Limping Along on Faith
We pulled our little travel trailer from storage and headed out for a four-week road trip.
After 10 months of no travel, we embarked on an approximately 3,000-mile road trip with planned stops throughout the southeast. Preparation required some seemingly minor maintenance and repair for both the trailer and our towing vehicle.
What About Easter?
NOTE: I wrote What About Easter? during Easter week some three months ago, but did not post it here. I did post it on a local blog, The Tyler Loop Babble. Why did I not post it here on my personal blog? What About ‘What About Easter?’ coming soon!
It’s Palm Sunday and much of the world is gearing up for Holy Week and various remembrances – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and the celebratory Easter Sunday morning.
For those like me, and there are many, who have experienced or are in the midst of a spiritual shift away from the D’s & D’s – the dos and don’ts, the dogma and doctrine – of evangelical or traditional Christianity for that matter, Easter is a conundrum. What do we do with Easter? After decades of hearing, sincerely believing, and even teaching the Jesus story, we question, we doubt, we just can’t buy into the whole story 100% anymore. It’s like a suit of clothes that no longer fits, or maybe, new wine, bulging, ripping at the seams of old wineskins. Still the question – What about Easter?
I start with Jesus. I believe, at the very least, Jesus was a man of God, called to preach, teach, and live a life exemplifying justice, mercy, and humility. According to Micah 6:8, that is just what the Lord requires of man. Jesus called out the unjust and oppressive practices of the tax collectors, money changers, and civic powers. He lambasted the legalism and ritualistic show and sham of the church hierarchy. He demonstrated care, compassion, dignity, and respect for lepers, children, the ill and infirm, beggars, prostitutes, and all sorts of marginalized folks. He lived humbly as an itinerant preacher with no property of his own and dependent upon the generosity of others for sustenance and shelter.
Jesus consistently and passionately bucked the status quo riling both civic and religious leaders. Feeling a threat to their authority and fearful of a populous revolt given Jesus’s growing influence with the people, they arrested him under trumped up charges, carried out a sham trial, convicted, and crucified him. They killed the man – a good man, a godly man, possibly the anointed son of God. Jesus was crucified because of pride, greed, and fear – the sins of the people of that day and particularly those in authority. Has our manner of sin really changed much over the centuries? They had power, position, wealth, exclusivity, and they wanted to keep it that way. Fearful of losing it all, they killed Jesus, period. Not going to wade into the theological weeds of sacrificial atonement here. That’s good Friday, on to Easter morning!
What happened that long-ago Sunday morning may be the prime example of God’s working in mysterious ways. Not to be flippant, but truly only God knows. I know I don’t know! I believe that’s a good thing, maybe one of a multitude of things that keep me mindful and in awe of the mystery of the Divine and tethered to him/her/it through faith. After all, if one is so certain one knows, there is no need for faith.
Whether one chooses to believe in Jesus’s physical resurrection or not is up to each individual. No need to get caught on the theological sticky wicket of resurrection. These days my takeaway from Easter morning is a renewed spirit. Regardless of what happened to Jesus’s body or whether his disciples encountered him in the flesh, as a ghost, in visions, or hallucinations after his death, we know what they did. They went from being grieved, dejected, and fearful to being excited, energized, bold, and committed in continuing to spread the message and do the work of justice, mercy, and humility that Jesus had begun. I can buy into the disciples having an emotional and/or spiritual experience resulting in a renewed spirit and greater focus and commitment to a cause – been there and done that, maybe you have as well. No doubt, ultimately, the disciples walked away from Easter morning with some form of spiritual renewal.
What about Easter? For my part I will remember the life and work of Jesus, grieve his death and the shameful manner in which it occurred at the hands of sinful men, and celebrate the hope of a renewed spirit. A renewed spirit that will lead and sustain in being and doing all that God, by whatever name, requires – to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. That takes care of the Easter conundrum for me.
Pull up, Level off!
