Pastors Are Healthcare Workers

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not medical doctors.

Pastors, in so far as they are pastors, are not nurses.

Pastors, in so far as…you get the picture, are not lab technicians, breathing specialists, or any other kind of medical aid.

But they are, I think, healthcare workers. And before you write this off (and few other claims I’ve made on social media have attracted ire like this particular one) let me explain…

Well, first, let me share a memory.

By his green scrubs I knew that he was a breathing specialist. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, the green scrubs were reserved for the breathing specialists, the blue for the M.D.’s, the grey for the surgeons, and the purple for the Chaplains.

There was a code blue. At a code blue the right people all get a page: the attending doctor, the floor nurses, the specialists (should there be one), and the Chaplain.

They all gathered around the body, doing what they could to revive the patient and the breathing specialist turned to the Chaplain and said, “Get in here! We need you. You’re part of the team.”

Now, being part of “the team” doesn’t make you a medical professional, but it does, I think, make you a healthcare worker.

Now, let me explain a little bit more…

President Biden asked “local docs, ministers, and priests” to encourage people to wear masks in this pandemic. He did so because he knows that, in America at least, clergy still hold a particular kind of sway with their congregants.

Yes, it’s waning, but it’s there.

And, especially in a health crisis, that kind of sway brings with it an inherent responsibility to do a few things, in my view.

First: they cannot shy away from speaking openly and honestly about public health and the public good. Many faith communities have come to believe that speaking about masks and vaccines is speaking partisan politics, and that is just a flat out pile of horse shit (insert ivermectin joke here).

Pastors are called upon, by nature of their office, to speak about things that concern the public, their parishioners, and the common good, which is precisely why they were asked to encourage their people to wear masks. The common good is not partisan, Beloved. Hence why it’s called “common.”

Secondly: pastors must follow the best science available. They must. They must hold hands with science, especially in a health crisis like this one.

It is their responsibility to encourage people to do what the best scientists and medical experts are encouraging humanity to do. In a pandemic there is no time or space for fringe medical ideas. In a pandemic there is no excuse for, “Well, 1 out of 10 doctors think differently…” There’s always one crap doctor out there, one quack scientist, and yes one crappy pastor (maybe more, now that I think about it). There’ll always be that one.

But that one little guy? I don’t think you need to worry about that one little guy. Focus on the other nine.

Finally: it is precisely because pastors don’t think that they have this kind of responsibility that they remain so silent on these kinds of public health issues that have a real impact on the common good. But, think with me now, how many healing stories are there in the scriptures? How many stories involve communal health and wellness?

Hundreds, from Genesis to Revelation.

Jesus provided free health care! We’re used to talking about health from the pulpit when it comes from the scriptures, so why are we so silent when it comes from the newspaper?

The key to all of the above, though, is for pastors to stay honest about their role as a healthcare worker, and this is very important (and, I think, the confusion over this piece caused so much backlash when I presented this idea on social media):

Pastors are not trained to diagnose physical ailments and, in most cases, mental illness, either.

Pastors are not experts in medicine, and should not offer some sort of personal opinion from the pulpit and claim it has medical authority backing it up.

Pastors cannot look at a major health crisis and give their own advice on the topic, prescribing a course of action for their parishioners that differs from the best science available (this has been a disaster in this pandemic, and caused serious harm to both parishioners and the church at large).

We have an issue in this pandemic, I think, with pastors parading themselves as things they are not.

They cannot, in their pastoral role, encourage their parishioners to burn their masks as if they have the medical knowledge to make such a prescription, choose “faith over fear” and tell people to skip the vaccine, or take some sort of cocktail of horse dewormer and prayer as some sort of prophylaxis. They are not medical professionals.

And, at the same time, they cannot claim to be agnostic on the subject, saying nothing at all when it comes to the health of their parishioners and the common good. They are not without responsibility and authority.

Pastors are, for better or for worse, healthcare workers in this society. And as such, they have a responsibility to speak openly about the best scientific advice available on the topic, not overstepping their role, but not sloughing it off, either.

Pastors are healthcare workers.

We need to make sure we’re taking on that role with humility, honesty, and the gravity it deserves.

Scars and Wounds and Now

How can you tell if something is a scar or an open wound?

I mean, on the body it can be easier to make that assessment. Right now my left side is stitched up from some minor surgery last week. We took the bandage off last night for the first time. Looks normal, stitching in tact, all that jazz.

It will be a scar in a few weeks, a scar that will remind me to wear sunscreen with greater diligence. No need to flirt with skin cancer any longer; I’ve been to that dance and, it appears, have been able to exit without needing my ticket punched.

