Teach Your Children Well

Every day I scroll through my social media feeds: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and most days I enjoy the posts that people add. I enjoy seeing things like clouds, scenery, food, and life events.  Since the last Presidential election, however, it has been a non-stop litany of vitriol that we would be washing our children’s mouths out for.  My friends and neighbors fill their pages with slurs, derogatory comments, and crude words that are worse than the fabled smog of the Inland Empire.  Daily I see comments attacking physical appearance, intelligence, faith, and family. We attack our friends for posting something we do not agree with.  We are all about sensationalism, and no one is exempt from our anger, frustration, and fear.

We would not accept this from our children.  Schools have zero tolerance for bullying. If a child came home and said that the slimy red head from down the road was dumb, we would sit that child down and talk to them about treating others as they would be treated.  Why is it appropriate for us to do this as grown ups?  Why do we not focus on the issues and not on the person?  What happened to “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”?

None of us is perfect. We all have flaws and blemishes. Why do we feel it is appropriate to throw careless words around, tempt with emotionally-charged headlines (when we know that people will not read all the way through) and post incomplete or inaccurate stories to make ourselves feel better?  Why are we not acting as adults who espouse Christian morality and taking a look at the real issues?  We have become the arm chair  yellow journalists of the past. We are all about sensationalism; we attack everyone, even our family for posting views that oppose our own. What happened to “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”? 

We practice a political racism on both sides of the aisle; we categorize everyone associated with the opposing political party as evil while glorifying ourselves as the saviors. It is not new, but it has escalated in the past 6 years reaching a zenith in the past 18 months. We have tunnel vision; our way is the only way. How wrong we can be and how much damage we do when we refuse to listen, really listen to the other side and decide what is right and wrong for ourselves, to be able to rationally come to the middle way and avoid the extremes. We have become armchair protestors. We post and repost without a single original idea. We no longer write to our elected officials, we post on Facebook and attack on Twitter. We “throw shade”, we mock, we belittle, but we do not act. Our vocabulary has become limited and ugly. Why are we not out petitioning, going to town hall meetings, writing letters to the editor? Because it is easier to lash out and feel more righteous by remaining at our desks and practicing non interaction through social media.

Where is your righteous indignation when you see the homeless on your street corners and under the overpasses? Where is your compassion and largess when, as a business owner, you are content to pay your employees minimum wage and restrict hours to avoid providing benefits. Where is that indignation when you are at an amusement park and the person picking up trash is on food stamps so you can have a clean park? It amazes me that people will patronize a company if it pays lower wages but will boycott companies because they are exercising the same right that you have to support causes they believe are in their best interest.  Try to remember, the people promoting and reporting these stories on both sides are in it for the money.  Don’t kid yourself, they are not altruistic and need to sell newspapers and magazines and air time.  And those they quote want that permanent government pension and health insurance as much as their counterparts.  There is no black and white.

I believe the real reason we are in such a state is that we have for too long left our responsibilities for rearing responsible children and stable government up to others and have failed to actively participate. We pull a lever and walk away trusting that that person will actually carry out our wishes when they don’t even know what those wishes are.  We drop our children at school and expect they will learn everything there.  We blame educators for the lack of morals, and empathy, responsibility and the understanding of consequences.   Our obsession with ourselves and our electronics have caused us to become complacent with the status quo and have allowed ourselves to believe that we don’t have to participate.

We need to put away Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Give up a day at the spa or the mall.  Close the laptop and put down the phones. We need to eat dinner together, and talk to each other.  We need to follow our children to bed, talk to them, pray with them. Teach them their worth and value.  We need to teach responsibility and consequences. We need to start with our spouses and children, they are starving for conversation and a moral compass. We need to teach our children what we ourselves have forgotten.  We need to find our compassion and replace the fear we have created of those who are trying to find a place at this enormous table we call America.  il_570xN.934295187_43m5

Try walking to your mailbox and talking to your neighbors.  Engage the people you come in contact with each day.  Listen, really listen to the checkout person whose job you will save by not going to the self checkout.  What is it they really are worried about?  What do they need?  Yield to the person entering the freeway, have patience with the older driver.  If we stop and listen, responding in love instead of fear and anger, we might find that kinder, gentler nation again under the anger, mudslinging, and trash of recent years.  Then, and only then, will we live into our Baptismal Covenant of loving our neighbors as ourselves and respecting the dignity of every human being.