I lay in bed this morning way too early to be awake, unable to go back to sleep, and taking a nosedive into a shit storm of shame and fear – to use Brene’Brown’s vernacular. Self-talk was descending, once again, into Why did you. . . why didn’t you. . . you should have known. . what’s the point? During all that, I heard, “Pull up, level off!” We know the scene. The plane is going down and someone in the cockpit yells “pull up, level off.” Disaster is averted, and all ends well. Well, at least the plane lands and all appear physically intact.
The storm of shame and fear has been ongoing for several days alternating from tornadic intensity to relative calm. I’ve done the work — several years of it in fact many years ago — addressing the obvious anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as well as the lurking, menacing feelings of shame, fear, anger, not good enough, etc. Yet, in some moments of conflict, personal fallibility, and disappointment, I find myself pommeled by the storm, again. I suspect all of us humans experience some levels of shame and fear from time to time, and I wonder if those of us with a long history of shame, fear, anger – all that stuff we don’t like to acknowledge or talk about – and subsequent mental health issues are more prone to the storms. That’s a hard reality for me.
At any rate, I do know the storm drill, and it does require pulling up and leveling off. Although, I had never thought of it in those terms. Pull up, resist and reverse the downward spiral of self-talk. Level off with some truths of my humanity such as I am human. I am both capable and fallible, I am enough and lacking at times. I am loved and loving. I am courageous and fearful. I am a both/and. Fly out of the storm.
For me, flying out is usually a bumpy, doable ride often made easier by sharing with someone I trust who will listen with empathy, compassion, and perhaps shared vulnerability. Heaven help us if we truly are alone in our experiences of the shame, fear, anger storms. Judgement and catastrophizing are not helpful – I’ve already done enough of that myself. Guidance for any next steps may be helpful.
As I said, I have done lots of work gaining insights into my shame, fear, anger, etc. Unfortunately, insights don’t necessarily eliminate the occasional storms. In this current storm I have been drawn to the image of a six-year-old little girl alone outside hiding, crying, trembling, and clinging to the corner of the school building.
I say image because I experience this memory as if I am above it, watching it unfold. It was in the spring and our first-grade classes were dismissed at noon for Roundup Day – an afternoon for next year’s first graders to come register for school. I did not know what I was supposed to do to get home. The usual routine, walking home with my older sister or Mama picking us up, was not possible. My sister was still in class, and Mama was not there. I became a small speck on the yellow brick wall.
Someone found me and my teacher just hugged me. Surely, she said some things, but the scene I watch is silent. She took me back to the classroom, brought me a lunch tray, and let me show the rising first-graders around when they began to arrive. When Mama came to pick us up, my teacher told her what had happened. Again, from above I watch as Mama gives me a finger jabbing “tongue lashing” right there in the school breezeway in front of my sister, my teacher, and anyone else that was passing by. Mama grabbed my arm and walked-dragged me to the car continuing the scolding, finally with sound, “You should have known. . .” I still have no idea what I should have known.
As the current shame and fear storm has punched the “play” button on this memory, perhaps for the first time ever, I have connected viscerally, with the fear and shame felt as a child so long ago. Even though I lived in the shadows of those feelings for decades, it is painful to imagine the impact of these feelings on that little soul.
Now for the bumpy, but doable, ride flying out of the storm. I am human. I am enough. I make mistakes. I can and will own my mistakes. Mistakes do not define who I am. I am not a mistake.
It’s morning on the bayou. The porch is cool and pleasant even though the temperature is already 79 degrees at 8 A.M. I suspect the “cool” is attributed to the fans. Fans on the bayou in late Spring serve two purposes – cooling and mosquito repellant!
