Posts Tagged ‘Interdependence’

Are We Bound By a System?

Bound

In Mark 6:14-29, we learn that Herod is haunted by thoughts of John the Baptist because he ordered John’s beheading despite himself. Are the forces that led to Herod making this choice that different from forces still at work in our world today?

Lectionary Thoughts for July 12, 2015
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Quotations here are from the NRSV)

“The king was deeply grieved” by his daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist (v 26) because “he liked to listen to him” (v 20). Up until this point he had protected John the Baptist from his wife’s grudge against him (vs 19-20).

What changed in this incident that he would retract his favor from a man he feared, revered, protected, and liked listening to (v 20)?

“Out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her” (vs 23, 26). 

He gave his daughter a wide open promise that she could have anything she asked for (v 23). And he had witnesses to this promise he had made—for he made the promise in front of his guests. Honor was at stake.

If this happened to one of us, we’d probably clarify that we meant “anything within reason,” or “anything *you* want, not what your mother tells you to ask for.” And everyone would understand the limits implied in such a promise.

We would not have to worry about disgrace for refusing the girl’s request. But that was exactly what Herod was facing. Refusing the request would have been to disgrace himself and to disgrace his guests. How could they ever trust his word thereafter?

I imagine he got considerably more careful about the promises he made after that. But this one, he had to keep.

He just had to.

Even though Herod liked to listen to John’s teaching…

He just had to go through with it.

He was bound by the system of which he was a part. In Herod’s case it was the system of honor and shame. He would not go back on his word; the honor and shame system required him to keep his word in order to keep his honor and to maintain the honor of his guests.

Who of us can do better when we remain bound to systems that conflict with our values?

It is easy for us as outsiders looking into the honor and shame system to say we wouldn’t do that. We can see a different path because we are not bound to that system in the same way. We critique it from a safe distance.

But are we so scrupulous, so savvy about the systems to which we are bound?

Do we even recognize them?

Dylan Roof sat for an hour in Bible study. He almost didn’t go through with his plan.

But he just had to.

Even though the group was so nice…

He just had to go through with it.

He too was bound by a system—some system in which he had only one choice that made any sense to him.

That system of thought rose up among us, on our soil, in our land.

It’s harder when it’s so close to home to see ourselves as bound to a system that would extinguish life in order to preserve the system.

Do we even recognize it?

For Us

Once after a speaking engagement, someone asked me if sharing hard stories helps me. I was puzzled because I ordinarily share because I want to help others know they’re not alone in the hard times.

As one who has a public dimension of speaking and writing it is an interesting question. I know that it does help me to think out loud or on paper about the hard times–but these are very private processes, usually involving tears, many, many tears. The outpouring itself is cathartic.

The public sharing though, that brings its own kind of difficulty. The choice to make the private thoughts public has to bear up under scrutiny: Does this even make sense? Does it really have the chance to help someone else? Does it make me look bad, and if so, how bad? And if it makes me look bad, what might be the costs of looking bad in that way?

After all that, then I weigh the question, am I looking for sympathy? And usually the answer involves a recognition of what a wise Deaconess once said, “There is no such thing as a truly pure motive.”

I would love to be able to stand behind my original sentiment–that I share to help others. Yet I know my altruism isn’t pure. And I wouldn’t do this public bearing of my soul if it didn’t come with at least some kind of benefit to me.

Even now I am aware of the way in which sharing here about my aimless aching just a couple of days ago has given me strength to move through this weekend. It didn’t make the ache go away–that would be far too much to ask. But pouring out the thoughts was the catharsis I so appreciate about writing. And sharing here has helped me because of the feedback from readers who have told me that I am not alone in the aching.

Does sharing help me? I have to say, yes. Does it help others? It seems to. What I’m realizing is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both. I hope it is both.

I think what I hope most of all is to deepen community–for you, and for me, for us together–as we share, honestly share, the hard times.

Aimless Aching

IMG_4215

I can’t even sort out what I’m feeling or thinking right now. I don’t even know if I can sort the feeling from the thinking.

Mostly I ache. And the ache cuts through my gut. I want to vomit to get that ache out of me, but I can’t.

I want to cry again and again. Except when the tears roll, I feel the ache roll, wet, down my cheeks. I want the tears to wash the ache away, but after the tears are gone the ache lingers in my face, hot from crying.

I try to use my words to talk out the ache, but they jumble and ramble and go in circles. And I want to get my thoughts around the ache, but the ache mocks my thinking–even my best thinking.

And I can’t tell anymore if I’m choking back the ache or if the ache is choking me.

I don’t even know why I ache so hard. Mostly I’m selfish with my aching–making the pain of the world about me–about the pain that I don’t understand well enough, listen to enough, or address squarely enough.

What right have I to ache when there is pain far worse than mine? So I chastise myself for my selfishness–heaping shame upon the ache which only makes it grow.

The worst ache is when I see people create more aching with hate. I try hard not to trade hate for hate. But the hate is too much for me to process. All I know to do in the midst of the hate is to ache. I ache with the hated and I ache for the hater. I ache for the brokenness and the ache upon hate upon ache upon hate.

I want to do something–to turn the ache into action. The ache is fuel, burning up, but with no engine it is wasted. It is an endlessly renewable source of energy–because there’s always something to ache about–but the energy is wasted without a place to go.

But where am I to go? What am I to do with this hot-burning fuel?

I think words will help. Words should help. I know words. I want to help with my words. I want to use my words to do good. But all I can do today is explain the ache. But what good are even the best words about the ache when so much pain is in the world?

I want to think this aimless aching is just a phase. I hope–I pray–for a time to know better my purpose, my place, my way to use this ache–to aim this passionate-hot ache to sow love so deeply that hate will fade, fail, and fall away.

Such a Time as This

GoStay

My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.