Disrupt Your Election Day Fear

So you and everyone else who lives in the United States is experiencing some kind of terrible paralyzing fear-infused parallel universe version of Christmas Eve. There’s an irony that the presidential election—the most divisive one of our lifetimes—is the one experience capable of unifying the country, if only in the feeling of anticipatory outrage. But it’s an irrelevant irony, because our primal brains are already ensconced in their anxiety responses. Here we are with a whole Election Day to get through when our anxious brains skittering us toward dread and fear in a cycle of escalating tension.

This afternoon, I walked my dog with lunging distance of one of those giant purple floppy balloon things used to advertise car dealerships (apparently they’re called air dancers, but we all know they’re actually floppy balloon things), Only as she prepared for a straight vertical jump did I notice her hackles up, and realize I’d mistaken her anger for curiosity. I turned her quickly around, throwing treats to bring down her stress.

Election Day has driven most of us into the human equivalent fear level of encountering a giant floppy balloon thing for the first time. Our bodies’ hackles are up, our monkey brain/lizard brain/what-you-will in a mode of existential threat response.

But the lizard brain is tucked in the cozy gray mass of so much evolving brain. We can’t change the fact that a giant purple (orange?) flapping creature on the street will send us into an fearful anxiety. But we can hold that soft primal fear of our brains, tuck it in, turn it gently away and feed it treats so that we can hold fear alongside our hopes, our love, our kindness.

Be clear with yourself what tomorrow is about. It is not about productivity or powering through the day—it is a kind of national anniversary of some great grief we have been carrying. Whatever else you do, your body will most likely be carrying a layer of grief.

I will spend Election Day working the polls. Back in August, when political divisions only ran as deep as kiddie pools, I’d volunteered to work the polls and it seemed like a satisfying, even noble, decision. But each day since I committed, my enthusiasm has ebbed a little more into dread. I know my temptation will be to sit behind my sneezeguard and worry, worry, worry.

I wish to go to the polls as faithfully as I can. And my faith—rooted in Anabaptist understanding of the nonviolent life and salvation of Jesus Christ—is one that disrupts anger and hate and violence through surprising, playful, invitation. What would invite, surprise, play? A few last-minute stops in Halloween stores and I was prepared to work the polls as a spandex-and-glitter tutued, winged Voting Fairy.

What, never seen a voting fairy before?

My goal as a poll worker is to provide a positive Voting Day experience to everyone who walks into the room. My goal as a Christian is to witness to God’s love everywhere I go. And my goal as a human is to hush the lizard brain with the gentle and persistent witness to the humanity of each human. All of these goals lead to the same answer: Voting Fairy.

Whatever your self-care strategies on Election Day—yoga, meditation, spending time with family, spending time alone, stress baking (eating), disconnecting from social media—all those care strategies are designed to disrupt your overactivated fear drive.

Tomorrow, be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs to see in the world.

Maybe that means taking cookies to a friend’s house, wearing your favorite outfit, wearing your Halloween outfit, cooking something elaborate, ordering in, bringing flowers to the polls, making extra time for your Trump-supporting neighbor, avoiding your Trump-supporting neighbor. It may even mean recognizing that you are too anxious to work the polls and need to stay home under the covers all day. Be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs.

Like the old instructions for airplanes, disrupt your own fear first, then disrupt the fear of the person next to you.

Twelve Notes on Worry

In the last weeks of this election cycle, I’ve stopped trying to control my worry, and am instead noticing how I react to it. These are twelve notes I’ve written myself to be more intentional–and, hopefully, saner and kinder–as the election season exacerbates so many worries.

1. Validate your emotions.

All of your feelings are the right feelings.

Uncharted levels of stress call for uncharted levels of self-compassion. It is comforting to think I am a reasoned, rational creature who follows her best impulses and nurtures noble thoughts. But I am a creature who feels many things. Take the bumpers off all your expectations of what you should feel and let yourself feel what’s there. It is true, what the psalmist says:

The violent arrogantly pursue the weak
and catch them in craftily designed schemes…
They think in their hearts, “We will not be moved;
throughout all generations, we’ll be happy and untroubled.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.

When injustice is rampant, all of your feelings are the right feelings.

