For the love of God, get it together, people

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Jesus must be so annoyed, y’all

Collectively, as of late, we Christians have sat silently, not wanting to offend or get too political. And here we are. We are beyond political. We are making moral kingdom decisions every moment we are not helping our neighbor. And who is your neighbor, you ask? If you spent five minutes looking at the gospel, you’d know. And once you know, you can’t un-know.

Jesus the Christ flouted the rules and the expectations of the most pious. He didn’t care about offending anyone. He spent time with the poorest of the poor. He fed the hungry. He provided free healthcare, he invited the little children to come to him. He took a nap on a rock…all while being a brown immigrant. He did not care about man-made borders, or whether or not you are comfortable in your complacency. He calls us away from that. We need to love radically and without regard to which side of an imaginary border you were born on, what color your skin is, who you love, or even what you believe.

Christians are not a law & order people. We never have been. Early Christians were ILLEGAL. They risked life and limb going against the state to follow Jesus the Christ – that’s where the fish symbol came from, a secret message scrawled in the dirt to identify each other. Jesus was in trouble for not washing his hands according to the law, and for working on the Sabbath…also against the law.

This is part of our story – and I for one am proud of it: Love has always trumped the law of the land. How have we forgotten this??

For too long, we happy-go-lucky church folk have allowed our beloved scriptures to be co-opted, hijacked and perverted by selfish leaders, false prophets, and crooked statesmen to further their own repugnant agendas. How do we know they are wrong? Because someone is always hurt by their policies. Period.

And here we sit, not wanting to offend or get political.

Our silence is deafening. If we don’t rise up and do something now, then we shouldn’t step back in the doors of a church, because we are there for the wrong reasons. Jesus called us to be in community – to care for one another and to care for the world.

A church is a body of people not a building. And these bodies were built for action, NOT complacency.

This is the time. We are being tested. What do you believe really, about the Jesus you proclaim?

When you think back to the scene at Calvary….what would you have done When Jesus was carrying his own timber cross? Would you be casting lots to take his possessions? Would you have been yelling “Crucify him!”?

Your actions today, tell you exactly where you would have been that day.

beachy kleen

I am human so I love the beach and the water. It’s soothing to stare at and inspirational for all types – photographers, theologians, painters, poets, and I’m guessing, boat builders. You can get wrapped up envisioning the generations of admirers that have come before you, sitting on these same shores in their old timey clothes, happy to escape the grind of old timey life like covered wagons and washboards and lard buckets. It’s easy to think about God and bigness and eternity. You respect the power of the water, and the majesty of the sunsets and mountains.

But when it comes time to clean off two sandy boys in a rented retreat center bathroom, I think not so nice things about nature and the beach, and that maybe a lard bucket wouldn’t be so bad after all. Sand, as noble and poetic as it is, is exceptionally hard to remove from little legs and bobbing heads of thick hair. There are never enough towels, and there’s not an actual lid on this toilet, so anything that comes in a 4-foot radius of it, is most certainly going to wind up in it. This is not your home shower, so its quirks are still a fun mystery to you…. either one drastically wayward stream of water that shoots all over the room, or the nozzle that you somehow left pointed at the front door. That’s fun because when you turn it on, your child is left naked and shivering and dry, and you are clothed, soaked and fake-swearing. “Ding dang! Darg blummit!” The sibling is of course unattended in the other room, still wearing his goggles, with sand coming out of every crevice. He is more than likely rolling around in the sheets of all of the beds and trying on your watch.

Wet bathing suits hang from every available pole, hanger and hook, dripping, dripping, dripping onto your purse, or creating a slipping hazard for later.

If we were living in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, the beach would be a breeze. Our little toe headed beach adept sand angels would play an innocent game of tag while giggling, then finish with big hugs and brotherly cuddles. I would of course be wearing a designer tunic while preparing fresh lemonade spritzers in my nautically themed kitchen. We would have outside showers and our personalized towels would hang jauntily from conveniently placed kid-height pegs.  But alas, the beach for most people on planet Earth, is not like that.

