Sunday, March 10, 2019

Roots of Resistance

My mother uncovered
a photo today of me and
my youth council friends
protesting a hate group and
advocating for gay rights at
a church conference
nearly 30 years ago.
It was my first protest
my first tentative steps
at public rebellion
against the status quo.
I was so young then
timid and clueless not yet
sure of who I was.
I didn't think I knew
anyone who was gay
(I was definitely wrong)
I didn't know 
the term LGTBQ
I did not know
the relentless discrimination
that queer people faced
did not realize the ways
that even the church
pushed them away.
But I was certain
that God loved gay people
as much as anyone else
and that gay rights
were human rights
and should be recognized
especially by the church.
And I am even more certain
of this today.
I love this photo
for its reminder of
my roots of resistance
and that standing up
for justice in the church
and everywhere is
not something new
not a fad of the current
political climate
or some sort of tantrum
from people who didn't
get their way.
I love that my
teenage self
was willing to protest
something that
didn't affect me personally
was willing to face
the vilest of threats
from the picketers
across the street
was willing to stand up
even though I was scared
even though I wasn't sure
how people I knew
would react.
And I love this photo
because it reminds me
that despite my fear
and discouragement
and frustration
and fatigue
that standing up
and marching and
fighting and writing
for justice
is always, always
worth it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ashes and Dust

The ancient ritual
comes every year
the remembrance
of all that has happened
between cool green palms
and burned husks
the season of the church
and the seasons of
our whirling lives.
There is grief
in those ashes
some years more
than others
and pain and sorrow
and also the shadows
of celebrations and
fleeting joy.
Gathering to honor
the ashes is
a way to join
the group lament
to ask for forgiveness
and help and hope
in the presence
of other believers
to release the guilt
and fear and pain.
That gritty cross
thumbed on heads
by beloved hands
is both wound and scar
a breaking open
and a healing
a reminder that we
are imperfectly human
that we are dust
that we are holy.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Thoughts on General Conference

It's been a hard, anxious, emotional week and I'm still processing the fall out from my Church's special General Conference. I'm having difficulty naming all that I am feeling, let alone put it all into neat and coherent summary. I know that I process things better if I write them down, so I'm just going to write some of what I have thought over this past week. It might make me feel calmer and perhaps it will help others, too.
***
A week ago I was feeling terribly anxious about what would happen at General Conference. I am not usually a particularly anxious person. I tend to just roll with what happens and then make the best of it. But I knew that there was so much at stake this week and that it would affect me and many of the people I love. When the delegates and observers arrived in St. Louis, I was anxious yes, but also hopeful. But that was short lived. Once the day of worship and prayer ended, dread creeped in and it was followed by anger, disappointment, frustration, crushing sadness, betrayal, despair. The condemnation and lack of compassion and complete unwillingness to be open to change of the conservative members of the Church was devastating to watch. What I have felt this week has been very much like what I felt after the election in 2016. The grief has been intense and the loss of the Church I love is immense. 

***

At General Conference, and perhaps in the Church at large, strict adherence to rules and protecting finances seemed to be more of a focus than the rights or feelings people. Pensions. Robert's Rules of Order. Obscure Old Testament laws. Clinging to the "way it's always been". An insistence on Church Tradition while conveniently ignoring the many injustices of the past Church. I kept thinking of Jesus clearing the temple with a whip in his hand, of his arguments with the chief priests and the scribes, of all the times he broke Tradition. The song Alas, Alas for You from the musical Godspell has run through my head again and again this week and I can see the correlation to the events of the week. I don't know what to do about the lack of compassion of much of my Church, but I do know that Jesus was a leader of the Resistance of his time and that he was far less concerned about rules and following tradition than he was about helping people and following God. I don't think we should all show up to church with whips in hand, but I do think faithful resistance to the injustices of religious leaders and institutions is exactly what Jesus's actions invite us to do.