2. Redirect your emotions, when necessary.

All your feelings are right ones, but that doesn’t mean that all of them serve you. Greet your emotions, name them, and ask what road they are walking down. If your fear says, “I am walking toward paralysis,” or your anxiety says, “I am walking toward numbing,” or your worry says, “I am walking down to read every article I can find about Trump’s illness,” shake their hand and wish them well, and keep naming the other emotions. If your exhaustion says, “I am walking toward physical recovery,” or your laughter says, “I am walking toward resilience,” or your loneliness says, “I am walking toward company,” or your compassion says, “I am walking toward justice,” join the emotions that take you on the road toward life abundant.

We are creatures who feel many things at once. Take the time and space to sort your emotions. Organize them into neat stacks, or at least into messy piles, of constructive emotion and paralyzing emotion. Limit the time you spend with paralyzing emotion, as much as you can, and hone in on constructive emotion.

3. Listen to your body.

If you are finding it hard to identify emotions, begin with your body. Resmaa Menakem argues that the strongest emotions—love, fear, anger, dread, grief, sorrow, disgust, hope—are not located in the brain, they are located in the body.

When your emotions are confused or stalled out, pay attention to your body. If your body tingles with nervous energy, go on a run or a bike ride. If your shoulders are tense, spend 5 minutes stretching. If your legs ache, take a hot bath. If your tummy hurts, make a fresh pot of tea or warm milk. If you are hungry, eat. If your heart is heavy, get on your knees and pray—really, bring yourself before God, drag God into the room, and say what you need to say.

Activism begins in the body.

4. Respect your emotional explosions.

Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your emotions do explode. Respect the stress you’re under, and the intensity of your feeling. It is not bad to feel deeply. Let the explosions ground you, remind you to respect the intensity of being human.

5. Plan for Election Day.

It seems you have not yet learned how to control the minds of everyone in this country. Given that this will probably still be true on November 3, take care of the one mind that’s yours. Your body is currently activating a stress response which you have tied to November 3, and November 4, and November 5. Position yourself for a supported stress response on these days.

Treat Election Day like Thanksgiving in reverse—gather because gratitude seems to be fading. Do not watch election results alone. Make sure your loved ones do not have to watch results alone.

Even if people decline, err on the side of many invitations.  

Decide now what time you will go to bed on Election Day. Find an accountability buddy who will call you at midnight and make you go to bed. Do not, do not stay up until 4am watching TV the way you did in 2016.

Prepare for the days after the election. Adjust your expectations for the week’s work and productivity. Take some time off, as soon as you can after Election Day. Recover. The world will move on, and it will need you.

6. Acknowledge the possibility of a Trump coup; don’t obsess over it.

You are very lucky to have friends who have the emotional bandwidth to plan for a coup. Read what they say and share, as much as you can, but don’t worry about it.

A coup sounds terrifying, but resisting a coup is the same process as resisting a democracy. All the tools you need, you already have. It’s the same muscles you’ve been training for the last four years. It does not require more fear—just more certainty of what you carry in your center.

7. Connect with other humans.

Now, on Election Day, after Election Day. Maybe there’s a reason the same Stevie Wonder song keeps coming on, “I just called to say I love you.”

Call everyone, just to say “I love you.” Anybody you are reaching out to wants to be reached. We all wish for connection. Especially now.

8. Do a hard thing.

It is hard to do things when you are pushing a wheelbarrow full of worry. But you can do hard things. In the coming weeks, you will need to do things you are not ready for or too emotionally spent to do. It will be tempting to opt-out with the cultural rhetoric of self-care. Stick with it. Do the hard things. Not all the hard things. But some hard things.

9. Focus on good trouble.

What you pay attention to grows. Pay attention to good trouble and the people getting into it. Disregard the evil whispering that it has overtaken goodness. If you are centered in goodness, the doings of evil are irrelevant. Keep moving toward good trouble.

10. Limit your news intake.  

There are not 5 articles about Trump’s COVID diagnosis on the front page because it’s important; they’re there so that you stay on that webpage. Do not seek a play-by-play of every catastrophe. Do not track every state’s votes as they are reported. Block sites, disable your internet, trigger dark screen after 10pm—whatever you need to do to get yourself to unplug.

11. Remember that Jesus said “Do Not Worry” to a crowd with much less stable lives and governance.

Your government and your faith in it may be collapsing. But Jesus said don’t worry to people who had far more to worry about. Yours is not the first government to oppress its people, it’s just your first experience being at odds with your government to such an extreme degree.

Do not worry still applies.

Jesus probably knew he would die when he said do not worry. He wanted the disciples to know, I can’t guarantee you stability, but I can guarantee you purpose and good company. He knew disciples seeking justice needed to release their worry in order to do anything at all.

