When HERO is spelled LOVE WELL

The images of my childhood are of women. They are of women kneeling. They are beautiful, holy, consecrated memories of laughter and gossip and teasing. They are beautiful reminders that the best things in life are souls committed to being real with one another. In an effort to inspire you to beauty, I’d like to paint the pictures of my memories with you.

The church I grew up in was built in the late 1950s. It was a large sanctuary of mismatching items: mustard seats on the altar, jade green and white marble, puke brown carpeting, and white stone statues. Walking into the church could give you the hibbie jibbies. Almost all the windows in the building were stained glass, most of them with the stations of the cross. If you were to sit in this sanctuary, you would think that the congregants were the saddest sort of bunch. But downstairs, in an equally ugly space, there was community like you couldn’t imagine. Because downstairs were a steady stream of tough cookie women who were always brewing up some sort of gathering. Whether it be a soup kitchen to raise money for the struggling families in our communities, or a pancake breakfast to support the neighborhood watch program; whether it be to set up chairs for stay-at-home moms to come and gather and share their stories of rough marriages at the Mass for Moms, or to try to turn this dry, drab space into a banquet hall for kindergarteners to feel like they were graduating a prestigious university, these women, in their holiday inspired sweaters, khaki slacks, white gyms shoes, and identical curled and Aqua Net hairspray would come. Their laughter and good-hearted teasing rings through my ears at night as I long for women who will share in the little things of life with me like that one day. Image

 

But it wasn’t just the older women who worked in this beautiful communion. The moms of our church were in-and-out of our school, always bringing, always encouraging, always giving … something. Our teachers were their friends, and they knew how hard it was to deal with our lil’ old selves. And so, in this ranch style layout of painted tan bricks and speckled, sawdust-over-puke-smelly floors, the moms would come. They would create elaborate scenes for Christmas and Easter and Valentines day: Santa on a sleigh, holding a list of names that just so happened to have every child’s name in the school on it. They would sew quilts with every family in the parish having a square and a way to express themselves. They would volunteer as lunch moms to make sure our gym stayed clean for the class that would come and use it in the next period. They would bring flowers and sell candy bars. And it wasn’t to raise money. It was to provide an atmosphere where kids knew that there was more than just a mom and a dad behind them. There was a community — cheering them forward and helping them to make a difference — from the days of boy scouts, to having their own son, to raising up the next generation when they would be grandparents one day, too. They were laying a foundation, and it was on the backs of moms who gave what they had.

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It was that call, in fact, to give what you have, that led my mother to break her long-term promise to me to send me to a prestigious Jesuit College Prep. Instead, she sent me 45 minutes away to a school I had never heard of, because, in her words, “she’d be sending me to a family.” How did she know? Well, because the mothers of this high school hand-baked cookies for the open house. Thousands and thousands of homemade, from scratch, you-can-smell-the-vanilla-in-every-hall cookies. And before you assume anything, these were not submissive women who thought their place was in the kitchen. These were moms who ruled the world — CEOs and lawyers and doctors — and they still knew how to take out the flour and sugar and create something warm for something else.

That visit day is as fresh in my mind today as any other day in my life. The gal touring us around the building boasted of their blue ribbon status and their AP classes, but that’s not what my mom focused on — even with her valedictorian daughter standing beside her. She looked at the other women. She watched their confidence and their strong love for their kids. She saw the pride in a school that was created to raise a generation, and in that moment, she taught me what to value in a school, in a community, and in partners. She could care less about the brand new computer lab. She saw women who walked with dignity and integrity, always looking behind them to make sure that no one was lost, no one was ignored, and no one was hurt. Not on their watch anyway.

