wheelchair, I might resent them displaying my child to say “See? We have those.” Funny how contrived inclusion can feel a lot like marginalization.

I guess the purpose is to have as many people as possible look at the advertisement and see someone who looks like them. I get it. But you would be hard-pressed to find a group similarly comprised on any bus in the district. It’s trying so hard to be right, it’s wrong. The implication seems to be that the best way to attract people is to hold up a mirror.

But the reason for intentionally getting to know people who don’t look like us should not be so that we can check them off a list like we’re buying school supplies. It should be that we might otherwise miss out on knowing some awesome people.

People. Multi-dimensional people who are more alike than they are different. People who are more than their category, people who fit multiple categories, people who will not be categorized. People whose category doesn’t do them justice. And even people who don’t think much of your category.

Back to the election: Sometimes it’s hard to separate candidates’ experience, visions, and qualifications from the circumstances that preceded their birth — who they are vs. what they are, their integrity vs. their category. Refusing to accept someone based on the latter is considered bigotry, and rightly so; however, rallying around a person for the same reason is somehow considered at least patriotic, if not obligatory. I think both viewpoints are nearsighted.

Whether it’s a friend, a spouse, or a candidate, we’d better choose our allegiances wisely and look deeper than issues of birthright — race, gender, heritage. Selecting “one of those” or even “one of us” for no other good reason is risky and a little bit lazy.

But as divisive as it can be around a holiday dinner table, politics may be a natural arena in which to have these discussions — especially this year, when almost every political comment is punctuated with head-wagging incredulity, and it’s hard for anybody to pretend they totally saw it coming. The birthright philosophy gets tricky when you take it personally to heart, and trickier still when you take it to church — a place where “us” and “them” should seldom be heard. So maybe we can just put down the mirrors and the pitchforks and stop trying so hard to get it right that we get it all wrong.

 

Cut it out. Please. The only ones who read it are the people who already agree with you.

And, however well-written, if it’s about a controversial or divisive topic (which it usually is), you are just stirring the stink.

Redirect some of that effort into getting to know some of those people that you felt compelled to address….you know, anonymously and from a distance. Earn the right to be heard. Even if you have something positive and affirming to say, it would mean a lot more delivered in person, from someone with skin in the game.

And having done what I just said you should stop doing, I totally get why you do it: that felt really good! But this is my first and last open letter. Join me in letting this genre go the way of the Letter to the Editor.

We were almost finished with our evening walk: we were cold and tired of walking in the wind, but we consulted the Fitbit muse and determined I needed a few hundred more steps. My shoe had come untied, so I told my husband to go ahead: I would catch up. I bent down, took off a glove, tied my shoe, then straightened up and looked at the stretch of sidewalk ahead as I fumbled to get the glove back on. No husband. Where the heck did he go? He’s a fast walker, but he couldn’t already be out of sight: had he turned into a driveway to chat with a neighbor? Where is he?! Immediately, my hands were on my hips. Then I heard him coming up behind me…… He had walked the other way and circled back while I tied my shoe so we could walk the rest of the way together. With the wind and traffic from the nearby street and the warm hat pulled over my ears, I hadn’t heard his footsteps. Irritation, meet chagrin.

Since Easter, we’ve been talking in Children’s Ministry about something I had never paid too much attention to before. We usually skip through the 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection to get to Day 50: the Day of Pentecost. We might talk about the first day or two when he magically poofed in and out of gatherings, we might mention the “Feed my sheep” story, and we generally squeeze in the ”Go into all the world” directive. But that’s about 3 days’ worth of action, and the Bible is extraordinarily vague about the rest of the time.

It seems that the invitation to the first 40 days back on Planet Earth read: “Come and Go.” Jesus was there, then he wasn’t, then a whole bunch of people saw him, then nobody saw him. It was just enough to cause some sleepless nights for the religious leaders who had thought they were rid of him once and for all. And the disciples? After those first few days, a whole week went by with no recorded sightings. This strikes me as odd. The shell-shocked platoon huddling in a locked house had to be thinking in Aramaic vernacular: “Where the heck did he go?”

Some stories indicate that maybe he looked different: for one thing, he had to be wearing different clothing because some lucky soldier was now the proud owner of his signature cloak. And most people who saw him had to rub their eyes and squint to bring him into focus. Maybe he could change his appearance at will, which could explain why the men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him until suddenly they did. I love that when they recounted this story later, they said, “I had a funny feeling about him from the beginning,” when the first thing they had said to Jesus was “What rock have you been under?” (Pun totally intended.)

Did he go back and forth to Heaven, as some suggest? Did he hide out in Bethany? One of the kids said she was going to put that on her list of questions to ask when she gets to Heaven. I told her I have one of those lists, too, but I suspect the questions will be a lot less important to me when I actually get the chance to ask them. With the perspective of some 2000 years of hindsight, where and how Jesus spent those 40 days is little more than an interesting enigma. But it had to have been maddening in real time for the 11 men who had spent nearly every waking moment with him for the last 3 years. And for his mother. And for all the followers whose lives he had upended. Where. Is. He?

Which is exactly how I feel sometimes. He was just here. I know I saw Him, at least I think it was Him……wait, was that even Him at all? There are times that even the things I’m most certain of get fuzzy around the edges. But what holds me is what held the fearful disciples, what they somehow found the courage to start shouting from the rooftops. The Son of God came to earth, lived as a human, and died as a perfect sacrifice. Then He did what no other sacrifice had ever done before — came back to life, smashed the altar to smithereens, dusted off his hands, and said “There: you’re welcome.” Even if I don’t always see Him circling or hear His footsteps through the distractions, He is never far away. And He will be there to finish the walk with me.