But this morning I’ve been reflecting on scars and wounds, bodily and otherwise. I’m reflecting on it because I’m in the final stages of getting my certification as a professional coach with an emphasis on walking with people through grief, through the aftermath of a death of some sort (relative, job, dream, etc), and active dying. And this lingering pandemic, festering, as it is, has made this certification all quite timely.

When it comes to emotional and spiritual trauma, I think one way you can tell if it’s a scar or a wound is by having pressure applied to it and waiting for the “ouch.”

I’ve seen, and experienced personally, wounds of loneliness call forth an “ouch” in these days.

I’ve seen, and experienced personally, wounds of partisanship call forth an “ouch” in these days.

Wounds around fatigue. Balance. Job insecurity. Fear of the unknown, both rational and irrational. Worry around safety of family members and loved ones. Relationship strains and troubles.

Lots of ouches.

The first step to turning a wound into a scar is tending to it. See, that’s the hard part, right? We’re never quite sure where a wound is sometimes, because we really haven’t looked at it closely in a while. We just assume it’s healed, or healing, or…

Have you looked in a bit? Where is the ouch for you?

Poet Nayyirah Waheed is all about tending to the wounds of life. “Rub honey on it,” she often writes in her short, but shocking, lines.

Rub honey on it.

Tending to our wounds is more than just looking at them. This past weekend I looked at an errant Nerf dart laying in our hallway a number of times, thinking at each pass, “Someone should pick that up…” until yesterday that someone became me (and it should have always been me, right?).

We look at things all the time without doing anything about them.

We look at wounds all the time without rubbing any honey on it.

It stings to do that work, by the way. Healing often hurts a bit.

But it has to happen for a scar to form.

Scars say “I’ve been there,” which, for a world of wounded people, is a wonderful gift and sign of grace. Open festering wounds, of which there are many, don’t usually allow someone to help another person with the same wound, heal.

But a scar?

Well, in this pandemic, in these days, I’m trying to look at the wounds I have, and rub some honey on them.

So, be honest, don’t let this crisis go to waste: where is the ouch?

Half-Time Adjustment in Churches for the Pandemic Playbook

It would be absolutely frightening to be a parish pastor right now.

I’m being totally honest, and I’m speaking from a place of privilege because I am not in that position at the moment.

Please know I realize this.

But the amount of fretting I would be having over in-person worship at this moment would probably put me on sick leave, even without any Covid symptoms.

Because the call of the church is to praise God and look out for “the least of these,” and as the Delta variant now accounts for over 90% of new Covid cases in the United States, and as children who, as of this writing cannot be vaccinated if they’re under twelve, are now even more susceptible to this strain, and as some people STILL REFUSE DESPITE THE SCIENCE to get the vaccine (note: some can’t for health reasons…but they’re few and far between), my gut would tell me to go all virtual again.

Or, at least meet only outside.

Or, at least, to ask children not to attend.

Or, at least, refrain from any singing at all.

Or maybe my gut would tell me that everyone would have to show their vaccination card to attend. But, honestly, even that won’t work because break-through illnesses, though mild, have already appeared in the vaccinated.

So I’d probably just ask that families not bring children.

That may seem extreme, I know. And it might be the case that some areas of the country, where vaccinations are on the rise and spread is low, don’t need that kind of restriction. Localized plans are probably necessary.

But at the very least I’d be considering a “halftime adjustment” right now in the reopening plan.

And if you’re reading this and it’s sending you into a bit of a panic, or making you a bit angry, just take a second and imagine the struggle your pastor is feeling right now.

Because, Beloved, it only takes one kid getting sick from a possible transmission within the church building to cause real harm not only to that child (or unvaccinated adult…please, get the shot!), but also to that pastor who wrestled for the last year and a half, survived scathing emails and people leaving the church over a health crisis on either side of the divide, and felt stuck between a rock and a hard place on this.

But all of the above should not stop the conversation and the questions from happening.

If the church is truly about looking out “for the least of these,” and that right now is the unvaccinated (by their own choice, but they’re our neighbors none-the-less) and the children who cannot yet be vaccinated, what should it do?

P.S. If anything, cut your pastor all the slack in the world. Please. For their health. And yours.

Robinhood, Wall Street, and Religion

An unusual thing happened this last week: the masses made their voices heard.

And it didn’t happen through voting, though that is one way this happens more regularly in the world (when voting restrictions don’t keep people away from the polls).

And it didn’t happen in a courtroom.

It happened on Wall Street, and it is so rare there that it actually brought the beast to a little bit of a halt this last week.

