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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Narrator: L was not, in fact, done, and she and God were not, in fact, through…

We’re closing in on three years since I sat in my vehicle, in my driveway in Indiana, and uttered these words to God, as I made the final decision to make the move to Boston:

“Fine God!  I will go do this thing, but if I lose my kids over this, I’m done, and we are through.”

2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year… maybe even a cesspool…

It is difficult for me to adequately express how devastating this year has been for me, primarily because even though it has been horrific, I know it has still been worse for others.  But I’m not a real fan of competing to determine whose pain is greatest, and I think it is vital to recognize grief and loss for what they are, regardless of quantifiable size.  So, if you’re reading this (and I guess you are), please understand that I fully recognize my own experience as nothing more or nothing less than merely that… my own… neither in direct nor indirect competition with your pain.

Confession: I was already over 2020 by late February.  Without divulging details, let it suffice to say that people who know and love me were already looking into my face, eight weeks into this mess, and saying things like, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know how you’re still standing.”  In another two weeks’ time, I would find myself staring through exhausted, blurred vision, waiting for my luggage to magically appear on an airport carousel, wondering if it had been incredibly stupid to pass through 8 cities via air, over 16 days, when reports of a deadly virus were emerging and growing by the hour.  Five days later, I threw in the towel on my youngest child’s indoor soccer season, even though some people thought I was being overly dramatic.  Two days after that, I stood in a pulpit, not knowing that it would be the last time for an undisclosed number of months, instructing people to distance themselves and to refrain from remembering their baptism… at least, with the water in the font.  I walked back into my house, I shut the door, and I proceeded to have zero contact with the outside world for the next 32 days.  On day 32, I had to make an emergency visit to the police station.  On day 55, a dear friend of mine sent me a package of handmade masks.  On day 68, I had enough guts to drive thru at Starbucks.  On day 70 I ventured out for an “elective” surgery that had fallen off the books, precisely because of the pandemic, but that my doctor was able to essentially sneak me in for, because the word elective is pretty widely used to describe things that are not really elective.  I stayed home again until day 107.  And it’s not that I got lazy after that, but it was a little easier to be creative during the summer months, and the curve was flattening here.  So… socially distanced trips to the beach… running, and running, and running… plenty of carry out and drive-thrus… orders to pick up outside the store… etc.  We also had to engage in some of the regular rhythms of life like yearly physicals and a trip to the ophthalmologist.  And then I stopped counting the days, because this became the new normal.

I’m a pretty big fan of New Year’s Eve, in a quiet, stay at home and eat appetizers and watch the ball drop with my family sort of way.  For years now, I have picked a word of the year, and I was so excited 366 days ago (remember, 2020 was a leap year, so we even got an extra day in this already unbearably long trip around the sun) when I chose “envision.”  Not only did this word represent what I hoped for in 2020, but I thought it rather clever, as well.  At this writing, 2020 is almost hindsight…  read that again, backwards…  and I feel as if “envision” was the most inappropriate word I could possibly have chosen.  “Survive” was more like it.  When I took this picture, I just didn’t know:

I didn’t know a lot of things, but I sure didn’t know this low quality, cell phone selfie type image was going to become one of my favorite moments of all time.  I didn’t know it was going to be a before/after marker.  I didn’t know I was going to revisit that ultimatum to God, this year, and I was going to have to make a decision about whether or not I meant it.  Was it a faith crisis?  An identity crisis?  I don’t know.  It didn’t feel like the deconstruction of my 20s or the reinvention of my 30s.  Instead, it was a more subtle question, posed largely to myself.  Am I going to do this thing called life with God or without God?  In the end, I decided with God is better.  Understated, I know.  It’s just that so much of this year has been melodramatic.  Maybe we all just need something steady.

Because I remain a hopeless random selfie taker (one year I even made a resolution to take less selfies, but it didn’t go well), in my quick photo flip through the year, I came across one from early September that I like a great deal (there are also countless terrible selfies that should just be deleted and a large number of sad ones).  I hope to greet the new year with the tenacity of this arbitrary shot, with the fire in my eyes and the fire in my bones it represents.  My word for 2021 is “RELENTLESS.”  Because somebody poked the bear, and I am in this to win it.