***

Part of what has made the decisions of this week so complicated is that the United Methodist Church is a world-wide Church. American delegates were not the only ones to vote on this (and any other) issue. I love that my Church is connected with congregations around the world, but sometimes the cultural differences are so vast and unwieldy, that it seems we never agree about anything. The African delegates voted overwhelmingly for the Traditional Plan this week, the option that considers "homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching" and excludes and condemns LGTBQ people from the Church. I know that homosexuality is a taboo subject for most people in Africans and that in many African countries sexual relations with people of the same sex is illegal, even punishable by death. But that does not mean that there are not LGBTQ people in African churches, because there are, there have always been and will always be. It frustrates me that delegates from Africa were not even willing to discuss other options that allowed individual conferences, including theirs, to decide whether or not to fully include LGTBQ persons in the life of the Church. It frustrated me that they could listen to the eloquent and passionate speeches made by LGTBQ folks and their allies at General Conference and not see these people as children of God, in need of love and grace and acceptance. The African churches frustrated me this week, but the American delegates who aligned themselves with these fundamentalist views made me furious. In America, homosexuality is no longer outlawed, it is no longer taboo, it is no longer referred to in whispers. The American delegates at General Conference know someone who is gay. They are fully aware that there are LGTBQ people in their churches and that they have always been there and always will be. They see LGTBQ people living openly and see the beautiful contributions Queer folks make to our society. And they still voted for exclusion and just for spite, voted to make the consequences for violating their rules more cruel and extreme. This is what makes me so very angry.

***

Sometimes the decisions of the body of the Church do not make any sense. In the United States, and all of the Western World, churches are in decline. The number of people who regularly attend church, or even consider themselves religious, grows smaller and smaller. Every local church I've ever heard of is trying to find ways to draw younger people to church. Churches want young adults, they want children, they want youth. They want to keep their churches alive. Which is why the decisions at General Conference are so counterproductive. The vast majority of Americans under the age of 45 think LGBTQ folks should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else, legally, socially, and spiritually. Being gay or lesbian or transgender or non-binary is not a big issue for younger people, including those in the Church. By voting to exclude the LGTBQ population from the life and leadership of the Church, churches are also voting to exclude young people from their churches. Why would younger people want to be part of a church that does not accept and embrace them or their children, their friends and relatives and coworkers? The vote for the Traditional Plan is a vote to let the Church die. I keep thinking of the passage from 1 Corinthians about how we are one body with many parts, baptized by one Holy Spirit and it doesn't matter if we are, because all parts of the body have a purpose, all are needed and how we can't cut off one part just because it's not like another, and how "God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be". This week it seems that the United Methodist Church has cut off part of the body, cut off a vital part of the Church, and like the scripture says, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." We will certainly suffer.

***

I was born into the United Methodist Church, raised there, tied there through every step of my life. The scriptures and hymns, Social Principles and Book of Discipline, congregations and people of the UMC have molded all aspects of my life. I love my Church. I love the commitment of little country churches and the passions of large urban congregations. I love that the walls of Church extend beyond by country and reach around the world. I love the UMC's deep call for social justice. I love that my Church has the only non-governmental building on Capitol Hill and uses that space to promote justice. I love that UMCOR is the first agency to arrive after a national disaster and the last to leave. I love the United Methodist church camps that have such an enormous impact on children and youth. I love that the communion tables of my Church are open to all. I love that in so many towns the food pantries and clothing closets are housed in United Methodist churches or run by United Methodist agencies. I love that United Methodist churches run health clinics, provide immigration services, help feed and house the homeless. volunteer in public schools, and donate school supplies, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, food, and other items to people around the world who are in need. I love so many things about my Church. But those things I love are at odds with the decisions made by my Church this week. I don't know how I can remain in a Church that welcomes the poor, but not the transgendered, welcomes gay people to take communion but not to lead Sunday School, preaches love but forbids ordaining anyone LGTBQ. The United Methodist Church has been a huge part of who I am, but it is no longer part of what I want to be and that brings me tremendous grief.

