Monday, September 26, 2011

Being Too Full for Words

I have not posted in a bit and there is a legitimate reason … I promise.  I could not find words to express the past 10+ days of my life.  Sometimes we are so full from the buffet of blessings and smorgasbord of experiences that we cannot find words to speak.  That is what I experienced the past few weeks.  It was something I will not soon forget.  My cup runneth over ...

My seminary faculty had a retreat away from campus weekend before last that was a blessed time of reflection, camaraderie, and visioning.  We discussed some important topics for the future, found some time to toss around a Frisbee and had a blast together as friends and colleagues.  On Wednesday a group in Philadelphia I am working with, Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence, held a rally naming the 186 persons killed by gun violence in our city since Jan. 1, 2011 at City Hall with t-shirts representing all of them.  This was a moving and emotional day as I was asked to read 50 of the 186 names.  Just thinking about the lives cut short, the relationships not solidified and the futures not realized was stunningly poignant.  On Friday I taught a workshop on Preaching, Hunger and Justice to persons preaching on the issue on World Food Day in October.  It was so amazing to be in the same room with these folks who are so committed to alleviating hunger and poverty.  On Saturday I watched my pre-teen son play soccer with several family members – one of whom had never seen him play.  It was delightful to listen to the kids and parents scream with passion and energy.  We even had a DirectTV blimp flying overhead (although I think they were there for another reason).  On Sunday evening I was at the organizing convention of P.O.W.E.R – Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild with almost 3,000 other people working with 40+ churches and communities of faith to improve job availability, education, health care, housing, and public safety in the city of Philadelphia.  It was an awesome sight to see this interfaith gathering of folks committed to justice making for the people of Philly.  The week also included my regular teaching schedule, faculty gatherings on several topics, church committee work, and student conversations.   My cup runneth over ...

It was a full week – in the amount of time that was involved for these projects and activities AND in the emotional investment so many put into these events.  So many times last week I said the words, “Lord, help me be open to all you are blessing me with this week.  Help me be your vessel.”  There were days I came home bone tired and very weary.  But at the end of every one of those days – I knew how blessed I was to participate in the events and activities I had been part of.   My cup runneth over ...

The week was full – in so many ways.  And I thank God for allowing me to be part of all of it.  Even when I had no words to express my emotions – the fullness of my life is a blessing. My cup runneth over! I am so grateful that I have work, a family, a life, and a faith community that fills me with blessings all the time.   My cup runneth over ... What a joy!  I’ll take full anyday!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cleaning House Makes Me Happy!?

I am admitting something on this blog.  It is something that I often don’t admit publicly but most people who know me will not be surprised by the news.   I inherited it from my parents and I have even passed it on to my son in some small ways (though maybe not as much as I wish I had).  It is hard to hide and even harder to explain sometimes but I will tell you anyway.  I have OCD (or CDO with the letters in alphabetical order as they should be).   OCD is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It is defined in my life as needing everything to be in order, wanting every place in my life at home and at work über organized, and being personally and systematically ordered in the things I do.  My sock drawer is organized by color, I have files for everything and know where they are, and my digital calendar is color coded for different types of events for each person in the family.  Sometimes it drives my family crazy.  And truth be told – sometimes it makes me a bit frazzled as it affects others.  But it is my life.

It also made me annoyed at times when I was younger and living with my OCD parents.  I would take my tea glass into the living room to watch TV or something.  Later I might go into the other room for a minute and when I returned my glass was in the dishwasher.  My Dad would threaten to leave us if we were not in the car when he was ready to go – but I do not remember if he ever really left us.  It was not always a lot of fun but they taught me to keep things in order, that on time meant being there five minutes early, and to make sure I got things done on time.  I am grateful in a way since there are a lot of things about my OCD that are very helpful in my life.  And my OCD is not debilitating – like it is for so many who deal with the condition on a daily basis.  I pray for those afflicted in ways that keep them from accomplishing all they could in their lives and for those who have overcome OCD to live full and productive lives.

