Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Life Lesson Revisited



What are some things you find yourself having to relearn? I mean, life lessons you know – but forget – that keep coming back to refresh your memory? 

Lessons like:
  • The only one I can control is myself;
  • Let it go (tho’ I kind of wish Disney hadn’t create a brainworm out of it);
  • In everything, I have a choice as to how I’ll respond;
  • I really wouldn’t want everyone to be like me …
There are tons of others, but since this was just a lead-in for my lesson of the week (or maybe month) I’ll stop there.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my experience wearing a hijab on World Hijab Day – tho’ I called it International Hijab Day. I keep wanting to write “an hijab,” but I only ever find “a hijab” so I try to conform. Anyway, while I’ll never know how many people silently approved or disapproved, I do know that one person complained. Having received thanks and appreciation, I can live with this.

Still I think about it. I also wonder about the ones didn’t voice their confusion or displeasure. I’m well aware that when some people are offended they don’t want to play anymore; they take their marbles and go home. Adults can do this too, though they may be more P.A. about it. And in my line of work, I need to at least consider when this might happen and who might’ve left.

Anyway, to an epiphany. At the church’s Wednesday evening community dinner, I walked with my plate of food to a table where two people were sitting. “Is there room for one more?” I asked. The response was similar to the one Alice received when she tried to join the Hare, Hatter, and Dormouse at their tea party (though to be fair, the response I received was more polite).

Nothing against the people who were saving seats for family and friends, but it got me thinking. (A pastor doesn’t hear this kind of comment often.) I went to another table, had plenty of conversation, and enjoyed my dinner. But the gears in my mind continued.

I’m aware that I’m “different” in a number of ways. Not just my hijab-wearing, blogging, or outspokenness. Not just my green, progressive theology. There’s also the blue enamelware dishes I’ve taken to using at church. I’ve taken issue with one-time-use plastics for decades but I only started using these a few months ago, when I told myself to either get over it or walk the walk.

Maybe it’s that my antennae are more attuned for conflict just now, but I found myself thinking, someone could object to this as well. It sounds really silly to me. But during those moments when I remember the fourth point above, I concede that most people are not like me (which is good) and that they might sincerely believe something that I think is silly.

In that moment I remembered that when people want to have a problem, when they’re predisposed toward conflict, or when they’ve already made up their minds not about an issue or about me, there is nothing on God’s green earth that I can do about it (which actually references the first point above, and gives me another opportunity to practice the second and third. All in all, an excellent learning opportunity.)

In closing, I’ll share something I learned at a workshop when I was a teacher:
“Mistakes are great learning opportunities.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ordinary Time?


You probably think the word “ordinary” means plain or unremarkable, yet when it comes to the liturgical season of “ordinary time” it actually means orderly and numbered. Ordinary Time = standard, counted time. Ordinary time is the longest liturgical season in the Church. Since other seasons begin or end with movable feasts, Ordinary time can vary in length but it’s usually about 33 weeks. The weeks are numbered, as in: the 1st Sunday of Ordinary Time, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc. We are in Ordinary Time now until March 1st, when Lent begins (this year.) 

And yet, reflecting on the world around us, if these are ordinary times, it could be easy to fall into the despair Longfellow wrote of: “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said: ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

In 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 18-year-old son Charley secretly left home to enlist in the Union Army. Within months of his enlistment, Charley fell ill with Typhoid fever and was sent home to Massachusetts for some months before rejoining his unit in August.

On December 1, his father received word that Charley had been severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church, Virginia. (Anyone who ever watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War may remember how ghastly any injury could be with the weapons of the day and available medical care.)[1]  On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow wrote the poem (below) hoping to capture the dissonance in his own heart and the world around him.

I don’t suppose any of you need me to draw a picture of why I’d bring this up. Our nation and our world are awash in a maelstrom of parochialism. xenophobia, homophobia, jingoism, bigotry, intolerance, hatred… (I don’t use the word “racism” since to my mind it’s a misnomer. We are all the same race, all human.) My heart cries out, “This isn’t be ‘ordinary’” but my heart seems to be wrong – for now.

In a world of injustice and violence that seems even now to mock the truth of hope, we can stress. We can despair. And like that maelstrom of above (I don’t believe I’ve ever actually used that word before in writing) it can become an unending whirlpool, circling and circling but never leading to a better place.

Yet I will live in hope. I choose to trust that if you and I (and so many others that care) will lead lives of compassion and justice, if we allow ourselves to be used by God to effect good, then hatred will not have the last word.

Longfellow’s poem is one of internal and external experience. Its sensory repetition as he notes the sounds of bells – and cannon – leaves him questioning, then coming back to hope. “God is not dead, nor doth he (sic) sleep.”

Hope is not a given; it’s a choice to trust. Choose it. Then act in it.

Christmas Bells (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

[1] Charley would eventually recover, but his military service was at an end.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Revisiting Francis Asbury, A Pleasant Recollection

Francis Asbury Statue, Washington, D.C.

Yesterday I went to The Heritage, a local senior apartment complex, to present to a group about my Wesley Pilgrimage experience last summer.(1) As I shared stories, I remembered how much I'd enjoyed Fred Day ’s presentation on Francis Asbury. (Alfred T. Day III is General Secretary of The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History). Fred is clearly a man who is passionate about his work and his presentation was a delightful experience.

