Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.

As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.

I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.

I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.

And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”

Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.

One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.

We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.

Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.

What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.

 

PSA for youth workers- Generation Like

Snapshot 3:25:14 6:10 AM

Finally! Douglas Rushkoff does it again. He offers a clear, engaging glimpse into the lives of teenagers that every youth pastor, parent and ministerial person who cares about teens should see.

A decade ago he gave Merchants of Cool to us. This has been used in youth ministry classes, theology and pop culture classes, workshops and referenced far and wide. As much fun as it is to laugh at the hair and clothes at this point, the categories covered make watching it today more than worth your time.

In case you missed it, a month ago, Generation Like was aired on PBS Frontline. Anyone who has had me in class knows I am a fan of PBS Frontline. While we once had to wait for the content, it is already available. So grab a cup of coffee, get comfy and you can legitimately watch a video for an hour an call it work. (If you’ve never seen Merchants of Cool, you get to watch 2 hours and call it work!)

An advent- for advent

Holidays can be harsh. The shiny glitz for many seems to only bring into sharp relief how hard their life currently is. In this one week I have been with people doing the best they can in the face of broken families, custody struggles, suicide, prostitution and porn addiction. Tis the season! Add to this the grief my own family is walking through and it can be difficult to remember that these days are intended to be holy, set apart. For all of these reasons and more, it only seems appropriate to spend a little time looking forward to the hope that is to come. It’s easier to write a blog post about what I am against. Using some manner of snark or sarcasm to tear someone or something else apart. I’m just not into that. It seems there are plenty of others who live in that space. I’m not saying I will never critique someone or something, but for now, for today I want to be more known for what I am for than against.

With this in mind…I offer five things for advent that I just love. Five things that really do impact daily life as well as the bigger picture of the holiday season. May you find something here to spur you on to love and good deeds, to knowing you are God’s beloved child with whom He is well pleased.

1) Devotions for Advent– Hands down, my favorite seasonal devotional! Tyndale put this together a few years ago and it is great. Thoughtful, beautiful and interactive. Thanks for a grown up devotional that is not maudlin or tired. Still time to check it out on the PDF or order online. Totally worth it!

2) How to curb that list- A few years ago a good friend offered this phrase to help us re-focus Christmas, especially when it comes to gifts. “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” It certainly cuts down on the insanity of shopping and forces choices for the best gifts instead of simply more. **Note- grandparents are exempt whether you want them to be or not, they will ignore you. ***Note- I still cheat and fill the stockings with whatever I can get in.

3) Countdown to Christmas-Love, Love, Love this!! A family, interactive devotional for kids but doesn’t make you as the parent want to gouge your eyes out. You will want to read at least a day ahead to prep but nothing is terribly difficult and for the few that need supplies, they can be found around the house.

4) Paper Chain Countdown- Write out the Christmas story from the gospels and divide it into 25 sections (Matthew 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20). Format these on a regular sheet of paper with at least 4 lines of space between and print. Cut the passages into strips and make a paper chain. Each morning, read on portion of the story. With children, review everyday as you unfold the entire story. For adults, this is a great lectio devina to do each day.

5) Whether you like Veggie Tales or not, they have some good stuff for families and I am not ashamed to know the entire opening jingle. St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving has become a favorite of my girls. While this is not Classic Veggie Tales (which is the dividing line for some) it is entertaining and with conversation from family, it is a great tool! Do’t look for complete historical accuracy. What you will find is a way to open conversation for why we give presents on the birthday of Jesus in a way that keeps Jesus as the center AND allows for participation in the culture in which we live. For those of you who tell your toddlers there is no Santa, this is not for you. Also, please kindly stay away from my children. I am just fine with a little fantasy knowing this too shall pass.

6) Bonus Item- I’m pretty excited! I already love our intergenerational class at church. In part because the people are great!! In part because we are always going through really interesting stuff. This year, we are looking at Advent Conspiracy. I’ll let you know on the other side how it goes but if you want to check it out ahead of time, follow the link.

Curly hair

Cierra and I are finishing up week three of a month in Dundas, Ontario, a small town of 20,000 swallowed up by the metropolitan area of Hamilton, a city of over half-a-million people. We are staying in a delightful condo in the quaint downtown area. Almost daily we have walked the roughly six-block main street, stepping in to a shop here or there, mostly looking for food. For the first two weeks we walked past the old post office that now houses small shops – a bakery, a clothing store, and a place called Ellenoire. But we didn’t go in. Ellenoire advertises on the sign outside that it is a place that specializes in curly hair.