In no way do I wish to detract from the need for mourning over the loss, grief, and pain of 2020, but neither do I wish to rehash it all in a public forum.  Heaven knows I have sat with it in silence and solitude, and that is crushing enough.  I recognize that turning the page to a new calendar year is not a magical act, and I suspect that 2021 will carry with it both joy and sorrow, as most years do.  As is, perhaps, the greatest example of this, a dear friend of mine gave birth during this pandemic.  Over the course of our many texts, this year, I have sometimes exclaimed, “2020 sucked… except Joseph…”  Her response is always, “2020 mostly sucked.”  And then I laugh.  But this makes the point… there have been highlights…

And so, a highlight reel…

In 2020, I reached the halfway point of my Ph.D. program at Boston University.  I bought a vehicle.  His name is Fred.  I love him.  I ran several virtual 5Ks, including The Wizard Run (with Seth, Grace (via FaceTime), and Caleb) and the Donut Run (with Ian), as well as a 10K that only almost killed me.  I co-taught a preaching class in BU’s D.Min. program and a worship class in BU’s M.Div. program and facilitated a spiritual companioning group for mostly 1st year M.Div. students.  I enjoyed weekly trips to ENC and the ocean to visit Seth, who absolutely slayed his first semester there, and to write.  Many donuts, pizzas, coffees, and grocery runs were involved.  I celebrated my oldest three children beginning to make their way into the workforce (Seth at Amazon; Grace at Kroger, along with a variety of music related positions at Olivet and the most recent announcement of her commissioning to write an entire musical; Caleb at Dunkin’ Donuts).  I had the privilege of participating in the mostly virtual, but occasionally in-person, worship gatherings of South Walpole UMC, where Phil has navigated pastoring in a pandemic in incredible ways, and where Caleb, Ian, and Miah have served weekly as tech support, ushers, and acolytes.  I had a chapter published in the book, Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love, and have been asked to write again for an upcoming project.  I was asked to serve on the NRSVue review team.  I took on responsibilities as a co-chair for Wesleyan Liturgical Society and as the chair for Theology and Education with Wesleyan Theological Society.  Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology quietly flipped over 100,000 pageviews at some point.  I have had ample time to read fiction with Caleb, Ian, and Miah.  I have coached Caleb, Ian, and Miah, along with their teammates, at a number of virtual Bible Quizzing tournaments, where we have represented South Pole (locally) and the New England District, as we continue to be blessed to be a part of the ENC Field.  I have met with friends and colleagues (masked and socially distanced) in parking lots and at parks to celebrate new babies and completing semesters. I helped my parents to set up Zoom on their Kindle (this might be the biggest accomplishment yet).  I am still here.

It's a different kind of mining of joyful moments than ever before, to be sure, but if we dig deep, we can still find them.

My prayer for all of you is that the joy will outweigh the sorrow in 2021, but that even if it doesn’t, that there will be people to sit with you and to hold you and to love you well, because we still belong to each other.

With Much Love and Many Blessings,


P.S.  If you haven’t already seen it, here is our belated Christmas greeting:

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Mary, Did You Know?

Full disclosure: I have a higher opinion of Mary than most Protestants.  And so, it is with a bit of trepidation that I entered into this piece.  I have things to say, but first, let’s let Mary’s words speak (or sing) to us:  

Luke 1:46-55, New Revised Standard Version: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’”

This Advent season, I have noticed an extraordinarily high number of complains rising against the classic (sort of) Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know,” penned by Mark Lowry (lyrics) and Buddy Green (music) and originally released by Michael English on his self-titled album in 1991.  I don’t know if almost 30 years is enough to make something a classic, but I digress.  The question seems to be, did Mark and Michael mansplain Mary, and, if so, what should we do about it?  After taking a careful look at the lyrics (which I probably could have quoted, but I wanted to cover all the bases), I decided it’s about a 50/50 wash.  Yeah, Mary knew some of that stuff, and she didn’t know some of it, and maybe the question was rhetorical.  At any rate, I don’t think the song was intentionally degrading, and I’m probably going to go ahead and keep it in the rotation (but maybe the Pentatonix version).  I’m thankful for the controversy, though, because it caused me to think deeply about Mary… her knowledge… her faith… and her heart.  And that’s really what this post is about.

I love the Magnificat.  I love to read it.  I love to preach it.  Honestly, I just love that it exists.  I love young, faith-filled, faithful Mary, who consents to carry the incarnate, embodied child of God in her uterus.  So, when the songwriter asks, Mary, did you know “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God,” I think the answer is abundantly clear…  yes, yes, and yes.  

