Baptisms and Tragedies

Asa BaptismI’m looking through the pictures of my son’s baptism yesterday, All Saints Day. It was an Anglican service, so we were up there for a while. The time stamps on the photos range from 11:35-11:48 am. They catch my daughter misbehaving. They show my son cooperating (though concerned) with the water, the oil, the lifting, and being walked through the congregation. The pictures catch our faces, immersed in the joy of infant baptism and the realities of parenting a three-year-old sister. We were celebrating a spiritual reality that informs how we live on earth.

These were also the minutes just after the shooting had stopped 33 miles away at another church in another town. The tragedy had occurred, and so many lives were forever altered.

I already had in my head the blog post I was going to write about how baptism reminds us that God enters the chaos of parenting and community. He works inside real life, and as nice as it is to have quiet sacred moments…sometimes we bring the chaos and God brings the sacred. We often think of infants as these beatific, peaceful, receivers of baptism, and the rest of us experiencing this wholly transcendent moment…when the reality is that they are actively resisting the grace most of the time, and the rest of us are pretty distracted. And that’s a much better picture of God’s grace.

I was drafting that in my head when I got the email about Sutherland Springs. My heart broke, and my thoughts changed.

I can imagine God in my chaos…but what about THAT chaos? What about the chaos of violence and tragedy? Does his grace go there? Does our baptism mean anything in that context.

Yes. Because we were not saved, not brought into God’s family, to revel in our own comfort and placid situation. We delight in our peace with God, not to insulate ourselves and work on our own personal holiness. We were saved to be a comfort to John Holcombe and his aching community, and we were saved to do battle against sin.

I can’t speak to the lawyers, Constitutional scholars, lawmakers and the others who have to wrestle with how to actually try to prevent the next shooting. But I can speak, as a member of God’s family, to how that informs my response to mass violence.

First, we need to be at work in the world, sharing the Gospel, and helping others find peace (and sometimes medical resources) to reach their sick and sinful places. We need to be sharing the healing we have been given. Because yes, violent people will be violent, whatever their tools.

But, in the current context, I also believe we need to go further. Because those tools, and their capacity to do harm, are a problem worth talking about. The public voice of the “Christian” community played a powerful role in getting us here, so let’s see if we can be part of the solution.

God’s family does not whine about its rights. God’s family asks, “how can we serve you?”

God’s family is not afraid of a “slippery slope toward tyranny” or other talking points provided by those who are raking in the cash from our addiction to firearms. We were saved to be brave about a conversation that we need to have as churches, as families, as lawmakers, as voters, as citizens.

Around the dinner table of God’s family, the “gun conversation” is this: a Christian has no business giving a second thought to his gun hobby, his hunting pastime, and even his own rights. The Christian, living in grace, bravely enters the conversation about guns open to the idea that he or she might need to give up a hobby, a pastime, or even a right. The Christian does not hold onto rights for rights sake. The Christian is far more afraid of violating the law of God than of living peacefully under even the most tyrannical government. The Christian’s primary identity is not American, it is Christian.

Maybe we have the conversation, listen to experts, take a real look at evidence, and come back around to the position that guns are good to have. Maybe we conclude that if fewer people had assault rifles, that we’d be worse off. But right now there are powerful financial interests, and lots of “me first-isms” with a deep foothold in the Christian community and those powerful interests will not allow the conversation to happen. They deflect, they cut it off. So before you pull out the knee-jerk talking points…ask where you got them, and who is laughing his way to the bank.

One little side note on the second amendment…and I’m open to a Constitutional lawyer helping me understand the broader implications of a “well-regulated militia” but… do you honestly, HONESTLY, think your assault rifle is going to protect your from the full force of the US Military (or Russian or Chinese or ISIS)? If the citizens of the United States ever need to defend themselves against a military power in a nuclear age…what exactly are you hoping to accomplish? If the most you can come up with is “going down fighting,” you need to get over yourself. You might as well use your fists. A well-regulated militia of exactly zero use in 2017.

