Sunday, November 19, 2017

Is the World About to Turn? (a reflection on #metoo)

There have been moments in my lifetime that I never thought I’d live to see. Schooled in post-WW2 America, I learned about the Soviet Union and countries we referred to as “behind the Iron Curtain.” I thought that curtain would always be there. Now, not only is the curtain gone, but so is the Soviet Union, and that Wall in Berlin, with all that it represented. I never thought I’d live to see it. Similarly, when Obama was elected President, I was blown away. I never could have imagined I would have a black President in my lifetime. Then again, when marriage equality became the law of the land, I was in disbelief. Was this really happening?

Moments like these are surreal to me. They embody the words of the rousing hymn we sing in church, “Canticle of Turning.” Based on Mary’s Magnificat, it’s meant to be sung with gusto and always beckons me to stomp my feet and dance in the aisles. (Someday I might actually DO it!)

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn!

I’m feeling a bit of this about the #metoo movement as women who long have been silent are finally speaking out about their experience with men who have harassed, assaulted, and violated them on so many levels. But this change feels a bit different, because this time it involves me and my experience. I’m not watching it unfold as an outsider. I’m standing on the inside and am not sure what to think. I’m having trouble objectively grasping the significance of the moment; it's hard for me to perceive that the world may be turning while my head is spinning.

I’m so accustomed to a world filled with toxic masculinity and men who believe women exist for the sole purpose of pleasing them that I can’t imagine one where this is no longer acceptable. I’ve lived the past 65 years deferring to male power, fearful of male power, enraged over male power. It’s been a helpless feeling that I haven’t dared express because, well, that’s just the way it is. I've often thought that if I could suck it up and go with the flow, I’d be a lot happier, as if I myself were the problem.

These days it seems that we’re hearing about sexual misconduct cases involving famous people every day, if not every hour. Some of them go back decades. We have quite a backlog to clear away because women have never felt safe revealing the truth. They haven’t felt that their voices would be heard, and their only recourse has been to remain silent. Now their silence has been broken in a big way, and we’re seeing how prevalent the problem is. And just to be clear, the problem isn’t only that men prey upon women. The larger problem is that this has been acceptable.

Of course, all men are not predators. Every man in my life hasn’t disrespected me as a human being; most have been decent guys. Yet, even among those who haven’t worked against me, I haven’t always felt that they were on my side. Their default setting seems to be looking the other way, rather than confronting the misogyny
that so blatantly affects half the population. Even among the good guys, my hurt and anger have been dismissed and not taken seriously. Rarely have I heard a man ask, “If she weren’t a woman, would it be acceptable for her to be treated this way?” But guess what, guys. That question is always on my mind.

Like nearly every woman I know, I have endured moments of fear, powerlessness, shame and humiliation at the hands of men. I don’t need to enumerate them here. But I will say that I have been changed by the women who have bravely chosen to confess “me too.” It has given me the courage to say “me too”, as well. Doing so has freed me. So, whether the world is changing or not, my world is changing.

It grieved me when I saw my daughter post #metoo on Facebook, knowing that she hasn’t been spared the trauma women suffer at the hands of men who think they are entitled to prey upon women. It rips my heart out that I wasn’t able to protect her from that. Back when she came forward and reported what had happened to her, I was at her side, so proud of her courage. But those in authority didn’t believe her. The world hadn’t turned soon enough for her.

Now I have grandsons who still have the opportunity to grow up in a different world, not just for women, but for all people. May kindness and compassion be their way in the world.

For all of us, but especially for our those who come after us, I’m praying that the world is about to turn.

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Just Doesn't Matter

One of my favorite speeches of all time is given by Bill Murray in the movie Meatballs. He’s a counselor at a camp for losers and they’re getting geared up to get their butts whooped for the umpteenth straight year by the hoity-toity camp on the other side of the lake. His motivational message to the campers is that “it just doesn’t matter.” He works them into a frenzy as they all rise to their feet chanting, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” Oh, I love that! I often silently chant it to myself when I catch myself getting all caught up in some effort to prove my worthiness to the world around me. It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!

When my daughter was in high school she was one of the kids in her class who was competing to be the valedictorian. This wasn’t anything her father or I encouraged. It came from someplace within her. She pushed herself to be the best. Well, I believe it was sometime in the middle of her junior year that she got an A- in some rinky-dink class like health. She felt it was unjustly given and she fought it, but the A- stood. I did a little happy dance. “Thank God!” I said, “Now you can stop worrying about being perfect.” I mean, really. It just doesn’t matter. I recall that at the time she was a bit miffed by my reaction, but she laughs about it now. (She still finished third or fourth in her class and got to make a speech at graduation, so she was pleased with herself in the end.)

I was a band kid all though junior high and high school. And the thing about being a band kid is you really can’t care a whole lot about what the other kids think of you. You’re so far from being cool that you’re just not in the running to be anything but a world-class dork. So, you get to go through high school with this it-just-doesn’t-matter attitude. That’s why the band kids always have more fun than anybody. Being a band kid is great training for the rest of life. It helps you put things into perspective. So much of what people strive for in this life just doesn’t matter.