If you’re not up to speed, you can find an extended story here. If you want a basic (very basic) version, this is basically what happened:

To make easy money on the market, some entities do some fancy footwork to play the system. It’s set up to be played, by the way, but only if you know the right moves…and usually only the very wealthy can afford (literally) to know the right moves.

Basically, you bet that a stock will fall, so you borrow securities, trade them on the open market, and assume you’ll be able to buy them back at a lower price. You payback what you borrow, and you get to keep the excess.

This last week the market recoiled after a group of small (in terms of Wall Street) investors decided to bet on nostalgia and bought up shares of GameStop, you know, that place in the mall where they sell (and buy back!) video games.

What’s a mall, you ask? It’s that place where the elderly walk in circles and pass by stores no one goes in anymore. But, I digress…

The reason they bought these stocks, though, was because hedgfunds were using GameStop (and other entities like it) to “buy short” as they call it, betting that the stocks would fall and wanting to make some quick cash.

The influx of GameStop buying sent the stock soaring, causing a number of short-buying investors to lose millions. Billions, even.

Seriously.

And it was largely done because a bunch of little investors using no-fee sites like Robinhood, a place where people can trade small amounts just to dabble in the market. In fact, Robinhood even shut down for a bit to stop the blood loss for the billionaire class because this collective buying by small-time investors was working so well at beating the game by playing the game.

It’s all pretty fascinating. Popcorn-eating fascinating.

But what I’m most confused about is not how it happened (I think it should happen more! The market should be risky for everyone, not just the little investor!). I’m more confused about why Robinhood, a site that says it is dedicated to getting small investors in the game, shut down when the billionaire class became imperiled because other users figured out how to play the game better for once.

Isn’t Robinhood supposed to encourage that kind of enagement?

I mean, it’s named ROBINHOOD. You’d think it would be happy to live up to it’s name, right?

Oh, what’s in a name…?

The truth is that Robinhood, and other sites like it, were instrumental in transforming the system, if just for a moment. But, unlike it’s name would suggest, it turns out it wasn’t interested in transformation, but rather in just propping up the system so that nothing changes at all!

And this, Beloved, is where critique of religion comes in because, I have to be honest, religion, too, doesn’t often live up to it’s name.

Religion literally means “connect again.” “Re”-back and “ligio”-ligament, actually means to re-bind or re-connect, and at its core should be invested in life transformation through a connection to the Divine.

But honestly, on both ends of the operation, this is usually not the goal of most religion as it we currently find it.

If you think that’s not true, just talk to the number of pastors frustrated because they can’t get people to invest in a deeper spiritual life through dedicated spiritual practices. They’d rather have their Spring Picnic and Youth Car Wash and

Or, if you think that’s not true, talk to the thousands who never darken the door of a religious building anymore (accept on a tour) because “nothing happened” for them in those walls.

On the participation side and on the facilitation side it seems like religion isn’t really too interested, most days, in living into its name.

You know, kind of like how the elite Wall Street investors and the sites like Robinhood weren’t too interested in transformation, but only in paying lip-service to getting people into investing and embracing risk.

Systems that live for self-preservation are not interested in making a difference in your life, but rather only interested in propping up their own lives.

This is why I think that for every religious institution the question of “should we sell our building” be on the table, every year. The building can become an idol, Beloved, and if it’s not working for the mission, it’s working against it.

This is why I think that most every team of a church should be ad hoc, by and large. Why have a team if there’s no reason to? The Spring Picnic Team should only be convened once it’s clear that there is a good, missional reason to have the Spring Picnic! And, yes, a time to gather and get to know one another is absolutely a great reason for a Spring Picnic, but if all you have are a bunch of Spring Picnics under different names, then, well, you need to reevaluate your purpose.

Good religion needs to live into its name, or else it is no better than Robinhood: inviting people in but, once they have been transformed and want to do something differently because of it, shutting them out or down because, well, “that’s not how we do things around here…”

Invest in places that are interested in both being transformed and in helping you transform, Beloved. They are out there, both in the market place and in the halls of religion.

But it doesn’t seem to be the norm.

So make sure they’re living into their name…

Abuse Lingers

I talk with people who have been hurt by religion.

I talk with them quite a bit, actually. It’s part of what I do, and I’m grateful to be a space where people can be brave and safe and admit their doubts, frustrations, fears, and, yes, moments when they’ve been beaten and bruised (both metaphorically and in real life) by religion.

I also talk with folx who have been hurt by what they consider to be hostile political policies these last four years.

And, let’s just get it out of the way, while a less-than-equitable tax code is certainly not fair, and certainly takes advantage of the poor and vulnerable, that’s not the kind of hostility I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is making fun of a disabled person by the President of the United States.

What I’m talking about is having the phrase “Muslim ban” being thrown around in the halls of power with conviction rather than concern.