But if we were to ask, Mary, did you know this kid was going to disappear in the temple at age 12, I think the answer shifts.  Y’all cannot tell me that she foreknew Jesus would be briefly misplaced, and, frankly, I’m not going to buy it if you suggest she wasn’t panicked and maybe a little bit pissed.  If you have ever lost a child on a trip, you know full well how the reunion goes.  You are a blubbering mess, tears streaming down your face, because you are certain your kid has been abducted and you will never see him again, and you are certain you are the worst parent who has ever lived.  But then when you do see that little face, all the relief and emotions come out in a tight hug and a lecture about how he had better never, not ever, disappear from at least your peripheral vision, really… ever… again!  And it doesn’t actually end when your children become adults.  It’s the reason for the requested text at the end of the night.  Please… please just push a few buttons, so I know you’re alive and I can get some sleep.  Because the panic of not being able to physically see them doesn’t fade. 

When the songwriter asks, “Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters,” I think the answer, with the understanding that Mary certainly knew the Messiah was kicking her just beneath the ribs, is abundantly clear… yes, yes, and yes.

But if we were to ask, Mary, did you know the savior of the world was going to have an attitude… at age thirty… when you asked him to replace some water with some wine, I think she might have balked.  Seriously?  For real?  What do you do with this kid, who’s like, “Mom… that’s really not what I’m supposed to be doing right now… at least not quite yet.”  I like that Jesus relents.  I like that his first miracle takes place, not because he planned it that way, but because his Mama asked him to do something, and even though he didn’t really feel like it, he acquiesced.  It’s one for the books!  Mary, did you know about the miraculous healings and all the ways in which they would take place?  Maybe not… but she sure knew she taught that kid to set the table.  And then he did…  over, and over, and over again… 

It gets a little trickier after that, because like many of the Jewish people awaiting Messiah, Mary most certainly did not know what it meant for her child to be the lamb. 

Recently, I’ve re-read and re-watched some movies and stories and found myself in different characters than usual, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when Matthew 12:46-50 hit me a little different the other day:

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ 48 He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

It's usually one of those “Yay Jesus” moments or one of those “Yay disciples” moments, but as I read this, most recently, it cut deep as I thought about Mary.  Who is my mother?  Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my… mother?  Incredulous.  For, who might that be more than Mary, herself?  Point taken, family is indeed more than just flesh and blood (maybe Jesus even represents this very best), but I cannot get around this paragraph.  I’d like to say I cannot even imagine how Mary felt when those words stung like barbs.  As she stood outside waiting for an audience of her firstborn child and being met with his silence, I have to wonder if her hand brushed over the stretch marks… if she shifted uncomfortably, because she never took off those last ten pounds and nobody remembered what she looked like before they were a permanent part of her… if she thought back to the ridicule of those early days, when she’d just begun to show and her explanation was unbelievable (literally)…  if she peed herself a little bit, or if she just cried.  Mothers tend to have a lot of bodily fluids that just flow whether they want them to or not.  I am dissatisfied that Jesus does not answer her call here, but it’s not the end of the story…

I wonder if Mary thought back to this moment when she was standing at the cross and Jesus publicly recognized her as his mother and provided for her by exclaiming that his dearest friend, the disciple whom he loved, was now her son.  I think the temptation here is to jump ahead too quickly, proclaiming closure, proclaiming repaired relationship.  Maybe it reaches back to Jesus’ words about making things right at the altar before you offer your gift.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that there is no way any of that even mattered to Mary in that moment.  I know she would have traded places with Jesus in less than half a heartbeat, given the opportunity.  Given the chance, she would deliver him again… and again… and again, even if she knew “this child that you delivered [would] soon deliver you.”  I know this, because I am definitely not nearly as fabulous a mother or follower of God as Mary was, and I would spill my own blood over and over again, an unimaginable number of times, before ever accepting the abuse of any of my children as a simple fact I was wise enough to know and acknowledge.  And so, I have to push back on the idea that Mary knew… at least like that.  I don’t think she knew.  And it’s OK to admit that knowing isn’t the end-all solution to everything. 

There’s actually a whole lot of grace in recognizing that most of what we do, we do with limited knowledge.  At our best, we do what we think is right, given minimal details and perspective.  At our very best, we wake up and do it again, adjusting for all the things we got wrong.  And then again.  And then again.

Mary, did you know that being a mother was going to break you in every single way?  Spoiler:  Again, I’m going with no.  Mary, if you knew, would you still say yes?  I can’t actually answer for Mary, but I think so, because I would.