When everyone moved out of the neighborhood and out of the suburbs surrounding those schools, I thought I’d never find those communities again. That is to say, communities of service and devotion — communities of character that really defined what that word is supposed to mean. And I can’t say that I haven’t been saddened when I think of what I was given and how my children don’t see those same things. But we have been able to glimpse pockets here and there. Grandmas who babysit children during a MOPS groups so that moms can share the burdens of raising kids in this generation. Homeschooling mommas, who are already pushing on all cylinders, who chose to take on my special needs kid so that I can have bible study like other mommas do (without worry). A couple who have spent 19 years of their life building an free, annual community Easter Egg hurt, complete with climbing walls and bouncy houses, so that underprivileged families without support nearby can have an exciting, memory building activity to go to on Easter morning. These women, these people are my heroes. The people who don’t necessarily have a whole church or school of volunteers behind them, but who create pockets of life anyway. They love. And they love. And they love.

And I want to be like them. Always.

These are my heroes. These are my women. These are the women who taught me what it was like to follow Jesus.

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Love,

pam

 

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So You Want Your Church to Be Multi-Ethnic?

Three months ago, Matt Chandler’s Village Church (Tx) put out a video about racial reconciliation. Perhaps because I don’t follow Chandler, I didn’t see the video until today. And after watching, I felt a bit sick.

On the forefront, I want to say that I honestly believe that the Village is waking up to the horrendous sin in their own hearts. They really do want racial reconciliation. And for that, I’m grateful. But this video clearly displays their implicit ignorance and racism, rather than revealing a change of heart and change of vision, and for that, my heart breaks.

Rather than hash through all their mistakes, though, I want to lead you in a different direction. I want to ask you a question. Do you want your church to be multi-ethnic? If the answer is yes, then I beg you to keep reading and sincerely listen to just a few things that God has broken me about in a lifetime of trying to be a part of what He’s doing in reconciling us together in a church setting.

1) Racial reconciliation is not about banning a “white sound” or a “black sound.” And it’s FOR SURE not about blending the two together to have something “we all can enjoy.” Racial reconciliation happens before a note is played or a key is struck. It happens before we can actually speak to each other. It starts in our own homes, in our own bedrooms, in our own hearts. It starts with asking ourselves the dangerous questions. Questions like: Is there any racism in me at all? And don’t wimp out by blaming your environment for some lingering illusions. Be honest about what you agree with and what you disagree with, and why. And then ask yourself what it would take for you to admit you’re wrong. Because you are wrong.

2) Racial reconciliation isn’t about a quota. It’s not about magically hitting that number of more than 20% “other” in our church sanctuary so that we can declare on some Web site somewhere that we are “multi-ethnic.” It’s about understanding that brothers have been locked in war with other brothers for decades, and you’re not going to change it in a 5 step-plan. You’re not even going to change it with 5 intentional relationships. You’re going to change it when you realize that despite all our progress, you’re probably still just a trail blazer. So if you’re willing to strap on your boots and be disillusioned at just how big this fight is, join the rest of us.

3) You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT, advocate for racial reconciliation while still maintaining how awesome your ministry is and how well you have reached out to other ethnic groups. What you can do is admit that you want to love, and you don’t know how to do it exactly. But that you’re going to try. Any successes you get are not to feel like victories. They are to be somber reminders that there is so much more reconciling that can be done. There’s not time for celebration. There’s time to keep living it out. That’s it.

4) Don’t you DARE try to use doctrine to convince others that they should want racial reconciliation. You can make the mind believe it, but the heart never will. When you’re talking about reconciliation, you’re talking about surrender. You’re talking about both sides (or multiple sides) leaving their claims behind to meet at another destination. To try to use doctrine to be the ultimate summation of the goal of racial reconciliation is to be woefully ignorant of how that language created the problem to begin with. Racial segregation always begins with intellectual idolatry: We think about this better than you. And to use doctrine to push your way around is to come into the meeting with your weapon still loaded.

Instead, ask the character questions of your own tribe. Ask your congregations if they can say the Holy Spirit is totally unhindered in love, joy, and self control when they encounter different tribes and nations of people. And when they bow their heads, knowing that the answer is no, invite apologies to be given. Not excuses. Apologies.