What I’m talking about is barring transgender people from serving in the military, and announcing it by Tweet, the way you or I might announce the latest cute thing our kid said into the ether of the world.

What I’m talking about is a President ordering the dispersion of peaceful protestors by MILITARY FORCE so he could take a walk and hold up a Bible for a political headline.

What I’m talking about is the systemic libel of our democratic systems in an attempt to keep and consolidate power.

This is not “snowflake” sort of stuff. These are triggers. They’re abusive behavior.

And the reason I bring it up is because, well, I’ve heard some people tell those who struggle with religion, often due to the coercion or the abuse they felt in those hallowed halls, that they should just “get over it.”

Or that they should “forget about it and move on.”

One of the interesting things about abuse is that, while many of the marks that you can see fade with time, the marks that aren’t visible seem to last.

Imagine waking up every morning not knowing if your spouse was going to hit you or cook you breakfast. Do you think that feeling just immediately leaves when you’re out of that situation?

That crap lingers!

Now replace that “spouse” with the Divine, and instead of breakfast or a slap, it’s a “blessing” or “eternal damnation.” You think that just goes away if you stop going to church?

That crap lingers!

Now replace “the Divine” with the voice from the Oval Office who literally pulls the strings of power in the nation…

…yeah, yeah, save your “separate but equal” lip-service for another blog; I intend to be real. This last administration (much like the Jackson administration they so emulated) has shown that the Executive Branch is the mightiest on the tree when there hasn’t been adequate pruning…

…and imagine that instead of “blessing” and “eternal damnation” it’s replaced by “emboldened privileged existence” and “open season for outright abuse.”

Why do you think racists could march un-hooded through the streets without fear? Why do you think Confederate battle flags and Neo-Nazi flags marched alongside Trump flags when they stormed the Capitol?

Why do you think that hate crimes rose by 20% the last four years?

So, when people say, “He’s out of office, just move on…” to that I say:

THAT CRAP LINGERS!

It lingers.

And abuse that is not addressed, somehow, continues to harm long past its life-expectancy.

And anyone who says, “words are just words” has never sat with a spouse who was continually dressed down and verbally shamed for years. They’ve never stood next to a kid who was mocked for how they look or what religion they practice (or don’t) or how their family is composed.

Words hurt, Beloved. They move people, for good or for ill. Words have power, they change things, and trying to pretend they don’t is like saying that the abuser isn’t at fault because the ones who are hit let the blows land.

I write all this as a way of explaining why it’s still important that we have some sort of discussion…no, not discussion, a “come to Jesus” about what has happened the last four years.

About why we can’t just “move on,” because we have the serious tendency to “move back again” if we just try to move on.

I write this for everyone wondering why it still matters enough to mention. It still matters because, to be honest, I cringe when I turn on the news, even now, because I wonder what other right has eroded, what safeguard has been crushed, what minority group has been scapegoated…

And, no, elections will not fully prevent those things from happening, but we have seen what happens when an election accelerates it!

And, Beloved, it lingers. In the soul. In the spirit. In the head. In the heart.

It lingers.

Rachel Just Wants Someone To Cry With Her…I Do, Too.

One of the most haunting and touching collisions of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament happens in the Gospel of Matthew where the writer recounts Herod’s rage over the birth of Christ, and the tragic resulting aftermath.

The story is well-known, of course. Herod goes on a rampage and kills all the young boys three years of age and under throughout Bethlehem. This horrific episode is captured in the Christmas carol, “Lully, Lullay,” an ancient song written for a long-lost nativity play that towns and villages would put on during Christmastide.

This song, with the minor tone and lullaby lyrics, “Lully, Lullay, thou little tiny child/bye bye lully, lullay…” is meant to mimic the quiet song the mothers of Bethlehem sang to their little ones to keep them quiet while soldiers went door to door searching for children to kill.

The writer of Matthew, as he is wont to do, overlays Hebrew Scripture prophecy on the scene, recalling an obscure verse from Jeremiah 31 where Rachel, the seminal matriarch of the Hebrew people is crying over the death and exile of her descendants. “She cries,” the prophet shouts, “and she refuses to be comforted.”

She refuses to be comforted.

This whole scene has always moved me, and does so even more so now that I have my own children. It is striking. It is raw. It is a commentary on political power and political fear. It is a testament to the endearing love of mothers, of all parents, for their babies.

I am currently in a program where I’m learning to effectively coach people who are in the process of dying, or who are grieving over those who have died. We talk a lot about the process of death and grief, about saying goodbye well and remembering well.

