Out of the Sanctuary, Off of the Couch

I have been thinking much about Jesus lately. I know I should have said I do that all the time but the truth is I think about being a Christian more often, about the good works associated with that title. I consider the ways my church has sneakily tied bits of silk around me and ever so gently pulled, tugged, eased me back into ministries, so many that when a friend asked what I was involved with at church, I realized the list was quite long. It seems that the very act of showing up there for one event allows your face to be present when a need arises, when a slot comes open. The more you enter the building, the more you have opportunity to get involved. Before you know it, ministry events occur most every day, church is no longer a place you visit on Sunday but a people you socialize with, a call you need to make, a group you lead, a meal to be prepared. Easy then to become complacent in that place, to feel comfortable in Christianity, to take a bit of pride in all the good works and forget the point. I love that my church has lured me into the web of deeds, they saved me. But now I am thinking about Jesus more, about that man who walked this same earth and did his own good works, an action packed 3 years that didn’t lead to elevation to committee chairman or board president, He didn’t retire and sit back to let the young folks take over the tough jobs. He promised to keep going and set the example for all of us to do real ministry. He was a servant first last and still.

I have been searching scripture for places where Jesus shouted out at his opposition, refused to listen to the people, deleted those who didn’t understand his message. I can’t find anything. He didn’t practice intolerance even in the face of the Pharisees. He knew their way was against His, He knew they practiced a dangerous religion, rooted in the same beginnings, the same core of what HE was teaching. Yet still He engaged them to allow for discussion, He answered their questions, He listened. He knew their beliefs had been corrupted disrupted coopted into something no longer at the core of His God. I want to be a Jesus Christian, just that simple. I have heard many conversations recently that include a reticence to openly own our label as Christians, a name that has come to be more associated with intolerance and judgement than the love and radical hospitality my friends are seeking to live out. I get that fear, I know that desire for a new term to describe who we are, one that distances us from them, those Pharisees who stand above and not with the marginalized. Yet all that pulling and tugging over the last year or so has readied me for action, for using my voice to speak above a whisper, to proclaim that I follow Jesus rather than announce a denomination for easy classification. I want to be the kind of person who sees those in need, who sees those hurting, and sees myself and not other. I am aching with the hurt I see around me, my soul is bursting with the fear and pain of the marginalized who know life is getting even harder, scarier. I want to scream and shout, demand that we all see them and us. Also, I want to listen to my friends and those who sit in church across the country under the cross. I need to resist the temptation to delete and turn my back, label them Pharisees and lost Christians. I want to show up with my Jesus face on, offer a cup of soup and hear their concerns. Maybe they will listen to mine, maybe we will pray together and God will bring Jesus back into our faith.

Realistically, it hasn’t always been easy to announce participation in the Christianity club especially when it was known only as the God group. It was an underground movement, it was one fraught with danger and imprisonment, one that required those who knew the truth to speak it to power and the masses. It meant followers had to risk much to gather in small groups to bolster and teach each other and then risk even more to go out and speak truth to those who didn’t know or believe yet. Being a follower of our God is not meant to be easy or profitable or safe. There is no promise of resting in riches or celebrating in comfort. These times now are hard again, the Sabbath of sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday counting our good deeds for the week are over. Our very existence as a movement is being threatened, our history and faith taken over by those who want to build walls to keep the others out, those who want to ignore that people are still enslaved by our hands, those who want to define love narrowly narrowly more narrowly still until love only looks like hate.

My friends, if you are a Jesus Follower, we cannot afford to rest. We did that. We waited and hoped and expected that someone else would take care of all the injustices. Can you feel the silk strings wrapping around you, puling you into the movement? Tugging us into a place of awareness that frankly is making me weary and sad and outraged already and I am just getting started. I can bake cookies for meetings all I want, Jesus is just not going to accept that anymore, not good enough. Sure, everyone likes cookies but there are children outside our building who don’t know what a home baked cookie tastes like while we grow fatter with each meeting. I can minister within the building by taking a meal to a sick congregant, but Jesus is just telling me that is not enough. The ill outside of our sanctuary are growing sicker and do not receive homemade soup, ever.

