Thursday, February 26, 2015

Singing Above the Bellowing of Asses

I am sick to death of noisy Christians who do not in any way speak for me. It seems that the closer we get to equality in North Carolina, the louder they get. As our City Council in Charlotte considers non-discrimination ordinances that protect the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender residents, all the usual players are irritating the hell out of me.

I know they have a right to their opinion. But every hateful statement they make in the media should include a disclaimer: “The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of other Christians.”

They have decided to make an issue over who pees with whom. What if a man dresses up like a woman and sneaks into a public restroom and preys on little children? Who would want such a thing as that? Of course, the assumption is that transgender folks are pedophiles. This is ridiculous. It’s like saying redheads are rapists. It makes no sense. And yet, once the seeds of fear have been sown in the fertile field of ignorance, no matter how many facts you apply to the soil, those fears spread like crabgrass.

I resent the fact that those who spew such lies call themselves Christians. If that’s what it means to be a Christian, count me out. As someone who tries her best to know Jesus and follow him, I wonder who it is these so-called Christians are following. If it’s Jesus, it’s a Jesus I don’t recognize.

And so, I cannot remain silent. I sing with a choir of clergy voices that steadfastly offers a melodic message of love and acceptance here in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We will not be silenced, despite attempts to disrupt and derail us. The hee-haws from the likes of Mark, Flip and Franklin will not drown us out. We sing in harmony: Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants of every flavor. We are people of faith who will not allow our song to be taken from us.

Can you hear us? We sing of love, not fear. Our voices transcend backward thinking bigotry and pull us into the future. I pray that members of our City Council won't be so distracted by the bellowing of asses that they miss the beautiful song of Truth. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Worm. Her name is Worm.

“Hi, I’m Worm.” Surely I hadn’t heard her right. It sounded like she said she was a worm.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”

“Worm. My name is Worm,” she said.
Worm. Her name is Worm. How is this possible? All night long I kept repeating those words in my mind. Worm. Her name is Worm.

We met at a dinner we were sharing with Underground Table, a creative dining experience that is off the grid. You join the group and at the last minute you receive details about when and where to go and a wonderful chef thrills you with culinary delights. You never know who will show up and part of the fun is meeting people you wouldn’t ordinarily have dinner with. People like Worm.

In many respects she reminded me of my sister Lorena. Like Worm, Lorena is a character who squeezes all the juice out of life, savoring each drop. She’s a warm-hearted soul and longs to be liked. And like Worm, my sister Lorena, also was given a nickname as a child. 

We called her Butchie. The name originated with my father who had been hoping for a son and was blessed with a second daughter instead. Thinking that perhaps a son was never going to happen for him, he dubbed Lorena Butchie. I was about 10 years younger than Butchie and always thought that was her real name.

It took me a long time to start calling Butchie, Lorena, which was the name on her birth certificate and the one she preferred after she left home and began a life for herself. Dropping Butchie was the right thing for her to do. Besides the fact that Butchie is no name for a woman, it was a name given because she was a disappointment to her father. How awful is that? Can you imagine being referred to as Disappointment all your life?

Unlike my sister, as an adult, Worm continued to use the name she was given as kid. Although I found it deeply troubling, she appeared to be fine with it. 

Ironically, I met Worm the week after Ash Wednesday. Through the years I’ve had increasing discomfort with the traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy because of its worm theology. That’s what many of us call theology that focuses on how unworthy we human beings are, worthless like worms who can only grovel on the ground and beg for mercy. I am not a proponent of worm theology, and yet, on Ash Wednesday, it’s hard to avoid.

This year, I finally re-wrote the liturgy we use for Ash Wednesday, removing the worm theology. Yes, we are still not living as the people God created us to be and we need to face up to that. But the emphasis is on the people God did indeed create us to be, and God did not create us to be worms. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a worm, if you happen to be one. But people are not worms.

Worm. Her name is Worm. 

How had this become an acceptable name for her? She appeared to be at least 60 years old. Surely, in all that time she had had opportunities to change it. I am guessing that she enjoys the attention her name receives, which is something that also reminds me of my sister Lorena, who is never shy when attention comes her way. But really, what would it be like to go through life as a Worm? I can’t believe that it wouldn’t affect her in some deep, profound ways.

Although she is the only person I’ve ever met named Worm, I’ve known a lot of people who seem to think of themselves that way. Some of them are a part of my congregation. From time to time in my life, I have thought of myself as a worthless worm, as well.

It’s nothing new for people of faith to see themselves that way. Even the writer of the 22nd Psalm expressed this sentiment: “But as for me, I am a worm and not human, scorned by all and despised by all people” (vs. 6). Lord, have mercy!

Are we all worms? When we’re in the pits, it may be how we feel about ourselves. But is that who we are in the eyes of God?

I’ve come to see that worm theology is damaging to us as human beings. And it's an insult. Not only to us as people, but also to the One who created us. If there is any sin worth owning up to during Lent, it’s not that we are worthless worms. It’s that we see ourselves as worthless worms.   

And so, even though she told me her name is Worm, for the duration of our evening together, I couldn’t bring myself to address her by name.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Morning at Food Lion

I was standing in the check-out line at my neighborhood Food Lion when a boy, about 10ish, came stomping through the front doors having a hissy fit. “I don’t wanna take my medicine! I won’t take my medicine! And you can’t make me!” The kid was obviously out of control. Sounds to me like he NEEDS his medicine, I thought. It was such a perfect wise-crack that I turned around to see if I might share it with the person standing behind me in line.

A man with disheveled hair who looked like he had not bathed or shaved in several days clutched the sole item he was purchasing to his chest—an over-sized, brown bottle of cheap, nasty beer. At 8:00 in the morning. How sad was that? He was the caricature of an alcoholic.

Here I am, surrounded by people who can’t make it through the day without their drug of choice, I thought. What a sad commentary on our world.

I collected my bags. Two bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper and some mini-pretzels. This is why I had to make an emergency run to Food Lion at 8:00 on a Saturday morning. I carved out the day for writing. It’s grueling work and I knew I would never get through it without lots of caffeine, which I take cold, and something crunchy to eat. Yes, Diet Dr. Pepper and a bag of mini-pretzels ought to do the trick. I had to make an emergency run to Food Lion because I don’t keep such stuff in my house. I don’t keep such stuff in my house because I know it’s not good for me. Needless to say, I make a lot of emergency runs to Food Lion.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw beer man. He didn’t seem to be headed toward any car, so apparently he had walked to the store. It’s a good thing, I thought. He approached an old man with a cane and I assumed beer man was asking the poor, defenseless man for money. Oh, leave the old guy alone!  But then after a brief conversation, beer man smiled broadly, took the empty shopping cart from the old guy and returned it to the cart rack for him.

And that’s when my judgmentalism smacked me in the face. In the course of a typical day, I wonder how many judgmental assumptions I make about other people. I have come to the conclusion that it brings me great comfort to identify their problems without even knowing them as people. No doubt they do have problems, because we all do, but I can’t begin to know what they are. Still, it makes me feel better about myself when I can feel superior to other people and so this is what I do, usually without thinking about it. But I thought about it this morning. And the truth is, the only person in my little “Saturday Morning at Food Lion” scenario with a problem that I can identify with certainty is me.