And we talk a lot about the fact that the dying and the grieving don’t want our pity, and they don’t need our platitudes. After all, a euphemism or a trite moralism is just another way of saying that you don’t know how to care.

Caring doesn’t mean patching over grief, but about walking into the valley of the shadow of death with someone else so that they don’t have to do it alone, by God.

Being in this course (and, by the way, if you’re in need of someone to walk with you in grief, death, or dying, don’t hesitate to reach out), I was reminded of an old midrash, a tale that I know I heard somewhere but that I can’t now place.

It talks of Rachel, and of her seeing the devastation of her ancestors, her babies, and seeking out someone to cry with her. She goes to the patriarchs, but they will not do it. She goes to the angels, but they can’t grieve with her. She finally goes to God and says, “And you? Will you not grieve with me?” And God, in Divine mercy, weeps with her into the night, not consoling her (she refused to be consoled), but simply weeping alongside her.

And that made all the difference.

Rachel didn’t need someone to make her feel better, and she didn’t need someone to “fix” her…she wasn’t “broken.”

She was grieving. Her heart was broken, and that can’t be fixed in any other way than by walking through that valley and grief, and she needed someone to walk with her, to hear her tell the stories of her babies, of her ancestors, to laugh as she pulled out picture after picture, and to cry as she missed them in the night.

I know why Rachel refused to be consoled. I know why Rachel wanted someone to just cry with her.

I’m thinking these days of all the anger and hurt and grief we’re all experiencing today. The losses of normalcy, those loved ones lost to the pandemic and our collective inaction.

I’m thinking these days of the way we assault one another, of how we refuse to hear other perspectives and so easily fall into the trap of conspiracies and group thought that promises easy outs and secret remedies.

We’re grieving, Beloved. We’re grieving.

And what we need to do is, like Rachel, refuse to be consoled for a bit. We need to just let it out, to cry a bit, to stop hanging our hopes on every tilting windmill and instead sit and just be with it all for a little. damn. while.

I know why Rachel refuses to be consoled.

I’m refusing, too.

On Not Believing Impossible Things and How Religion Doesn’t Help

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Lewis Carroll, _Alice Adventure’s in Wonderland_)

To believe in “impossible things” is quite human, I think. There is a sense of hopefulness, a kind of counter-balance to our fear instincts, that lives strong in our brain chemistry.

But even within the realm of believing in “impossible things” there are some categories. Like, it’s one thing to believe that there is a Divine Being in the universe, and quite another thing to believe that someone gravely ill with little medical probability to recover will, somehow, do so.

The first, a belief in a Divine Being, is a kind of life-assent to some sort of higher power’s existence. The second is trusting that a miracle (which, by definition, means it doesn’t happen except so rarely it can barely be documented and is taken out of statistical probabilities) will happen.

The first kind of belief is existential.

The second kind of belief is banking on the improbable at best, and impossible when it comes right down to it.

Religion has played fast and loose with these kinds of ideas over the years. As recently as last year the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod reaffirmed the Doctrine of Creation which pushes the idea that, due to the Genesis account, the world was created in six, literal, days.

The President of the denomination, Matthew Harrison, wrote in defense of the affirmation, concluding that he is compelled to believe in the doctrine of creation because, in his words, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. And I hear in the words of Jesus that He himself believes the creation accounts are historical. (See MATT. 19:3–9.) I hear in the words of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, the voice of my Savior. And both He and the Scriptures bear witness to their absolute inerrancy and infallibility.” (The Lutheran Witness, January 3rd, 2018)

Not only do I find his position theologically lazy, but I find it utterly senseless! As in, it makes absolutely no rational sense. And I get that his big thing is that faith trumps rationality in all things, but that position is dangerous when it comes to matters of science and life and death.

This is but one example of denominations who still hold and teach this “impossible belief” that flies in the face of so many branches of science and so many years of dedicated scholarly inquiry that I can’t even name all the branches, lest I leave any out.

Add to this the idea that there was a world-wide flood and Noah’s ark somehow preserved creation, that there were giants like Goliath in the ancient world, and that Joshua’s horns fell the walls of Jericho…I mean, you can name six impossible things before getting through the first chapter of Genesis if we’re talking literally.

I remember being in a Bible study once and explaining to the class that the particular book we were reading was an example of “Biblical story,” a tale meant to teach the lesson. It contained many truths, but did not actually, factually happen. And I remember a few souls in there widening their eyes in disbelief at my statement. Their dismay was palpable.

The story was an impossible tale, by the way. A great tale, a truthful tale, but not a factual tale. And were it to be read outside of the religious context, it’d clearly be identified in that way.

One person raised their hand, “But,” they said, “if God can do anything, then I’ll just believe it happened, OK?”