Paraphrase Jesus’ words. Tell yourself, Look at the birds in the sky. They do not vote or call their legislators, they sign up for no email alerts, yet our God in heaven ensures they are fed. Aren’t you more important than they? Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?

Stop worrying, then, over questions such as ‘Who will rule us?’ or ‘Will my vote count?’ or ‘How will I know it was a fair and free election?’ Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. Seek first God’s reign, and God’s justice, and these things will pale beside your sense of purpose. Enough of worrying about tomorrow! Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.

12. Read your notes.

Return to these words when you forget how to say them for yourself.


This post is adapted from a sermon given October 4.

Tithing in the Time of COVID: Churches, Wealth Gaps, and Giving Gaps

Most charities are struggling financially right now. But churches are not most charities. Churches run on a unique revenue model, funded by voluntary contributions from a group of individuals who tend to be socially and economically homogeneous. Which means that the economic state of the church looks much like the country: the haves are having more and more, while the have-nots discover new ways to not have.

The way COVID hit American households is the way COVID hit American churches. We know people with college degrees have been more likely to keep their jobs, and that white workers—who are able to work from home in greater numbers—are more likely than Black, Indigenous, and employees of color are more likely to keep their jobs.

This means churches comprised of educated and white members are likely continuing to meet their revenue projections or, if they fall short, are suffering more from the inconvenience of virtual worship (that is, Zoom’s not-yet-developed in-app “Pay Now” feature) than a lack of member funds. Churches comprised of hospitality, mobility, and service workers (where people of color are overrepresented) are likely struggling significantly to meet budget, and disproportionately relying on denominational emergency support funds or external donor relationships. These are the same churches where pastors are already more likely to be bivocational, and pastors as well as congregants may be struggling with unemployment.

COVID is exacerbating the same wealth disparities we’ve collectively exacerbated for the last several decades. It is critical–faithful–that churches that have remained financially stable over the last six months change their patterns of giving. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Partner with a local church that has greater financial need. Offer ongoing support for the duration of the pandemic by subsidizing a local pastor’s salary—particular of a predominately BIPOC-church. The best thing you can give is unrestricted cash, because churches, like individuals, tend to know what they need most, and adding restrictions to money adds stress to both the relationship and the finances.
  2. Create mutual aid funds for inside and outside the community. Many congregations have off-budget support funds for congregants in need. If you don’t, start such a fund now. If you do, start an additional Community Aid Fund. These are dollars that go to anyone who shows up at the church doors and ask for money, without vetting or paperwork or prayer requirements. People who show up at church doors—who have both the humility and the desperation to ask for money—tend to be people who have exhausted every other possibility, from failing to qualify for disability to reaching the Salvation Army after all rent relief subsidies have been disbursed. While scammers do show up, and tend to show up repeatedly, take it on faith that a one-time cash gift fund, at the pastor’s or the administrator’s discretion, is a faithful gift and an essential part of the social safety net. If you’re concerned about abuse, set an annual cap or agree to “no more than $100 per person” or go read your Bible because Jesus did not vet the worthiness of the people he healed.
  3. Develop ways of communicating this aid if your building is still closed, because a community aid fund is only as accessible as the staff and volunteers who manage it. Put a flyer on the door with a phone number or office hours. Keep masks and PPE on hand for folks in need who come in without safe accessories. Collaborate with other local congregations and direct people where to go and who still has Community Aid Funds available, so that no single congregation gets overwhelmed. If you do get overwhelmed, take it as an affirmation that you are offering the gospel where it is needed. If you run out of money, count it as a success, take a breather, and find a new way to support your neighbors.
  4. Tithe off the top. Contribute 10% of total monthly giving to a charity. Or put it into your external mutual aid fund. If your church is meeting budget goals, or close to meeting budget and expenses have dropped with COVID, commit to giving every month a percentage of tithes receives. Quick distribution maximizes impact, allowing your gifts to get to agencies sooner and minimizing congregational debate and approval of the perennial “What to do with the surplus?” question that will be resolved next March, a year after COVID began. (If you want to be extractive and transactional about it, ask the church’s administrator or facilities manager to calculate the savings the church has gained from sitting empty—in water, electricity, and other bills—and donate that amount every month to an agency directly serving people in need.)
  5. Start a little free food pantry. Don’t start a food pantry—something that requires volunteers, committees, organization, and is likely duplicative of other understaffed and under-accessible food security initiatives that other local churches are operating. Just build a box—a very large little free library of nonperishable goods and encourage a small group to look after it, while encouraging everyone to drop by and contribute goods to it.
  6. Adopt a social service agency. Channel your volunteer time and relationships into one significant partnership that gives you a bird’s eye view of COVID-through-the-lens-of-“X”-agency. As mentioned at the top, most all charities are struggling, and sometimes, viewing COVID through the lens of homeless children, domestic violence survivors, or folks with mental disabilities, in a sustained, collectively committed way yields a bigger understanding of the impact one church can make.  
  7. Support denominational camps and retreat centers. Not the established, endowment-funded ones but the barely-meeting-budget-on-a-good-year camps that pay their staff in kitchen-made retreat meals. These camps are often regional centers for diversity, bringing together congregations from rural, urban, and suburban demographics with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Supporting and maintaining camps through the pandemic maintains pathways of communication and witness across socioeconomic barriers.
  8. Lower the barriers for financial support to Millennials and Gen Z attendees, especially college students. Instead of care packages, send students cash. Give a scholarship, even a nominal one, to every college student. Support early-career Millennials. They are now in the second recession of their decade-long careers (give or take), and many were already at an economic disadvantage from graduating into a recession.