***

I have not yet left the United Methodist Church, but I have already begun to grieve it. It is not unlike having someone I love die, the feelings are very similar. I recognize that the tears and sleeplessness, weariness and heartache of the past week are the result of grief. I'm cycling through the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Right now, I'm mostly stuck in depression, although grief is not a linear thing and the cycles are jumbled and repeat. In any case, the loss I feel is huge and real. I've thought about the physical buildings of churches I've loved, of the sanctuaries and fellowship halls, the windows and doors and kitchens I have known and I mourn their place in my memory. I've thought of the events that I've attended in UMC churches over the years. I've thought of Christmas Eve services and church camps, youth rallies, church dinners, committee meetings, of Pentecost celebrations and confirmations, of weddings and funerals and the baptisms of my children. I've thought of how enormous the loss of such events will be if I leave the Church and how grief will forever tinge events past, present, and future if I stay. I have not dared to think about the people I've met in the Church, the friends and mentors, teachers and pastors, clergy and laity near and far that I know and love because if I think too hard about leaving them and the unfathomable loss that will be I may start weeping and never stop.

***

I have been so aware this week of the differences between the Church and the church, the capital C of the church denomination and the lower case c of my own congregation. I'm angry and hurt by the big C Church and comforted and supported by me little c church. My Church has voted to condemn and exclude everyone who identifies as LGTBQ. My church sees the face of God in our LGTBQ sisters and brothers and welcomes them all to worship, invites them to lead, hires them, advocates for them, and loves them all, no matter what. I can entertain the thought of leaving the Church, although not without sorrow. I cannot imagine leaving my church, cannot begin to fathom the depth of the pain that would cause. Big C Church, I'm ready to fight. I'll resist your injustice with words and letters, petitions and protests, with the support of allies and on my own. And if I have to, I will leave. Little c church, I'm all in. I'll keep on Neighboring, keep on teaching, keep on following my Star Word, keep on showing up for worship and committee meetings and bell choir, keep sending cards, keep volunteering for VBS and block parties and Doing Good Friday and small group studies and the thousand other things that make Grace my church. I will leave the big C Church if it no longer follows Jesus's teachings. But I cannot leave the little c church if that is where the commandment to love God and love your neighbor is being carried out with joy and affirmation.

***

Despite all of the trauma and the pain, I have also been so proud of some of my United Methodist brothers and sisters. I watched people I know give eloquent and impassioned speeches before the General Conference assembly about their calling to help the Church truly welcome all. I watched hundreds of United Methodists, including many I claim as friends, line the observation seats of the conference center in St. Louis wearing rainbow colored clothing as a witness of support for LGBTQ persons in the Church and out. I've read dozens and dozens of eye witness accounts of what happened this week, of the pain and sorrow this has caused, and of the possible end results of this decision. I've watched as friends near and far have checked in with each other, offering support, sharing resources, and mourning together. I watched as a petition begging the Church to find a way to stay together gathered 15,000 young people's votes, including my own daughter's, in 12 hours' time. I've seen LGTBQ friends, the ones most affected by my Church's actions, offer support and start organizing action. I had no official role in this week's events and am not part of the LGBTQ community, but I have still had a constant stream of friends and acquaintances check up on me. I have heard from my pastor, my coworkers, my neighbors and church friends, people from book club and civic groups where I attend. I have heard from many of the church friends I knew as a youth, both those who have remained in the Church and those who left long ago. I take great comfort in these messages and prayers and rainbow signs. There is much ugliness in what we have done and what we will face, but their is also great compassion and beauty. The community of faith is deep and wide and full of believers who follow a God of love.

***

In the midst of my sorrow this week, I have been constantly aware that my own grief pales compared to that of my LGTBQ brothers and sisters. The United Methodist Church is not unique in it's appalling treatment of gay and transgendered and non-binary people, but this week's decisions are particularly painful because there was such hope and possibility when this conference began that LGTBQ members would be fully recognized and by the end of the week the Church's stance was even more restrictive and cruel. Our United Methodist LGTBQ friends raised their voices and shared their hearts and begged the Church to fully recognize their humanity and they were ignored. As a straight, cis-gendered person, the words "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" turn my stomach. I can't imagine if those words referred to me. I can't imagine watching delegates thump their bibles and scream about sin and vengeance in reference to a part of my self that I cannot change.  I can't imagine the pain of being told that I can never be ordained or marry or hold a position of leadership in my beloved church because of who I love or how I identify. I can't imagine listening to my Church agree to welcome everyone except me. I can't imagine watching the Church, the body of faith, discussing whether or not I should be considered fully human. I cannot begin to understand the pain my Church is causing. 