There is, however, a bit of a breeze this morning. I hear it and see it as the leaves rustle, and the otherwise glassy bayou surface occasionally convulses and shutters. The bayou is up, filled with murky water from the recent rains and runoff, and flowing at a good clip. The spring rains came late and lasted longer this year – through May and into June. I spent several hours yesterday mowing. I have enjoyed mowing since I was a kid. For me, repeatedly making the square, focusing on the line between mown and not-mown grass is calming – almost sedating. I must say it is a bit easier now with the riding lawn tractor than it was back then with the simple, little 22-inch push mower. I see images of myself bent at the hip, focused, and determined to move the mower forward.
The receding water level has left areas, usually dust dry, soggy and squishy – ideal for getting stuck. I am extra cautious remembering last year when I got “too close,” and the lawn tractor slipped leaving me stranded on the muddy bayou bank. The 4Runner and a long, heavy chain saved the day.
When I first came out this morning the birds were in full flight and voice darting here and there to a cacophony of birdsong – tweets, warbles, chirps, screeches, and caws. Not so much now! Perhaps the wind has stilled their flight and voices – yielding to a higher power. Yielding to a higher power – that seems to be easier here on the bayou while immersed in silence, solitude, and the ordained simple, exhausting tasks of “chopping wood and carrying water,” which is according to Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God, finding God, the Holy, in the ordinary tasks of our days.
I am often drawn to the “monkish” life feeling immense contentment, peace, and joy in silence, solitude, and simple work while observing the awe and wonder of the beauty, complexity, simplicity, and horror of our natural world. I have sometimes felt the “monkish” life” to be a calling. Yet I question – calling or escape? I suppose there is a balance to be had.
Being here on the bayou, this “monkish” life, feels like a return to all that is true and real in life – me, the presence of God, work, and rest. Wow! Where did that come from? Though drawn to the silence and solitude, I know that even as an introvert I am a social being. I enjoy personal interaction with others just not a whole lot of folks at one time and not all the time.
In the natural setting of the bayou, it is not difficult to discern, feel, and commune with God – to practice His presence. But out there in the world, it is not as easy. I get caught up in the activity, the business, the people. In practicing the presence of God in the world I seek to experience a greater awareness of God’s presence in people, all people – created in His image – as I live, work, and rest with and among them.
That’s me, and perhaps humankind as well – a paradox, a jumble of contradictory qualities and traits. I suppose living with and within my contradictions while seeking a sustainable, functional balance that allows me to grow and mature into all I am and was created to be is the stuff of life and the spiritual journey. Whether on the bayou or in the world may I live in the realm of all that is true and real for me: me, the presence of God, work, and rest.
These words from Thomas Merton”s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, some of my reading on the porch, seem to be germane to my musings:
Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs. A struggle against alienation. True solitude is deeply aware of the world’s needs. It does not hold the world at arm’s length.—-Thomas Merton
Questions and Questioning: The Lord’s Prayer?
I have read, memorized, and recited Matthew 6: 9 – 13, “The Lord’s Prayer” since I was a kid in Vacation Bible School and never questioned its content, context, or origins. I can still recite it, but no longer can I say that I do not have questions.
The questions started a couple of years ago, but until now I have only mulled over, sat on, and questioned my questioning. Since I can’t seem to stop chewing on the questions, I suppose it’s time to spit them out!
The first question surfaced around the phrase “. . . lead us not into temptation. . .” What? If we are asking God to NOT lead us into temptation, are we to logically conclude that God would indeed lead us into temptation? There is something unsettling about imagining a father, heavenly or otherwise, who would lead his children into temptation.
That leads to the second and third questions regarding the phrase “Our Father in heaven…” “Our Father. . .” – what about the feminine, our Mother God? Have we forgotten Genesis 11:27 and being told that God created them, male and female, “in his own image?” I interpret that as God being equally male and female. Remember Deuteronomy 32:18, “you forgot the God who gave you birth” – mothers give birth. What about Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” It seems to me that God is as much feminine as masculine! We’ve missed Her way too long, and in my opinion, we have suffered for it.