Churches that are financially stable cannot continue “giving as usual.” There is a louder, more plaintive, desperate cry for help, and giving can no longer be usual, it must be abundant.

Consider this: What would you have done differently at the peak of the Great Recession, knowing what you know now, and if the Great Recession was 5 times as bad?

Do that.

Bottom line: Give as much as you can, whenever you can.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church More Welcoming for Single People

Single people are not a monolith, and it’s a bit ridiculous to think there’s a foolproof method for attracting them. However, when roughly half of adults in the U.S. are single, and in churches it’s closer to 10%, churches do need to examine the cultural barriers that turn “family-friendly” into “families only.”

The following list is not definitive (I mean, how much time do you have?), but offers a few ways to explore how to make that culture shift.

10. Think about your start time.
Single people can be morning people. However, in a culture that doesn’t exactly celebrate waking up to see the sunrise, most single people with traditional work schedules rely on weekends to reconnect with the people they loved, up to and including Saturday night. Single people with nontraditional work schedules (including pastors) will go out of their way to spend Saturday nights with friends. This is especially true for younger adults, but can be true across the age spectrum. A church that begins at 9:30am has already sent a clear message. Consider starting at 10am or 11am or even (gasp) an evening time like 5pm or 6pm.

9. Recognize when events are exclusive.
Rather than assuming singles like the annual contra dance, ask them about their experience of different events. Earlier this year, when I attended my first all-church Winter Retreat, I discovered the fabled and eagerly anticipated event was actually a little bit lonely for a single person. I shared my experience with a few people and discovered that others in non-traditional family structures felt similarly. Some of them had been avoiding it for years. The odds of a retreat in January 2021 are low (thanks, COVID), but the extra time may help us rethink how to structure the event to be more inclusive.

8. Host events with odd-numbered groups.
If I had a dime for every time a family said, “we’d love to have you over,” and meant “when we can find another single person to join us,” I could’ve just bought myself dinner. Over the years, I’ve been baffled at how uncomfortable couples can be inviting a single person to any activity. Odd numbers discomfit people in traditional families. If you recognize yourself in this description, ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable. Let go of symmetrical table seatings and practice (as it is safe to do so and most likely post-COVID) hosting or joining events in odd numbered groups.

7. Don’t rely on single people for childcare.
Is the number of single people leading Sunday School proportional to their overall representation in the church? If so, is it possible they’re being asked first because, you know, clearly the reason they’re single is because they want to be caring for other people’s children? Some single people will enthusiastically lead children’s events. And some single people are savoring every second they are not responsible for fragile and malleable developing brains. Avoid pressuring single people in subtle or direct ways.

