privilege…or choice

Privilege…or choice

this is raw, and probably going to convey both my ignorance and the ugly places in my heart. but I’m going to share it – in case anyone wants to have a dialogue. I welcome your reasoned feedback, because I am still trying to learn.

my dad had one brother. their father came home from the service and later died in a mental institution. his brother died of alcohol related illness. their step dad was an alcoholic. i’m told a neighbor took him under his wing, so to speak.

my dad was a marine in world war II. he saw the plumes from the bombs in japan. he came home and tried to make a living – he had pretty much sent all his military pay to his mom, expecting there to be something for college when he got back. sorry…

he sold farm supplies. i’m told a kind man he met along the way told him he was smart and should go to college. he asked an uncle for help – who said…NO

maybe a GI bill helped, I’m not sure.

my dad CHOSE – not to be an alcoholic.

my mom taught school – and loved more kids than you can count.

they CHOSE to love each other, they CHOSE to be kind, and they told us if we couldn’t say something nice, or constructive, to CHOOSE to not say anything at all.. and they told us we had to figure out a way to get along, as we were going to be ‘family’ for a long time…i suspect this constitutes ‘my privilege’

they CHOSE for us to work, and we chose to obey. when our hands were only big enough to carry one chicken, or 6 ears of corn, that’s how many we carried. we were allowed to work, just like the men did, but in kid-size ways. the house chores belonged to the kids. so did the run of the farm. they shared the natural abundance of running room, and the meager abundance of finance with neighbors in the country, and from the city. UNDENIABLY…this was a privilege.

my dad stuffed mailboxes – with 50$ here, or a day’s work there – for someone in need.

my mom, in all her free time, when she wasn’t canning or preserving or sewing to make ends meet, chose to champion programs at school that would provide educational, and recreational opportunities for everyone. she is still training leaders. I got to go along…i suspect this constitutes ‘my privilege’

when farming wasn’t enough, my dad got another job. and when he suspected his UPS truck carried drugs – he reported it, even though he could have lost his job, so one more kid wouldn’t be ruined.

i studied…and went to college…and applied for financial aid…and got a job. i dished spinach in the dining hall, and became friends with the rest of the crew. i, too, by some divine mercy CHOSE not to be an alcoholic

i married a man who thinks his job is a gift from God. every day since 1986 – he has chosen to get up at 5 AM, go to work, and give his employer and his family, the best of what he’s got. He feels privileged to play a stewardship role for the environment.

He chooses to pay his taxes. so do my brother, and my 2 sisters, and my brother and sister in laws. and their taxes help pay for roads, and schools, and healthcare, and food. and they hope the government will be smart about how they spend that money.

my younger sister takes care of people in need – like with depression and stuff like that. she saves their jobs, and cares for their families. She’s a CPA – go figure…i suspect she thinks that is part of her ‘privilege.’ she is also funny an plays the piano like a warrior angel – just in case the world needs a little more beauty.

my other sister manages little kid sports, and scout programs, and volunteers with habitat for humanity – in her free time. at work she handles all the finances for second language school programs and assists harried moms and teachers.

my brother supports disabled adults employment, and fundraises for MS. At work he fixes machines and problems, and takes care of his team – advocating for their health benefits. he takes wounded vets hunting, and listens to their stories. if he saw you on the street, and you were hurting, he’d pick you up. i suspect he considers that…his privilege.

my dad had white skin…he was never a slave…i suppose you can guess the rest. He made a CHOICE

 

Question to ponder:

what color is a neighbor ?

what if I started with the title, privilege…and choice? Would it read differently to you? It does to me. How does that help, or hinder the thought process?

 

jfig/2017

 

 

 

 

Prayers in the Margins; a reflection

In her book, An Altar in the World,(1) Barbara Brown Taylor begins with a poem.

“The tender flesh itself

will be found one day

–quite surprisingly—

to be capable of receiving,

and, yes, full

capable of embracing

the searing energies of God.

Go figure. Fear not.”

Dear God, today, to whatever extent my tender, broken flesh is capable of receiving your energies, may I extend them toward the reconciliation of man and Maker; that reconciliation which invites mystery: the mystery of Gentile as neither inferior nor superior, but as ‘same’.

Mystery, indeed…

Sear, they do, these mysteries; lining the walls with question in the cathedral of one’s brain. Sear, not seethe, I implore thee. For I surmise that seething, unremitted, comes to a common, bitter end… Surely, I am not worthy to seethe, in this body of broken flesh.

May our skins look neither anemic, nor aged, alongside one another, but rather illuminated by fiery contrast, hands folded against one another. And I will love my color…and hers. I wonder if our pain is not that we sometimes hate our hue; Oppression’s ‘ other’ face.

May the tendrils of incense, one pale and one burnished prayer; entwine as they climb, reaching toward your wisdom.

May brother’s glaring weakness be bridged by my strength, and my blind spot navigated by his story’s light.

May your mercy weld the two together into faith weightier than our differences. Weighty, wise, whole in wisdom. For we ARE weak, and spoiled of flesh, without both the wisdom, and the mercy…

And , then:

“Therefore, the flesh

is not to be excluded

from the wisdom and the power

that now and ever animates

all things. His life-giving

agency is made perfect,

we are told, in weakness–

made perfect in the flesh.”

