Category Archives: faith

Review: One Movie, One Book, One Vacation, One Humanitarian Crisis

Since it’s summer, it seems appropriate to recommend movies, books, and museums. Also, my name is Bekah, and if you think this is about the Incredibles, a mystery novel, or the McNay (ALL OF WHICH I LOVE!!!), you’re going to be super disappointed and probably mad. You’ve been warned.

Watching the events of the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering, what would Mister Rogers say about family separations? His concern was always with children—their wellbeing, their sense of self and security in a frightening world. Were he still with us, would PBS pull Fred Rogers out of retirement for a primetime PSA?

In the midst of all the chaos, we actually have a pretty good idea what Mister Rogers would say, because Morgan Neville has the direct quote, and a loads of other great documentary material packed into a 94 minute tearjerker, which is basically an instructional video on dealing with hostile politics and terrifying events.

In “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” journalist Susan Stamberg, recounts Rogers’s advice that children needed to feel protected by their parents. They need to believe that the adults in their life could and would protect them, he believed. For Stamberg, this was difficult advice to reconcile with her own sense of vulnerability and the limits of her personal power.

Every parent knows what she means. But now imagine the parents who could not give their child that security in their home country…and then found that, by crossing into the United States they traded physical danger for psychological damage. A clear and crappy choice if ever there was one.

The release of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” on June 8, meant that most of us were seeing the film as the family separations were beginning to explode in the media. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt devastated by Rogers’s more generous vision of the nation as a neighborhood, and who belongs in it.

Of course, Rogers, being a devout Christian, asked the question “won’t you be my neighbor?” as a response to another question, “who is my neighbor?” A question Jesus answered in the strongest of terms though the parable of the good Samaritan.

In case you missed that parable, it involves religious and political folks stepping over their bleeding countryman in order to avoid dirtying their hands, when a religious/ethnic enemy finally comes to his rescue. The Samaritan and Jew, he points out, are neighbors.

Rogers had something to say about good Samaritans. He famously called them “helpers.” In frightening situations, he said, “look for the helpers.”

While he credits his mother with this advice,  it’s worth noting that in seminary, Rogers would have learned a deeply biblical definition of “helper”, translated from the word ezer, a powerful and effective aid or protector. It is a word used to refer to God.

The following Rogers quote is not in the movie, but taken from the Fred Rogers Center’s professional resources page:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” 

Looking over the news coverage coming from the border (and steadfastly ignoring all punditry from elsewhere), I see a lot of helpers. I see a lot that Mister Rogers would celebrate. But a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude begs the question, the same question posed by journalist Tom Junod when he was interviewed for the documentary: Did Fred Rogers succeed in his mission to influence America?

The answer, of course, is mixed. The documentary suggests that America in 2018 would overwhelm Rogers, the champion of the neighborhood. The humanitarian crisis at the border is just the latest systemic assault on human dignity.

In The War on Neighborhoods Daniel Cooper and Ryan Lugalia-Hollon examine mass incarceration, over policing, and the high cost of being “tough on crime.” It reminds us that what is happening on the boarder has been happening daily in communities of color for decades.

Children in Austin, the Chicago neighborhood studied by Cooper and Lugalia-Hollon, often grow up without one or both of their parents, who have been taken out of the picture by one of two “methods of justice”—either the criminal justice system as we know it, or the “street justice” system that is, really, just the other side of the same coin, they say.  A coin taken from the pockets of poor communities of color and placed into the pocket of politicians, the drug trade, and the prison system.

“To varying degrees, both systems remove key actors from family and community life, and as a result, both perpetuate cycles of trauma within communities.” (The War on Neighborhoods, pg 69)

Throughout the book, Cooper and Lugalia-Hollon beat a continuous call for collective responsibility, similar to what Rogers (and the Bible) advocate.

“Issues of unemployment, addiction, and mental health were increasingly reduced to questions of personal decision-making. The policy focus moved away from neighborhood-level need and toward problematic people, rarely drawing the connection that the former provides the environment needed for the latter to emerge,”  (The War on Neighborhoods, pg 44)

They too look for the helpers, and extend that charge to local, state, and federal governments, who can choose whether to invest in services that strengthen communities—education, healthcare, economic development—or continue the cycle of incarceration, which, as the book points out, is not as easy to avoid as most white people like to think.

“Arrests, felony trials, and prison time all become the basis for society to further condemn these residents, to pile on stressors, removing them from existing supports, and further narrowing any redemptive opportunities,”  (The War on Neighborhoods, pg 14)

Because I was reading this during the same weeks that I was watching the border events, and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I took particular notice when the authors cite deterrence as one of four reasons given for incarceration. Of course the threat of punishment is not a deterrent, as everyone knows. Deterrence requires “making an example” of someone so that others will not follow. Interestingly enough, this deterrence argument, which at least some members of the Trump administration believed to be at the heart of Attorney General Jeff Session’s family separation policy, is also cited as a common reason for lynching.