I grew up vacationing every summer in our family’s travel trailer, either in Santa Cruz or Southern California, but always by the beach. So the trauma and the drama of the beach shower was very much a part of the summer routine. My older brother and dad would wait patiently in our patio/picnic area complete with astro turf and strung owl party lights, while I would scream dramatically from the trailer’s postage stamp bathroom, “Stop! Stop! My eyes! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m drowning!”  My mother would somehow keep her cool and remind me that if I stopped screaming about my eyes, I would be less likely to swallow so much shower water. There was no pesky sunblock back then that we would have to wash off, but my brand new sunburn would certainly keep things interesting. “My shoulders! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m burning!”

When the screaming was over, I would emerge in my terry cloth outfit, freshly pig tailed, gangly arms crossed, 300 more freckles than I started the day with, and undoubtedly frowning. Scott and dad would maybe pump up the tires on the bike or throw a Frisbee. Mom would bring out hamburgers, and 3 different kinds of pickles, potato chips and Shasta Cola, humming. Nobody would speak of the injustice of the mandatory beach shower.

When John manages this process with our boys, he makes it look so easy – everybody lined up, in and out of the shower, no big deal. I thought of him and the serenity my mother would maintain through my hissy fits as I looked for clean shorts for the kid jumping on the bed, and a pair of socks for the one digging through my purse for gum.

With everybody dressed, relatively dry, and smelling better, we made our way down the hall for lunch, when the little one turned to me, “I am so excited to go right back to the beach the second we finish eating!”

all star tear jerk

I’d been in the room about 42 seconds when the tears started. Why? Why? Why did I have to wear mascara today of all days?

Wedding? No, that was five days ago, and I waited two full minutes ‘til I unapologetically turned on the waterworks. Graduation? Nope. Moving church service? Not this time. Stepping through the gates at Disneyland?  Don’t I wish.

It was the flippin’ ESPYs.

My back was to John who was in the kitchen tossing a perfectly dressed salad with fruit and everything. He’d once again magically created an honest-to-goodness meal out of the random contents of our fridge, and I was standing mesmerized by ESPN’s annual awards show and a year’s worth of highlight reels.

The screen flashed with jaw dropping 3-pointers, bone-crunching hits, gravity defying catches and mind-blowing runs. There was jubilation and celebration and many, many dogpiles.  But, this wasn’t your average recap show. Those are on every day in this house, to the point where it feels like I am watching highlights of the last highlights show.  I have never had to sit down with a box of tissues to get through those.

They really upped the ante here – there was music, slow-mo and the critical close-up shots of their triumphant and/or heartbroken faces. And with that little bit of editing trickery, they seemed to turn these well-paid, famous yet often faceless athletes into extraordinary people with annoyingly extraordinary abilities and certainly compelling stories… and me into a weepy mess.

Just when I thought I’d pulled myself together, they go and show all the athletes that died this year. I recognized Jack Lalane, and that was it. The other grizzled and determined faces on the screen were pictured mostly in black and white or the grainy film of the ‘70s or 1994, like when you watch a re-run of Friends.  But these folks had been outstanding athletes in their heyday, probably even heroes.

Suddenly, things became very clear in my head, and it went something like this: “How inspirational! I get it. I get the true allure of sports and athleticism, and the home team. Why, these are people who are using their God given abilities! It’s important to have drive and discipline and sportsmanship. This is good for the morale of our country! I’m really glad we have Jake in basketball camp…that’s an investment in his future. It’s good for him as a person, and for the nation, really. John’s probably going to have a lot of sermon illustrations after this.”

And then… the show started.

No. No. No. Oh my gosh, yes. I had just cried at the introduction. Of the ESPYs.

The very funny Seth Meyers took the stage and in his opening monologue teased Brian Wilson about his beard and his spandex tuxedo, and I chuckled loudly with a little over compensatory show-offiness, asking some camouflaging questions about the All-Star break, while swooping around futzing with the dinner plates.

The 10-year-old looked at me sideways, “Are you crying?”

“What? Are you serious? Here, have some more salad. How was basketball camp?”

interlude

Between lying in the Disneyworld sun (it’s like they have their own sun!), and lying in bed melodramatically clutching Kleenex in each hand, and lying on the couch surrounded by work notebooks and papers and sticky notes with cryptic half-words scrawled on them, I’ve been occupied. Indisposed? (Either way sounds bathroom related. Everything sounds bathroom related when you’re surrounded by boys all the time.)

