Grace

My students have come to know my four rules for life and everything else over the last few years. It started with an activity in my 2011-2012 English 4 class (my penultimate run of When The Legends Die by Hal Borland). We came up with some rules for life Tom learned and it got me thinking. A few years later I was using Be Smart, Be Safe, Be Legal…it took me a little while unpacking those with a few new groups of students to settle on The Big Four—exception may have a fifth thanks to The Year of Mess (I’m trying to be appropriate and apolitical).

Be Smart. Live and learn or look for the lessons from success and failure because life and personal choices will litter our history with both. I’m firmly in Aristotle’s camp on this one. The greater reality, the great hereafter, doesn’t matter; how we live our lives and what we learn along the way does. We cannot divorce ourselves from uncomfortable realities. This is the time and place we were born into. Learn how to navigate the world of children. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the world of teens. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the forest of adulthood. Use it all to help others as elders if we survive that long.

Having grown up white, mostly middle class, in the Pacific Northwest granted me certain privileges. Growing up female granted me certain dangers. Growing up with my father in the sights of some unscrupulous folks (look through my older posts *cough*Rajneeshis*cough*) granted us a certain level of implied danger for several years. So, my parents stealth taught us to Be Safe. We learned what to look for, basic ways to defend ourselves, why groups are important, why loyalty among friends is vital. We learned about trust.

Be kind was a natural outgrowth of something my earliest students were already passing onto their siblings and children. Take care of each other. Exercise compassion. Put your religious love into charitable action. See something wrong? Step in to stop it or find someone who can. See someone who needs a friend because they a different? Be that friend. I’m just sorry it took me a minute to believe the sincerity of a couple of my biggest smartasses.

The fourth I talked about all the time. I stole The Scarlet Letter from English 3 so I could teach it to English 4 and moved it back again as my teaching assignment changed, because I’m the only one who loves slogging through the old school fairy tale starring Hester Prynne. I’ll give up Huck Finn and Dead Legends any time to dig my teeth into the bleak, savage beauty of Be True.

I’m helping shape the next generation of critical the miners and communicators. It is brutally hard sometimes. I have to keep learning. I have to listen when a teenager or adult tells me I’ve screwed up & I have to fix the problem. I have to try to get my students to connect with fiction, nonfiction, & poetry the way they connect with video games or their favorite TikTok creator or Instagram influencer or YouTube vlogger.

I’ve learned how to accept help over the years. I’m quick to offer help. We all need help from time to time. We all need forgiveness too. We need a chance to actually grow, to implement change, to become our truer self. This is where Grace comes in.

Grant yourself grace.

Grant others grace.

Don’t be a fool and make yourself a doormat. Don’t walk all over others. When you see someone trying to be better accept that backslides and mistakes are human. That’s where grace comes in. We are living in a time when screaming and extremism makes the news. Maybe the rest of us can tip things a new direction through truly granting a little grace to those on the edges who don’t like what they’ve become. Maybe we can be a moderating influence that makes America more than it has been…maybe we can make the world better one neighborhood, one classroom, one community at a time.

Sleepless

Maybe some writing will clear my mind.

I can’t seem to let go of my worries or fears or failures again tonight.

I’m so tired that my eyes watered all day.

I’m so tired that I couldn’t really nap, but I couldn’t really be awake either.

Everything feels fractured and laced in the wrong kind of darkness.

The night is full of miracles and stars; the moon whispers through the trees until it gets so big and bold it’s shouting stories into the windows. Critters rustle the leaves just enough to keep the cats at the window and it’s just cool enough to keep the windows open so fresh air can flow through the house. Nighttime prayers sometimes drift out more easily—especially the ones for those we love or for those we don’t trust at all.

Unfortunately, as the darkness deepens so do our thoughts. Our fears rise as our need for sleep creeps closer. Our worries find fertile ground in minds preparing for dreams. This means that for some of us elements of depression and anxiety fight to overtake our sleepiness and good sense. Some nights, the battles are won by sleep and peace and love. Some nights…not so much.

I always know I’m not doing enough…

I’m certain I’m not enough…

The taunts of childhood and the failures around me are confirmation enough.

Fortunately, I am not only my failures.

I am my compassion.

I am my hopes.

I am what I pour into my classes.

I am the person who listens (& who sometimes needs a listening ear).

I am my bad jokes and momentary wit.

I am my stories.

I am my ability to learn and to do better.

I am living my faith instead of waiting for death.

I am able to live love.

I. Am. Still. Here.

And I am so grateful…

Don’t give up when the world feels like it’s crushing. Don’t let go of yourself when the water is above your head. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to ask for help—yes, it’s easier to give help, but it’s strong to accept help. We all need to be brave and reach out from time to time.

Sometimes, this is what reaching out looks like…throwing words into the night.

This Morning’s Meditation

nyti.ms/2CKSAvC

Say what you will about the NYT, but this article lays out the growing culture of hate. It also makes me think back on all I’ve learned through books, classes, others, life, and my faith—all three of the sister faith (or People of the Book) actually have love/submit to God and love in action as the cornerstones of their belief systems.

There is no excuse for the cruelty taught by some individuals or denominations of any faith; and the history of The Church is bathed in blood and hate rather than love in action.

This was an act of terrorism.