 

 

The Pain of Assimilation

tapestry

Two years ago, my church began a journey of assimilating a congregation that began as a mission of our church many years before.  The congregation had always been a mission, it never did achieve self-sustaining status, a full-time rector, a paved parking lot.  It did however have a lot of people who were willing to do things for the community and a praise band.  Who still has a praise band?  Our rector, was careful to prepare our congregation by telling us how much these people hurt because their church was closing, how we should be kind and open and willing to accept them into the congregation.  Problem is, no one told them to be gentle and kind and loving to us.  They came, we opened our doors and our hearts and they moved in.

Some small group ministries have benefitted from the influx of a (relatively) younger congregation with more energy.  Social life has improved if you like parties and we acquired an additional outreach project that was popular at the former church.  We have a Youth Group and a Young Adult Group now,  and there is new blood on the Vestry, And yet, I cannot help but notice that despite these “improvements” the heart of the community is divided over something as simple as music.  The deepest hurt is the attendance and how it can fluxuate based on the music being sung.  We have a beautiful old organ and a wonderful choir filled with talented people, a hymnal filled with beautiful hymns and a music library to rival a much larger church.  On days when the choir sings, the pews are rather empty because our new brethren don’t want to hear the organ or the hymns, they want praise band music.  When the praise band plays, the pews are full, not because the preaching is better or the Bible is different, but because their praise band is playing and their music is being sung.

How sad it is that unless we are playing by their rules they will withhold their participation and stunt the building of community. It is us and them, our threads and yours and the tapestry that was us is unraveling with all the silent divisions. We the welcoming community are feeling less like the “welcomers” and more like usurpers. It is as if we have been pushed aside and relegated to the back seat. We are now the children’s table.  Someone said, change means that we can never go back, and I get that.  When you put two congregations together you will never have one or the other, it will always be a new creation.  What I don’t get is the lack of sensitivity that undermines our unity and the feeling of two churches where there should be one.  I don’t see the community coming together, growing closer and learning to adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies.  I see the tapestry that should be growing more colorful is growing threadbare and losing its vibrancy with each passing day.  What should have been a restoration work has not become a demolition project and I am sad for where it will all end.

I am my Mother’s keeper

I invited my mother to consider retirement villages in Southern California. She had lived in rural New York for most of her life and the cold and the isolation were wearing on an ageing soul. She hemmed and hawed and dragged her feet but she came and saw found a place and, after an avalanche of activity, she moved in with us. We knew it was going to happen and we prepared ourselves for a short-term stay until her residence opened up.

When we extended the invitation, the plan was to move her out because her house had sold and, within six months, she would move into a life care community. This was not to be. She rejected all but one and after two years they have finally found her a place.  Now we have come to the excuses: I can’t move “because I am on chemotherapy,” (they are a life care facility). “I’m trying to  get my papers in order,”, (they are all in color coordinated folders). “I need to go see all my doctors and get my records,” (cannot manage to get up on time to get to doctors during office hours). And two years later, I am seeing no light at the end of the tunnel.

My mother is not a pleasant woman. She is strongly opinionated, a judgmental person with radically different views from my own and my family. She has no tolerance for young boisterous children and my grandchildren visit often, one even lives with me. She sees the flaws in everyone but herself. The house must be quiet when she is “working” and the television is full volume when she is watching. She is on a “special diet” that requires cupboards full of special foods but rarely does it get consumed. She would rather opt for a portion of whatever we have prepared which allows her to comment on the amount of salt, grease and sugar that  may or may not be contained therein. “It’s all about convenience,” she says.