But for me it is still a persistent way of life.  I get up and do thing in the same way day in and day out.  My house has to be clean and organized or it makes me cringe – and living with others who do not have OCD means I do cringe on occasion.  In academia it is a bit odd to have an organized office, but my desk has nothing out on it unless I am currently using it.  Some of my colleagues are well known for piles of books and papers in their offices to the point that no one can even visit and find a pace to sit.   I know it’s a bit cliché, but some of my professor friends make it real on a daily basis – and I love them for it (even if we cannot have a meeting in their office).

But the need for order sometimes causes conflict.  My 12 year old son and I have very different ideas about what a clean room looks like.  He thinks as long as his piles are not falling over it’s ok.  He thinks as long as the clothes are near the hamper it’s alright.  He thinks a messy desk is the sign of an imaginative mind.  He thinks the fact that all of this drives me crazy is reason enough to keep it the same.  I guess that is more a part of being 12 than it is a reaction to my OCD but it is more than likely a bit of both.

The debate in my house is about whether my needs should supersede his.  The debate is one that comes up often.  Part of me wants to teach my son the same things my parents taught me – about order and being responsible.  But part of me wants him to be his own person and create his own style.  Right now – unfortunately the OCD side of me wins more than the other side. 

What does it mean to pass something on to the next generation?   I hope it means passing on the good things.  So what I want to pass on to my son is not just flashes of my OCD.  I want to pass on compassion, love of others, faithful living, joy of life, good humor, enjoyment of reading, love of learning, care for the earth, and kindness to all.  If my son gets this from me I will be one proud and happy Mom.  I will also be happy if his room is clean but I’ll take what I can get.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from 9/11

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was at home in Kansas City, Kansas awaiting the time to leave the house for a doctor’s appointment.  I was watching the Today show when they went live to a camera showing the World Trade Center Towers after what they thought was “an incident involving a small plane that had hit the North Tower.”  I was watching live with countless millions as a second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center buildings and then watched in stunned silence as it became clear that this was more than a small plane accident.  I stayed home for several hours watching the coverage.  I was shocked and amazed at the depth and breadth of the destruction as the towers fell two hours after the initial incidents.  At the time, I did not know that a friend from Kansas City was at a meeting in the South Tower and that she had perished. I did not know the firefighters and police officers running into the buildings to help others but was stunned by their bravery.  I did know people who lived in New York and was nervous about their safety.   It was a rough morning for all.  Then we learned about the additional attack on the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.   I was terrified and I was unsure how far the attacks would spread.  Many in our country and around the world felt the same way.

The news was devastating.  How had this happened?  Who had done it?  Why had they killed so many?  Where was this event taking our country?  These and many other questions hit me all at once and stayed with me for some time.  Like others – I did not have answers.

In the days and weeks to come, we would learn that Al-Qaeda, an extremist group of Muslims, had perpetrated the attacks and that nearly 3,000 people had perished – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Americans, Israelis, Canadians, Brits, Indians, transit cops, firefighters, police officers, office workers, restaurant employees, investment bankers, secretaries, lesbians, gay men, married people, singles, and others representing 372 foreign countries.

The effects of the attacks of 9/11 are still being felt in the US and beyond.  The health of many who survived the attacks and those who worked in rescue and recovery efforts has been greatly affected as well.  Lower Manhattan will never be the same, neither will the US.  The people who lost loved ones on the planes, at the Pentagon, and in the attacks on NYC will continue to deal with their loss their entire lives.  There are children who are growing up without their parent and young people are getting married without their Father or Mother to be there with them.  Spouses are living without their beloved partners.  There are families who have never recovered from the loss of the bread winner in their home.  The lives lost in wars against Al-Qaeda cannot be replaced and their sacrifice must be honored, but the war on terrorism continues to go on without much evidence of it ending any time soon (despite the death of Osama bin Laden).  The cost of these efforts on our economy is immeasurable. 

So what have we learned?  Many still believe that all Muslims are evil and that Islam is a violent religion because of the extremists who led the attacks.  Many still believe in conspiracy theories that the US might have even been part of the attacks in some way.  Many continue to distrust anyone who looks “other” than themselves when boarding planes.  Many continue to have their lives affected by the hate that marred that terrible day.