The first time we walked by I noticed the sign and mentioned to Cierra that it was refreshing to see that they had emphasized their specialty in ‘curly hair’ not ethnic hair. (I have never understood that phrase which has always seemed such a stupid and even racist phrase. White people don’t have ethnic hair, we are the norm. Everybody else has ethnic hair.) We continued our walk. And on every jaunt since, we continued by until Wednesday. As we passed by the post office building once again, the smell from the bakery drew us in. (Like I said, we are usually out looking for food.) We decided to check the shops out. Cierra got a peanut butter cookie in the bakery and as we walked back into the hallway, I suggested we just stop by Ellenoire and what a delightful experience we had. Cierra has pretty short and straightened hair and the owner of the salon wanted to make sure that we new upfront that they focus on natural hair, not artificially straightened hair. There were four employees and several customers in the store. Everyone joined in the conversation to talk about societal pressure on black women to have straight hair – to conform to cultural expectations of the broader culture. As we talked, the owner made a comment about the impact if black female celebrities stopped straightening their hair or getting weaves. And I responded with, “or maybe a first lady.” She laughed and said, ‘Yeah. But can you imagine the uproar and the political costs to her husband if she decided to go natural?” But wouldn’t it be a seismic shift for American culture if Michelle Obama, in the President’s final year in office, decided to stop weaving and straightening? Anyway, she suggested that Cierra and I watch Chris Rock’s movie “Good Hair.” I had seen snippets of it, but not the whole thing.

As we walked back to our condo, I asked Cierra what she thought about the conversation. Her first words were, “I’m not ready to go natural. The cost would be too great at school. Maybe when I graduate from high school, but not now. The only girls that don’t straighten their hair or have weaves are the one or two black girls that are African immigrants. They can get away with it. The rest of us can’t.” (BTW, at her high school, one-third of students identify as African-American, so when Cierra says that only 1 or 2 black girls embrace their natural curls, that means there are about 200 that don’t).

Later that night we did watch Chris Rock’s movie and we talked during and after about the pressure on black women to conform to culturally-idealized standards. Cierra said, ‘we should write a letter to Michelle Obama and tell her to let her hair be curly.’ And, then she also said, but I’m not ready to go natural. I have too many other battles to contend with at school to take that one on.

 

The more things change . . . .

Sometimes I feel like all I do is complain about how bad things are and how nothing ever changes. As I was making notes of different topics I had been thinking about in the past couple of weeks, I was struck by how some things have changed. Specifically, we talk about things openly and publically in ways I certainly wouldn’t have envisioned thirty years ago. Here are some examples of recent public conversations along with my longings for how we might further the dialogue even more.

Last week, Inside Higher Ed.com posted a story about Grace University’s  (Omaha) expulsion of a female student for being lesbian and the subsequent demand that she reimburse the school $6,000 for scholarship monies she received for the semester in which she was expelled. A very interesting story and much to think about; you can read more at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/13/student-expelled-being-gay-and-charged-6000-back-tuition-protests-online-petition#ixzz2WtC1PNaS

One quote in particular from the young woman jumped out at me, however. The former student, Danielle Powell, stated that she didn’t intentionally set out to deceive the school about her sexual orientation. In her words, “No knowingly gay person would ever go to this institution.” She is also quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t identify as being a lesbian. I love who I love based on my emotional connection with that person. It has nothing to do with gender.” Powell is now married to her then girlfriend and living in Nebraska.

Isn’t God-given human sexuality really about intimate connection? We are often so busy trying to categorize people that we can’t hear or see what is really important. What if we could talk about sexual identity without the need for putting people into boxes or slapping a label on them?

Exodus International, “a controversial Christian ministry devoted to changing people ‘affected by homosexuality’ announced Wednesday night that it was shutting its doors after operating for more than three decades.”