Thank you, Fred.
I grew up in Grove Church one of the ones Francis Asbury founded during his years of saddle-bag ministry, but I didn’t know much about him. This morning I went back to look at the stories Fred shared that day to remind myself about Asbury’s accomplishments.

  • He had none of the attributes we’d expect to find in a transformational leader, yet two years after his spiritual awakening (at age 15), he began preaching. At age 26, he heard John Wesley’s call for preachers to travel to the colonies and volunteered.
  • His mission was "To live to God and bring others to do so." With discipline, piety, and perseverance, he did the work needed to continue the Wesleys' vision, starting societies all over what’s now the eastern U.S. Most years, he visited each state at least yearly. He was more widely known that anyone.2
  • Under his leadership, American Methodism grew – from a few hundred when he arrived at the colonies in 1771 to more than 200,000 at his death 45 years later. 
  • He traveled more than 200,000 by horseback and crossed the Allegheny mountains 60 times during those years.
  • He lived simply and ate sparingly, practicing voluntary poverty and giving away what money he received. 
  • He liked to laugh but chided himself for too much levity. 
  • He knew popular culture. George Washington wanted to meet him, not because Asbury was so well known, but because he knew everyone and what has happening. 
  • Asbury stayed when others left. 

This last one gets me. In my teen years I got a reputation for not finishing what I started. I realized years later that this was mostly craft projects. (Crafts and I are incompatible.) Yet the ability to see things through has become the exception rather than the norm. And before you suggest that it was easier for Asbury , remember that he was a British preacher in the colonies in the 1770s when Brits were so unwelcome that many fled for their lives. Asbury stayed.

I suspect there’s a message in that for us. How often do I give up too soon? And is my “too soon” a good marker? I need to think about this some more. Maybe you do too. 

Of course, sometimes leaving is the right choice. I know I have waited longer than I should have more than once.

In the end, I guess we need to pay attention (I know, big surprise) ask, and listen for God’s guidance through conversation with people we trust and any number of other ways.

_____
1 For those of you new to this blog, last summer I traveled to England to participate in a 10-day immersion into the experiences of the early Methodist movement. You can read about it here.

2 I got this bit from: John Wigger, "Francis Asbury, Pioneer of Methodism; America's most explosive church movement," Christian History, Issue 114, christianhistoryinstitute.org/uploaded/564154452a9e41.32228711.pdf

Saturday, February 4, 2017

International Hijab Day – What I Learned


February 1 is Change Your Password Day (which I didn’t) and International Face & Body Art Day (Really?!). It’s also International Hijab Day, which I only learned the day before thanks to ESTHER, our local religion/justice group. Right away I was taken with the idea of wrapping, not because of some secret wish to hide – though my hair desperately needs a trim – or pretend to be someone other than myself.

No, what drew me was the chance both to:
  • Support my sisters’ in faith right to wear whatever seems best to them as they live out their understanding of who they are and whose they are (G-d’s); and
  • Practice this solidarity in the eyes of the church and community I serve, perhaps ruffling a few feathers but also trying, pastorally, to live out Jesus’ example of justice for all G-d’s children.
So without much thought or prayer I committed myself. I have an abundance of scarves so that part was easy. But what does one wear with a hijab? I went simple – gray slacks, black top. I researched wrapping online before going to bed. The young woman on the first video suggested pins. But trying that the next morning, I discovered that while my pinning didn’t hold, it did succeed in snagging my pashmina. (Glad I chose an older one.) No pins.

In the end, I didn’t think it looked terrible though a hijabi might have had to suppress laugher.

But… what did I learn?
  1. Most of the women I’ve seen in hijabs are younger than me. For me to wrap in front of the bathroom mirror was an act of humility. My hair’s been a vanity. I have a lot and it’s been slow to gray. But my face is looking more like my mother’s and grandmother’s all the time. The woman in the mirror looked well on her way to being jowly. 
  2. Driving to work, I thought, “People can see me. What’re they thinking? Do they notice me?” This’s never occurred to me on my drive to work before. Some years ago I took a class at Luther Seminary on Whiteness. I learned from some women of color about putting on one’s “game face” before going out into the world. As a white person, I’ve never had to do this. Never even thought of it!
  3. I could hear people over the phone just fine, but putting on my reading glasses was a bit of a challenge.
  4. People didn’t ask! Since I’d decided only the day before, I hadn’t prepared anyone for what I was doing. No one said a word until Markus – lead pastor – did a double-take during a meeting and asked. He was most concerned with why I’d wear a symbol of another religion and how people would interpret that, which leads me to #5.
  5. I wasn’t ready to articulate my reasons for doing this. When faced with a skeptical asker I found my explanation flimsy and unconvincing.
I knew why I was doing it and I believed I had good reasons. Yet without an awareness that I need to be proactive in explaining my wackier decisions or being ready to express my convictions, I can do people a disservice; I can leave them uncertain.

True, some catch on easily. One young man thanked me for wrapping, saying that his family’s been facing persecution lately because his step-father is Muslim. But others might just be silently confused which could impact their willingness to talk to me about other things, and thereby my ability to guide them.

To end, would I do it again? Yes, I might even invite others to join me next year. But I will hope to remember that the Boy Scouts’ motto – “Be Prepared” – is a good lesson for all of us.

I chose not to include a verse from 1 Corinthians 11 because while Paul does talk about women (and men) covering their heads, he also say just before that, "Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man..." and I could not validate that.