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On the Edge

I have been quiet during this election cycle…  not silent, but quiet… certainly quieter than usual.  There are many reasons for this, ranging from my current vocational position in higher education, where I have always praised the merits of teaching students how to think as opposed to what to think… to my general dissatisfaction with the options on the ballot… to a certain degree of loss of relationships in some of my most politically minded circles… to the political divisions in my own family, which sometimes suck the life right out of me. 

I have been dwelling deeply on some words from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly, now.  Love mercy, now.  Walk humbly, now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  As an empath, I am, self-admittedly, often daunted… even overwhelmed… by the enormity of the world’s grief.  I feel it deeply in my bones, and it can threaten to consume me.  This sounds awful, but it beats the alternative.  The other day, as I was feeling this pain, I thought to myself, “This is uncomfortable, but I desperately need to feel it.”  And I do.  Because not feeling is so much worse.

I have big emotions.  Big.  Big.  Emotions.  For that, I am unashamed. 

And so, in the midst of this election week… after I had taken care of those who needed me to the best of my ability, nearly consumed by the grief but, nevertheless (she persisted), desiring to give all I could… I found myself gravitating toward the pull of the ocean, as is my modus operandi. 

I sat down on a rock, and the winds blew and beat against my face, and I wrote: I am currently sitting on a mass of land that will literally be inaccessible when the tide comes in.  There is an end to national power… an actual, physical end.  This is the eastern border, beyond which we have only wind and waves.  And they are subject to only One.

I am not free to abandon the work of healing… of peacemaking… of loving.  There is no scenario in which I would want to be free of this work.  We are called to this work… to this life… and it is not passive.  It is also not boundless, but concrete.  Cliché will no longer do (if it ever did), because by definition it lacks originality.  We can no longer throw our hands up in the air and shout, “God is in control!” without essentially spitting in the faces of the bereaved and naming their narratives as worth less than our own… as worthless… No, cliché will never do, nor will sweeping gestures and vague promises.  But maybe anecdote will.  Hear me out.  Today is a day when the big picture feels too enormous, but within that we’re all living smaller stories.  Things will change when justice, mercy, and humility permeate each of our narratives.  Please don’t mistake this for submission but subversion.  I learned a long time ago that the loudest voices are merely the loudest.  And they fade.  That’s not power.  Not really.    

Do not lose heart!  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”[i]  Count on it.  Rise up.



[i] Matthew 5:4

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

We Love the Great Pumpkin: On Liturgy and Scarcity

I am a huge fan of Halloween.[i]  Often, over the past decade plus, I have planned and participated in an event named HallowedWorship, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Interestingly, the last thing that happens at HallowedWorship is the showing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”  It happens after music and Scripture and preaching and Eucharist… after candy and games and Halloween stories.  It happens after everyone who has prepared for and worked the event is exhausted.  It happens with kids on a sugar high.  And to be honest, there have been some years when my family has been the last one standing (or sitting, or falling asleep on a Sunday School room floor somewhere), as it plays to a chorus of people leaving the room questioning whether or not it is really necessary.  We’re all tired.  We’ve seen this film before.

And so, there is a certain degree of irony to the fact that the whole Halloween celebrating world is up in arms about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” ceasing to air on broadcast television after fifty-four years of consistency.  I’m seeing some concern over the injustice of this.  After all, not everyone has Apple TV+.  I don’t.  And actually, I want to freely admit that there were some years when I didn’t have access to broadcast TV, either, so I legitimately understand the frustration that comes with being left out of culturally significant moments in time which can only be experienced together through technology one does not possess.  I’m not making light of this.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Although, my lament of The Great Pumpkin runs more toward a sadness that we cannot gather around my aging DVD copy to share the story with anyone who cares to watch in community, whether or not they have another way to do so. 

But I’m slightly taken aback by the idea that people who regularly slipped away before the show might be the same ones who are crying out against its disappearance.  Slightly.  Ever so slightly.  OK, maybe not even that much.  It seems odd, but maybe it’s not.

People like rhythm and ritual, and even if they do not physically participate on a regular basis, they also want to know the option is available to them.  As humans, we order our lives around crisis moments and the regular patterns that happen in-between.  Perhaps more than any other year in modern history (or, at least, personal history), 2020 has robbed us of this sense of normalcy.  And “normal” is a word that is cropping up more and more, especially in the context of “a new normal.”  We have been resilient… or so we think.  We have made sacrifices and reframed our contexts for work and school and justice and politics and worship and family life.  We have quite literally framed ourselves in little boxes in order to continue to communicate with whatever invented version of body language and expression we can muster.  But the loss of The Great Pumpkin?  I mean, come on…  enough is enough!  Am I right?