Caring for ungrateful aging parents is not what God intended. The Bible is full of admonitions that children should not anger their parents and parents should not anger their children. Parents should live in harmony with their children, both being served and serving. No one should be more or less than the other. Living with empathy and  compassion would make the arrangement livable. My mother does not see life that way. She is smartest, she is most knowledgeable, she is not responsible for the wrong that is done, it is always being done to her. Even “the Google” is against her. There is no joy in living with her or with her ideas.

1312821385-acc41398aa0a5842ff0aa3024deae6c6And yet, I am her keeper. I cook, clean, shop and wash-up and make her bed. I listen while she lectures on about this or that. I am not 100% successful but I try to remain quiet when I hear about all that is wrong with the way my children and I live our lives.  I do it not because she loves me, but because I am asked to love her. I do not do it because she cares for me, but because I am asked to care for her. To respect her as a child of God. I hope that when it is my turn to assume that role, I will be kinder, quieter, gentler and less demanding. I hope that it will be easier to see God within me. Perhaps I will even find my own place to stay.

What Really Matters

10205320188629905The other day, a woman gave me a paragraph to be included in an announcement that would serve to introduce her to a  community of women. It was well written and thoughtful and expressed her passion for working with a particular group of people, their rights and the causes they support. I was happy to publish it.  Several hours later, in the wake of the Charleston shootings, she asked me to change it to remove her words lest she be thought of as racist. The offending words? “women matter.” In an instant, this group she cared about no longer mattered because of the use of a word that might somehow link back to the tragedy in Charleston and would label her remarks as racist. For the record, there was nothing racist in her remarks at all.

WE ALL MATTER, the young, the old, the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, those to the right or the left of “normal”. My friend’s particular passion is that of the cause of women. Not only white women, but all women, the disenfranchised, the under empowered, the desperate, the abused, any of whom may appear privileged and yet suffer in silence. Other friends have other passions, some for those in prison, some for the aged, the ill, for children, for literacy, for education, for the homeless, for those who are autistic and for those in poverty stricken countries. They do not look at the color of the skin but work with compassion caring for all.

It saddens me that someone would think that she might appear racist by saying that women matter. All lives matter, it is in our Baptismal Covenant to “respect the dignity of all human beings.” So yes, Black lives matter, women’s lives matter, children’s lives matter, Indigenous peoples lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, Asian lives matter. It is not only about their lives but the quality of those lives that should matter. All peoples, no matter their origin or past, should be able to live in decent housing, make a living wage, have food that will nourish them without making them or the earth sick, be given competent health care, be able to worship (or not) as they are called, to be able to live without racial profiling and sleep in peace without fear of the police, or their neighbors.

The maintenance of boundaries defining people is what keeps us mired in the past. We can no longer be American, Israeli, Iranian, or African, black, white, brown, heterosexual, homosexual or any other faction you want to call out.  We are human. We must come together and look at it as “All Human Life Matters”. All Humanity, not just the chosen few or those whose tragedy has made the headlines, matter. There is no perfect solution, no perfect religion, no perfect government, no perfect being, no one size fits all for our planet. We must learn to forgive ourselves for and work with the imperfections we all carry and forge a better world focusing on our strengths. Each of us have unique gifts and talents and we all need to use them for social justice with compassion wherever we are able. We need to raise each other up and thereby raise ourselves up. We need to look deep within ourselves and face the fears that keep us from doing what we are called to do. We don’t need more slogans, we need more hands reaching out to help. I cannot believe that Mother Theresa or Pope Francis would say one life matters but the other does not. I know my God did not.

Confession Really is Good for the Soul

thD6E8FPUHThe other day I had the good fortune to make a personal confession. Confession is not new to me, nor is personal confession, but this time was different. Growing up Roman Catholic and going to parochial school confession was a weekly event. The nuns walked you to the church, you waited your turn and then entered the tiny dark closet and lied about how many times you disobeyed your parents or stole. It was a guilt ridden experience and the fact that any child would have to create a number of times they broke the commandments was terrifying. What if you got it wrong? Was it lying to make up a number? Suffice to say it was more torture than any actual sin an eight year old could muster.

When I left parochial school confession ended until in midlife, I joined the Episcopal Church and corporate confession became the “good enough” method of weekly confession. But corporate confession is not satisfying to the soul. It is not naming your sins to another human being and being told one on one that you are forgiven. After a while (a good long while) I was frustrated and the sins  of my youth, (real sins this time), were weighing on me in ways that were not always immediately obvious. It was a culmination of reading and spiritual direction that led me to seeking a personal confession with a confessor. Depression, anger misdirected, unhappy memories repeatedly resurfacing, all contributed to my seeking out a professional who would sit with me and listen to my sins and then tell me God had forgiven me.

In the Episcopal tradition, there is not always a confessional, you are often face to face with your confessor. They see you for who you are and what you are, they are present. They confess that they are sinners as you are, sharing in the fallibility of being human, it is very different from the dark box and the anonymous shadow waiting to pass judgment.  You are encouraged to prepare for confession perhaps reviewing and making note of your transgressions before hand. You can of course adlib but then you might forget, or balk and then the cathartic cleansing of years of burden would be only partial.  My confessor was a wonderful woman, a retired priest, who faced me with only love and assured me in advance that she would not remember what I had said and would never return to it unless it was my wish. She offered me counsel and absolution (forgiveness) and she suggested I read the 32 Psalm  (NRSV) as penance. It begins:

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

For my part, the experience of telling someone face to face what I had done in my life, my feelings of inadequacies, my shortcomings, all the ugly I had held onto for so many years, was cleansing. It released me from the anger of having to carry my own guilt and shame. It allowed me to feel loved and cherished by another human being and by God even if they knew the truth. It allowed me to forgive myself. Since that time, I have had less misdirected anger, I am more patient with others and with myself. I am more likely to forgive others and myself when we don’t live up to those inhuman expectations we have given ourselves.

So I recommend confession for the healing it brings to your mind and spirit. Not to be punished but to heal. To stop carrying the burden alone. To stop carrying it at all. To have the knowledge that once said aloud, the sin can no longer hurt you it is given to the air around you and the wind carries it dispersing it and allowing it to lessen. Find a confessor you can trust. Prepare for the time you will be together and enter into it knowing that you will be forgiven and restored. Acknowledging the sin before God allows you to trust Him to forgive as in Isaiah 43:25 (NRSV) He says:

I am He
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.

The Real Lesson in “Frozen”

elsa_familyHaving just finished watching “Frozen” for maybe the 25th time, I asked my 9 year old granddaughter what the message was in the movie that was so wildly popular. She said that it was ‘even if you are different, you don’t have to hide, that it is okay to be different.’ She is very wise, it is okay to be different. With a little bit of coaxing she also came up with ‘love conquers fear’ which is also right and very wise. Anna’s love conquers Elsa’s fear of being different and allows Elsa to control her gift. Admirable for a young girl to understand these lessons when all around her in the media is telling her to conform, to be like others. I am proud of my granddaughter and her ability to understand that media is powerful and can be a force for good as well as bad.

But I suspect that one of the most deeply troubling messages is that, as parents and grandparents, we pass our fears and prejudice onto our children even when we don’t mean to. Watch, as not more than 10 minutes in, Elsa’s parents lock her away in fear and insist she have no contact with her “normal” sister. They take the advice of the trolls to the extreme. The trolls, who are markedly different, never tell them to lock her away, they only say she needs to learn to control her gift. So instead of love and instruction, she is left alone for years, with no love, no contact, no apparent education that would help her to understand and control her “powers”. She is fed fear and isolation and as her power grows so does that fear and isolation. Even when confronted by her sister who loves her, she withdraws in fear causing ruin and destruction.

