For a moment I was brimming with hope. In a rare occurrence, an article about education made the top headline in the online version of the Washington Post homepage today. This was a particularly striking event in light of other significant news this week—the Benghazi hearings, Hurricane Patricia, the death of an American serviceman in a fight against ISIS.
Three strikes and he’s out. Jailed three times on charges related to his heroin addiction, he has struggled to stay clean and get back into the game for ten months now. He has done a handyman’s work for a landlord in exchange for a room in one of the properties and a few dollars to buy necessities.
He has sought work as an electrician’s helper, a trade learned in his high school vocational classes. But with a prison record and few skills in literacy, he has been unable to find a job. After his release, he often sacrificed food to be able to afford a cell phone, a necessity before any potential employer could call him back. He walked four miles to stand in line in hopes of getting jobs as a day worker. He lost his driver’s license and can’t afford to pay the fines to regain even a provisional driver’s license. Continue reading He is Heavy. But He’s My Brother.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage this week, my husband and I have found it interesting that the justices on both sides used the Constitution to explain their votes. Much has been said about Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent opinion for the majority and about John Roberts’ first opinion read from the bench, both of which cite the Constitution to justify their stances.
That, of course, is their job as justices on the nation’s highest court—to interpret the laws in light of the Constitution.
Using the same text to come to different conclusions also holds true for religious leaders who have commented on the Supreme Court’s decision. Continue reading Is Gay Marriage Compatible with Christianity?
Religion is a human-made construct. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” In our quest to understand the nature of the universe and our place in it, we turn to others who are like-minded, decide together what we believe, and find strength and community among kindred spirits.
Faith and spirituality spring from within the human soul. In our quest to connect with the unseen Spirit that inhabits us all, we cling to what we believe. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we attack the validity of the beliefs of those who see God through a different human lens. And even in our best moments we are often confused by why anyone would believe what others believe.
Today’s post is the third in a series that explore what I think people misunderstand about the religion I’ve chosen to help me understand my own spirituality, my own place in the universe. I don’t pretend to be a theologian. These posts will simply offer my own thoughts and my own understanding as I’ve come to see God through Christianity—and, in particular, through Presbyterianism.
I invite you to respond—to help me understand what I might not about your own religious community and practices.
Part 3: “Does God give us more than we can stand?”
I’d been looking forward to spring break for weeks. My husband and I planned to spend Easter weekend with my sister, and then we would spend the rest of the week focusing on one another and on the things that are important to us. I packed up drafts of a book I’m working on with plans to get much of the editing done during our week at the beach.
But our plans took a detour outside the Life is Good store when my sister, who had knee replacement surgery a few months ago, tripped over a curb. I reached forward to steady her, and we both tumbled to the ground. She landed on the outside of my left knee, and a trip to the Outer Banks Hospital confirmed what we already knew—that my knee was badly broken and would require surgery to repair. My husband packed our things, which had only been unpacked the day before, while I sat in the back seat of the car in a leg brace among a sea of pillows. Continue reading Does God Give Us More Than We Can Stand?
Open any magazine or web site for parents, and you’ll inevitably find articles telling moms—the usual culprits—that no one wants to see pictures of your kids doing normal things or to hear about the cutesy things they say. Such forums warn against the dangers of oversharing. Occasionally, the “experts” warn about leaving too much of a digital footprint of your child—and that’s a valid concern—but more often the warnings focus on how such parents are alienating friends who simply don’t care what your child had for breakfast.
I beg to differ. Continue reading Oversharing Your Kids’ Pics?
I didn’t want children. When the subject came up, as it almost always does among young adults, I had a ready retort: “I spend all day in a classroom with other people’s children. Why would I want to go home to them?”
So when Pope Francis commented in his catechesis this week that, “The choice to not have children is selfish,” I knew exactly what women who are childless by choice would say in response. The decision to have a child is a choice that we get to make, no matter what anyone thinks, least of all a religious leader who himself made the choice not to have children.
I wondered, though, about the context of Pope Francis’ remarks. Long experience with such judgments from others made me curious about his line of reasoning. Continue reading Is Not Having Children Selfish?
It’s become one of the great ironies of my life that I feel compelled to share my experiences of faith. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with Jesus’ command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, KJV). Christians who raise their hands toward the heavens at church services as they sing and those who are quick to tell me when I first meet them that Jesus is the most important thing in their lives have always made me squirm.
That phrase “preach the gospel” makes me flinch the way I did as a child when my father reached his hand forward to strike me. The word “preach” has a negative connotation for me because it calls to mind the fiery preachers of my childhood whose every sermon instilled the fear that I was one heartbeat away from descending into the depths of hell. Continue reading Do Christians Make You Squirm?