***

I am not a theologian, not a pastor, not even someone who can quote scripture chapter and verse. But I am someone who has heard about Jesus all of my life, someone who has read the gospels, someone who has taken Jesus's words and actions to heart. Jesus didn't have anything to say about homosexuality or Queer people or those born in a body that doesn't match their brain. But Jesus did hang out with immigrants and women and outcasts. He welcomed children and poor people and followers of different faiths. He healed lepers and blind men and women who were bleeding. He told story after story about love and acceptance. He quoted the prophets and argued with the religious experts and broke all the traditions and many of the laws. He told his followers in many ways to love God and love their neighbor, no matter what. And then he sent them into the world to do just that. I don't much care about doctrine or about the way its always been or how obscure passages from Leviticus apply to the modern world. I do care about Jesus's commandments and following what we have all been called to do. And I have no doubt that if Jesus were here today, he would wrap himself in rainbows and treat everyone, especially the LGTBQ persons among as, amazing and beloved children of God. And he would tell us to do likewise.

***

I don't have any solutions to fix my broken Church. I don't know what happens next or where I will turn in the future. But I do know that I will show up in church tomorrow in my rainbow hoodie and I'll teach the 5th and 6th grade Sunday School and serve food during fellowship time and take communion with my congregation and listen to the Rainbow Ringers play. I'll keep reaching out to my LGTBQ brothers and sisters, both in the Church and out, and I'll look for ways to faithfully resist the decisions of the greater Church. I'll probably cry a lot, because grief if hard and life is beautiful. I'll keep singing and I'll keep praying and I'll keep dreaming of a better world.

Time Machine

It's been a hard week
although really
it's been a hard
few years and
today I'm wishing
for a time machine
to take me into
a future where
the President
is sane and kind
and interested in
leading the nation
where the government
is not run by
conservative old
white men who
are only pass laws
that benefit themselves
where my Church
(even if its a New Church)
flies a rainbow flag
and stands with open arms
to welcome all
God's varied children
where the pendulum
of thought swings
farther to the left
and includes in its arc
all who are hurting
and in need of
help and love and
unconditional inclusion.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Church Wounds

My Church
(with a capital C)
is dealing with the trauma
of a special conference
that was more
trial by fire
than shared community
and my heart
is battered and bruised
and people I love
are hurt even worse.
We're surveying our wounds
the blistered hands
and singed spirits
of coming too close
to the fires of destruction
all of us sooty
and smelling of ash
and looking around
for where to go next.
There is darkness now
the sharp sting of grief
and sorrow for what
could have been
if decisions had been made
with hope and courage
instead of fear and
fist pounding adherance
to the way its always been.
But I know when
the air clears
and the pain fades
to a chronic ache
that we will find
direction and strength
and that from the ashes
a New Church will rise
and she will fly
a rainbow flag
and open her arms
to all God's children
and see their infinite worth.

Pirate Week

I structure my classroom around themes, often based on books, and work hard to plan engaging activities to help my students practice skills. The kids are usually interested in what we are talking about and which toys are out, but sometimes a theme far exceeds my expectations and the kids totally immerse themselves in the topic. Pirate Week this week was one of those times. I have taught the pirate theme before, but never have my students embraced it with such enthusiasm and joy. They were all in and parents even sent me pictures of their kids playing pirate at home! It was so much fun I've decided to share what we did during Pirate Week.

Over the years I've collected all sorts of interesting toys and trinkets that make good pirate treasure. I bought these little treasure chests at a craft store and painted them to look pirate like. The glass gems are always popular with preschoolers.
I put gems and some fake gold coins in the sensory table, along with rice some days and sand on others.
Another day I put in these cute little pirate finger puppets.
I have a marvelous collection of Playmobil pirates, thanks to my daughter's second grade obsession. These are so detailed and have such wonderful accessories, the kids never tire of playing with them. There was some terrific imaginary play with these toys this week. (The toys came with swords, guns, and other weapons, but our pirates are nonviolent and strictly interested in treasure hunting and collecting.)



I tried to incorporate pirate ideas into as many activities as possible, and some were so fun!
We walked the plank during small group time and then later during free play. The crocodile beanbags made it much more exciting!
We made not-so-scary paper plate pirates. Their wispy beards are so amusing!