6. Do not assume it’s okay to set someone up or benchmark their relationships.
Bringing a partner to church—even an enthusiastic, deeply Christian partner—is a fraught experience, between the church’s family-centered functioning and its historical inability to deal with sexuality in a healthy way. When someone brings a member of the sex they are attracted to to church (and, if you are unsure which sex they’re attracted to, now is not the time to ask), avoid subtle or direct questions about their relationships. Let a person bring a person to church and welcome the new person as an individual. Singleness is not a tragic state of being, nor is a break up (most break ups are a thing to celebrate for at least one member of the relationship). There are many ways that the church treats singleness as a temporary state, or sends subtle reminders that “you’re just a married person in training.” Get in touch with a person’s hopes and dreams, without assuming marriage is a goal—what do they love? What do they aspire to? Do not ask if it’s okay to set someone up, unless you know them well. (A helpful, but not always accurate, litmus test is that if you’ve heard them talk about being single in more than a passing comment, you know them well enough. If they don’t talk to you about being single, that’s a signal that they don’t want to answer questions about it.) If you know someone is in a relationship, avoid asking how “serious” it is. Instead, try asking literally any other question. As a long-time single pastor, I can assure you that 9 times out of 10, a person would rather hear “So, do you have 5-digit student loan debt?” than “So, is it pretty serious between you two?”

5. Use diverse sermon illustrations.
As a single person, I still find myself relying primarily on nuclear family sermon illustrations, referring to parents, kids, and couples, because that’s what predominates in churches. Sermons are perhaps the most important space where norms are communicated. Sermon examples that never reference dating or single-household experience ssuggest singleness is non-normative or, worse, not welcome. Pastors, lay speakers, and guest speakers who assume a multiplicity of fmaily structures communicate that, “hey, wow, you’re not an abomination of God’s will because you’re single!”

4. Ensure representation in leadership.
Sermon illustrations are valuable, but actions speak louder than words. Representation of all kinds matters. But if everyone comes to leadership meetings with a nuclear family mindset, you tend to get a church that only works for nuclear families (yes, I know you can namedrop the 3 single people who are deeply engaged, but don’t). When I shared that my Winter Retreat experience felt a little awkward, it was only because we had multiple people from non-traditional families that we realized this event—which has many vocal fans year-round—was geared for nuclear families.

3. Mark non-relational life events with rituals.
Nothing says “obligatory party” like wedding and baby showers. These events, meant to celebrate a life transition, often send a more subtle message that these are the only correct life transitions. Create rituals for a range of life events—retirement; grad school; moving or buying a home; baptism as adults; promotions or even quitting a job. Even the clunky and chaotic Blessing of the Pets creates a non-nuclear-family ritual of sorts. There’s no checklist of “right” rituals. Be attentive to what the diversity of members, single or coupled, are going through. Create space for a range of rituals. Likewise, don’t assume that every couple wants to play awkward games and eat sugary food just because they’re spending their lives together or creating a new person. Not every couple wants a wedding or baby shower. Normalize a range of responses to life events.

2. Pay attention to how you use your welcome statements.
Call me a cynic, but when I experience three or more “all are welcome” comments on Sunday morning, I cringe. “All are welcome” is too often church code for “here are the ways we want to be diverse and are not.” If your welcoming statement goes out of its way to include populations that are not visibly present on Sunday morning, use the statement judiciously. Call congregants to that vision, but don’t use it to reassure new people or as a chant that, if repeated enough times, will come true. Say “all are welcome” once, and then go about listening and validating all of the people who come through the (virtual) door, if it’s with a lisp or in a wheelchair or in a manic state. They chose to join a group of strangers for an hour—when was the last time you did that? Affirm their presence, listen to their story, and approach them as a human, not a potential annual giving unit.

1. Stand for something.
Single people don’t come to church, primarily, because they want more dinner parties. They come to be deeply and profoundly stirred by an encounter with a Holiness much bigger than themselves. Single people—like all people—long for connection, human and divine. A church that serves the community, mobilizes to meet local needs or defend affordable housing or convert their green space into an affordable produce stand, attracts strangers. A church that intends to serve the community, but never gets past making meals for its own congregants, will always be an insider’s club. Let your witness lead. Be relevant as more than just a place for families to share baby and grandbaby photos and have a monthly potluck. As Jesus once said, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” A social club by any other name will still be recognized by its insiders—and its outsiders.

Making the Infinity of Coronavirus Less Infinite

It’s been said that time passes slower when you don’t know how long a task lasts. Uncertainty makes the future feels farther away, and the present more infinite. One of the most excruciating parts of the pandemic is the infinity of it. The Psalmist’s words, How long, O LORD?, took on a new meaning when two-week stay-at-home orders turned into months-to-years-to-undetermined-and-basically-forever of never seeing friends.

