Friday, July 29, 2011

Praying for Nixon

I heard the other day about a little boy commenting on the Washington fiasco, saying, "So the NFL can work out their problems but Congress can't?" It made me think about a vivid memory I have from my own childhood.

It was 1973 and I was about 9 years old. The Watergate hearings were on TV every day and I was aware that the men behind the green felt covered tables were in trouble and the men behind the microphones on the big benches were in charge. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV but even PBS children's programs were pre-empted by the hearings and there was nothing to watch after school. I didn't really understand what was going on but I knew it was bad for the president.

So here's my memory: I'm sitting at the kitchen bar on a tall barstool watching the news (or maybe some kind of news special) with my parents when I have a terrific idea. I get up and go to my room and pull out my box of hot pink stationery with my name embossed on the top in gold. I got the stationery for Christmas and I love it and I love the box it came in. I get a sharp pencil and head back to the bar to begin my project.

"Dear Mr. Nixon," I wrote in my best third-grade penmanship. I still remember the satisfaction of seeing those words at the top of the page. I don't remember exactly what else I wrote except that I closed by saying that I knew he was innocent and that I was praying for him. My parents must have helped me find the address and mail the letter because I don't think I would have known how to do that but I know that the letter was mailed because I received a thick manila envelope from the White House with a "personalized form letter" and a book about the Nixon presidency.

Just a few years later, in Mrs. Mauk's sixth grade class, we were introduced to writing research papers and each of us chose a topic. I decided to write about the Watergate scandal, analyzing political cartoons from the era. I loved writing that paper but pretty soon, it became clear to me that my confidence and my prayers had been misplaced and I felt a tiny twinge of cynicism for the first time in my life. I felt so grown-up--because now I understood how the world worked and I determined not to be so foolishly naive again.

I think the world changed dramatically for Americans of all ages in the early seventies. Another memory: I am laying in my bed only a few feet from the den where my parents are watching the news on TV. The reporter describes guerillas killing American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam and I become upset thinking of these brave men being attacked by wild animals. I feel genuinely sad and confused about how scary the world is.

Anyway, as the world changed, we became more cynical about authority, more determined not to be duped, more negative about Washington and public service. I think we see all of that now as things disintegrate in Washington and the chatter on the internet and on cable news shows is smug and full of cynicism and resignation and conspiracy theories and contempt. It makes me think about sitting at the kitchen bar with my hot pink personalized stationery and a pencil and praying for Mr. Nixon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not a rant

I imagine that almost every American is sick to death of the machinations in Washington these days. I am too, although not for the same reasons as many of my Facebook friends, apparently. But what has me thinking has to do more with the moral questions that we (and our representatives in Congress) are all wrestling with these days.

I keep hearing many people (in person and yes, I admit, on the radio) saying, "It's not the job of government to care for the poor and the needy in our society. That's the Church's job. We need to take that responsibility away from the government and give it back to the Church where it belongs." I can sympathize with that point of view. I think it's very well-meaning and attempts to take seriously the command of the gospel to care for the poor. I also disagree with it, since I personally believe that government is a God-given means for providing for the common good. That's also in the constitution and I believe it's wise. It's been said that government is what we decide to do together and I'm glad to be part of a society that has historically used government to provide for the most vulnerable among us.

Of course, that's beginning to change, partly because of economic realities and partly because of changes in our political philosophy. And I sincerely hope that the Church I love will step up and fill in the gaps. But here is what I want to ask when someone says that caring for the vulnerable is not the job of the government but the job of the church:

What does that look like? As poor children, the disabled and the elderly are experiencing devastating cuts in their benefits, are Christians going to dramatically increase their giving to make up the difference? In my congregation, there are a number of intellectually disabled adults who live partially on public assistance. When that is cut, will we--all 400 of us--provide the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it costs to care for them? What kind of infrastructure will there be to do this? I'm sure that they would prefer to live in their group homes but if that becomes unaffordable, who among us will take them into our homes and care for them? And that's just this particular group of men. We're not even talking about the chronically poor, the physically disabled who can't work, the severely mentally ill, the elderly or the unemployed--all of whom receive some kind of public subsidy. Just in our congregation alone, that would be a significant number of people. There are even more in our community who don't attend our church or any church. Will we be willing to sacrifice deeply to ensure that they are cared for, at least at the level that the government currently does? We will have to completely change the way we do church. I doubt that we will be able to do all of this and maintain our buildings and our programs. Will we be willing to make those sacrifices?