The founding fathers were not God. They did not foresee where these things would go. And the Constitution is not Scripture. “The constitutions tells me so” is a really lame argument for a Christian to fall back on here.

One of Asa’s baptism gifts from the church was a (decorative) arrow. His name means “healer” and our prayer has always been that he would be a flaming arrow of peace into the darkness. That arrow is our reminder that baptism brings grace, and the effect of grace is power. The power to do good. The power to do battle with sin and its havoc.

There is sin and havoc in an angry man with a weapon capable of indiscriminate killing in the space of seconds. There is sin and havoc in greed and power. There is sin and havoc in church who can’t remember where its true citizenship resides. Let our baptism be a reminder of what we were saved from, what we were saved to do, and where our citizenship resides.

 

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San Antonio’s Two-handed Justice

The week after Harvey was a big week for San Antonio. We took on evacuees and sent aid to Hurricane Harvey victims with one hand, and with the other hand voted to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School, take down a Confederate monument, and obtained an eleventh-hour injunction against the State’s new “anti-sanctuary cities” law.

I’m partial, this being my hometown, but this week, San Antonio showed the world what it means to be hospitable and generous. With both hands.

Some argued that the time was not right. That one hand didn’t know what the other was doing. That both hands should have been full with Harvey. People argued that the monument and the high school renaming were “too emotional” and “a distraction.”

I disagree.

San Antonio is engaged in the both/and of social change. The one-two punch, if you will.

Pictures of Harvey rescues have gone viral. Black firefighters carrying white kids. White guys with their private boats going into Hispanic neighborhoods to run rescue operations. Young Hispanic EMTs lifting senior citizens in wheelchairs. They went viral with the comment, “We are not Charlottesville. We are Houston.” The people who posted meant this in one of (at least) two ways, as explained in their more elaborate comments.

Some meant it as inspiration. Like when you say to your kids, “You are part of this family, and in this family, we finish what we start.” It’s aspirational, a way to help them live into the identity we hope they will embrace. I’m all for America deciding that we want to be more like the heroes of Houston.

In San Antonio, our civic leaders beat that drum all week while asking for blood, diapers, blankets, cooperation, extra space and money for our friends down the freeway. They constantly reminded us of who we are: a generous, friendly, and hospitable city.

Others who posted “We are Houston,” however, meant it as a counterpoint to Charlottesville. They meant it to say, “see, at the end of the day, we don’t have a race problem.”

I would argue that we do. That while, yes, we will rescue “the Other” from a flood, we will alienate him again when the waters recede. The heroic deeds and character of individuals does not erase the injustice of institutions.

And so, with its other hand, a hand freed up by the fact that Harvey dealt us a mere glancing blow, San Antonio went to work on those institutions that marginalize or alienate. On the Tuesday after Harvey, San Antonio’s North East ISD school board voted unanimously for the name change of Robert E. Lee High School, a change led by student petition. One alumnus suggested changing the name to Harper Lee High School, to celebrate a brighter light of Southern grace.

On Wednesday a federal judge granted an injunction on the implementation of a law that was set to go into effect on Sept 1. It would have prevented cities and counties from adopting policies to keep their officers out of immigrations enforcement. It would have penalized elected officials who criticized the law. Law enforcement around the state spoke against the law, saying it would discourage cooperation with police and cause confusion among law enforcement. San Antonio and other cities in Texas joined a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted an injunction stopping the most potent provisions of the law from going into effect.

On Thursday the San Antonio City Council voted 10-1 to remove a Confederate monument from one of our historic parks.

Meanwhile, we kept taking in evacuees, donating diapers, and giving blood.

San Antonio was not distracted. San Antonio was looking deeply at what it means to be hospitable and generous. It means taking in evacuees, it means sending out teams from your Fire Department and EMS department.