“One can certainly take that approach,” I said, “but it opens up the doors for a lot of problems if you do. Because we live in a world of norms, by and large. And if we give God the big ‘anything is possible’ card, then we might start to disregard the norms that govern our world and society, norms like science, witness, and historical precedence.”

I don’t know if that was the right answer. I don’t know that there is one.

But I bring this all up because we are certainly, as a people and as a society, moving away from a culture of fact and truth and increasingly becoming a culture that “believes impossible things” because they’re convenient.

Like, it’s convenient to believe that mask-wearing is all about control and this pandemic virus is a hoax and, if God can do anything, then we don’t need to fear it because God can protect us.

It’s convenient because it let’s you live in a world where you don’t have to take responsibility for the safety of others, let alone yourself, because you can live in your delusion without question.

But it’s also very dangerous.

And I worry, in the deep parts of my heart, that religion that pushes a literal Noah’s ark has enabled this type of thinking.

Blind optimism has allowed people to believe that, contrary to every authority, the 2020 vote was rigged and stolen. Authority is not held in esteem anymore, but rather is subject to desires and wishes, it seems.

I worry that blind optimism pushed by so much religion, with the “pie in the sky” escapism, has laid the neural irrigation ditches for this kind of thinking to be possible.

What culpability does religion have in the impossible thinking going on in our world today?

I’m not sure, but I’m wrestling with it.

Because while I do believe it is possible to have a critically-thinking faith, I also know (from experience) that it’s more difficult. The easy way out, in many ways, is to not think about it at all and take religious texts, doctrines, and dogmas as gospel truth (pun intended).

The critic of that statement would claim that it’s harder because so much of the texts, doctrines, and dogmas fly in the face of scientific discoveries, sociological progress, and philosophical thought.

“Exactly,” is my response. “So why believe it?”

It’s believed because it’s convenient to do so, and immediately beneficial: you don’t have to wrestle out the truth because it’s given to you.

But our world is not one to give gifts like that. Truth has never been served on a silver platter, but rather wrestled out, verified, re-verified, put to the test, and eventually come out on top.

A religious system that encourages wrestling is sorely needed in this world today, but I fear it may be too late. As the pockets of society that embrace science and those that reject it retreat to their different corners, we’re forced to look at the wasteland gap in-between us all and wonder how the ways we’ve taught faith, spoken about “truth,” and pushed impossible beliefs has led to this in America.

You Are a Family

painting by Sheli Paez: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/family-sheli-paez.html

“Well, if we decide to start a family, then we’ll talk about it…”

I hear this sometimes from couples preparing to get married.  I understand what they’re saying.  Our culture doesn’t really have a good grasp on how to adequately use words to describe life situations.

Usually when they say that, I gently stop them and say, “I want to be very clear with you about what I think is going on here.  The minute that you two say ‘I do,’ you’ve created a family.”

In fact, in just deciding to be together, despite the fact that the State doesn’t recognize it legally, I’d argue that by that decision alone, they’ve created a “family.”

You don’t have to have children to have a family.

You don’t have to have dogs or cats or rabbits to have a family (I am not a fan of “fur-baby”).

You two: you are a family.

When you decide where you go on vacation, you make a family decision.

When you decide how to spend your money, where to eat out, and how you’ll schedule your bedtime routine (yes…adults have bedtime routines), you’re talking about family decisions.

When we talk about “family planning,” we’re not talking about starting a family, we’re talking about adding to a family.

This notion, many times rooted in a long-forgotten-but-always-present past of needing kids to “work the farm” or “carry on the family name” needs to go the way of the dodo in these days.

It’s time.

It’s time to get rid of this stereotypical idea that family = “have kids.”

I saw Kevin Nealon at a comedy club in Denver a few years ago.  He was hilarious.  He spoke about being an “older father,” as his son is 6 and he’s, well, much much older than 20.

But he backtracked and talked about his divorce with his first wife.  When he was going through it people would say, “Oh man, that’s terrible.  You don’t have any kids, do you?  No?  Good.  That’d make it worse…”

To which he quipped, “That’s kind of like asking someone who got their legs blown off, ‘Were you wearing nice shoes?  Oh, good…that’d make it worse…'”

We somehow have cheapened “families” to mean “people with kids.”

You don’t need kids to be a family.

In fact, I’d say you can be a family of one, even.  Our family has had more than one member join by decision or circumstance.  “Uncles” and “aunts” and “grandparents” of all kinds.  And not in some sort of honorific way, but in a real, tangible way.

And listen, there is certainly no religious reason, at least not any Christian reason, to have kids.  Let’s just say that we’ve already fulfilled, as a species, the idea of “be fruitful and multiply.”  