For progressives, the infinity of pandemic is overlaid on the infinity of the Trump administration. One way to make a task last longer is to create uncertainty, yes, but another way is to fill up the space with so much disgust and sensational cruelty that the time before and the time after cease to exist. Progressive Christians—and even some of those who at first had hope for a Trump presidency—have been in such a heightened state of reactionary stress for years that the present often numbs out all space for a past or a future. We know intellectually there is the presidency is time-bound, but Trump has a unique skill for making himself seem infinite (and undermining all the traditional rules of democracy).

We are infinitely stuck. Our churches, and our world, seem to exist on an emotional spectrum that runs from exasperation to fatigue to paralysis. The past is an alternate reality. The future is an unimaginable one.

The Christian faith is about finding a way to move through life centered on hope. The task of churches, now, is to cultivate hope, which means to imagine alternatives. Churches must attune us to the possible, the not yet, the alternative vision. For an hour every Sunday—perhaps a little more—we can gather our community, most of us virtually, into imagination. That’s all hope is, after all, the ability to imagine something good in the future.

This is not about self-medicating with eternal salvation. It’s about building the frame that allows people to fill in the center. Something that breaks the paralysis of infinity into manageable seasons where we can take action. Perhaps your church foresees a need for rent relief, or additional hours at the food bank, repairs in the building or in one of your social service or summer camp or mission partners. Orient toward the vision, what your favorite organizations look like in the time after coronavirus. Perhaps an empty building can collect school supplies or homemade quilts or canned goods, a tangible sign week-to-week of how our hope grows and cascades. Perhaps photos of the room are taken and shared weekly; perhaps every thousand cans the room is emptied and the goods delivered to the food bank and a new vision begins. This kind of tangible good matters. It distinguishes the days, the passing of time, shifts Coronatimes from an infinite fog to a rainbow, long and bending toward justice. It increases our sense of goodness day-to-day.

Of course, all this presumes a majority of staff and congregants are not in survival mode. And many, especially the caregivers, are barely treading water.

Ironically, it is the pandemic that has shifted me from survival mode to capacious dreamer—turns out, being bivocational is much easier when you stop trying to have a social life. When I was in the thick of survival mode, several months ago, everything felt doable, in theory. I did not feel that I was carrying more than I could lift. A congregant finally pointed out to me that survival mode doesn’t always feel like survival mode. For those who are overwhelmed, normalize fatigue and listening to your body and releasing the nonessentials. Normalize adjusting expectations. Name spaces that are capacious and where support exists, whether or not it is tapped. Affirm exhaustion.

And at the same time, inventory assets. Celebrate the strengths of parents, caregivers, teachers who are in survival mode, parenting, caregiving, teaching in ways unknown for generations. Notice their resilience, acknowledge them in small ways, imagine alongside of them and invite them into the brief moments they can steal of hopeful dreaming. To the degree that you can, invite the care-receivers into the work of imagination. Listen to children’s views of the future. Ask seniors what legacies they leave, and their hopes for those who arise to carry on the legacy.

In my church, realizing the challenges of Children’s Time in virtual space, we transitioned from adults telling the children stories to children telling the adults stories. Right now, each Sunday a different child is sharing their hopes for the future, from dreaming of eighth birthdays to fully trained puppies to someday becoming a teacher. I often think the adults seem to benefit from this dreaming space more than the children.

No matter how you look, it’s not an easy time. But it’s not an infinite time, either. And the more we can vision the future, the more we can oritent toward the horizon, the more gracefully and rapidly this time will seem to pass.

Find abundance where you can, even if it means eating cucumbers three meals a day.

“Defund the Police” is Deeply Anabaptist

From its origins, Anabaptism was a movement that questioned the belief that the state was worthy of wielding violence. So it surprised me, at first, that Anabaptist churches were even debating about defunding the police. This is a religious tradition that champions war tax resistance. We literally believe that religious freedom entitles us not to pay for our country’s military. It’s a hop, skip, and less than a jump to move from withholding military dollars to reducing police funding.

Anabaptist theology has no room for police, any more than it has room for soldiers, kings, or governments who claim to have God’s blessing. In 1527 in the Schleitheim Confession, Anabaptists made the bold statement that Christians should not carry weapons, but instead be “armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God.”  

But over time, this ability to critique violence morphed into a desire to avoid violence at all costs. The logic went like this: Jesus calls us to peace; therefore, we cannot exhibit signs of violence; therefore, violence simply does not exist in Christian community. There’s no need to create a vocabulary for something that does not exist. The Anabaptist legacy is one that silences violence because there are no words for it.