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-exodus-ministry-to-shut-down-20130619,0,2132827.story

The decision to close its doors came on the heels of a public apology by its current president of eleven years, Alan Chambers. In a statement from the organization, Chambers apologized to members of the gay community for “years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.” In the statement, Chambers acknowledges the need for a public apology because the work of Exodus International was public. He does not apologize for his theological convictions – they haven’t changed:

“I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could encounter each other across the boundaries of our otherness with love and not fear? 1 John 4:18ff states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us.20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

Rachel Held Evans was a guest blogger on Tony Jones’ blog this week. She wrote an elegant piece about the weight she carries for representing her gender every time she shows up whether in person or on paper. She gave voice to the angst of many women in ministry (and in other professions as well). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/06/14/rachel-held-evans-a-womans-voice/

She notes her commitment to, as much as possible, set aside the burden of speaking for her gender and endeavoring to speak in “Rachel’s voice.” I applaud her in that commitment. She writes: “(b)ut more and more I’m learning to let go, to quit this fool’s errand of proving to the world that women have what it takes, and instead to go about the hard, unglamorous work of just showing up…as Rachel.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could celebrate the gifts we each bring to God’s table? Wouldn’t it be delightful if the planners for a ministry conference or church leadership workshop didn’t need to scratch their heads in befuddlement to come up with a handful of excellent speakers and presenters who also happened to be women and/or people of color?

Things have changed, but the old adage also still holds true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. I will continue to long for something more until the cows come home. Or, maybe until kingdom come.

 

“It” is killing us

It could be shootings are getting greater publicity since Sandy Hook.

It might be that I more readily see the headlines of people getting shot since Sandy Hook.

But, sadly, it is the reality that way too many people die everyday from gunshots. Slate has begun tracking shooting deaths (www.slate.com) and estimates that more people in the U.S. have been shot to death since Sandy Hook than died on September 11. Before everyone starts lining up on their side of the gun control debate, let’s stop for a moment and reflect on the fact that more than 2,793 people have been shot and killed. . . . Almost 3,000 lives. . . . . in three months.

A few snapshots:

A 14 year-old shoots another 14 year-old in an alley in south Minneapolis. http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/198633621.html   One moment, two lives, tragically destroyed. The Children’s Defense Fund reported in 2012 that more than 5,000 children and teens died in 2008 and 2009 from guns. 5,000 young lives, gone.

The first homicide in Columbus, Georgia this year was a young man, Charles Foster, just 24 years old. http://www.npr.org/2013/03/18/173812393/among-thousands-of-gun-deaths-only-one-charles-foster-jr  Columbus, a south Georgia town of 190,000, has had eleven more homicides since Mr. Foster’s. The local coroner expects the total for 2013 to far exceed the 36 homicides in 2012.

Blogger, Bill Schiller, posted this blog yesterday with The Toronto Star – a Canadian’s perspective on gun violence in the U.S. (http://thestar.blogs.com/worlddaily/2013/03/another-day-another-tragic-killing-in-america-but-this-one-is-different.html)

Every death by gunfire is tragic – no matter what the circumstances.

But some pull even more tightly at the heartstrings because of their absolute senselessness.

Of course there are many, many of these every day in America.

Even still, the death of 16-year-old Caleb Gordley,  a well-loved high school student from Virginia, stands out.

Tragically.

Although grounded by his parents Saturday night for failing to clean his room, Caleb decided to sneak out to a party anyway.

To return on early Sunday, he had to sneak back in.

But he had been drinking – and got the wrong house.

He was shot to death by a neighbour at 2:30 a.m.

The houses in the subdivision in suburban Loudon County are strikingly similar and difficult to distinguish from behind. Caleb’s friends had driven him home and helped him over a back fence. Then, he climbed through an unlocked window and proceeded up the carpeted staircase that led – he thought – to his bedroom.

But his entry had triggered a burglar alarm and, as he mounted the darkened staircase, he met his neighbour, who had grabbed a gun and was making his way down.

“Caleb and his friend hopped the fence into the wrong backyard,” his father Shawn explained later on Twitter. His son, he said, had “staggered up the staircase which is identical to mine.”

Caleb was declared dead at the scene.

No charges have yet been laid, and reports suggest that none will. The metro pages of the Washington Post report that the law in Virginia appears to give “wide latitude” to people who fear for their safety.

Caleb was known as a ‘life of the party’ kid who loved to rap – he called himself “Prince George” – and play varsity basketball, football and baseball.

“Everyone loved being around Caleb and felt better when around him,” his coaches Jermaine Walker and Mike Koscinski said in tribute.

But Caleb wasn’t the only one to be shot in gun-rich America over the weekend.

In Calumet, Ill. 15-year-old Ashaya Miller died while visiting at a friend’s when gunfire burst through the kitchen window.

In Chicago, a 3-year-old boy is struggling for his life after he was shot in the stomach at a relative’s home in circumstances police have yet to explain.

And in Oklahoma, a gun enthusiast shot himself to death at the H & H Gun Range in Oklahoma.City.