5) And the last and hardest piece of advice I have to give is this: Don’t try to make everybody look good or holy or like they’re trying to “make the peace.” There is nothing good or holy in the way that we ignored, shut down, condemned, criticized, and separated from one another. The way back is a path of walking through the muck. We’re all going to look messy as we go through it. So don’t publicize it. Don’t be proud of it. Don’t hold it up as a template for others to follow. Be grateful that God is allowing you to be a part of a miracle and that He’s offering grace upon grace to you. Let Him do the work. Let Him change you. Let Him grow something in your church without you needed to put your own “touch” on it. And stand in awe and reverence. You’re on Holy Ground.

 

 

Pam

A Call To Benediction: A Call To Accept Benediction

There’s only 40 days in Lent. Forty days to deeply meditate about who exactly Jesus was declaring Himself to be and what He really came to do in this world. And just forty days to grapple with the reality of humanity and how barbarian we can be. This last idea is the one that seizes my heart continuously. Maybe that’s why the concept of benediction has been weighing on me so heavily lately.  Let me explain.

By definition, a benediction is a short prayer asking for divine blessing, grace, or intervention at the end of a church service. But I’m not talking about that kind of benediction. I’m thinking about the concept of Benediction. The idea that after we have wrestled with the pain and suffering; after we have submitted to  the accusations about how wretched we really are; after we have accepted death and tasted its bitter end; that there would be a new life to resurrect to. Because benediction doesn’t dismiss our sin, but blesses us in spite of it, offering us something completely new. Let me give you a visual of this, borrowing from the Roman Catholics.

All throughout the year, and especially during lent, Catholics have a special time of submitting to Jesus. During what’s known as “adoration,” Catholics expose the Eucharist  — the wafer that has been consecrated to God to be the physical representation of the Body of Christ — so that their congregation can come into a sacred space. In this space, the congregants sit in, what they believe to be, the presence of Jesus (picture below). For those who have participated in this sacrament, you know it’s power. The silence and space to sit and repent — quite literally to lament over one’s sins — is soul melting. Despite the value of this rite, Catholics regard the Eucharist so highly that they don’t leave the Host out like this all the time, though. After a time, during what is known as Benediction, the priest must remove the host and place it into a tabernacle until the mass can be said with an entire congregation, and they can partake of the bread together.

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During adoration and benediction, Catholics participate in communal prayers, songs, litanies, and other forms of worship. But during the later half (just the Benediction) these prayers aren’t said with gusto or excitement anymore. They are said with the sorrow you would have in saying goodbye to a dear family member on their death-bed. They are said with a bending of the knee and a pleading to stay. The words are said like that because even though the song is one of God’s triumph, faithful Catholics know that the Eucharist is about to be taken from them.

     THAT concept of Benediction — the idea that God needs to impart some sort of blessing even when it feels like He’s walking AWAY from us and not towards us — feels real. That feels ~lenten~. That feels like now.  We need God to bless us — to impart peace and grace to us –when it feels like we’re being separated. When it feels like our enemy has slayed our God and is about to slay us as well. We need God to bless us when it feels like our sin is insurmountable.

    We need God to bless our church as we fail so miserably at being the bride we are supposed to be. When we are so far from who and what we are supposed to stand for.

     We need Benediction as a People. We need to get on our knees and wrestle with our sin. And then wrestle as we worship, knowing that God may distance Himself from us, if only to give us a longing to be ruled and loved by Him again.  Because when death and sorrow and sin have conquered us and yet lay await to slay us again, benediction offers the hope of sovereignty. Of beauty. Of life again. In short, Benediction is part of the path to resurrection

May we pray for God to bless us as we fall so short. May we pray that when we get up, that we are different people. And may we pray that there is a day and a time that we are no longer wretched, but redeemed and resurrected.