Frankly, the work within my church was practice, a warmup to get me going. The game is on, the buzzer blasted when black men were being killed and I cried at home on my couch but didn’t protest or even write letters. The buzzer blasted when bathrooms became an issue and I shook my head but did not call legislators to register my disgust. The buzzer blasted over and over, I did not move out of church to show Jesus, to be Jesus to power. Game on, maybe I missed the first quarter, but I am in, on team Jesus. A second string player whose skills have been honed, I am ready for action and I am aching with anger and hurt for humanity, fueled by my own complacency. I don’t know about being a Christian, but I am a follower of Jesus and it is about to get rough. That my friends is how it is meant to be.

 

Hippie Heart Broken Feet

My friend aptly stated that if the March had been scheduled days earlier, before my birthday, I would have been fine. Just that one year more of age seems to have put me in the elderly group, mostly because she is 6 months younger and delighting in this time of her youth, in comparison. Sill, I am confronting the fact that the hippie heart that resides within does not match the broken down body surrounding it. I can barely walk, my feet are reacting to missed medication (a necessary choice to stay awake for the 9 hour drive) and the excessive time spent upright. I wish I could say I am floating on the passion of the experience but mostly I am sleeping, falling into deep stupors as if I missed weeks of sleep instead of one night. I am stumbling, not drunk on hope but rather unable to establish balance again on feet with funky nerve responses. I am maybe too old now to drive all night and protest all day, more suited to a life behind a keyboard with legs propped up and a nap of restoration available at 1:00 each day.

Still, I think of all who have protested before me, all the women who have stood up so that I can vote and bank and drive and use the pill back in college when I chose to. I am confident it wasn’t easy for them, I know there were real costs to body and life. I consider those who have fought for the freedoms of my friends of color, the risks they took to send strangers onto the railroad to freedom, the incredible costs of standing up to be heard at counters and on busses. I think of those who even now brave harsh elements to protect the environment, those who sneak across borders not to commit crimes but to find employment in order to feed their families. My aches seem so minor in light of all who have come before me, who have protested wars and wrongs not just for a day but until their voices were counted, until they achieved the change they sought. I draw inspiration from their selflessness, their push forward that brings us all closer to the garden God created, a place of equality and love with no knowledge of evil.

I may be too broken down physically to make overnight road trips and stand all day but I pray I will never be too aged, too hobbled to speak up for those whose voices are mere whispers. Babies leave the womb demanding that we acknowledge their voice, a shriek to say ,”Notice me” that we slowly teach out of them. Hush, shhh, quiet down. History is rife with examples though of just that need for whispers turning into roars, of the collective sounds of  young old and broken down rising up to say, “Notice us, we must be heard, this is important.” Those voices turn into hymns that sing us into the promised land, a place there the water is clean, the air is pure, the earth is lush, where people of all color play together and love one another, where gender is not a barrier, where education is shared freely to all children.

I may be too broken down to ride all night with no sleep but my aches are battle wounds that remind me there is work to be done, my keyboard and phone can help continue the push while I heal.  When I am rested up, I may just march again. Hippie hearts really never quiet, they just beat to a new cause, unable to settle into success of the past when  injustice is evident. I may be napping today, but Please, let your voice grow loud, louder still. No need to hush on my account. I am with you in spirit.

Mental Health March

Chef describes depression as bean bag chairs that rest on him, laying on his shoulders and covering his head. A bit comfy at first, molding to his body, providing shelter, blocking the harsh light from his eyes. (Well, he said the bean bag part.) The longer the bean bags, light as they are, stay in place, though, they become heavy, too awkward to carry around. Easier to sit still and not explain to onlookers why you are carrying beanbag chairs on your shoulder, simpler to not move and mess with the weight of them, jostling the little beans inside until they push even further onto your body, obstructing more of your view. Shoulders become weary, begin to sag. Neck muscles grow exhausted, head begins to droop. A slow gentle process of depression,  sinking under the bean bag chairs until you are covered and can no longer see, no longer lift them alone. I think fear is the same, worry is the same, anxiety, the same. All begin with just little bean bag on our shoulder, one becomes two, more sneak on top until we are stuck in the darkness. Or maybe like tiny seeds that get watered and nurtured and tended until they grow so great around our souls we are imprisoned in a garden of our making. We lose sight of the fact that we CAN lift those damn bean bags, we CAN chop down the weeds of worry. Getting up, moving into the light of community, we can find our way out of the darkness.