Be kind to yourself.  This is not such an outlandish claim or feeling to have.  It’s fairly common for people who are in the midst of crisis to reach for the small, consistent pieces of their lives in order to cope with the things they cannot control.  Those who are suffering trauma might ground themselves with a blade of grass or a handful of sand.  When your house is burning down around you, the most devastating immediate losses and subsequent requests can seem strange and inconsequential.  But we thrive on embracing the ordinary when the world seems to be spinning off its axis.  It’s why we need to be able to sit with Linus in the pumpkin patch, this year, wrapped in his familiar blue blanket, even though we know The Great Pumpkin isn’t coming.  It’s why we need to hear Charlie Brown say, “I got a rock.”  This is quite literally a touchstone!

I knew it was serious when I did a quick search for "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on DVD today.  If you read that last line and were inspired to give it a shot, maybe don’t.  Just like there was a run on toilet paper and Lysol wipes, you will find the “shelves” empty.  I don’t really know how to fix this in the time of Covid-19.  Were it a more normal time in history, I’d probably just invite y’all over for popcorn and a movie.  Then again, we’ve been there.  If it were a more normal time in history, you might decline. 

Rather than being some sort of definitive treatise on the benefits and detriments of a Peanuts liturgy[ii], this is intended to create some space for the consideration of why this loss (and so many others) is significant… to you… to community… to the calendar… to the culture.  Allow it to sink in.  Tread softly. 


[i] No one gasps (see: girl who is most comfortable with lament, preaching funerals, Ash Wednesday, and All Saints Day). 

[ii] That sounds like a great piece for another time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

I Voted Today…

… and the honest truth is that I feel crappier about it than any other vote I have ever cast (and that’s saying something).

Take a trip with me, back to 2008.  If you’ve known me that long, you may recollect that I was a lifelong registered Republican, but I had bought into “Hope and Change.”  However, on the precipice of casting my vote for Obama, I waited with hopeful, bated breath for his VP pick.  And when it was Joe Biden, I said, “Oh, heck no,” and this voter swayed right back to the party she was registered to support (even though I didn’t have a lot of love for McCain, either). [i] 

Fast forward to the past year…

Much in the same way, I critically viewed all of the democratic debates and felt fairly sure that a candidate I could live with would emerge.  Having voted third party in 2016, and having decided (and declared fairly publicly) that I would never do that again (unless we come to some sort of ranked voting system at which point I will claim it is my prerogative to change my mind, given new parameters and information), I had essentially already decided that I would vote for whoever’s name graced the ballot for the democratic party this time around.  There were a few candidates I didn’t like, but I was fairly sure they would drop off in the early dropping off days (most did), and there were a few candidates I liked a great deal.  None of them were perfect.  I hold some positions that are apparently mutually exclusive with actually becoming a democrat (although, in full disclosure, that is how I am currently registered).  But looking at the wide field of possibilities, I felt pretty good about where things were headed.  At some point, I told my kids that it would be alright, because the only candidate left that I just couldn’t vote for was Biden, and it was never going to be him…

And then I found myself in an impossible situation, because I am 100%, without a doubt, a “nevertrumper” for life (please note, the very definition of never means never), I had made a really big deal about never voting third party again (see: definition of never), and I had also proclaimed that I would not vote for Biden and had backed that decision with my voting record, in the past.  Because I disdain lying and/or going back on my word; for the first time ever, I seriously considered not voting, but it didn’t sit well with me. I’m not a real fan of letting other people make decisions for me and living with the consequences.

There are many things I would like to say about politics.  There are many things I would like to say about my positions and how I justify the decisions I make.  I could go on for pages and pages, but I suspect this wouldn’t make much of a difference, because the vast majority of us are reading and listening to the biased sources that we think are most legitimate, and one more liberal leaning, pro-life, doctoral student, pastor, mama of many[ii] isn’t going to sway anyone in a blog post.  However, if you legitimately want to engage in a dialogue, I am always willing to do so.[iii]

I recognize that no one has to disclose who they voted for, but my MO is to do just that, with transparency, in hopes that we can have that charitable discourse and also in hopes that we might recognize that voting doesn’t always fit neatly into some predetermined box and it’s OK to cast a vote for someone who doesn’t meet all of your expectations or for someone whose ideals and policies don’t align perfectly with your own.  Just keeping it real, how many people are there out there who would meet these standards?  If I made this my baseline, I could probably vote for something like two people on the face of the planet, and neither of them is running for anything!