In fact, we may have over done it a bit.  

Louder for the folks in the back: don’t let religion pressure you into having children.

There are legal reasons that the State doesn’t recognize just any-old-relationship as “family.”  That’s not what I’m talking about here…although, it appears from the headlines that some of that notion, even, may soon be back under attack.

There are many good reasons to decide not to have children.

There are many heartbreaking reasons some people can’t have children.

There are many good reasons to decide not to partner with someone, legally or otherwise.

And there are many reasons people aren’t partner at all (or anymore)!

All of the above does not negate the reality that “family” doesn’t mean “with kids.”

Families come in all sorts of constructions. They always have (despite what historical convention tells you), and they always will. And we need a society that not only catches up to this reality, but rhetoric that acknowledges it, too.

You are a family, Beloved.

 

 

 

Life on Mute

“I never want to Zoom again,” a colleague said to me the other day.

Zoom. Teams. Go To Meeting.

Pick any medium you like. The general consensus after six months of a pandemic is that online meetings are about as annoying these days as in person meetings were before the plague. Except, for a number of physiological and psychological reasons, virtual meetings somehow feel more taxing…as if we ever thought that could be possible.

And, as a parent, Zoom School is…well…a practice in education and patience across all sides of the screen.

Virtual meetings are here to stay, I think.

Like healthcare, once people are given something (like the opportunity to work from home), gathering them back into the office on the regular will be more difficult.

I suspect the same will be true for the religious practices of the world, too, for better and for worse.

I heard a pastor say the other day that they had a small regathering of the faithful, and that the people who showed (around 20 or so) were “simply giddy” to be back in person. And I’m sure they were!

But what about the folks who didn’t show?

My hunch is that many people will go to their congregations through St. Youtube of the Screens with more regularity.

I don’t say that with any sort of judgment or even sadness. I’m just saying it…it’s how things have been forced to move, and it’ll be hard to go back. New metrics and ways of measuring ministry will have to be formed to account for this kind of virtual participation, especially as it appears that in-person gatherings on a large scale will not be possible for some time. And even when it becomes possible, church is not very embodied when we can’t touch one another, touch the sacraments, and sing.

It’s just not.

One of the peculiar things that the pandemic has forced everyone to experience, in one way or another, is the pesky problem of the “mute button.”

Oh, the dreaded mute!

Nothing is more annoying than a person beginning a long speech or a response, only to realize they were on mute. The frustrated participants waiting for their words say with alternating humor and exhaustion, “You’re on mute…you’re on mute…”

The mute button is instructive for us, though, and I think we should take this opportunity to think about it a bit. Let’s not let this crisis go to waste!

What voices in our world regularly operate on mute?

BIPOC? LGBTQIA+? Native American? Women, especially women trying to climb a corporate ladder?

What about children? Those for whom English is a second language? Religious minorities? People who don’t practice any religion? The very elderly?

The difference is that these voices have been “muted by the host” throughout history because it has been thought that their commentary wasn’t germane to the conversation. Or, more to the point, whether it was germane or not, it wasn’t wanted.

In fact, many of these populations have also had their cameras disabled, made largely invisible in large conversations. Or we shove them into breakout-rooms of their own so that we can largely ignore their input.

And now there are fears that other sections of humanity, who have often been the hosts of these large-scale life meetings throughout the world are being put on mute: white men, the cis-gendered, and in the United States, Christians. These fears largely stem from the realization that, well, other people would like to host meetings once in a while and have been prevented from doing just that and even barred from doing just that and, like any good host, dominating voices sometimes do need to be put on mute so others can be heard!

Our political and cultural schisms at the moment are all about the mute button, Beloved.

The problem, of course, is that for all intents and purposes, all of history, all of life, has been one big Zoom meeting, even though we haven’t had language for it until just recently.

Virtual meetings are designed to mirror the way culture has designed our common life: some are muted, some are hosts. You get engaged in them and you soon realize how undemocratic they are…and, by extension, how undemocratic most of life is.

Oh, sure…we talk a good democratic game, but the functions embedded in virtual meetings are too familiar to not see the similarities.

Some are on camera, some are kept from being seen.

If you have a question, use the “chat function,” and we’ll see if we get to it…

Maybe this is why Zoom is so exhausting: it’s just our normal operating procedure without any pretense, mirrors, or charades.

But in this moment, we actually have an opportunity.

We have an opportunity to un-mute some of the voices history has long muted.

It’s happening on the streets, but now it can happen in our virtual meetings, too.

Now it can happen in our virtual church services, too.

Now the audience is captive, Beloved, and elevating those voices so that they have a chance to speak is one of the ways this crisis can steer us toward progress rather than stall us all.