It also means putting flesh and blood people ahead of bronze statues. It means that black children are not sent to schools named for soldiers who fought for the right to enslave black children. It means fighting against laws that make our communities less safe and goad vigilante justice.

We have to think both short and long term. In the short term, the Harvey victims need real help, and they need it now. In the long term, we need better laws and a more equitable world. When you have two hands free, you should use them both.

The hands of justice are both open and closed. Open hands offer assistance, comfort, and aid. Closed hands hold tightly to their vulnerable neighbors, pull down monuments to injustice, and clench into fists of determination.

Obviously, our work is not done. Not in San Antonio, and not in the world. Some say the monument and memorial discussion lacks substance, that it doesn’t make life different for anyone.

Again, I disagree.

To take down a monument or change the name of the school is not to pretend it never happened. It is a public statement about what we do and do not cherish. We take down monuments because we know we have a problem, because we are Charlottesville on August 12. We also take them down because we do not want that problem to continue to corrupt our identity going forward. We want to be Houston on August 27 and the days that followed.

If we are to make good on our statements, we have to keep both hands in mind. When Harvey has passed, we must continue to take care of the poor and most vulnerable. We also must continue to confront the injustice in our institutions—be they schools, churches, businesses or City Hall. We must continue to work at being who we are.

 

 

 

 

Auto-Correct

A Conversation Between Me and Auto-Correct while I try to compose the following Text message to my colleague before a breakfast meeting: “Tom is here. Want us to grab some tacos?”

Me: Tom…

Auto-correct: Tomato, right? You are going to type “Tomato?” 

Me: No. I mean Tom. 

Auto-correct: Oh, Tom. Like the man’s name? 

Me: Yes. Is it genuinely more common for people to begin a sentence with “Tomato”?

Auto-correct: There’s no one in your contacts named Tom, so I didn’t know you knew anyone named Tom. 

Me: So you went straight to “Tomato…” 

Auto-correct: Technically it’s more likely. 

Me: Okay. Well let’s go with Tom. 

Auto-correct: Aight. But I’m gonna underline it. 

Me: It’s a common name! 

Auto-correct: You should put this “Tom” in your contacts. 

Me: I do. It’s under Thomas. 

Auto-correct: Those are not the same. 

Me: Tom is here. Want…

Auto-correct: Did you mean “Wan”? 

Me: Wan? Is that a word? 

Auto-correct: Wan: (of a person’s complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion.

Me: What was wrong with “Want”?

Auto-correct: Nothing. I just wanted to double check. 

Me: But you just changed it. That’s not checking, that’s correcting.

Auto-correct: I needed to catch your attention to make sure that you didn’t embarrass yourself. 

Me: By accidentally typing “want” instead of “wan?” 

Auto-correct: Would that not have been embarrassing? 

Me: Not really. 


Auto-correct: Noted. But just to make sure, the next three times you type “Want” I’m gonna change it to “wan.” 

Me: Fine. Just let me get this text typed. 

Auto-correct: proceed. 

Me: Tom is hetw…

Auto-correct: Tom is vaulting?

Me: What?

Auto-correct: “Hetw” is not a word. I thought maybe you meant “vaulting.”

Me: So I hit two wrong letters right next to the “r” and the “e” and you thought that instead of “here” I was going for “vaulting.” 

Auto-correct: Was I wrong? 

Me: Yes. I meant “here.” 

Auto-correct: The only things I change to “here” are “her” and “hear.” 

Me: Tom is here. Want us…

Auto-correct: US

Me: Ah! Why the caps?

Auto-correct: US is the AP style abbreviation for United States. 

Me: I know. I’m a journalist. 

Auto-correct: I know. I thought you would appreciate it. 

Me: us

Auto-correct: US

Me: us

Auto-correct: US

Me: I’m talking in the first person plural. Can I please use the pronoun? 

Auto-correct: Errr….no. 