I of course would be completely honored and totally surprised if anybody noticed it had been a while since I posted anything. But I noticed, because small funny illustrative moments kept happening, and I couldn’t take advantage of them like I had grown blissfully accustomed to. And I didn’t take notes like I promised myself I would. I’ve walked by my laptop, and run a finger along the top, wistfully recalling how once upon a time I could sit over there *points* typity type type typing the night away while uncharacteristically letting shows stack up in my DVR. (I would very much like to tell you, and in short order, about my waterpark temper tantrum, the bodyguard in the Gucci sunglasses with the book of Sudoku puzzles, Ponce de Leon, the art of confiscation and a less than magical turn on the Magical Express.)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and emotion that have included a blinding flurry of work and work functions as well as the sun soaked giddiness of a much appreciated vacation and getting to see old friends…all accompanied by the intense desperation for a nap, a mug of tea and a decongestant.

I had a feeling it was bad when three people walked past my office door in a day, gave me a cursory glance and wave, then doubled back to ask if I was ok. I caught a glimpse of my reflection. Wild haired and tired eyed and sorely in need of lipstick.

We’re all victims/offenders of busy (depends on how you look at it), but what’s so acutely new to me this time are the byproducts of being a kid of aging parents and a parent of aging kids. Every conversation in our house is anchored by preschool and or 5th grade “graduation” and what’s next for the boys; what’s next at work; or what’s next as we navigate the unfun health stuff of one of our parents toward what we expect to be a positive, and frankly, more fun outcome.  And then there’s the part where we remind ourselves that it could be a lot worse, and it’s actually the perfect time to count our blessings, and then I feel junky for feeling sorry for myself in the first place. (I just cannot be the only person who does that.)

As I sit in the middle of happy and hard things last week, this week and next, I’m hopeful for the return of the sun, and maybe some sense of normal. I’ve asked for prayers without hesitation, and bent many an ear, and look forward to returning the favor.

ode to a pastor on Easter

Being married to a pastor, and working at the church myself, has caused Easter to be thrust into the forefront of our consciousness. Big time. The church calendar is built around it, and thusly, so is ours.

If you’re in some form of Christian ministry role – whether you sing in the choir or set out the coffee or give the big sermon –you might be doing your stretches, and warming up the old pipes tonight. You’ve been thinking about Easter for weeks, nay, months. If you’re a Presbyterian, you get to wear the white stole, and pack away purple for a few months. You’ve spent the week guiding people through the darkness in anticipation of the light. Hopeully you’ve said, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s comin’” because that is fun to say.

Maybe you’re on for the sunrise service and heading off to bed. Maybe you’re trying to find someone to be a parking volunteer, or a last minute replacement for a sick usher. The bulletin’s done, and the sanctuary is clean. You know that you’ll see people tomorrow you’ve never seen before, and you’ll likely never see again. I don’t know how you guys on the chancel do it on the regular Sundays – you get up there and you’re funny and warm and engaging and eloquent (I’m looking at you Johnny!) You don’t break into a sweat with all of those people staring at you.

And then there’s Easter. The place is packed, and everybody is like, really staring at you. They’re uncomfortable in their itchy outfits and tight shoes. They’re ready to hear what might be a very familiar story in a new way, but it can’t be too out there, or you’ve ruined Easter. No pressure.

It doesn’t matter how many people are sitting in your seats. It’s not their butts you’re interested in, but their hearts, right? Tomorrow, you’re busy, yes, and you’re the one everyone is looking at. But don’t stress, because if all goes as it should, you’re not the one everyone is thinking about.

Happy Easter. Sunday’s comin’! Enjoy your nap.

a tree falls in side yard

Last week, I pulled into the garage without noticing that the tree that once stood taller than our house now lay across the side yard. John came home an hour later and gave me the report as I stared lamely at him. At first I couldn’t even picture what tree he was talking about…I don’t venture to that part of the yard much, I guess. (You would think we lived on 30 acres instead of a regular suburban smallish lot). But I finally figured out that I knew quite well about 5 feet of that tree, somewhere near its middle top.