According to Slate’s gun-death tracker, more people have died in America since the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, than died in the 9/11 attacks.

Some 2,793 Americans have died as a result of gun violence since Sandy Hook, while 2,752 perished in the 9/11 attacks.

One key difference though, as the New York Times and others have pointed out: the deaths at 9/11 were executed by forces hostile to America. The gun deaths that occur every single day are almost all Americans killing Americans.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of ’06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

 

Asking questions

When the nurse called my name, I hobbled painfully behind him to the examination room. My left knee was pathetically useless and my right knee did as best it could to keep me upright, except in those moments when she just simply gave out. It seemed in just a matter of days I had gone from moving at a fast pace, being active, going to the gym regularly to an abrupt stand still. My knees no longer cooperated. The pain in my joints was becoming increasingly intolerable. As the doctor looked at x-rays, and examined my knees, he looked at me ruefully and said there was nothing more he could do for me.

I am an academic. That means when my doctor tells me that my knees are shot and he can no longer keep them going, I start asking questions and researching my options. If I needed both knees replaced, I wanted to know what the risks were, what would recovery look like, and I wanted the best surgeon possible.

As with most academics, I did my research with a list of pre-suppositions that included: 1) the surgeon needs to be young, because that will mean that she/he is current on the most recent trends; 2) needs to have lots of experience in my particular surgery, and 3) has confidence in her/his abilities to do the surgery well. I did my research and selected a surgeon. That decision started me on a now four-month journey to have both my knees replaced.

Along this journey, I have had many discoveries and surprises; some pleasant, some painful and challenging, and some quite sobering. One of the most surprising to me has been my immersion into the health care system. Unsurprising to social workers and anthropologists, the world of surgical medicine is a well-developed system. Even in the fogged state of post-surgery and pain meds, it was quite startling to me to observe the hierarchy in this system and the affect the hierarchy had on my care.

At the top of this hierarchy, the surgeons, followed closely by anesthesiologists, and hospitalists (the doctors that manage a patient’s care in a hospital setting). At the bottom of this hierarchy are the CNA – certified nursing assistants, with the LPN – licensed practical nurses and RN – Registered Nurses somewhere in the middle. In my case, Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapist were heavily involved in my recovery. They seem to float in their own orbits, independent of the regular hierarchy.

One scene from my experience captures this hierarchical system rather well. About three days after my surgery, I developed serious complications and was quickly moved back from the rehabilitation center to the hospital. The nurses (RN) were compassionate and caring, ensuring that I was comfortable and that my vital signs were monitored. They hovered around as they waited for the internist – my hospitalist – to show up and assess the situation. This doctor was thorough, kind and thoughtful as he evaluated my options. His focus was evaluating the severity of the complications and developing a plan to address them. During these intense moments, the surgeon stopped by. Two things told me his arrival was imminent. First, all of the nurses around me, except for the supervisor, became anxious and began to step backwards toward the side door into my room. Secondly, I became aware of what the nurses had already heard. The sound of several pairs of footsteps emphatically marching down the hall toward my room. Within seconds, the surgeon and his entourage walked through the main door into my room. From their starched shirts to their polished dress shoes, they commanded attention when they walked in. Without any hesitation whatsoever, they took over. I don’t say that with irritation or harshness. I wanted someone in charge of my health that knew what he was doing, had the confidence and experience to make the difficult choices. And that’s what I had. Along with that package also comes a strong ego and arrogance. He’s good and he knows he’s good. He knows what it takes to accomplish the difficult tasks of surgery and recovery and makes no apology for demanding what he needs. Even as I reacted against his cocky, self-confidence, I also knew I could trust my health—my life to him.

It was the people at the bottom of this hierarchy, however, that were the true caregivers. Throughout these three days and as I returned to the rehabilitation center, there were the CNAs. They brought me my meals, they changed my sheets, my hospital gowns, they even bathed me and washed my hair. I can only speak from my own experience, but I have never felt so cared for; ever! Everyone of them in my almost three-week stay was gentle, kind and compassionate. Not one time did any one of them respond to me with harshness or lack of caring. My first shower came about a week after surgery. Maria came and picked me up from my room and helped me get my clothes together. Once she helped me to the shower, she gently helped me remove my hospital gown, putting me in the shower chair. With great tenderness she washed my body and shampooed my hair. As she carefully poured warm water over my hair to rinse it, my mind was drawn to the image of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in John 13. She brought me to tears when she lovingly wrapped me in warm, fluffy towels. This woman didn’t know me from Eve, but she lovingly and tenderly cared for me.