These lines taken from Scott Cairns (2) adaptation of Capable Flesh by St. Irenaeus

I am convinced that I have not the answer, and neither do you. We must go searching the answer, together. For the prisons of color and gender are not the only oppressions we bear; nor poverty, nor pain. The oppression we bear, is ‘human’; and unless we bear this cross  together, this same one borne by Christ, it will be but a ‘beating stick.’

And from the middle of the poem:

“For even at its beginning

the humble clay received

God’s art, whereby

one part became the eye,

another the ear, and yet

another this impetuous hand.”

 

And so, ‘life-giving agency’ becomes our quest. Are any of us capable, then, without first being given breath? And can we deny the life that presents right in front of us, the breathing broken… and not wonder also at its source.

jfig/11-15-2016

 

1) Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

2)Scott Cairn, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007)

 

Echoes…

Midst December’s relentless march into longer.. hours… of darkness…, we introduced a series on hope, with the metaphor of a crevasse  reverberating with the echoes of need and plenty, have and have not, in an effort to find light in the darkness. To somehow bridge the gap.  Here’s a spring perspective, dedicated to Miss t. and fam, for their resilience.

In FEBRUARY of 20__ (who can keep track anymore) I stared at the puddled floor of the Firs Chalet drying room, at my children’s boots. Heavy fans thrummed steadily in some attempt to stir the heavy air, but nothing stirred the moisture-laden boots (and sopping socks) that lay miss-matched and askew in the middle of the entry. We were at the chalet for a homeschool ski retreat, with a variety of families, many of whom had more children than we, and better established plans of training them up than we. These were lovely people, with lovely children. I’m totally serious…l.o.v.e.l.y. I held in one fist, my aspiration to be a good parent and in the other the big question, “How?”   My mesmery (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) was broken by one small voice crying, “Mom, you pick them up…” as a wee body darted past and clumped up the stairs. I’m not sure in what, because I had the boots… I replied in a loud, pained voice, “I am not your servant” And midst the ongoing thrum of the fans, the stillness on the stairs, the as yet unanswered, ‘how’ in my head, I heard the echo, “Oh, yes…you are.” Oh, yes, you are; yes, yes, you are… a servant. It was clear to me, that it was not in the act of picking up boots that my children were responsible for themselves; nor in having exactly the same parenting style or plan as these other successful couples, that I was to serve; but in laying down my expectation of parent, to pick up their need as child. Everything from love that dares to discipline to clean socks to reassurance in the dark falls under serve. Oh, yes…I am

It is finished… A brilliant friend surprised me the other day, by asking me to pray for strength; “strength to make wise decisions; ones that you would encourage in your 14 year-old, like going to bed at a reasonable time instead of staying up late to watch a movie, when you know what will be asked of you tomorrow.” I knew exactly what he meant, because as the years lengthen, I find my capacity thinning (too bad it’s not carried in my…hmm). It occurs to me , that it may not be the capacity in which we serve, so much as our willingness to find it a privilege, whatever the task, that fills our cup for the next effort. Some people seem to naturally overflow with this enthusiasm for service, but not me. I wanted to be SOME.Body; not just anybody. As the years went on, and I became less impressed with myself, and more impressed with what God was working in my kids and in and through other moms, that left-handed fist started to slip its grasp a little. I realized that it was going to be pretty difficult to carry the cross, if my hands were full of, well, ME. Gradually, the cross became a place, not to launch myself from, but a place to drink life from, because every time I let myself die there at Jesus feet, God filled me up with something he could use. Wow! And if I got stuck looking at the crumpled up remnants of the old me, He quietly echoed, “It is finished.

Last Sunday, I got to visit our stunningly beautiful daughter Laura (someone else’s words) for Mom’s weekend @ WSU. The homily at church was about Peter. Poor Peter… who got tangled in the circumstances, like so many of us do, and denied knowing Christ. Well, he outright lied, didn’t he??? After rereading the Gospel accounts (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18), I wonder if there was not an echo of truth in Peter’s words, “I do not know him;’ an echo that we share in the passages of life in which we cannot see Christ. For he did not yet know the Risen Christ. It seems obvious that we deny Christ, if we remain in our sin, with no attempt to move forward into his redemption. But perhaps as believers, it is often not the dying Christ which we deny, but the risen one. I do not know him, in the places where we have not yet allowed the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to pull us up out of the grave clothes. Voluminous grave clothes, in which we sometimes hide with our failings, our fears, our weakness, instead of allowing Jesus to gently fold them away. What are we afraid of, when it is finished? Peter, who had limited success walking on the water, ran undeterred through it, to get to the Risen Jesus; to see who this was that he did not yet know…And Jesus commissioned that thrice-failed Peter, by the same power that raised him from the dead, to feed sheep. Love me, Peter, and feed my sheep.

The echo of Jesus’ coming, rolled across the hillside from his birth, to his resurrection, commissioning shepherds with a message – an echo from the chambers of God’s heart… may it find a home in yours.