I have spent most of every day since election night consumed with worry and fear and disbelief that our country really wanted someone so filled with hate speech, so blatantly dangerous to women,  to lead us, to be the person our children learn about in school. To be honest, there was a time I was completely behind Hillary but that wasn’t this election until it was him or her. I know the weaknesses of choosing her, I knew better the danger of choosing him. So I too have felt the garden of fear growing around me, requiring every bit of my attention to chop down new growth and avoid fertilizing existing sprouts. When I realized the march was happening, I saw a chance to wack the entire greedy garden away. I invited the one person I wanted to march with, my niece who is a young woman on the cusp of political awareness, waking up to her voice, finding her beliefs. I knew her passion would provide some strength to do necessary gardening.

We planned the trip on the cheap. We drove ourselves overnight,  a cooler filled with sandwiches and snacks, scheduled naps in hotel parking lots. We listened to political podcasts to stay awake, drank too much coffee and consumed the miles separating us from Washington D.C. as if our lives depended on it. Because sort of, they did. We had to go and be in the crowd of others who were vanquishing fear and worry and depression, a mass of people who were together clearing away whatever weight or weeds were holding them down or back. Our family at home were concerned about safety, Chef had serious reservations about my health. We arrived to find the largest crowd of protesters ever recorded and experienced not a single moment of concern. Women are just intrinsically nurturing beings, we want to foster each other and the earth and our children, put 500,000 of us together and we still say please and thank you, we still smile and make space for one more. Yes, we were angry, but we were not hateful. Yes, we were motivated but not destructive. Yes, we were loud but we listened also. We found power in the collective by making space for many concerns without the requirement to signoff on every concern. Fear and worry and depression turned away, hope and passion lifted us all.

I heard it described as a group of whiners, a bunch of women who needed the therapy of being together to recover from Hillary losing. As if therapy is a bad thing, a shameful thing. It WAS therapeutic, it did restore my mental health. I was able to sit on the “couch” of D.C. and pour out my emotions and let the crowd counselor make sense of them, tell me I am not alone, wash them away. But more than that, I was given an action plan, a call to keep moving once I returned home and the weeds looked scraggly and exhaustion set in. Once my body began to truly ache and my feet were on fire, I could choose to descend back into hopelessness but make no mistake, that would be my choice now. I have tools, I have a community, I have work that needs to be done. So, yes, excellent therapy, money well spent. No shaming me or my movement for this label. We already know the benefit of mental health services, the stigma won’t stick.

For those who have yet to embrace the causes of the march, for those who think it doesn’t reflect their interests, no worries. We will march and act and get louder for you. When we are growing weary, we will need your backup for the next wave. By then, I am confident you will see yourself in the faces of women and men and children who just want to be respected and heard by our leader. To all who marched in D.C. and around the world, thanks for clearing away the weight of depression’s bean bags, thanks for chopping out the weeds of worry in my soul garden. President Obama told us, “Yes, we can.”  I say, “Yes, we will.” We have already begun, together. For today, I will be propping my feet up on the bean bags, enjoying the flowers that are blooming in my soul.

Afraid No Longer

“Tell me what democracy looks like”

“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE”

The chants erupted in pockets to our left, to our right, the origin unclear but the response unmistakable.  Louder stronger, each reply growing with determination as the body absorbed not just the words but the power.  Faces reflected not the fear of the day before but the realization of the moment, a call to link arms and make votes that didn’t count matter now. This was not a march of haters, not a gathering of whiners, seeking to disrupt and disrespect.  The diversity of causes, colors, ages and genders showed fear will not triumph, ignorance will not govern, hope without action is no longer acceptable.  

I was smooshed within the masses for hours, often unable to speak, only accepting the energy and passion of young women and teen boys, aging women and little girls, old men and veterans, allowing their words and exhilarated faces to cleanse my soul of the terror which has settled in since election night.  Yes, I took from them all but I will give back as I go forward.  I will bring their chants and power home, to my grandson who is afraid of a bullying leader, to my friends who cried with me and wrung hands and sit with worry.  We will keep marching, we will lift up our signs, we will speak truth to power, we ARE the power.  

Clean water, access to birth control, equal education for all of our children, inclusive  safe streets regardless of skin color, reproductive rights for those who actually  do the reproducing, a free and open press, the right to love who we love, we marched for many causes but we marched together. The message those who stayed home and believe the fake news reports missed is that you don’t have to embrace every cause to speak.  You are still welcome to join us.  After all:

“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE”