The Human Family Is Bigger Than Religion

Dear human family,

This past Sunday before church, a child in the pew behind me asked his mother why there was purple cloth over the cross. She said,

“Um, well that probably has something to do with the fact that it’s Lent.”

“What’s Lent?”

His mother and I both struggled with the proper words to explain Lent. Neither of us used Jesus language. We didn’t say that Lent is a somber period of time prior to Jesus being murdered and then resurrected three days later. We didn’t talk about Satan testing Jesus in the desert for 40 days. Instead, we explained that we cover crosses as a reminder to be introspective and thoughtful during the time before Easter. I offered that it’s a time to think about how we can make ourselves better people and the world a better place. Afterwards I thought about how, instead of filling this child’s head with jargon that he may remember but not understand, we sought to explain Lent in terms that anyone can understand – Christian or not, kid or adult, politician or constituent.  This child can grow up and be or become who or whatever he feels called to be, whether that happens to be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, Agnostic, or Atheist. The list goes on.

I realize Christians, especially Episcopalians, do things that sometimes appear silly, even to ourselves. We drape crosses in purple fabric. Swing incense. Smear ashes on our foreheads. Drink wine or grape juice and call it Jesus’ blood. Yet, these symbolic or theological rites that have been in practice for millennia have powerful meanings that carry great significance in our spiritual journeys. Yet, I argue, it isn’t our rites that make us Christian, but our hearts. And we all have hearts no matter our religious identities. Continue reading The Human Family Is Bigger Than Religion

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Child Bride

Underneath all the layers

A girl sits

To find a smile on her shoulder

The mirror tells her so

It does seem odd

Amid the haunted laughter of her mother

To see a smile there

My Struggle With Three Simple Words

How are you?

Just three words.

Just three words silence my voice but incubate my thoughts.

The responses I wish to deliver get caught in my throat as I open my mouth to speak; I gag wordlessly without any outward signs of panic; I feel a glass wall erect itself to support and contain my stoicism while I suffocate. The words I want to use expand in my chest like air being pushed into an empty balloon, threatening to leak out of my mouth in a jumble of hot air and exhaustion.

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Usually I manage to push aside the wordlump in my throat so I can still breathe and respond in a socially acceptable way. I say polite things, or I say I’m not ok and try to change the subject. Or I stand there awkwardly, ashamed and lime-lighted, drowning in my reality until I realize someone is waiting for my next move. Continue reading My Struggle With Three Simple Words

Accessing Welfare Is Easy

Just fill out the forms, submit them, and wait for the phone to ring, right?

Some of you probably know late last year I began the journey to join the throngs of people who subsist off Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Truly, I tell you, it was such an easy thing to recognize and claim I could no longer work.

Not.

I got so excited when I thought about the idea of living on an average of SSDI $1,022.29 per month, or SSI $561.60 per month. Actually, less than that, since “The amount you receive each month will be based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. It is not based on how severe your disability is or how much income you have.

Not. Could you do it?

Why have I spent the last two years using every ounce of energy I have to try to earn a living?  Because the last thing I wanted to do was admit that I was too sick to function like the normal, healthy human being I knew I would always be. Because I was raised to work hard, and remember, there are people out there who have it worse than I do. But I learned those things when the biggest challenge in my life was convincing my soccer coach to let me play the whole match without subbing out. I was the super-involved kid in high school: on the soccer team, track team, in band and drama, and a straight-A student who graduated 10th or 11th in my class. I could do anything and everything and that’s the way the world worked for everyone else too, if they would just approach life with all the vigor and energy I had rattling in my pockets.

That was then. It’s different now. A diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis flipped me over and shook the spare change out of my pockets. Where I used to sleep through North Carolina hurricanes that hurled tree branches and rain pellets onto the roof of my house, I now rarely find REM sleep even in the most relaxed spaces. Fatigue affects my mental and physical functions, sometimes causing me to lose the word I was about to say in the middle of a sentence. My depth perception is off, causing me to hit my head on clothes racks and slam into door frames with my hip.  I now focus on the basic needs to function and survive, which involves a much different skill-set than my original dream of saving the world as a professional soccer player and community garden coordinator. Others my age are focused on getting a promotion at work, losing weight, starting a family, buying a house, and finding a good group of friends to grow old with.   Continue reading Accessing Welfare Is Easy

I Might As Well Try This Jesus Guy

We’re now in the season of Lent. For my friends curious about the oddities of Episcopalians and many other Christians, Lent is the period of forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the time Jesus spent fasting in the Judaean Desert, during which Satan tested him. Many Christians use this symbolic period of time each year, which begins on Ash Wednesday (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a powerful reminder that we are all family), to give up or take on a practice that heightens spiritual introspection.

Lent isn’t just what precedes Easter; Easter couldn’t happen without Lent – the two events really go hand in hand. My interpretation is that Jesus’ time in the desert led to his most powerful, socially unacceptable actions – one of the reasons I love the guy so much. His time in solitude and introspection opened him in new ways to be a bold face of God, even – and especially – in situations that made others extremely uncomfortable and angry. He healed those who didn’t deserve to be healed, said things in synagogues that bothered people enough to drive him out of town, engaged in activities that weren’t appropriate for the Sabbath, and loved those who weren’t loved by anyone. And it was really tough on him; he spent a lot of time in the days leading up to his crucifixion in solitude and prayer.  He did radical things in the name of God which led to his punishment of crucifixion.

I have often thought about how, as Episcopalians, we go through the same calendar – rituals and roller coasters of pain, hope, fear, miracles, grief, joy, death, and resurrection – every year.  I like having a calendar, because no matter where I am in life I can go to an Episcopal service and find the familiar; and with the comfort of a liturgy that repeats itself in cycles I can come back to the same passages year after year and review my ‘christian growth chart.’   Continue reading I Might As Well Try This Jesus Guy

I Didn’t Want to Write Tonight

I didn’t mean to write this when I sat down in polite fury to compose a short Facebook post. I hardly ever mean to write half of what I write.

Some days the thoughts in my head are too overwhelming to unpack. These are the scary, lonely, transformative days that I just want someone I trust and love to hold me silently while my mind takes a trip through philosophy and time.

Silently. Carefully. Lovingly.

The times my thoughts are heaviest usually come after experiences and conversations with people I don’t know or haven’t seen in a while. I’m sensitive to even the most mundane interactions – and because my brain does not operate like a filing cabinet, my thoughts become disjointed and scattered like a portkey-gone-wrong in Harry Potter.  My brain operates like any flat surface in my home: there are piles of mail and bills and to-do lists and bits of fabric and things that lose their way in transit from kitchen to bedroom.

Perhaps you can relate: I often hesitate to unpack my suitcase after returning from a week away from home, scared of making sense of the objects and memories I’ve brought back in the form of dirty clothes, airplane napkins, postcards, and hotel toiletries; and scared of creating the piles of items I will have to eventually return to their proper homes in my apartment. Hours after actually unpacking – in the middle of going through some random shoe box I found hidden under my bed – I realize in addition to unpacking I’ve also washed all the laundry, done all the dishes, and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen.

Some days the thoughts in my head are too overwhelming to unpack, until I can find a place to begin to make sense of what holds me hostage in the hallways of my brain. Continue reading I Didn’t Want to Write Tonight