This is not a rant, I promise. I really want to know what others see that I don't. I personally believe that government is a legitimate way to care for the vulnerable but I'm also intrigued by other models, especially as the government model may be losing viability. I don't want to suffer from a failure of imagination and if this is possible, I want to see it. I just have some questions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Catching up

Well, yesterday I got the weekly summary from Blogger telling me that 92 people had visited this blog and my first thought, "Well, that's 92 people who are mad at me for not posting!" Then my friend chastised me tonight for neglecting my blog . . . and she was right, I have been neglecting it. I don't know . . . I just haven't known what to write about.

Just to get the juices flowing, I'm going to catch you up on what's been going on . . . and this is just the month of July. We started this month with Ana from Guatemala. Ana is the translator that has gone to the orphanage with C and Boo and Mowgli when they go to the orphanage in Hue Hue Tenango and she is lovely. She's had a very hard year so C made it possible for her to come to Texas for a vacation and we got to host her. We shopped, spent some time down on South Congress, introduced her to Amy's ice cream, went to the Riverwalk in San Antonio on the 4th (no fireworks here because of the drought), picnicked at Zilker Park and had a really nice time. It's funny how sometimes you have to have a guest to get out in your own town and do the fun stuff. Also, during that week, the daughter of our Nigerian friends stayed with us while she attended a wedding and it was wonderful to catch up with her, since we hadn't seen her in about a decade.

Boo and I both celebrated birthdays this month, too. For her birthday, all three of us went to see a terrific production of "Hairspray" at the Zach ( we sat in the middle on about the 8th row--it felt like they were performing just for us!) and then she and I went to San Antonio overnight to spend some good mom/daughter time together and, per her request, think about her childhood. It was a wonderful trip with my lovely daughter who I am looking forward to getting to know better as an adult. We also went to see Harry Potter at midnight (maybe that will be my next post) and then Boo got her wisdom teeth out. Now she's on a mission trip to the border, revisiting children in a colonia there that she has worked with for several years now.

About Mowgli . . . I think he's having the time of his life on an organic farm (think Wendell Berry) in VA. He's described to us the rhythm of waking early, caring for the animals, working hard on the crops, going to market, cooking together with his two fellow-laborers (aka "interns") and then sitting on the porch playing his guitar (while one of the girls plays the fiddle) until the sun goes down. He sleeps in the barn, which must not be too rustic b/c it also doubles as the Quaker meetinghouse on Sunday mornings. C's grandmother passed away this month as well, and Mowgli came back for the funeral (thanks to my wonderful in-laws) and we got to see him for two days. I don't expect we'll see him again until graduation in December.

My work continues to go very well with a break from the traveling this summer. I'm still counseling in private practice and working part-time with MissionHouston on Faithwalking. I'm also trying to focus on a BHAG vision for city-wide marriage transformation with Brett and Kellie over at Home Encouragement as we try to discover what God's vision is and how we can join him. I still love the young adults at MBC and always wish I could spend more time with them--they're a wonderful group of friends and I am so blessed to be able to work with them in Bible Study and ministry. I've also had some wonderful time this month with dear friends--not nearly enough, of course, but it nourishes my soul to spend time with them.

I guess the big thing is that on August 17, we will be empty-nesters. I think I'll cry when we drive away from leaving Boo at college but I really think I'll be just fine. She is so ready and we are so proud of her and so excited for her to move into her future. I've taken the week off from work, though, just in case!

So that's what's going on . . . I'll try to come back here more often in the next few days and let you know what I've been thinking about.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Today's verdict

I have no idea if Casey Anthony killed her daughter and if she did, what the circumstances were. I know that serving on a jury is really hard work and making those kinds of decisions is much harder than it looks. I also know that everything I learned about group dynamics in grad school applies to juries and then some and so I'm always far more interested in how juries make their decisions than I am in the specific decisions they make. I do have a couple of thoughts about today's verdict, though.

First of all, I'm incredibly ambivalent about crime-as-entertainment. I understand the fascination of the true crime genre, especially in today's 24 hour news cycle. When I come home exhausted at night ready to channel-surf, Dateline or 48 Hours Mystery can seem really appealing, especially since I don't follow many dramas or reality shows and I don't want to think about more complicated issues like debt limits and campaign finance reform.

I feel bad about it, though. I finally stopped watching those shows (mostly) because they were just too sad for me. People's lives are irreparably devastated and the criminal justice system doesn't always work (more often working against the defendant than for him/her) and even though it's interesting, it's just too sad. Sometimes I'm reminded of my uncle's murder and how interesting that story would be as a true-crime mystery (he just disappeared) . . . yet I would be so sad to see his death or his family's pain trivialized that way. Watching Casey Anthony's broken family faced with a Sophie's Choice every time they stepped onto the witness stand just hurt . . . and yet I watched every morning during my workout.