It once grew majestically outside Zachary’s window, with a narrow trunk and long graceful branches that would thwap against his window in the wind or create sinister looking shadows in the night. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was a resting place for many a bird who would chirp their greetings to Zachary inside.

Zach went to his room to look. “There aren’t any branches there anymore,” he said, “That’s where the birdies were.” I thought about the birds too, but was hopeful he either wouldn’t notice, or would celebrate the fact that they wouldn’t startlingly crash into his window anymore. His sweet face looked sad, and the way he said “birdies” made me want to go buy him a pony.

John stood outside surveying the situation. The tree had fallen into a wacky corner of the yard, missing our neighbor’s fence by a few feet. The neighbor stood there too. “Now I have to look at your boring, window,” he told John with his usual charm.

The subsequent days have passed in a flurry, and the tree continues to lay there, beached. Every time the subject comes up, Zach mentions the birds. I have to stop talking about it altogether because every time I do, he flashes me his big brown puppy dog eyes, and I instinctively move toward the candy shelf for a distracting treat.

A few months ago, my parents had to have two of their three front yard trees removed, because alas, the old trees had died…suffering what I imagined a stoic and noble passing befitting of a couple of fine Modesto Ash. Now that, I did notice. I gasped when I drove up to their house for the first time without my old leafy friends there. The home base tree of my childhood, right there near the corner – gone. The hide-and-go-seek tree at the far end – dunzo. My parents have since picked out replacements, but they are baby trees, and I don’t think I could very effectively hide behind one, unless I shed a dangerous amount of LBs.

We’ve taken down diseased trees at the church, and today on my way to work, I saw what looked like a 20-man hard-hatted crew perched on some poor soul’s roof, collectively eyeballing a huge Oak tree. By the time I drove home, half of it lay in the street in front of a wood chipper.

Now, I’m eyeing the palm tree in the backyard. The wind has brought down these pieces that resemble huge pencil shavings, and frankly it looks weird standing next to the uppity, haughty redwood. There’s the orange tree in the back corner. Sure, I like the idea of a fruit tree, but I’ve never actually eaten one of its oranges. My guess is that I’m so much of a city girl that I can’t possibly imagine that any plant life that I’m responsible for could produce actual, edible fruit.

I’ve come to realize, people are weird with trees, me included, which even I find odd since I refuse to camp. Trees are scary or friendly or wise depending on what Disney movie we are watching. They serve as literary metaphors for everything from life to growth to the passing of time, and if I were more well-read, this list would undoubtedly be longer. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my reading list for about 5 years, but I would be willing to bet that’s chock full of smarty pants examples.

I cannot stand that horrible book, The Giving Tree. I so loved Shel Silverstein’s provocative and intoxicating A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, that I would memorize the poems and recite them for whoever would listen. My copies, with my name written in my 3rd grade script, sit on Jake’s shelf, and are now favorites of the boys as well. But The Giving Tree sucks big time. Spoiler alert! The kind tree gives and gives and gives until it is taken down to a stump for the selfish brat of a protagonist to sit on in his old age. The only moral I take away is don’t be awful, or you will end up tired, alone and confused on a stump.

Heck, the trees in the Bible are kind of a big deal – there was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve couldn’t resist, getting them kicked out of what up until that point, had been a pretty sweet living situation. Jesus invited little Zaccheus down from his tree so they could break bread. And of course, there was Jonah. Jonah sat and waited futilely and with spite for an entire city to suffer God’s wrath. As he sat there pouting, sweating and waiting, probably still reeking of whale innards, God gave him a shade tree, which promptly withered and died. Jonah grieved and ranted and, much to God’s annoyance and utter frustration, showed more feeling for that day-old tree than he did an entire population of people. And again we learn, don’t be awful or you will end up tired, alone, and confused on a stump.

while we wait

This Christmas tree is so distracting. It’s getting in the way of my desire to do laundry and catch up on chores. I’m having a harder time enforcing bedtime, and snapping orders like “wash your hands!” to whichever grubby little dude is running by me that moment. It’s so festive, and it makes me want to drink hot chocolate and wear a sweater and hug everybody.