We read the book Shiver Me Letters, about pirates looking for alphabet "treasure".
 Then the kids dug through box of sand and random pirate accessories to find the pieces of an ABC puzzle. They were so excited to do this and many of the kids named the letters as they were found.
We patterned coins and different colored gems.
We made pirate slime in glittery gold and silver and black. Digging out all of the sparkly "jewels" was a great fine motor workout.
The kids sat on their "pirate ship" and fished for letter fish (laminated fish with letters on them and paper clips taped to their backs to make them magnetic). Older kids were encouraged to catch specific letters.
I made moneybag cards with numerals on them and the kids counted out gold and jewels to match the numbers.

We made pirate maps. All the kids know that buried treasure is marked with an X!
We drew pirates. I regularly lead drawing time with my students by drawing a line on a white board and having them copy it on paper. Line by line we can draw complicated pictures. The kids do amazingly well at this and sometimes recreate the drawings later. Our pirates had eye patches, hand hooks, and peg legs!


One day we talked about Peter Pan (almost all of my students were familiar with the movie). We discussed the crocodile and how he makes a tick tock sound because he swallowed a clock. Then we played Tick Tock Hide the Clock. I set a countdown timer with a ticking sound on my phone and sent the kids to the hall while I hid it. Then they had to find the "clock" using just their ears. They adored this game so much that we'll try it again on an indoor recess day!

We played with sand dough (homemade play dough with half the flour replaced by sand). The kids were fascinated with the seashells.

We sorted and counted "treasure" onto 10 frames. The kids enjoyed handling all the little items in their boxes and the 10 frames help them (and me) "see" the concept of numbers.
We made spyglasses from paper towel cores covered with paper. The kids peeled off stickers to put on them. More fine motor fun!
We painted parrots and glued them to clothespins so they could sit on the kids' shoulders. Once we added pirate hats and spyglasses, we had some fabulous pirates!
For Show and Tell, the kids were supposed to bring "treasure". I think this was the most exciting Show and Tell ever! There were some amazingly creative treasures shared.

Pirate Week was SO much fun! Arrr!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Church Ache

I dreamed last night that I was in a church. People were gathering in a large room and I greeted friends from my own church and waved at several pastor friends across the way. I wasn't sure why I was there, but I was happy to be around people I loved. And then a voice from the front of the room called out, "Welcome to the Millennial Group! We're here today to grow in faith with other young adults!" And I looked around and realized that everyone in the room was younger than me. I did not belong here. I quietly collected by coat and bag and slipped out of the room, filled with disappointment and sadness.

As I walked away from the room of young adults, my pastor called my name gently, compassionately. "Joy," she called, "you are such a faithful person, loyal and committed. How do you handle this?" She gestured to the room behind us. "How is this for you?"  And in that fiery eloquent voice I speak only in dreamland I answered. "How does it feel? It feels alone. It makes me sad that there was no group like this for me. No other faithful friends to walk me through the early days of marriage and motherhood. No fellow parents to commiserate with over the triumphs and stresses and endless grind of parenthood. There is no group like this for me now. No one to guide me as I usher my children into teenhood. No peers of faith by my side as I venture into middle age. And I have no real hope that there will be a group like this in my future, as I watch my parents die and slowly move into old age myself. There's no group like this, no one like this in my own church, not even many clergy my age to help others understand. I'm always surrounded by people who are not yet where I am in life or who passed it so long ago they hardly remember and sometimes that means I feel like the girl sitting all by herself in the school lunchroom. How is this for me? It's really damn lonely."

I woke up then, with my pillow wet and tears running down my face. The dream had been so vivid and the grief of being part of the church's Lost Generation is real and ongoing, but I knew that wasn't why I had cried myself awake. My church anxiety is not about generational angst, it's about the headlines in all the news sources this morning screaming that the United Methodist Church is gearing up for a schism, a split, a tearing apart of an entire denomination. I woke myself crying because my Church is broken and representatives from around the world are meeting in St. Louis today to decided if the hurt can be repaired or if we will start over as something entirely new. And no matter what happens, the Church will never be the same. That question from my dream keeps echoing in my thoughts. How is this for me? It's really hard.