In his article, We Teach Our Children to Be Afraid of Fear – And That’s No Way to Handle It,  Don Fenn PhD, says that we do not allow our children to experience fear so they never learn to deal with it. Elsa is yanked away from a fearful situation and never learns to deal with her life she develops into an anxiety ridden woman who is unable to lead a normal life.  We never see her work to control herself.  She is not given the opportunity to learn how to control her gift and so she becomes neurotic as the film progresses. Our children learn so much more from what we do then from what we say. What a different story it would have been had the parents encouraged her, sought instruction, allowed her to love herself and allow those around her to love her. We can all learn from Elsa and her parents. But we can learn even more from her sister Anna, who through it all, never gave up, never feared, and always approached her with love.

We humans fear so much, spiders, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and each other. Despite what we say we a want for our children we often react in ways that teaches them the opposite. In our ignorance, we step on spiders while we tell them to respect the earth and their environment. We destroy our habitat and cause erosion, flooding and wildfires through our lack of understanding of the fragile earth we live on.  We pull them away from those not like ourselves, the homeless, those who are physically or mentally handicapped. We guard them from people of a different race, color, sexual orientation, religion. We breed fear through lack of education and understanding and love. We promote exclusion and isolation. Elsa’s reaction is no more violent than what happened in Ferguson, or in other cities and countries where misunderstanding and ignorance prevail. Fear brings destruction and anger. Love brings compassion and understanding. Are we to raise yet another generation of children who are fearful and emotionally stunted, lacking compassion and love? It is time to watch “Frozen” again and learn what not to do to our children. It is time to take our cue from Anna, the real heroine of the story and practice the love that conquers fear, love drives out fear, love that is stronger than fear.

Do you want to build a snowman?

Down on Grandpa’s Farm

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and she informed me that my Girls Friendly Group could not plant potato eyes from a store bought potato unless it was an organic potato. I was skeptical and yet it is true. Today those store bought potatoes are sprayed with chemicals to increase shelf life so they are toxic when they sprout. Why would you sell a product that is potentially toxic to the humans that eat it? Maybe I am late to the table on this one but it just seems counterproductive if you kill off your customer base.

When I was a child, my grandfather fed the neighborhood with his produce. He loved his soil and in the Bronx in the 50’s there were plenty of vacant lots to grow things in. He started in a crowded city using every vacant lot in a 10 block radius. He planted fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetables. He was a genius despite being illiterate. He could coax beauty from a rock. When we moved to the country, he purchased 8 acres and year after year he cleared the glacier boulders by hand from the land until he had cleared almost all of it, planting his gardens of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Having grown up with my grandfather, I was spoiled: beans were crisp and tender, tomatoes were juicy and ripe off the vine. When October came, we were sent with wagon loads of overflow to the neighbors, leaving bags and bags of vegetables for them to supplement their table with. Somehow. I doubt if many of them canned like my grandmother did, so who knows what happened to the acres of tomatoes, zucchini and pole beans that he labored so lovingly over and distributed with so much love.

My grandfather loved the seed catalogues, Burpee, Park and the Shumway companies filled our winter afternoons with color and the hope of new life.  We would mark the pictures and I would read the descriptions for him and fill out the order form.  Names like Big Boy and Sun King, Black Beauty would raise the excitement to fever pitch.He would have cried over the advent of GMO as much as he would have loved the durability and abundance it offers. He would have marveled at disease free plants and then he would have wept if he could not use the seeds he gathered to plant his next year’s crop. I think most of all he would have cried over the lack of flavor that the new variety of vegetables yield. He was a lover of food, he would have been disappointed by lack luster tomatoes and tough green beans. He would have been an heirloom man, an organic farmer – much as he was then.

So back to those potatoes, those GMO orbs that are poisoning the people who purchase them. Are we feeding more people than before by spraying potatoes with poison? Are people who are starving and in drought prone areas less hungry or are we feeding them these poisoned products to just reduce the surface population? I am convinced that the love and daily care my grandfather put into his garden produced more plentiful crop per acre than the GMO growers today, and he fed more people per acre than the GMO farmers who let their fields go fallow or destroy crops that might feed the hungry in order to make a profit. Perhaps we need a little less poison and a little more love in all we grow and the world will be a better place for it. For now, I will have to buy those organic potatoes and share the love, to show my girls that food does not come from a factory.