I voted today.

I voted Biden/Harris, because it was the best I could do.

I feel kinda crappy.

I still hope you go do the best you can do, too.   


PS  I have a whole roll of "I Voted Today" stickers for those of you who are voting by mail, like me!  Just send me a message and I will get one out to you!

[i] Actually, these were probably not my exact words 12 years ago, although they would be close, today…

[ii] Oh wait, just me?

[iii] By this, I do not mean if you want to make attempts to trip me up or change my mind.  What I mean is that I am willing to share my reasons for my decision, and I will listen to yours, if we can talk charitably with one another.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The World Has Shifted

 “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou

It’s a bumper sticker on my vehicle, but it’s more than that, too. 

For a variety of reasons, I have written and said precious little of consequence over the past few months.  To be honest, a great deal of my silence is simply due to my current position in life.  I’m a PhD student.  It’s exam year.  I am basically maxed out.  The other day, I told my kids I think I have crammed so much in my brain that it is starting to dump details that are no longer important or at least that are not vital in the given moment.  This life doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for engagement, and I’m OK with that, because I know it’s temporary. 

But there’s something I need to say now.  The world has shifted.

It’s certainly not the first time, and it won’t be the last.  If you know me, you know I like classic TV, and I can tell you that you need look no further than an episode or two of Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, or Full House (whew… showing my age if that’s now a “classic”) to see how families and worldviews and entertainment choices and relationships have changed from decade to decade.  And while I would not recommend trying to emulate the cultures of any of those sitcoms, I do find them an interesting study.

Many years ago, when my oldest kids (now adults) were little kids, I can remember my dad saying, “Well, you’re not raising them like you were raised, but you’re doing a good job.”  Not long ago, I heard a sentiment (paraphrased) that you can’t raise your kids the same way you were raised, because the world is not the same world it was when you were growing up.  It’s true.  It’s all true.  In fact, the world shifted again between the early childhood days of my oldest two children and the early childhood days of my youngest three.  It’s almost as if I could physically feel it.  And now, it has shifted once more. 

I suspect that the years between major world changes are getting shorter.  I could speculate on why this is, but if I do, I’ll never finish this post, and it will end up in the scrap heap with so many other ideas that I have never shared.  For the purposes of today, I don’t care so much about why the world has shifted but that it has.

There are basically two things you can do when you feel the ground move beneath your feet.  You can adapt… or not.  Both choices come with consequences.  I love the Maya Angelou quote, because I think if offers a certain degree of grace to everyone involved. 

Do the best you can…

I want to believe that everyone (or, at least most everyone) is doing the best they can.  It’s really hard when that’s not enough.  But for the sake of charitable discourse, let’s hold back on that for a moment and extend the benefit of the doubt to human beings, assuming that we are, indeed, doing our best. 

Until you know better…     

This part is tricky, too, because it requires teachable hearts.  It requires us to take a good, hard, long look at the things we believe to be best and to accept that they might not be.

Then when you know better…

But I believe in the resiliency of the human spirit, and I believe we can learn and deconstruct and reconstruct and accept that sometimes we were wrong, even when it was the best we had to offer at that particular time.

Do Better…    

I often say, “We have to do better,” but I have recently come to realize that, actually, we don’t.  We don’t have to do better, but we really should.  We should at least try.

It’s really hard.  It’s hard enough to transform and evolve when the people with all the power dig their heels in.  It’s harder still when the people we love do the same.  I get it.  I’m over her playing this very dangerous game of survival, just like the rest of you, and it’s terrifying, because I don’t claim to know what that even looks like for the coming days.  But I desperately want to be on the side of history that does just a little better than yesterday.  And even though it is my deep desire and a strong temptation to drag others kicking and screaming along with me, I think I’m at a place where I have to look at them, doing the best they can, even if they don’t want to know better, and wish them well, as I adapt to the earth moving beneath my feet.  Let's not dig our heels in.  Let's soar.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