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If books and movies are one staple of summer vacation, family trips are certainly another. This summer my daughter and I, with two longtime friends, made the trip to Montgomery, Alabama to see the Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum, which commemorate the victims of lynching and tie the practice to the very practices of mass incarceration chronicled in The War on Neighborhoods.

I took my four-year-old to the memorial and to the museum, because I actually think she is old enough to learn about these injustices, as long as I am by her side, and we skipped the most graphic parts. I was by her side to assure her that she was safe, and that because she was safe, she could be a helper.

We ended our trip to Montgomery with a trip to the Freedom Riders museum so that we could embed the idea of being a helper right alongside the reality that injustice exists.

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But now I have to figure out how to talk to her about family separation. I have yet to do it, because I don’t want her to be afraid that it will happen to her. But when I explain why it won’t happen to her, I have to explain a larger injustice. It will never happen to her…because she’s genetically white…she was born with legal status…because her parents make a lot of money…because she’s lucky. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that.

I wish I had Mister Rogers for guidance.

We are left to imagine what Fred Rogers would have said to all of us in a primetime PSA, which would have gone viral on YouTube. I imagine that he would have reminded us that children need their parents, and they need helpers—adults supporting them and keeping them safe. He would have gently admonished us to be those helpers. Then I imagine that he would have pulled out the Daniel Striped Tiger puppet to talk about being afraid…and then maybe mad. And then, I think that there would have been a third element. I think he would have said something in Spanish, to remind us all that the migrant children are part of our neighborhood, and to try to give them some kindness to hold onto, if at all possible.

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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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Something New and Good: Asa

On July 20 our family grew by one! He beat his induction by a day, and has kept us on our toes for the last five days and rewarded us with no shortage of snuggles, and pro-level eating and sleeping. I haven’t had time to do much reflecting or meditating…but this is something I wrote in the last days preparing for his arrival. We picked the name Asa a long time ago, and in June and July I became more and more convinced that it was the right name for our boy. Here’s why:

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In the grace of the gospel there is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady. There is no spiritual disease, but there is power in Christ for the cure of it. – Matthew Henry commentary on Matt 10:1

Asa. It means “healer.” And if ever there were a time when we need healers, it is now. His name will be his charge: to go into the world and right wrongs. To hold hands with the oppressed, and to share whatever power he inherits.

He is our son, born into a world that feels like it is falling apart at the seams. A world that feels broken beyond repair. We did not know when we chose his name that he would be born during a local crime wave, in the wake of explosive racial conflict and the deadliest mass shooting in history. A time when America is so lost for leaders that it is pulling itself apart from the margins. 

We didn’t know that his birth would be a bright spot in a pretty dark time.

But we hope he will be more than a bright spot. We hope that he will be a continual, persistent, light that cannot be overcome. We hope that he will go beyond saying “this is wrong” and do something to fix it. We hope that he will be a healer.

Rev 21:4-5 ‘Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Lately we’ve seen the limits of our own pursuit of justice, how entrenched our generation is in broken systems. We are more free than those before us, but not free enough.

While we do our tiny part to pursue peace, perhaps the most productive thing we can do is to raise another generation into greater freedom, greater awareness, greater truth.

We are naming him in hope, as our flaming arrow into the darkness. We are committing him to the God of Peace, the Great Healer, in hopes that he will do great things.

Matthew 10: 7-8 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

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Something New and Good: A Son for Such a Time

Every parent of a daughter reads the headlines and cringes. Or cries out for justice. So much violence against women. So much inequity still, even in a world that claims to be past it. That’s just here in my own country. I sometimes can’t even think about the world as a whole.

Since I had my girl, I’ve been passionately praying for her to be brave and strong. I’ve been clothing her with dignity, so that she will stand on the necks of would-be abusers, and cherish the gifts of those who love her truly. So that she will know when to forgive the fumblings of an ordinary “dude,” and when to wash her hands of blood-sucking bastard.

But now…I am about to have a boy. I’m (hopefully soon) giving birth to the headlines that make me so angry. He will be born into privilege. He will be white, male, and the child of professional parents.

We, as parents of the privileged, have to fight against our children’s immature impulses to turn that privilege into entitlement. We cannot feed the beast that says athletes are somehow more deserving than lawn care workers. That their success is proof of their virtue. As much as I want my kids to take pride in their accomplishments, I want them to be even more grateful for generations of investors, workers, and taxpayers who made it possible for them to take the last tiny step across the finish line. Continue reading

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Love is an Endurance Sport

Lewis and I started dating a month before my first marathon. We got engaged a month before my second marathon. We got married a month before I started training for my third (his first). By our first anniversary we were training for an ultra-marathon.

Endurance training is the back drop of my love story.

It’s not really surprising that on the back of a picture frame holding a cute photo of us I wrote, in a fit of dramatic resolution: “Love is not a game of desire. It is a game of endurance.”

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You can’t tell in this picture, but this is the day that Lewis carried a writhing, sobbing one-year-old UP the switchbacks of Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park. He never complained.