This was another act of domestic terrorism. And this is another reason for devout people to live their lives showing their love for others in whatever ways they are able.

This was evil.

Yes, my heart breaks for every person who has been harmed or in any way affected by acts of domestic terrorism; America’s long history of hate towards citizens and immigrants has to stop.

Yeah, my thoughts and prayers are with this weekend’s victims and their friends and their families. My acts of love toward others—teaching my students kindness, personal responsibility, forgiveness, the importance of doing what is right, and critical thinking—will continue. I will do my best to seed the wind with love in action. And when I have a bad day or I am thoughtless or I am cruel, I will take responsibility for my actions and I will work to not make that mistake or choice again. When I see acts of petty cruelty, I will step in to stop them and try to turn them into teachable moments.

This might be a bad idea

I posted a four tweet version of this, deleted them. Then reposted the following:

I rarely feel the need to make a public statement regarding my faith or beliefs. The gospels teach us love, not to hate or judge.

I deleted that tweet also in favor of attempting to explain my thoughts and feelings regarding The Nashville Statement. I am not the best Christian and while I have long struggled with institutionalize Christianity, I have never doubted the existence of God or the divinity of Christ. I know this post will put me at odds with how many people I love live their faith and that breaks my heart.

The Nashville Statement seems to encourage hate and hypocrisy. The focus on gender roles and sexual identity in a time when toxic hate is running rampant in our country and our world seems like strange timing.

Every Christian (or person who claims Christianity as their faith) should be reading The Bible for themselves, should be learning about Biblical and Church history, should be meditating on what Jesus was really trying to teach through The Gospels. Just because certain ideas have been associated with The Bible for 1,500 years and taught as “the one true interpretation” of this passage or that passage, doesn’t mean they are truth. Humanity is full of flaws as are all human institutions. Between what I learned growing up, through reading some theologians, through completing Education for Ministry, and through reading The Bible: Jesus was a man of action who sought to make a difference in the everyday lives of those on the fringes of society. He gave us the two greatest (as in most important) commandments—love God, love others—as the lens through which we are to understand and apply the other Ten Commandments.

Yes, he went after people corrupting Temple worship. However, those people were allowed to commercialize their faith by the temple priests, the leaders of their faith. Selling appropriate sacrifices and whatever else kept many of the poorest from easy access to the Temple and the required rituals of their belief system.

Time and again Jesus spoke out against hypocrisy and hypocrites. Time and again he used friendship as a way of making statements. He constantly taught in coded language through his parables.

Where in Matthew, Mark, Luke & Acts, or John does Jesus emphasize gender roles or sexual identity? I’ll be rereading them this month looking for just that. The Gospels are the heart of my faith because they were written by his closest followers or their closest followers. What these books have in common is truly impressive considering the different generations they were written in, the audiences they were written for (illiterate to well-educated), the sources we no longer have access to.

Full of Flaws

I fell in with Fundamental Unitarians who preached radical tolerance. —KM

For the last two weeks my EfM group has been discussing Fredrica Harris Thompsett’s book We Are Theologians. Last week, we focused on the importance of every person participating in their local church, supporting each other and keeping each other accountable. While our clergy are an important component of teaching people about their corporate faith, they are not a stand-in for Christ or an intermediary between the average believer and God. This week we are looking at the importance of community, of keeping each other (and ourselves) moving forward in our faith.

One of the reasons I transitioned from the Evangelical and Baptist churches I grew up in was the shift in those churches (the ones I was exposed to, not every one) from a thoughtful faith that challenged itself and sought out information about the history of the church and the ancient cultures at the heart of the early followers of Christ to a blind and thoughtless faith where critical thinking has become “questioning God”. The place where I landed eight or nine years ago, Episcopalian, has a foundation in Christ’s teachings and three elements that share importance: the Bible, reason or thoughtfulness, and tradition. I appreciate that the larger church and the individual communities encourage people to learn about their faith, its origins, and its changes over the centuries. I do wish it had more of an emphasis on each person becoming familiar with the Bible by reading it instead of (often) reading only the excerpts found in The Book of Common Prayer.

I greatly admire Cranmer’s move toward making scripture and theology accessible to the common person who didn’t have the money to spend on an entire Bible; I also admire his insistence on keeping the language at the level of the common people. However, like with Shakespeare, that drive to speak the language of the people rather than the language of the wealthy or academics has been lost in the “keep it pure” movement. Part of what made these men and their works so popular was their genuine drive to meet the masses where they were. The Book of Common Prayer became a way for people to learn to read and to learn to think. Shakespeare’s plays, like modern cartoons, work on multiple levels, hitting the humor of the masses and the subtle jabs that could be appreciated by the upper and more learned classes.

The other thing that drew me to the Episcopal church was the way the local church members involved themselves in various aspects of our community and helping those in need. Many of the churches in my community come together to man and contribute to the local food bank, set up and run warming stations in the heart of winter, and practicing loving their neighbors by accepting everyone as “a child of God.” Much to the consternation and sincere concern of the more conservative Christians, many churches have openly ordained women and accepted into their congregations those who are openly gay.

In the end, I believe that each person’s relationship with God is between that person and God. I also believe we are called on the keep each other honest instead of hypocritical. We have a duty to God, ourselves, and our neighbors to practice taking care of one another.