And so, most of our churches simply function as though police don’t exist. People like us would never be police officers. People like us would never call the police on a fellow church member. And, it must be said, people like us are rarely policed because, until three or four generations ago, Anabaptists were almost exclusively white. The message in most Anabaptist churches today is that Anabaptists should not be police officers—but police officers are also permissible when necessary to quash any violence we witness since, of course, violence is immoral. Police are unnecessary to our daily lives because we are Christian pacifists; but we understand police are needed respond to the harm committed by other, more violent people in the world. Ah, the sweet, sweet moral high ground.

Anabaptists cannot be police officers, it’s often said, because they would have to carry a gun. This is the most obvious observation we make policing, and one that fails to mention that tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, and rubber bullets are also tools of violence.

Our historically flat critique of violence—a critique that washes over race, power, socioeconomic disparity, and gender—no longer serves us. Most likely, it never served us.

“We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God’s peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world,” begins Article 22 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

There is no way to get from “God created the world in peace” to “I’m okay with paying taxes to the government so that police have access to riot gear.” To be pacifist is to maintain that for every social problem, there are better places to put our money than police departments. Any government representative who is required to carry a gun is less effective at creating peace than a government employee who does not have “exercising violence when necessary” as part of their job description. Because, in the Anabaptist tradition, violence is never necessary.

The phrase “Defund the Police” is the most Anabaptist term to enter popular American social discourse in decades. As pacifists, we ought to be rushing full speed to join the movement. And if we are not, we ought to pull out our Confession of Faith and ask ourselves, “Why does this phrase make me uncomfortable?”

It is, most likely, because of our commitments to our own privilege, and not our commitments to God.

Easter: Happy Skunk Cabbage Day

When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)
Mark 16:4

You didn’t think it was over at Day 40, did you? It was—technically, we’re all off the Lent hook now. But, whatever your discipline was, Lent isn’t intended to be a one-and-done. We return to old routines changed. We create new routines, maybe not with the strictness we adhered to during Lent (goodbye waking up at 6am to write the next day’s reflection!), but we carry who we’ve been these 40 days into who we become from here. The stone is rolled away. This morning, we put on our Easter dresses and sing and feast. As a teenager, I loved picking out my special Easter outfit, always anticipating warm weather and bare legs. April’s gonna be April, though, and more often than not I spent Easter morning digging through my closet for tights or sweaters. We didn’t think resilience would look like this. It seldom meets our beauty standards.

For some of these posts, I used a picture of an early spring bud: a skunk cabbage flower.

skunk cabbage centeredThe flower bursts up early, even before the crocuses. It generates its own heat, even to the point of melting the snow, and it also smells terrible (which attracts the flies that pollinate it). It’s a fitting image of resilience: heat-generating, life-giving, and funky-smelling. The beautiful and the rotten, not glossed over, held in a balance that favors life and makes the unpleasant tolerable. The beauty of resilience might also be a little smelly. What Easter brings is rarely what we expected or anticipated. Prepare to be surprised by your own healing. Let your resilient self astound you.

Skunk Cabbage bloomed

 Takeaway: So we release the need for the future to look exactly how we planned. We release the stipulations we demanded before healing. We let resilience open us to what we’d never considered possible.

Take a listen to this song by Rising Appalachia, called “Resilient.” Carry it with you as you move from Lent into the season of Easter, as you sit with who you’ve become and who you still are to become: “I am resilient/I trust the movement/I’ll show up at the table/again and again and again.”

Day #40: Integrity

Everyone from Judah who is living in the land of Egypt will die by the sword and by famine, until all are gone. 28 Those who actually survive war and return from Egypt to the land of Judah will be very few.
-Jeremiah 44:27-28

Not everyone gets a happy ending. The resiliency gospel is not the prosperity gospel—there is no promise of wealth and happiness here. So the ending returns to the beginning. This series began with a passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet bought a field in a collapsing nation state, with a near-defunct currency, to create a deed that wouldn’t be honored. To prove that there is still hope in destruction. By the end of his life, Jeremiah has been dragged to Egypt on a fool’s errand with some refugees trying to avoid war. War comes to Egypt, and most of the people Jeremiah accompanied to Egypt don’t make it out. Jeremiah dies in Egypt, although we aren’t told how. Meanwhile, in Babylon, where the other half of the nation was deported, life gets marginally better but it still sucks. And then the story ends. It doesn’t get better.  Jeremiah remains resilient as he can through war, national crisis, and bad decisions. He has integrity. But it doesn’t get better. He just tries to bring his best self to a world getting worse.