At some point in our dating relationship old wounds reared their heads and the giddy, moonstruck, giggles became intense conversations. My irrepressible excitement was replaced by a nagging sense that he was not giving me everything I had dreamed my love story would be.

The truth was this: He was living by a poorly calibrated internal compass and unable to see it was getting him nowhere. We were in an uncomfortable holding pattern waiting for some kind of magic to awaken in him.

I was on the brink of breaking up with him, because I was tired of waiting on his magical feelings to kick in and make me feel like the fairytale princess I’d waited so long to be.

But I remember the night I stubbornly looked at him and thought, “Damnit, I’m going to win this. I am going to outlast your issues with love.”

Because love isn’t for fairytale princesses. Love is for endurance athletes. Continue reading

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The Confidence of a Two-Year-Old, On Her Birthday

Moira’s second birthday started off like most special days in our house, with me overthinking things and stressing everyone out trying to maximize the “special” and minimize the disruption to her routine.

But after a 5 am wake up, and a long time falling back to sleep, we all slept until 7:30, and school starts at 8am.

My plan for donuts and bacon breakfast was foiled by the fact that she ate way too much candy on Easter yesterday, so I felt like she needed something healthy in her belly to take on her big birthday.

Basic meals with Moira take at least 30-45 minutes on a good day, and she was not too keen to cooperate today. We did manage to squeeze in some special things, just a little faster than I had envisioned. She only got to listen to half of her favorite song. Because it’s 8 minutes long, and we’d gotten dressed and brushed out teeth and it was still going…

As she and her dad drove off to school, me watching from the porch, I got a feeling that must plague every mom on her child’s special days: “I just want her to feel special today.”

Reality check: Moira is two, and she’s an only child with an enthusiastic support system. She feels special every day.

Moira - Geronimo Creek

She cheers for herself (and demands that we join in) every time she eats a bite of food she doesn’t like. (We have a Draconian policy that she try everything on the plate, so she’s found a way to motivate herself.)

She looks at herself and the mirror and says, “Oh, you look so beautiful.” Continue reading

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Something New and Good: The Surprising Freedom of Mama Bear

If I had one fear going into motherhood, it was that their hungry little mouths, and needy little souls would be the death knell of my freedom. In fact, when Moira was born, I went through a period of mourning for my afternoons of deep contemplation, for the concept of “browsing,” and the ability to lose track of time.

The beginning of a baby’s life is hard for the mom.

I felt like I had about 45 minutes between breastfeeding sessions in which to cram in all of my personal maintenance, and graciously thank all the well-wishers and meal-bringers. Life had never felt more scheduled, crammed full of nuts and bolts.

But looking back, I realized that something miraculous began in the midst of that.

I became freer.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

First, before this starts sounding like tales from the joyful martyr, let me say this: I’m writing this in a coffee shop, processing my thoughts, and sipping tea. My first baby’s season of hourly scheduled needs is over. A second baby’s is about to begin, but I don’t think I’ll need to mourn so much, because I realize how quickly it’s over. Continue reading

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Plush nativities and communion…

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. But Christmas always brings out the blogger in me. Most likely because of a long and conflicted history with the holiday and my need to externally process.

This year, with a toddler, we have entered the vortex of American Christmas. “Do you guys ‘do Santa’?” (which is a creepy question). Grandparents are wanting to buy her presents, which leads to conversations about the kinds of toys we want to have in the house, and how much regulation is appropriate for us to exercise in that realm. She also has her own interests, which makes me more inclined to impulse buy all the Daniel Tiger merchandise, bison toys, and musical instruments I see around town. (Yes, bison. That’s her favorite animal.)

Continue reading

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Something New and Good: An Intense Mom’s Gospel

The last 16.5 months of my life have been amazing. As Moira grows, I grow as her mother.

Some of that growth is fun. She learns new words. My heart melts when she says, “books!” first thing in the morning. She loves to swim. I love to swim with her.

Some of that growth is not fun. She gets new teeth. I learn that going to dinner with her at 8:30pm is a terrible idea, even on vacation. She learns to wait. I learn not to fear meltdowns in public (because, like many other animal instincts, fearing only makes them more aggressive, while not fearing seems to pacify them).

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Somehow, Lewis and I thought that things with a baby would either be happy-sunshine-fun (him) or miserable-scary-impossible (me). For the past 16.5 months so many of our date nights have ended in the same conversation.

“I don’t understand this…intensity that I feel,” I say.

“I just wish you could relax and not let things bother you,” he says.

Then I freak out that I’m freaking out. Obsess on not obsessing. Get intense about not wanting to be an intense mom. Continue reading

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Another blogger writes about racism and where it begins

So every blogger on in America is telling us how to respond to the shootings in Charleston. Everyone is trying to say the one profound thing that’s going to send an arrow straight to the heart of racism and explode it.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because, like many have said, we need to talk about it. We, the white folks (who seem to all have blogs), need to talk about it. We also need to listen to our black, brown, and everything else friends. To fall back on my grad school vocabulary: it’s time for everyone to interrogate whiteness.

So this blog post does not contain the one nugget that’s going to change racism. Continue reading

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