As she helped me back to my room, I tried to communicate my gratefulness for the shower and for her care. We talked about the work that she does and she remarked that it was a gift to her to be able to take care of her patients. As I lay in my bed later that day, I pondered the contrasts between the different groups of people essential to my recovery. I am incredibly thankful for a surgeon that knew his job and did it really well and for people like Maria, who very caringly took care of my daily needs. One sobering part of this system, that raises a host of questions for me, is the contrast in compensation for each of these groups. The average salary for a Certified Nursing Assistant is $24,000; the average for an orthopedic surgeon; $424,000.[*] As someone that has spent decades getting an education and pursuing a profession, I get that my doctor has done the hard work of training and sacrifice to get where he is. I get that. But Maria has also made commitments and sacrifices and thousands like her. A patient’s ability to thrive and recover depends in no less part on people like Maria. Where is equity in this system?

My thoughts about this system came back full force as the system that I am most closely linked with took a hit this month. The university where I work has been hit with serious financial hard times and we are looking at layoffs, program cutbacks and other difficult financial decisions. We are a system of hierarchy too of staff, faculty and administrators. In tight times, how do we ethically make decisions about how the pie gets distributed or re-distributed. Faculty have worked long and hard to get an education, to invest their time and energies in research and scholarship. They often view themselves as the central cog in the educational system; one can’t educate without educators. But a university also cannot function without the staff to keep things going from maintaining technology, cleaning classrooms and bathrooms, scheduling classes, ordering textbooks and the list goes on. What does it mean to take care of faculty, as well as staff? How does a university do that ethically and equitably? I don’t have many answers, just lots of questions. I am, after all, an academic.


[*] Another systemic question for another day: what are the systemic frameworks that set up my doctor for becoming a surgeon and Maria for becoming a CNA? It’s safe to assume (I think) that they didn’t have the same options and choices before them.

Reflections on Lent

Sometimes, when it comes to ancient traditions and rituals of Christianity, I feel like I am playing a slow game of catch-up. Though I grew up in an extended family of faith, in the deeply religious Bible-belt of the American South, it was a community that eschewed any vestige of ritual practice. Words like advent, epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Lent, among others were not part of my religious vocabulary, nor personal experience. My first experience with Lent was connected to Mardi Gras. As a young mom, living in New Orleans – my first experience outside the rural confines of the panhandle of Florida, was as breath-taking as it was terror-filled. Lively music and raucous celebrations, the excess of Mardi Gras’ celebrations, followed by penance and fasting on Ash Wednesday, beginning the forty days of Lent. These expressions, though rooted in Christian ritual was so far removed from my context, that I found it hard to understand or appreciate them in any way as true religious expression.

Almost two decades later, I found myself in Canada among churches for whom the Lenten time of the Christian calendar was one of deep introspective reflection on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, intertwined with consideration of one’s response, as faith communities seeking to engage the world around them in ways that honored Jesus’ love and sacrifice. A deeper personal reverence for the rituals of my faith began to take hold.

Last week, I had one of my final physical therapy sessions. I have indeed been blessed with two incredible physical therapists during my recovery from double knee replacement. Both are named Dan; I have affectionately dubbed them “Dan the elder” and “Dan the younger,” though they are both much younger than me. Both Dans are incredibly gifted at challenging their patients to actively participate in their own healing. Beautifully integrating the softer side of physical therapy, namely, the ability to be tender, compassionate and nurturing, while at the same time combining that with pushing you to do your best, often leading you to experience pain in ways and at levels you didn’t know were possible. During those times when they are forcing my muscles to wake up and do the work they were intended for, we talk. The conversations are often as enriching for me as the physical therapy. At this session, Dan the younger and I talked about my plans for the weekend. I shared that my only plan for the weekend was to make King Cakes for my neighborhood family and for my office. That got us into a conversation about Mardi Gras and Lent, specifically the practice of giving something up for Lent. His oldest is just reaching the age of understanding and being able to actively engage in family rituals and practice. We talked about the ways we decide what to give up, the silly practices we, and others, engage in to legally meet the requirements of Lent, without making the fasting from something too stringent. He talked about what he wanted to teach his children, particularly his oldest son and mentioned the idea of doing rather than giving up. His comment sparked a recollection of one of my pastor’s sermons about Lent that highlighted the connection between service and sacrifice. Dave offered the idea that rather than limiting our Lenten ‘sacrifices’ to merely giving up something, a deeper meaning might be found in giving to others, which ultimately compels one to give up something. The apostle Paul, in Philippians offers us an image through Jesus’ giving up:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care -then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. (Philippians 2:1-6, emphasis added)

Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Just maybe that’s the thing to focus on during Lent. It’s not about me – it’s not about what I give up; it’s about what I give and how I love.