I stood behind my toddler daughter on one end of the teeter-totter, holding it level with one hand and helping her straddle the seat with the other. At the other end stood another mom from the neighborhood, holding what she called a see-saw, as her daughter climbed to the seat. We worked together, teaching our girls about balance, showing them how to touch their feet gently so that the person on the other end wouldn’t be jolted into the air or knocked off the seat. That first day we two moms planted our feet firmly, ready to catch our children until they learned to balance themselves.
Over time the other mom and I were able to move away from our children to the park bench. It didn’t matter that she called it a see-saw, and I called it a teeter-totter. We took great pleasure in chatting and watching our children, patiently waiting for each other until both climbed aboard before setting the see-saw in motion. They learned balance.
That scene plays itself behind my eyes often these days as I watch politicians in Washington. Though both parties have landed hard on the political teeter-totter, knocked off by the party on the other end, they seem to have learned nothing about balance. Continue reading Looking for Balance?
Today’s Washington Post reports that a majority, a whopping 51%, of our nation’s public school students now qualify for free and reduced meals. This does not, of course, include those children whose families live just enough above the poverty line not to qualify for government assistance.
I was one of those children in the second category. Continue reading A Majority Getting a Free Lunch?
Look at that face. It is the picture I see in my head when I think of my baby brother. It’s odd that I have a harder time picturing his face now—the man I hardly recognize as that child. For me, that sweet little boy, holding a puppy, and that serious little blonde boy on the right are the embodiment of the issues we face as Americans. They are my brothers—and the souls who remind me that behind all the political posturing are the very human faces of people in need.
I know this is not an unfamiliar story. But many of us don’t talk about the hurting and the broken ones in our families. I didn’t. For a long time I was embarrassed to admit to all the normal and successful people around me that I grew up in a family that society would have labeled “dysfunctional” had they known the truth of my childhood. My colleagues knew that I had worked my way through college, but for a long time none of them knew that my youngest siblings didn’t fare as well.
And then a strange thing happened. Somewhere along the way, when some of my colleagues became close friends, I began to share stories of my profound grief for my brothers. And I began to learn that while few of my colleagues grew up as poor as I did, many of them had family members that, in one way or another, hadn’t fared well either. Our stories are common, but most of them remain untold. Only when a celebrity like Philip Seymour Hoffman dies of a heroin overdose is our society reminded for a few weeks that it isn’t just the dregs of society who die after shooting up.
My middle brother, the chubby child who rarely frowned as he did in this picture, died in 2007 of a prescription drug overdose. As a child of poverty, he accumulated a mountain of debt for the two years he attended college. He took a job as a bartender—a place where his interest in people, his ready laugh, and his charming amiability would earn him a single night’s tips that amounted to more than my sister and I made in a week from our work-study jobs. But after he died, a friend of his who was also a bartender told me that in those days doing cocaine was an everyday part of the bar scene in their lives. My brother knew he needed to get his life in order and felt he couldn’t do it in a college town, so he quit school and joined the United States Army. For a while after he served, he had a good life, but when he lost his job at the beginning of the recession, his life spiraled out of control. His story, tragically, is an all-too-familiar one.
My youngest brother, the sweet-faced boy with the puppy, just got out of jail for the third time on charges related to his heroin addiction. He served 17 months for what is probably the lowest point of his life so far. As our mother lay in a nursing home, dying a slow death after a debilitating stroke, my baby brother took one of her checks, forged her name on it, and used the money, allegedly, to feed his addiction. (He maintains he used it on living expenses.) He finished his sentence in November and will be on a probation that requires him to be drug-tested for the foreseeable future. He tells my remaining two siblings and me that he’s clean and that he’s trying to find a job but that no one seems willing to hire an electrician’s helper who has a prison record like his. His story, sadly, is also a familiar one.
I have become more open about telling these stories, and sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. Poverty, abuse, homelessness, addiction—and most of the problems we face as a nation—are easier to ignore at an arm’s length, and I don’t blame people for wanting to distance themselves from my family’s reality. But if our leaders knew how many “normal,” “successful” people are affected by these issues, our nation might be in a very different place.
We need research into the genetics of addiction. We need support and therapy for children broken by abuse. Ultimately, the only way we will ever diminish the numbers of the abused and addicted is to stop treating them like criminals and to find ways to heal their broken bodies and wounded psyches. And as long as we as a nation tell ourselves that these people are to blame for their own problems, we will never make progress as a society in dealing with the issues that face us.
Please. Tell your stories.
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