Even this week, when things were hectic at work and I STILL did not get a chance to buy stamps, there it was twinkling from the window, like it had been looking down the street waiting for me to come home…tall and sparkly, pretty and happy. It’s close enough to the computer that when I sit down to return emails, or figure out what I want to write about, I usually end up turned in my seat gazing into my fun house mirror reflection on one of the shiny red ornaments. And then of course, I wince when I realize Jacob does this, and I tell him to turn around and focus.

Sure, I appreciate it’s beauty and cheeriness, but right now I can also point at it, and say “Look at that! It’s done. I got something done!” A major accomplishment during a time where I feel like I’m spinning in circles at work and at home, all while fussing and fretting, and talking about how busy I am. Of course, I’m busy, who isn’t? It’s near impossible to find someone who’s not overcommitted or stressed out or even a little grumpy. I’m never grumpier though, than when I run across that person who’s been “done” for a month thanks to the wonders of forethought and online shopping. They’re the worst.

John pointed out that even when you’re a kid, you cannot fully relax until you’ve checked something off your list: face time with Santa. Because up until you talk to him directly, you’re really not too sure if your request has been noted or lost out there in the ether. So yesterday, we sucked it up and went to see Santa to help Zach with his to-do list.

Jake did not want to see Santa. He’s 10 now and has that shag haircut. He reminded me that I promised him last year he wouldn’t have to go again, even if it was just to support his little brother. But there he stood, relatively without complaint, the tallest kid in line and with only the promise of Mongolian BBQ at the end.

The “elf” in the apron who made us very well aware that she hated working evenings and that it was almost time for her break, looked at us like we were nuts for turning down a photo package. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, you know, I wanted to tell her. We were there on a mission, get in, tell Santa about the “Star Wars book with Luke in it,” and get out – check it off the list. At our mall, right before you get to Santa, you enter a huge snowglobe that, yes, snows on you. The kids go bananas. Laying in it, running their fingers through it and rubbing as much as they can into their hair. One girl even stood under the blower with her mouth open. It took us a minute to remember that this is not in fact, snow. It’s billions of flakes of plastic, possibly asbestos, but certainly not snow. It does not adorably melt out of your hair. It does not taste like the purest glacier water on the planet.

I pull Zachary over to me, and we start working the flakes from his hair and his all-black outfit, including his favorite shirt of all time which is the reason we had to keep him calm – the official World Champion San Francisco Giants, Buster Posey, #28 shirt. Of course, now I see the that this stuff is falling on me too, and I try ducking my head out of the way like I’m being attacked by bees. It’s in all of our hair, but the kid in line behind us is still rolling around in it. I use myself as a human shield between him and Zach when the kid starts yelling “snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight!” I dodge and block and duck and swipe, while John shakes his head at me…“You and nature,” he says with a sigh. Now I could have corrected him here, and reminded him that we were still at the mall and not on the frozen tundra, but that wouldn’t have done any good, because this is pretty much exactly what I am like in nature too.

We take our turn sitting on the royal snow palace throne, and when the family who is purchasing 3 separate photo packages is finally done, Santa calls us all over, much to Jake’s chagrin. He high-fives us and asks what we want. When it’s my turn, I lamely point at a sweater in Macy’s window across the way, and we say our goodbyes. Zach looks up at me panicked, and runs back to Santa. “Wait!!”

Santa peeks over the top of his spectacles, “Yeeeesss?”

“What my mom really wants is Twilight: Eclipse on blu-ray.”

“I heard it’s good,” Santa says looking at me, as I slink away, tugging Zach behind me.

Then I realize, as we often do and sometimes too late – this is it. Right here, right now. I will remember this hour of standing in line with the three boys, chatting and dodging that horrific flakey snow, and Zach advocating on my behalf to Santa, much longer than I will remember a fleeting moment of satisfaction from having accomplished something. Why on Earth, would I want this to be done?

We’re reminded from the pulpit on Sundays that Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. But I don’t think it’s the kind of preparation we’re used to – we share this space with other flustered people and their lists and stressers. What if we stopped focusing on the lists, and enjoyed the part where we’re sharing the space with people who love us, or people who need us. This is the part where we really get to help each other…during the waiting that can otherwise seem like such a chore. I don’t need another 17 days ‘til I can care about you, I’d like to enjoy you right now, while we wait.