Me: Seriously?

Auto-correct: American first, man. 

Me: Tom is here. Want some tacos…

Auto-correct: I HAVE AN EMOJI FOR THAT!!! LOOK AT THIS GREAT TACO EMOJI!

Me: Okay. I’ll add the emoji onto the end.

Auto-correct: I’ll replace the word tacos with the emoji. 

Me: No! I want the word too. 

Auto-correct: Why? That’s redundant.

Me: I want to make sure he gets what I’m saying. I’m trying to avoid miscommunication. 

Auto-correct: What’s confusing about a taco?

Me: Nothing. But I want the word in there too. Tacos.

Auto-correct: Okay. Now you can add the taco emoji. 

Me: Okay. 

Auto-correct: Look how cute it is if I change it!

Me: AH! No. Tacos. The word. Tacos. 

Auto-correct: Geez. Fine. Do you want to add the emoji?

Me: No. Forget the emoji. 

Tom is here. Want some tacos?

Auto-correct: Ready to send. 

Me: Yes. You aren’t going to change anything when I push send? 

Auto-correct: No. All done. 

Me: Okay, send. 

Auto-correct: Tomato is herring. Want some racism? 

Me: WHAT? What are you doing?!? 

*texts frantically* Tom is here. Want some tacos? *send*

Auto-correct: Tomorrow has hernia. Wan something macho. 

Me: AH! Stop it. I’m texting my boss and you are embarrassing me. 

Auto-correct: Oh your boss? Sorry. I had no idea. Let me go into boss-texting mode. 

Me: Thank you. I just got this job and I’m trying not to screw up. 

*texts slowly and deliberately* Tom is here. Want some tacos?

You won’t change it if I push send?

Auto-correct: Nope.

Me: *send*

Auto-correct: Hey Baby, vagina vagina. Big horny?

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If Banana Republic Models Could Speak

I found another edition of my 2012 snark-fest. This time it is a trifold mailer for Banana Republic which I find entirely implausible.

I think we’re supposed to get the idea that she’s at some sort of swanky house party in LA. But no one showed up. I presume this is why she looks so grouchy. But while a realistic scenario would have her wearing sweatpants in the kitchen packaging up the dips before they go bad, this glamorous pariah decides to stay in her party duds and sulk. By the pool. Which she had cleaned for the occasion.

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With no other guests to lift her spirits through playful banter and, let’s be honest, lots of colorful and entertaining lies, she apparently loses her mind, and like the Anthropologie models before her, gets fully clothed into the water.

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Behind the Photo: Salute

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

My mom insists the following pictures are of me waving. She says that she somehow captured my distinctive wave at the same moment three times in a little over a year. Please note that I am using this “wave” at Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and some museum with dinosaurs. Pretty choice optics for a 3-4 year old.

My mom was giving me the benefit of the doubt, but the evidence points in a different direction. I’m trying to brand a salute for when I take over the world. Pretty sure of it.

Maybe I’ll try to bring it back. Please greet me with this hand gesture from now on.

Here I am taking my oath of office:

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And laughing maniacally as I plow over my opponents in a novelty mining cart:

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And acculturate my first subjects. A dinosaur and Annika.

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If Anthropologie Models Could Speak

A while back I stumbled upon an Anthropologie catalogue from spring 2012. I wondered why I had kept it. Spring 2012 was a really crappy time. Why on earth did I make it worse by hanging onto volumes of unattainable boho chic styling in semi-exotic locales?

Then I opened it up, flipping through the pages I remembered…oh yeah. I vented my misery by satirizing ridiculous catalogues with Lewis.

As much money as I have spent at Anthropologie, I roll my eyes at every dollar. Their catalogues are ridiculous. They feature hangry-looking women wearing clothing grossly ill-suited to their surrounds… or the activities of daily life. The defining criteria of the editorial look is “improbable.”