 

It’s not just about guns

Two months have passed since I last blogged. Seven weeks ago today I had surgery to replace both my knees. And, what a journey it has been. I am still processing many lessons I am learning from this journey and I will blog about some of them another time. Today I would like to talk not about physical health, but mental health.

Like most people, I have been deeply saddened by the violence and tragic mass shootings in 2012. In the beginnings of this new year, it seems that there are almost daily reports of someone entering a school, a restaurant parking lot or an office building armed to kill.

This culture of violence has sparked a vigorous debate on the place of guns in our society. Gun advocates and those desiring for greater gun control have been vociferous in defending their positions. There have even been pockets of real dialogue and open discussion. In the midst of these horrible tragedies, there may be hope that something good will come from the debate, leading to a safer environment for all of us.

In all of the clamor about guns, however, there have been quieter voices raising another concern, one that I think is truly the more serious issue, that is, the issue of mental health–the treatment and care of people who are mentally ill. One cannot read even cursorily about the killer at Sandy Hook or the Aurora theatre without realizing that they each had serious mental health issues. (For one mom’s perspective, see Calenthia’s earlier post here http://www.theologicalcurves.com/2012/12/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-by-liza-long/) An in-depth look raises many questions about the support individuals and families can access when faced with mental health issues, either from insurance companies, federal, state and local governments, and even churches, families and friends. Often, families and individuals are left to fend for themselves, running into more hurdles and roadblocks than actual help.

In the past few weeks, as the issue of gun safety has rightly been front-page news, there have been just as many headlines about mental health issues; only they haven’t gotten quite as much attention. The failure of our society to adequately address mental health issues was highlighted again in the Twin Cities this week with the memorial service of Peter Linnerooth, himself a psychologist with a history of working with veterans suffering from mental health issues, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. In his work advocating for soldiers, he served a tour in Iraq during the height of the conflict there, returning to the US severely traumatized by his experiences. As he struggled to cope and get help, while at the same time continuing to work with other veterans, he was overwhelmed with his own mental health issues, committing suicide on January 2nd. A mental health activist, he knew first-hand the obstacles to getting effective treatment and support. In 2010, Time Magazine published an article on the difficulties in obtaining effective mental health treatment for military personnel. Linnerooth was interviewed for that article. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008886,00.html

In a subsequent article reflecting on Linnerooth’s life and death, Time noted that the incidence of suicide of active duty troops reached its highest level in 2012 at 349. While the NRA was lobbying for armed guards in every school, the American School Counselor Association failed to get enough signatures to support school counselors in every public school.

I hope that the debate about gun control continues. I also hope that mental health issues get as much attention in our public discourse.

 

WHAT’S IN A LABEL?

For many years, the three of us on this blog have explored together issues of identity development, particularly the notion of how one integrates the different aspects of ‘self’ (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality) into an overall self-concept. How does one make sense of the whole of one’s differing identities?

Today I want to point you to a beautiful, thoughtful, and poignant blog that gets at the intense questioning that one must engage in to stay on the journey of understanding one’s identity. http://www.danoah.com/2012/11/anything-other-than-straight.html

Dan Pearce’s blog also highlights the significance of culture, social context and community in supporting and undermining a person’s journey towards wholeness. A dear friend regularly sends me postings from Ten Minutes of Torah Study. Yesterdays post explored Jacob’s struggle with God by the Jabbok river (Genesis 32). I have been pondering two points from this study that connect, at least for me, to a person’s struggle in understanding self. First, is that our struggles – our wrestlings – about self and God are intertwined and it’s difficult sometimes to know whether we are struggling with God or struggling with ourselves. Secondly, “through struggle comes growth and reconciliation, and that only through direct confrontation are we able to change from who we are to who we were meant to be.” (http://view.mail.rj.org/?j=fec511767366017f&m=fe9315707361057572&ls=fe281776716c0479761d72&l=fefd167574660c&s=fe58127173610c747510&jb=ffcf14&ju=fe6215717d670579771d&r=0)

Sometimes (maybe more often than not) that struggle is not with God, or others, but with ourselves.

In the next few days, I am looking forward to pondering and writing about some of the questions that Pearce has raised.