Moving on! What’s with “in heaven”? God isn’t just out there somewhere way over yonder! God is right here among us. Whether I ascend to heaven, make my bed in Sheol, or paddle around in the uttermost parts of the sea, God is present (Psalm 139: 7-10). Christ admonishes the Pharisees to “Behold” — pay attention for this is important — and then informs them that the kingdom of God is in their midst (Luke 17: 21). I would assume then that God is in our midst for surely God inhabits her kingdom.
As I have chewed on these questions, my prayer to my Lord has evolved:
Father God, Mother God,
In the heavens and on earth among us,
Hallowed – holy, sacred, majestic – is your name.
May your kingdom in heaven and on earth be nurtured and flourish
As we seek to know and do your will.
Give us this day our daily bread,
As we give gratitude and praise for your provision and sustenance.
We ask forgiveness for our sins,
Things done and things not done,
Words spoken and words not spoken.
Through the grace of your forgiveness,
May we forgive those who have sinned against us
Guide us in your will and righteous ways.
Guard us from temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Yes, I know there is a lot of stuff – opinion, interpretation, research – out there regarding “The Lord’s Prayer” and its content, context, and origins. All of which is probably interesting and thought provoking! I’ve read a good bit of it. However, for my purposes in this writing, it is irrelevant. Mine is not a scholarly discourse, I write simply expressing my knowing as I continue my journey as a pilgrim, seeker, heretic.
“Oh, no!” Will We Move Forward?
My first thought upon seeing the actual buildings of our new high school while still under construction in the spring of 2019 was, Oh, no! This was not the emphatic Oh, no! in anticipation of stopping an action. This was the mystified Oh, no! accompanied by incredulity and a sense of sorrow and grief. I had seen aerial architectural renditions of the building months ago during the community debate over changing the name of the school and thought only, Wow! What an impressive building! Admittedly, I was disappointed on August 16, 2018, when the local school board failed to act on the name change proposal. Why was I not impressed with the actual structure now?
What I saw now was an impressive building, but one somehow tainted. The architectural focal points of the structure are reminiscent of antebellum plantation homes constructed in the American South prior to the Civil War. The neoclassical, antebellum “look” is clearly apparent in the grand pillared front entrance as well as the columned porticos adorning the four wings of the main building. Why was my Oh, no! accompanied by such a wave of incredulity and sorrow? This grand, new building conjuring up images of southern plantation life will continue to carry the name Robert E. Lee High School. The Robert E. Lee name is questionable enough in our current times. The name coupled with the architectural style of the building simply compounds the question. Have the taxpayers of Tyler ISD spent $94,584,548, yes, approximately $95 million dollars, on what could arguably be a memorial to the antebellum South and General Robert E. Lee?
The greatest sorrow is not that our new Robert E. Lee High School invokes the most tragic portions of our national history – institutional slavery of African Americans and its many abuses. Not that we should forget that time in our history, indeed we need to remember, repent – “turn from (our racist) ways” – and seek reconciliation. The greatest sorrow regards our students. The current student demographic for Robert E. Lee High School is approximately 28% African American, 27% Hispanic, and 38% White. These students will be expected to attend, learn, and thrive as they walk through the doors and roam the corridors of an institution that seemingly memorializes the horrors, hostility, and hate of their ancestral histories.
Tyler, even as a small city in conservative East Texas, does not exist in isolation, and the national upheaval over systemic racism predicated by George Floyd’s senseless murder is felt here as well. With this has come revitalized calls to change the name of our Robert E. Lee High School, the largest high school in the nation to still carry that name. At this time in our nation’s history there is so much racial hurt and strife, so much need to listen, to support, and seek to understand (as much as possible for us white folks) our African American friends, neighbors, and family members, so much need for racial reconciliation.
Tyler is known for its “quiet racism.” However, Robert E. Lee High School has been the flash point of some not so quiet and contentious community and legal racial wrangling from its opening in 1958 as an all-white school, to its court ordered integration in 1970, to the fallout surrounding its “Rebel” mascot and Confederate symbols that was finally mitigated through court and Texas Education Agency intervention in 1972. The mascot and symbols were changed; however, in opposition to urgings from black parents and students the local board refused to change the name just as they did recently in 2018.