The other thing that struck me when I heard about the verdict was the memory of a conversation I had with Boo just this morning. We were talking about HLN's dramatic "Verdict Watch" and I said to Boo, "I wish they'd just go to the rest of the news instead of obsessing about this. There is no way that the jury will come back today; there's just too much testimony to go through and too many scenarios to consider. If the jury comes back today, it will be an emotional verdict. If they come back today, they didn't do their job." That's the first thing I thought of when I heard the news from a friend's text expressing disbelief and asking my opinion.

Talking to myself

I'm not really posting this for you, although I hope you enjoy it. I'm really putting it here for myself, to remind myself about what I believe about crucial conversations between people who love God and claim to love each other. This is from an article on the Huffington Post by Dr. Janet Edwards (you can read the whole article here, but this is the heart of it):

Approach the other person as a beloved child of God. See Christ in the eyes of the other person. Set aside every presumption you may have about him or her except that God loves this other, just like God loves you. This is often a mystery for me that our talk with help solve.

Trust deeply that the Holy Spirit has a word for you both. Watch carefully for the gift God has for you in your exchange with this other. It probably will not be the same gift for both of you. It will most likely be a still, small voice so you must listen hard for it.

Try hard to see things from the other's point of view. Ask questions like: "This is what I hear you saying, is that correct?" or: "I want to make sure I get what you mean, is this what you said?" My own convictions have been strengthened many times by testing them against the other's heartfelt words.

Watch for those things upon which you both agree and highlight them. This can often lead to some struggle because being in agreement is foreign to us and we resist it. Still, it can be very healing to get up at the end of your conversation to go your different ways having acknowledged some things upon which you agree. It's also a great way to start an ongoing dialogue. Can we agree that our goal is Loving God, or Loving Neighbor? These are the seeds from which further discussion can blossom.

The goal is to keep the conversation going. Talking shouldn't be seen as a means to an end. Talking is a sole purpose in and of itself. For this reason, I often do not share my position with the other person (It's well known anyway). I simply take in what the other is saying and seek the best way to prompt another response from the other by sharing of my self or asking a question that has occurred to me.
There is one crucial dynamic in all of these tips required to make this work: Nothing that the other says to you is about you personally. The other person speaks only from his or her ideas and so you need not take anything that person says as true about you. I am often disappointed and challenged by what the other says but I am usually not hurt or angered by it.

I got to thinking: what if we took on these principles for conversations with those who disagree with us or those we disagree with or . . . gasp . . . our spouses and in-laws and children? Anyway, this is for me but I'm happy for you to read over my shoulder.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Good Times

25 years ago this year, C was called to be the Minister to College Students at FBC Woodway in Waco, Texas. At the time, we were first year seminary students and newlyweds living in Ft. Worth where C worked at an art gallery and I worked at a vet clinic. (I'll pause here for you to regain your composure.) I was 21 when we went to Waco, the age of the seniors in the group, and C was 22. We were so excited about the opportunity to go back to our alma mater and serve students during our seminary years. The position paid $500 per month and I made about $400 working as a housekeeper for a Baylor professor so the grand total was $900, which was what we were making in Ft. Worth. C's parents gave us a gas card to help us with the commute and for the next 30 months, we drove to Ft. Worth and back four days a week for school. C eventually got a pay raise to $900 but I had to stop working in order to do my counseling practicum, so it turned out that we had a $900 income for the rest of our seminary years.

(That's me, on the bottom row on the left.)

We threw ourselves into college ministry with passion. C continued the annual ski trip but added at least one mission trip, taking students to Egypt and Korea and Tennessee and McAllen. He added an immensely effective discipleship and spiritual formation process for students and made the Sunday School hour into a weekly highlight for many students. He placed students into key leadership positions, mentored them as he gave them responsibility and created a community of leaders that was able to create an innovative and effective ministry with few resources. One of the crown jewels of the ministry was the annual College Camp, which brought roughly 100 students together for fun, spiritual formation and community. This is true: he started the job in 1986 standing on a chair talking to 40 students with a Mr. Microphone and ended in 1994 with a ministry to hundreds and a real sound system.

We went back to Waco last weekend for a reunion of that last group of kids in the early nineties. As we sat around talking about their college years, they began to reminisce about their church experience, saying things like, "We had community before anyone even called it that," and "We learned to serve others," and "We always felt accepted and loved, like a home away from home," and "It was a place of grace." Those were some of the best years of our lives. Both our kids were born during that time. We learned that a baby shower given by college students was a lot of fun but that you mostly got stuffed animals. We always had babysitters, especially if we would let them do their laundry at our house. We loved every minute of it.

The best part of the reunion was watching our "kids" with each other, reliving their memories and their renewing their friendships. We watched grainy old videos filmed with gigantic video cameras and edited before digital editing equipment even existed for ordinary people. The next best part of the reunion was hearing about their lives today--meeting their spouses (although several of them married each other) and their kids and hearing about their jobs and their churches and their families.