Takeaway: Resilience is a sexy word in pop culture. It was so trendy I was reluctant to make it the center of my Lenten practice. But actual resilience is not very sexy, because it’s an admission that things might not get better. Life could get harder than it is now. Tomorrow, Jesus will resurrect, but he won’t stay, God won’t stay in flesh on earth. This embodied hope we came to count on—the friendship and mentorship of the kindness of the universe—it doesn’t stay as close as we wish. Resurrection is hope, but it’s not resolution. We still have to make a way in the world with hope standing at a distance. When I think about climate change, the American economy, the institutional church, I realize: it might not get better. But I want to bring my best self to the worst times, even if the worst of times go on and on and on. Several times during Lent, I’ve read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” and it summarizes best the resilience I want to embody. It’s the integrity of hope in all circumstances. Ada Limón writes of the Great Blue Heron as a symbol of hope, and says “I think even if I fail at everything,/I still want to point out the heron like I was taught.” Read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road.” What does it look like to point toward hope, even if you fail at everything?

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #39: Mourning

Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body.
Mark 15:43

Grief is not a cupcake. It’s not even a yoga class. American culture boasts that we need only recognize grief to the degree that we can consume our way out of it—every loss has an equal and opposite purchase. This consumption-minded approach approaches grief with the intent to reach satiation as quickly as possible. But grief is a tool of resilience. You are sad because you care. You love. You are present. Making adequate space for grief is an act of resilience (and usually grief takes more space than you think it should—why is grief always manspreading?). Today is Good Friday. There is a saying among pastors, “You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.” Sure, Easter has the flowers and the decorations and the better food. But you can’t show up for the resurrection if you aren’t willing to show up for grief. How you gonna show up in church saying “He is risen” when you didn’t even acknowledge he was dead? Even Joseph of Arimathea, a Roman-allied politician with a soft spot for Jesus, allows himself some grief. He dares to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. He makes sure the body gets a proper burial. He pays his respects. He goes deeper into his sorrow instead of numbing it out. There is a bravery in grief. We are not afraid of who we are when we ugly cry.

 Takeaway: Today, Good Friday, is the day Jesus died. Create space to acknowledge this anniversary of the loss of God. Go to a Good Friday service. If you can’t make it, light a candle today. Spend five minutes in silence. Read Mark 15. Stop at verse 47, don’t read ahead. Risk grief. Be brave enough to feel the feelings of loss without moving to solve them. Easter will come. But Easter without Good Friday is just a sugar-high and an egg hunt. Easter with Good Friday is a healing, a salvation, a resilience.

Day #38: Vulnerability

He asked, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them,
“I Am.”When he said, “I Am,” [the soldiers] shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
-John 18:4-6

If vulnerability is willingly opening yourself to being hurt, embarrassment is the experience of finding yourself vulnerable in a place and time you didn’t intend. These few short lines from John are embarrassing for the soldiers. They show up to arrest a dangerous revolutionary with “lanterns, torches, and weapons,” and instead they find an empty-handed man who asks ignorant questions. As if Jesus looks at them and says, “Nice costumes, guys, is it Saturnalia already?” The soldiers literally fall over with embarrassment. And it’s supposed to be literal—John writes the whole crucifixion story as a Greek drama, peppering the pre-death moments with a dark humor. The soldiers are embarrassed but Jesus, too, is embarrassed in this scene. What kind of God allows someone to bind his arms? What kind of God allows death to be forced on the Divine? A God who chose vulnerability over violence. An utterly helpless, naïve, gullible God. A God who gives humans every chance to do good, up to the very last moment. It’s that vulnerability that makes this story so enduring, and so hopeful.

Takeaway: At the crucifixion, God becomes vulnerable to humanity. God opens Godself to the possibility of being hurt. As if God wishes to tell us: it’s okay to be known and to be hurtable. You are made to be known, which means you are made with the possibility of being hurt.  Notice, today, when you sidestep vulnerability: when your motive for doing something is to avoid embarrassment or exposing some piece of yourself for judgment. Try to edge toward vulnerability. Open up, just a little farther than is comfortable. Make a joke you’d usually hold back, in case no one laughs (it’s embarrassing). Or admit to doing something stupid (how embarrassing). Or tell someone you love them (what if they don’t love you as much? Embarrassing!) If even the Creator of the Universe is willing to be embarrassed, we, too, can risk a little embarrassment.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).