And, here we are again! I can think of no better action to exemplify our desire for racial reconciliation than to remove the Robert E. Lee name from our school. Hopefully, this time our community with open minds, eyes, ears, and hearts will be able to move forward along “the arc of the moral universe (as) it bends toward justice” and human compassion.
“Black Boy” . . . in America
I was finishing Richard Wright’s 1945 groundbreaking memoir, Black Boy, when the news broke of George Floyd’s death. I was horrified, incredulous even as I watched the appalling video. How could and why would anyone keep an unarmed, handcuffed (behind his back) man pinned to the ground with a knee on his throat even as he pleaded that he could not breathe and was in pain? I don’t know that there is any acceptable answer. The events of the day and Richard Wright’s story of growing up black in the Jim Crow South set me to wondering Have we made any meaningful progress in the past 100 years?
In Wright’s story he states that “. . .a sense of the two races had been born in me with a sharp concreteness that would never die until I died.” As post World War I racial conflict flared in the South, he recognizes that “A dread of white people now came to live permanently in my feelings and imagination.” As a ten-year old Wright listened to stories of violence against blacks and reports “Nothing challenged the totality of my personality so much as this pressure of hate and threat that stemmed from the invisible whites.” Wright’s story offers some sense of what it was, perhaps still is, like growing up a “black boy” in America. Admittedly as a white woman, I could never fully understand or appreciate his feelings or life experiences.
On the surface we have made some positive strides toward racial equality and equity. We no longer see the signs at water fountains, restrooms, or business establishments designating which is accessible for “White” or “Colored.” Our schools are integrated and open to all races, if not in reality at least in theory and public policy. Yet there remains an undercurrent of racial segregation and inequality in the most vital of our societal structures – such as our neighborhoods, our places of worship, our educational and job opportunities. We see disproportionate amounts of poverty and violence among African Americans. Many hearts and minds have been opened and awakened to the racial disparities in our society and are compelled to speak out and work for change in these vital areas that impact the future and well-being of all our people, our society, and our nation.
Even so racial prejudice, both explicit and implicit, and violence targeting African Americans has always and tragically continues to be alive and well in our society. From the “terror lynchings” of the Civil War, post-Civil War, and Jim Crow eras to the murders of Emmett Till, James Byrd, and most recently Aubrey Ahmad private citizens have committed acts of violence against African Americans for no apparent reason other than racial hatred. Most recently, we have seen seemingly senseless deaths of African American men at the hands of our police – those who have pledged to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.” We all remember Michael Brown and Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray of Baltimore, and now George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It would seem that regardless of our positive strivings, racism – racial strife, hatred, and violence – continues among us. I am reminded of Wright’s words:
“… both of us, the white boys and the black boys, began to play our traditional racial roles as though we had been born to them, as though it was in our blood, as though we were being guided by instinct. All the frightful descriptions we had heard about each other, all the violent expressions of hate and hostility that had seeped into us from our surroundings, came now to the surface to guide our actions.”
Let’s listen more and better. Let’s hear the words of Richard Wright and our African American neighbors. Let’s strive to understand, appreciate, and affirm one another. Let’s take action and make more meaningful progress in breaking the bonds of our “traditional racial roles” and crumble the “sharp concrete” between races.
Perhaps this can best be done by expanding on and living out a couple of Wright’s insights. In spite of the “place” the white South had assigned him, he states emphatically that “It had never occurred to me that I was in any way an inferior being,” and that no word he had ever heard “made me really doubt the worth of my own humanity.” God help us to claim and boldly live out our belief that all men are created equal and by the mere fact of their humanity all men are worthy.
And, let’s follow Wright’s lead and keep hope alive in us “by imagining a place where everything was(is) possible.”