This Odd Lack of Human Connection

It has been such a weird six months.  As many of you know, yesterday I sat for my first comprehensive exam for my PhD program.  It’s an accomplishment (I hope I passed), but it’s also just another step (there are two more written exams and an oral exam before moving on to yet the next part of the program).  A year ago, if you had asked me what I planned to do to celebrate, it would have looked decidedly different from what I actually did.  To be honest, at present I am tucked away in a hotel room by myself, as is my typical modus operandi for soul care time, primarily because I couldn’t imagine taking this exam at my home (which has become quite conducive for most work, but this was exceptional), or while wearing a mask at the public library, or in the same situation at my school’s library, where I would have had to change my student status and submit to a Covid test just to show up.  Thus, the hotel…

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of friends, family members, and colleagues who prayed for me yesterday and who sent texts and messages to encourage and then congratulate me for checking another requirement off the list.  I appreciated every single interaction.  But I also want to take the time to lament this era of life during which there are no high fives, fist bumps, or hugs.  Even as an introvert who needs alone time to adequately recharge, I have to admit that I am desperate for physical human connection, and I just feel kind of sad.[i]

I was pondering this in my vehicle, at a stoplight, listening to angsty music, by myself, at lunchtime.  I hadn’t planned to pick up carry-out for lunch, but then I felt inclined to at least be in the same space as someone who might hand me a paper bag filled with lemon chicken and fortune cookies, so I made the trek.  On the way back to the hotel, waiting for the light to change, I noticed that the woman in the car next to mine was waving wildly.  I couldn’t tell what she was saying, but I thought it might have something to do with my phone, which was firmly attached to the dash, and to be honest it looked like she might be angry.  On a whim, I thought, “well, what the heck,” and I rolled my window down. 

She exclaimed, “I love your phone holder!  Where did you get it?”

And then I broke into a huge smile… and then she broke into a huge smile… and then it hit me that I haven’t been that close to another human being (except the people who live in my house), both unmasked, in so long that I had forgotten what it looked like and felt like when people in the same space shared this very normal human facial expression.  I told her where I got my phone holder.  She also complimented my steering wheel cover.  The light turned green as she shouted, “I’m going to get one of those!”  We both drove off. 

This is not how I envisioned celebrating this moment.  I still feel sad, but I am also reminded that much of our experience is temporary, and although that might actually make things feel worse sometimes, today I think it brings hope.  I miss people… and places… but this won’t last forever.  I cannot wait to have a gigantic party someday![ii]


[i] Also, I am so recharged at this point I think I might be giving off a fluorescent aura.

[ii] Maybe the least introverted thing I’ve ever pondered, but so be it…

Monday, March 16, 2020

Does Online Education Make Us More Human?

I get it.  Academia is seemingly shut down, and even those of us who aren’t panicking are forced to deal with a certain degree of uncertainty and inconvenience.  I am fairly devastated (in the drama queen, not actually devastated by definition way) that I cannot return to the campus of Harvard for class, because… come on… it’s been a real joy to walk through those huge gates from week to week, and it was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity, but class is still on.  It’s just on my laptop.

To be honest, I was already teaching online this semester, so I have been less inconvenienced than most.  I am something of a pro when it comes to online education, and I love it, so I’m not sad.  I am thinking, however, of the many university faculty members who are making this switch for the first time, and based on things I am hearing and observing, I would like to offer this encouragement:  In answer to the question that is the title for this post, yes.  Online education makes us more human.

Here’s the thing.  Online education puts us in our natural environment.  It puts us in our homes.  Even if we’re still wearing suit jackets on top, everybody knows we’re wearing sweatpants on bottom.  We become more human.  We stumble to share the right screen, and suddenly complete strangers are privy to our screensaver that is a snapshot of a family vacation from six years ago as opposed to the lecture notes.  We become more human.  Our kids and our dogs run through the backdrop of our classes.  We become more human, and students find a little bit of joy in our chaos.  This is not a bad thing.  In fact, it takes some of the pressure off.  And there is a lot of pressure in the ivory tower! 

Perhaps my absolute favorite thing that I heard a student ask last semester was, “Do you actually care about me that much?”  Y’all…  I bought her a bottle of pop (side note, she had never heard the word “pop” to refer to “soda,” so that part was funny…).  The point, though, is that it doesn’t really take that much to humanize others and re-humanize ourselves.  This may be especially important for those of us teaching in degree programs for practitioners.  We are not machines.  We are people.  And people learn best from other people.  Funny how communicating through machines might actually make us more authentic if we let it…

Be well and carry on!