Who is on mute in our world?

In your virtual gatherings, who is perpetually on mute and who forgets to put themselves on mute? How can we use this opportunity to shift the power dynamics in such a way that we come out of this plague having heard new things, seen new faces, and gained new understanding, even from the (dis)comfort of our own homes?

When we speak out about the muted voices of the world, some will get uncomfortable. Some will not like the suggestion that they mute themselves so others can be heard over the noise of history they’re adding, consciously or unconsciously, to the conversation.

But seize the opportunity nonetheless.

Because for too long some voices have been on mute in this world, and now is a time they can be heard, by God.

Kanye’s Mental Illness Does Not Disqualify Him from the Presidency

First: I’m not going to vote for Kanye West for President of the United States.

He’s sexist. He’s vain. He’s got no real plans for, well, anything. He’s a bigot.

I’m not going to vote for him.

But it’s not because he has a mental illness.

If Kanye is elected President, he will not be the first President to have mental illness.

In 2019 it was reported that almost half of American adults experience mental illness in their lifetime. Some mental illness is profound and requires life-long treatment. Some mental illness is episodic, and requires intermittent treatment. Some mental illness is triggered by environment mixed with brain chemistry, and some by brain chemistry alone.

Mental illness is personal, but not unique. It’s individual, and yet experienced by so many in our communities.

Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, either. Lord knows I’ve buried too many people who were too sick and yet too afraid to seek treatment because, well, what would people think?

I think people want to help…but don’t understand it. And are afraid of it.

Mental health is physical health, Beloved. We wouldn’t shame someone who lost an arm or a leg in the journey of life, right? And if we did, well, shame on you. You don’t get to be enlightened by my company.

But if we wouldn’t shame someone who had a physical illness or disability, why would we shame someone who is struggling with a brain chemistry that is so mysterious, so difficult to understand, and yet so pervasive?

I get it: Kanye is easy to dislike. He’s brash, loud, ill-tempered, vain, and often ill-informed.

I dislike most of what comes out of his mouth that isn’t on a CD and auto-tuned (he’s not a great singer, can we agree on that?!).

He’s also damn brilliant, a husband, a son, grieving his mother, and trying to figure out how to reconcile all of the above (and more! I don’t even know the man).

He’s living with mental illness.

But he’s not “crazy.” He’s not “nuts.”

He’s a jerk, but that has nothing to do with his illness.

The stigma. The shame. The hurt. The heartache. The exhilaration. The high. The deep descent into the pit. The rebound. The confidence. The braggadocio. The productivity. The creativity. The insomnia…

And that, Beloved, is one week in a rough patch for many of our spouses, friends, children, parents…and maybe, you.

He’s dealing with what many deal with, he’s just doing it on a stage that’s 100x brighter and 1000x more public than you and I act on.

He’s not nuts, he’s a human living with an illness. And he’s very human in public, which most of us don’t have to be…a luxury for us.

And he doesn’t need our pity. And he doesn’t need our snickering. And, yes, we can take him seriously as he is, but seriously with wide eyes that see the whole story, not the story of the moment.

Mental illness is never just about the moment, but about the whole story, Beloved.

And we must absolutely stop this chatter about his many “isms” being attributed to his mental illness. People who don’t deal with mental illness are prejudice. People who don’t live with mental illness are misogynistic and are assholes and are idiots and are all sorts of things.

Mental illness does not make someone a bigot or prejudice or any of that nonsense.

Unrelated. I’ll say it louder for you in the back: UNRELATED.

My point is: don’t vote for Kanye West if you don’t think he’ll make a good President of the United States. But don’t cross him off your ballots because he’s living with mental illness.

We’ve elected plenty of Presidents who live with, wrestle with (or don’t), and thrive with mental illnesses of all sorts. We have! Statistically it’s certainly more than probable, I’d put money on it.

Look, I pray none of you ever get to peek inside my brain. You’d be amazed and scared of what you find there. I’m sure the same could be said if I were to take a gander in yours.

Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of, just like having any illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. He didn’t ask for this. Lord, who asks for this?

He’s just trying to live with it. And yes, it’s very public. And yes, it can be alarming. And yes, it can even be amusing to the untrained ear and eye.

But it’s not amusing, it’s an illness, Beloved.

Don’t vote for him because he’s an asshole. Don’t vote for him because he’s prejudice, because he’s misogynistic, or because he’s…whatever your reason.

But it shouldn’t be about the illness.

Mental illness is just that: an illness.

And it doesn’t disqualify him from anything: not the Presidency, not life and the pursuit of happiness, not dignity, not brilliance, and certainly not respect or love.