We spend our lives trying to prove that we’re better than other people. Our house is bigger. Our car is faster. Our yard is greener. Our children are better behaved. Our job title is more prestigious. We have more degrees hanging on the wall, or more published articles, or more awards. We’re thinner. Our teams win more games. We get invited to more parties. Our church has more members or a bigger building or a more exciting youth group. Our country is more powerful or more prosperous. Oh, the list could go on and on. We are so busy proving that our lives are worthwhile that we can’t see how, in the grand scheme of things, this stuff just doesn’t matter.

If we’re lucky, we have an opportunity to see what doesn’t matter and what really does. Most often, it comes when we are confronted with failure or disappointed by reality. We get fired. We end up with a debilitating disease. Our children get into some serious trouble. Our marriage falls apart. We have to file for bankruptcy. Something happens to strip away the fa├žade we’ve created to prop ourselves up in the eyes of the world. It may feel like the end of life as we know it, but if we’re smart we won’t let the opportunity pass us by. It’s our chance to consider what really does matter.

Of course, none of what we strive so hard to achieve matters a hill of beans to God. In fact, this is the very stuff that keeps us from experiencing an authentic relationship with God. We can never really come clean with God until the trappings that we hide behind are stripped away. That’s what Jesus taught us when he said that if you want to gain your life, first you’re going to have to lose it. He wanted us to see how so much of what we think is so gosh darn important just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you follow the law to the letter and pert near never do anything wrong. It doesn’t matter if you hang out with all the best people. It doesn’t matter if you have all the right answers. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich. It doesn't matter if you're admired by all the people in your community. None of the standards and measures we use to judge who is better than whom matter. It just doesn’t matter.

But here are some of the things that do matter, according to Jesus: humility, honesty before God, mercy, kindness, compassion. It’s not what you get that matters, but what you give. In short, what matters most is love. The opportunities we have to give and receive love are what make our lives worthwhile. It’s love that binds us to God. Wherever love is, God is.

Blessed are those who come to realize what matters and what doesn’t.

Friday, November 3, 2017

No pastor dust for me, thank you very much.

Unless you’re also a pastor, or a funeral director, you probably don’t spend as much time at funerals as I do. And you may not know that there is a tradition about the placement of coffins for church services. If the deceased was a lay person, the head is toward the congregation, so they are looking up to the front. But if the deceased was clergy, the head is toward the chancel, so they are looking out into the congregation. This way they’re facing the same direction that they faced as a preacher/presider during their time on this earth. It’s a peculiar tradition that speaks volumes to me. Certainly, it shows a respect for those who preach. But, as one of them, it makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Is the separation between pastors and the people they serve so definitive that it must continue even beyond death?

Among my peers I’m something of an oddity because I actually went from college to seminary and was ordained at the not-quite-ripe-enough age of 26. This is the only life I’ve ever known as an adult, so sometimes I’m not sure who I am apart from the role that I fill. I’ve struggled with this throughout my life. While I feel blessed to be in ordained ministry, and am thankful for the rich life I’ve enjoyed because of it, I also am keenly aware of the fact that this is what I do and it’s not who I am. There is so much more to me than the role I fill for other people as their pastor.

I have relished those moments in my life when I have been with people who either: (a) didn’t know that I had a “Rev” in front of my name, or (b) couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it. While serving my second parish, for a time I played with an orchestra in the next city over and enjoyed being known as “Nancy who plays the piccolo.” After seminary, when I returned to school, it was in a public university setting where I was simply another grad student. And for a season of my life I enjoyed contra dancing where I was just another middle-aged woman trying to twirl around in a thrift-store skirt. I always need people in my life who don’t know me as “Pastor Nancy." Without them, I’m afraid I might lose myself completely.

So, do I really want to be marked as a pastor even after I die, as if that’s the essence of who I am? The very idea of having my coffin turned in a different direction than the other dear saints in my church disturbs me and it gives me one more reason to be cremated. After my vital signs have ceased, they can harvest any body parts that might be of use to anybody and then freeze-dry the rest of me. Please know that when they do, I will not become pastor dust, thank you very much. I will just be dust!

Of course, in whatever life that follows this one, the fact that I served as a pastor won’t amount to a hill of beans. In fact, I suspect that in the next life the most useless job of all will be that of the professional holy person. I mean, why will anyone need to have someone pointing them toward God when they’re in the actual presence of God?

So whatever will I do with myself? Who will I be? I suppose it’s possible that many of the things I’ve been preaching about will turn out to be true and I could strut around telling everybody, “I told you so”, but who would really care at that point? I’d rather bask in God’s glory with everyone else as we experience the breadth and width and depth of God’s love for all creation in a way our narrow minds could never comprehend in this lifetime. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally become the person God created me to be.

Yes, this gives me something to look forward to -- the day when my body will be dust and Pastor Nancy will become absolutely useless. Oh, yeah!

But I’m not in any hurry. I’ll wait my turn.