Thursday, February 16, 2017

No Man's Land

I used to have a vision that by the time you reached this point in life, you pretty much had your crap together - you knew where you stood on most everything, your plans were set, your opinions had matured into wise, unmovable truths, your kids grown and your responsibilities few.

I remember being a teenager. I remember the anxiety, the angst, the turmoil, the insecurity...sometimes I feel like I'm there again. Except back then, we had the blessed, ignorant bliss of truly believing we knew EVERYTHING - just no one would listen to us... Now, I KNOW that I don't know - yet people expect me to know. 

I find myself feeling less "pulled together" rather than more. I've no doubt that the hurricane of changes at this stage of life brings this on for many of us. We are beginning to deal with aging, both in ourselves and our parents, our kids are growing up, leaving, scaring us to death with adult decisions. Add new jobs, moves, new church, difficult relational issues. In varying degrees, it's life for us all. As I've maneuvered through this maze, I've begun to ask questions...Questions that I think I've asked, on the inside, for as long as I can remember, but never felt free to voice them. In the midst of that questioning, I find myself in a weird place - my conservative friends think I've lost my mind and gone liberal. My liberal friends think I'm still freakishly conservative.

No Man's Land.

That's where I feel like I am - belonging no where, yet feeling deep connections with people all along this continuum. It doesn't feel like there's much space for those that don't have a particular nitch. Everything is a battle these days...and as I watch the battle lines being drawn and the weapons positioned, I feel like I'm never standing in a good place. Where do you stand when the guns are blazing from every direction? From my vantage point, I can see validity in much of what is said from both sides, but so few listen to someone with a different opinion, a different point of view. Matt Walsh or Bill Maher, Tomi Lahren or Michael Moore become weapons, hoping to change minds with their excessive rhetoric. But it doesn't work. It never works. Sometimes it feels like we've blazed right on past trying to change opinions - we just want to fight now - not change, not grow, not connect. FIGHT. 

I haven't always stood here. I've been fully on one of these sides, guns drawn, ready to fight if necessary. I had the answers and I was ready to woo you to my way of thinking with my vast knowledge -- armed with prearranged arguments, scripture and the Constitution - and if that didn't work, I could, as one of my children likes to say, "bring you down with my vicious rhetoric". And honestly, it was more comfortable for me there. I knew where I belonged. I had my tribe, I knew the rules and I followed them unwaveringly (I don't think that's a real word, but I'm using it anyway). I did not feel "other". While I am no longer comfortable with a lot of my well-worn, time-tested answers, I am also not comfortable on the other side of the battle field. They seem to have all the answers too - they are just the opposite answers. It often feels there is no place for those that don't know where they stand on everything. There seems no place for people that can see valid points being made from opposing views.

I recently watched a video making it's way around the internet of Marco Rubio giving an impassioned speech about the importance of not attacking one another in our differences. And it was awesome. I wanted to stand up and cheer. But I didn't. That sense of agreement was quickly followed by a deep sadness, because here's the deal - he can say that right now because he's on the "winning" team, so of course the other side should play nice, of course they should just move on... 

But I remember. 

I remember how many of those people now saying to play nice and just move on treated, and what they said, about President Obama, Hillary Clinton, President Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and a myriad of others when they were on the "losing" team. --(In fairness, I have no idea how Mr. Rubio spoke when on the "losing" team - perhaps he was amazing and his words recently were spoken from an honest heart - but I KNOW many on his "team" were not playing nice when they found themselves on the losing team). The criticisms are often deserved, but never the disrespect, the lies, the mocking. There is a difference in respecting someone and treating them with respect. When someone has not earned our respect (and perhaps, especially then), as followers of Christ, we are still to treat them, and speak of them, with respect. 

People should not be shouted down for speaking up when they feel rights are being violated, when they feel the Constitution is being violated, when blatant lies are being thrown about as truth. People should not be summarily dismissed as racist, misogynistic bullies because they agree with a particular political party. AND they should, likewise, not be dismissed as baby-killing, selfish, entitled, snowflakes because they align more with another party. Yet, it happens every day. From all sides. 

(Sidebar: Short history lesson - our nation started with, and we hold dear, a bunch of crazy people that snuck on a boat and destroyed the cargo to make a point to the government they felt was oppressing them - we've been being ugly to one another for a looooong time.)  

We behave this same way in the Church too. It is crushing to watch when you see the hearts of people on both sides - people that truly desire to follow hard after Christ, yet they cannot see Christ in the other because they're too busy being right to really look. In the Church, perhaps even more than in politics, there seems to be no space for those in between - those struggling with doubts, in either direction. Saying, "I don't know how I feel about ... anymore" is anathema. It's not safe on either end of the conservative-liberal spectrum. The Church, of all places, should be a safe place to say, "I don't know." I have watched people (people that I KNOW, not world-stage people, but everyday people), finally be brave enough to say out loud, "I'm struggling with ... " or "I don't know if I believe ... " or "Maybe they're right about..." -- and suddenly, everything ever known about that person, their character, their faith, their reputation, no longer matters. They're labeled and pushed aside. This doubt casts suspicion on everything they say and do from that point forward. They are "other". This plays out on a national level as well, when Christian leaders and teachers are blasting each other over differing, non-essential, beliefs - all while the world watches. (The rub here is "non-essential", as that list of "essential" beliefs gets longer by the day, on both sides...much longer than I believe it is for God.)