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It’s also guilty of the most commonly mocked modeling cliches. Like angry-faced models, who, I’ll give it to you, are mostly likely on a joyless diet and have woken up at 4 a.m. for this photo shoot, but still are wearing gorgeous clothes. Why would you be grumpy about wearing these lovely clothes?

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If you really think about what these poor, frail women are being asked to do, it’s kind of cruel. Aside from dragging their $300 hemlines through marshy brine, they are also holding their bodies in ways specifically illustrated on my chiropractor’s “don’t stand like this” poster.

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I’ve watched enough America’s Next Top Model to know that they are as uncomfortable as they look.

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Regardless of their obvious misery, I do like to pretend that the model is having a fun time playing pretend.

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Behind the Photo: Chicken Pox

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

I grew up with nine cousins, and when I say “grew up with” I mean we grew up like siblings. Eight of us were in high school at the same time, meaning that eight of us were under five-years-old at the same time. We all lived in the same city, and we did everything together.

So it made sense that in 1986 when Dusty got a bugle for Christmas and later came down with the chicken pox, our parents got together and literally had us pass the bugle around to ensure that we all got the disease at the ideal age.

I don’t know how I really felt about the chicken pox, but judging by this photo I was pretty satisfied.

chicken-pox

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Behind the Photo: Cheerleader

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

Ask any sports photographer and they will tell you: people make horrendous faces when they are physically exerting themselves.

Nonetheless, when I made the varsity cheerleading squad at the end of my freshmen year of high school, I immediately began to picture myself looking like this:

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However, a cheerleading uniform does not a Gabrielle Union make. In cheerleading, the head bobbling and flirty uniforms belie the level of difficulty. You are doing things that are far more demanding than a layup, a pass, or running in a circle…and yet you have to do the whole thing with your hair in place and a big ol’ goofy grin (or a fierce, open-mouth, club face).

Or you are me, and your face tells the world exactly how hard you are working.

The moment I found out I had made the squad is captured on film, and it gives an accurate forecast of things to come:

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This showed up some time later. I have thrown it away at least three times:

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Behind the Photo: Snow

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

The first time I saw snow was in 1986 in San Antonio. It lightly dusted the front lawn and was gone by noon.

The first time I saw SNOW! was in 1990 in Steamboat Springs, CO.

We had driven through the night to get to our friends’ ski lodge. I went to sleep in the desert, and woke up to mounds of fluffy, puffy, soft angel snow all around.

When we stopped at a gas station where substantial snow drifts were mere feet from the car, my mom let me get out to see. Envisioning a cloud like experience of tossing marshmallow flavored snow all around me – no doubt inspired by cartoons, which do not have feelings- I threw myself face first into a snow drift. Like a cartoon.

I was wearing a sweatsuit and Keds.

This would be my first major reckoning of fantasy and reality.

It. stung. so. bad.

In this picture I am pausing my massive fit long enough to smile for the photo.

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Behind the Photo: Pajama Pants

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

This photo is from the summer after my freshmen year in college. My family took a road trip across the West Texas desert. Like most of our road trips, preparation was minimal and packing space was at a premium. My mom’s rule whether on vacation or moving into an RV for nine months: you get one bag.

It being the dead of summer in the West Texas desert, I did not pack jeans. Why would I? Besides, I had gained 10 pounds and none of my jeans were comfortable for sitting in the car for long stretches.

I was freshly home from college, and probably being an ass. So I don’t blame my family for limiting interaction with me to just essential information exchanges. Apparently “We’re going horseback riding” was one of the conversations that didn’t make the cut.

When we showed up for a horseback ride through the hills of Terlingua, the wrangler took one look at my 3″ inseam and just shook his head. The rest of my family, who all somehow knew to pack jeans that they would wear exactly once on the trip, stared at me with that “don’t ruin this for us” look.

So I put on the only long pants in my duffle bag, a pair of orange psychedelic flower pajama pants.

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