But this year – the 10th anniversary of the attacks – I believe it is time to think differently.  It is time to finally turn the page on hate.  It is time to stop believing the worst about others based on their religion or other differences (real or perceived).  It is time to celebrate our shared human experience.  Others have unfortunately shared our experience in the last 10 years – with terrorist and hate attacks in Mumbai, Norway, the UK, South America, many countries in Africa, Indonesia, and too many others.  We are not alone in our grief and indignation. 

But we can be united in our love for one another, our acceptance of our differences, our calls for justice, our desire for peace, our honoring of our heroes, and our belief in the human spirit.  On this 10th Anniversary of 9/11 – I choose peace, love and acceptance – all tempered with a cry for justice in all things.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Shoes and No Bullying

School starts next week in Philadelphia and my family has made the usually trek to buy school supplies.  We got 14 (yes, 14) composition books, glue sticks, crayons, markers, protractor, pencil box, book covers, folders, and pens/pencils.  We send our son to a school that requires school uniforms so we also bought the required shirts, shorts and gym uniforms.  And we had to buy the required shoes.  Yes – the required shoes.  They are black dress shoes that he will wear with either his short or long pant uniforms.  They are chunky and are not cheap.  All summer my son has worn Crocs or tennis shoes – or nothing at all.  Now he is going to be wearing these heavy dress shoes for school.  (He also has to wear a tie when he wears long pants but that is potentially a whole different post).  The chunky shoes mean something.

Putting on the big boy shoes means school is upon us.  Buying school supplies means the summer is about over.  We are entering into Labor Day Weekend and that means back to school for my son and back to work for me.  So I am mourning a bit, but I am also ready.  This has been a great summer but it is time to get back into a regular routine.  School does that for families.  It puts them back into a routine of waking, working, studying, and homework.  It is usually a time of anxiety for younger kids starting to Kindergarten for the first time, for Middle Schoolers entering into a new school, or High Schoolers heading into a major change of their lives.  It also happens for college students and professors, which is what I am.  So back to school leads many to feel queasy, uneasy, anxious, etc.  It is also a time for new possibilities, connecting to old friends, learning new things, and amazing opportunities.  It is a time to make new friends and a time for new adventures to stretch us.

But it is also a time when some students dread the inevitable painful experiences of being treated as outsiders.  Bullying and teasing kids for being different happens all the time.  It is an unfortunate part of school.  I experienced it growing up.  Many have in their lives.  Some say it is simply a natural part of school.  I disagree completely.  It is something that should not only be discouraged, but should be removed from our school environments completely.

Recently a post started circulating around Facebook.  It said …

See that girl right there?  The one you just called fat?
She's been starving herself, and she's lost over 30 pounds.
The one you just called stupid?
  She has a learning disability, she studies 6 hours per night.
The one you just called ugly? 
She spends over 3 hours putting makeup on.
The one you just called baby? You would be crying too if your mother was dead.
The one you just tripped? 
I think she's abused enough at home.
There's a lot more to a person than you think.  Stop bullying those who are different.

You cannot tell enough by just looking at someone who they are inside, but folks try all the time.  They look at someone and make assumptions about who they are, what their lives are like, how they express their personhood, and what they believe.  And then they use those assumptions to tease, belittle, bully, and abuse those “other” than themselves.  It is time we started a new school tradition – one where we accept each other.  I realize I may be idealistic and unrealistic but I believe we can achieve it.  Talk to your kids about bullying – so they will not participate in it, so they know what to do if it happens in their presence to others, and so they will know who to talk to if they are victims.  But bullying happens outside of school, too.  So talk to them about cyber-bullying and how they can avoid it, report it, and help their friends who might be cyber-bullied.  

One person at a time can make a difference.  You can make a difference … and so can you kids.  Educate them to be kind, to be accepting of others, to not use derogatory words or phrases, and to report bullying to teachers and administrators.  You can make a difference.