For the last year, we have wandered a bit aimlessly through many different churches, ranging from those that would be labeled very conservative to those that would be labeled liberal. (I hate the labels.) We've had the advantage of sitting toward the back and just, for the most part, watching. And you know what I've seen in all those places? Jesus. I've seen Jesus. In faces, in words, in songs, in liturgies, in sermons. The last few months, we have mostly settled at a small Episcopal Church in Ada - a place that, quite honestly, I would never have imagined myself worshiping. Yet, we have. We sit, we kneel, we cross ourselves, we bow, we recite liturgies and sing unfamiliar hymns. We take Communion in a way we've never done before. But you know what? We've seen Jesus - every. single. week. Last week was probably our last Sunday there and, surprising even myself, I'm going to miss them. They gave us a place to heal, to question, to be quiet. And they loved us every week. Hugged and fed, smiled and blessed, passed peace, a stale piece of bread and wine. They gave us Jesus.

I really don't know what I want to say here, what point I want to make.

I want to feel like I belong somewhere again. I miss the familiarity of a "tribe".

Maybe I shouldn't though. In the wrestling, I've found others that are wrestling... a kinship of sorts, though not really another "side". Jacob wrestled with God and scripture leaves us with no indication that was a bad thing. Jacob seemed to do a lot of growing up from that point on, actually. Maybe this will ultimately be a good thing. I hope so. 

It's uncomfortable here - I'll tell you that. But it's also a little freeing. I'm gradually becoming a little more able to say, "You know what? I don't know. And, for now, I'm okay with that." I don't think God is freaked out by my wrestlings - or yours. 

I guess I just wish we wouldn't be so freaked out with each other.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Struggling Back to Joy

I have a confession to make: Over the last few months, I've grown cynical. (Those of you that know me well - stop laughing, right now.) I've begun to lose Hope. I struggle for Joy. The events that have unfolded in our country over the last year have hit me hard. I'm not sure why I was asleep to much of it in years past, but I was. Waking up has been difficult. I am, however, fighting my way back to Joy. And here's some practical thoughts I've had in that process...

Life is really getting out of control around here. 

We should not be blocking our new Secretary of Education from entering a public school. Whether we agree with her appointment or not (and I, personally, do not), it IS now her appointment, her job - blocking her from doing her job is only hurting us all. But, neither should we just sit back in resignation and not pay attention to HOW she does her job. Let her do it, but be alert. If we see public schools being hurt by her leadership, speak up. If we see special needs kids being pushed aside, speak up. Get involved in your local school, support that overwhelmed parent, love your kids' teachers (their jobs are ridiculously hard), reach out to the kids in the margins, speak loudly and clearly to our legislators that education is a priority for their constituents, let them know that if they do not listen to us and represent us, we will work to see that they are not reelected. In the mean time, find ways to help your local school that doesn't require our legislators finally listening to us. We don't have to wait for the government to save us - we can start without them. These things will do more to bring change than blocking the door to a school and screaming your anger. Do something.

The same for our new president. Most of you know how I feel about him as a person, as a leader. But, as sad as I am about it, he IS our president and should not be blocked at every turn from doing his job. I'm not against the peaceful protests. NOT. I understand them and often agree with much of what they are saying. But the hate, the mocking, the disrespect, distorting the truth, even as we accuse him of lies, ultimately hurts us all. Let him try to do his job. Watch him closely. Do not stop paying attention - I, personally, do not think he can be trusted to be left unchecked. I think he has surrounded himself with mostly yes-men and we need to pay attention. Call him out when it's necessary. If he breaks the law, let's be paying attention. If he stays within the law and simply operates in a political ideology we do not agree with, we will survive and we can exercise our right to vote for someone more in line with our thinking in four years. Our country is strong enough to survive a bad president - we've done it many times before. We are not strong enough to survive the growing hatred in this country. If all we do is hate - if we just continue to become angrier and more abusive in our speech, then we are no different than what we accuse him of. We will destroy our country. Giving back what you feel like you've received only drags everyone down into hell together.

If our posts and conversations mock his looks, his marriage, his kids, his hands, for goodness sake.... what is gained there? It increases the polarization and the hate. When you spend more time reading of what he's done wrong than you do personally living out righteousness, who wins? And I get it -- I've spent more time reading news articles in the last four months than in several years combined - much of the time, trying to discern truth from lies (and it's near impossible)... and here's what I've learned. All that reading did not change him. He's still the president. I still don't like him. My eyes are a little more opened, but I could have read a 1/4 of what I've read and still accomplished that. So... here's what I've decided, at least for now -- I'm going to read a lot less and DO more. I will still read, because I DON'T trust him. I will watch my legislators because I don't believe they always want to represent us as much as they want to play the party game. They will hear my voice, they will know how I plan to vote. I will protest if it feels like the right way to speak into the moment. I will do my best to speak respectfully - not because the one I speak of and to has done anything to earn my respect, but because I am a follower of Christ. As such, I am called to speak to, and of, others as someone made in the image and likeness of God... no matter what. But mostly, I will try to DO.

If I feel he has promoted injustice, I will be about the work of acting justly. We can't, as individuals, change his executive orders, but we can let our system of checks and balances take care of that - and in the mean time, we can love the Muslim in our neighborhood, we can invite the immigrant in our church into our home, we can be the business that won't turn someone away because of how they look or worship or marry or vote. THAT will make a difference. If you feel he has stirred up hate, then counter with love. If you feel he has degraded women, then you lift them up - you teach your sons to be a different kind of man, your daughters to know they are valuable and strong. If you feel he has stirred up bigotry then, cross lines and practice inclusion. If you believe he will strip rights away from those in the minority, then get involved locally - see that YOUR home and YOUR neighborhood and YOUR community won't play that game. 

I need to get back to practicing Hope. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. Love.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8