I grew up in the church, metaphorically and literally. My father was a pastor and I was a "Preacher's Kid". I went to Sunday School and worship every week. I ate church dinners and hung out during church meetings and roller skated on the smooth concrete floor of the church basement. I watched baptisms and confirmations and weddings and funerals. I helped my congregation celebrate Pentecost and Advent and Christmas and Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Easter. I spent more time in the church building than any place other than school and home. Except for my school teachers, nearly every adult I knew was from church. I was aware that the church payed my father's salary and provided our home. I understood the connectional system and church agencies and the ways that United Methodists are connected around the world. I was steeped in United Methodism from the moment I was born and the Church shaped my views in ways both mundane and profound. How was this for me? It was comforting and frustrating and a sort of protection, even when I didn't want it to be.

Unlike so many of my peers, I never left the church. I stayed involved through my teens and twenties, married in the church, baptized my children there, continued to go to Sunday School and worship, and to welcome the seasons of the Church. As I've grown older, my faith has deepened and my commitment to my church has grown stronger over time. I teach Sunday School and play in the bell choir and am part of a whole array of committees and classes and informal groups. I spend almost as much time at my church now as I did as a child. I have become aware of how the Church has shaped my social and political views and see that as a gift. I have explored friendships with United Methodists outside of my church, my state, my country. I have been a lay member to Annual Conference and felt the responsibility of making decisions and carrying out policies for the greater Church. How is this for me? It is a comfort, a welcoming push to be a better human, a source of gratitude and of pride, a sense of being part of a community of good.

As an adult I also see the ways in which the Church, my own beloved Church, fails to welcome all people. I see the ways politics, both within and outside of the church, cause rifts in congregations. I see how churches, probably all churches, spend an awful lot of time arguing about rules and protocols and punishments. I see how most people focus on differences instead of on similarities and that the things that divide us seem bigger than the things that unite us. I see how the Church is shaped by race and gender. And in the years of my coming-of-age and the decades since, I have seen how the Church condemns, excludes, and ignores persons who are LGTBQ. I've watched friends and relatives and pastors be forced out of congregations for being gay or for marrying someone of the same sex or for identifying as transgender. I've seen the pain of those friends and I have felt the loss of their presence and their skills in churches. How is this for me? It makes me angry and sad, frustrated and confused. It has also made me an outspoken ally of the LGTBQ community, determined to welcome Queer friends and strangers and to encourage my church, and the greater Church, do to so also.

Like United Methodists all over the world, I'm thinking about those gathered in St. Louis this week. I'm watching as bishops and clergy and laity pray and listen and debate and decide how the Church will be in relationship with issues of sexuality. Will they decide to allow LGTBQ persons to be married in the church? Ordained as pastors? Live fully as the beloved children of God? Will they choose to strengthen the condemnation of homosexuality and create harsher punishments for those who bend the rules? Or will they spend a week arguing and not come to a solution at all? No matter what the end results of this special conference, there will be churches that leave United Methodism. People I know and care about will leave. If it all goes differently than I hope, I will leave the church. How is this for me? It's terrifying and sad, heartbreaking and hopeful, all at once.

I'm thinking of everyone affected by what happens this week. How is this for them? How is it for the bishops who are trying to find a way to lead the whole Church through this time of crisis? How is it for the clergy delegates who feel the enormous weight of God's calling in this decision? How is it for the lay persons entrusted with making choices for congregations both conservative and progressive, in this country and others? How is it for the pastors and lay people who are in St. Louis to watch and listen, but have no voice in the final outcome? How is it for our LGTBQ brothers and sisters as they endure more debate about their lives, their rights, their very humanity? How is it for the progressives, who feel God wants us to move toward openness? How is it for the conservatives who feel God wants us to move toward tradition? How is it for United Methodists in England? In Zimbabwe? In the Philippines? How is it for all of us? It's hard. It's sad and fearful and wounding and we have no idea how it will all come out on the other side.

There are no good solutions for this Church ache, no happy answers, no real way for everyone to follow the way that they feel God calls. So pray for us. All of us. Pray for peace, for healing, for comfort. Pray for compassion, for empathy, for grace. Pray for passion and for calmness. Pray for strength and hope. Pray for the change that is coming our way. I don't know how it is for everyone, but I do know that whatever the answer, there is need of prayer.