Tears welling in her eyes, Amy* shared her greatest fear with me: “I worry I’m not good enough to be with her in heaven.”
This was not the first time I’ve heard a woman express such a fear to me. My own mother clung to life long after she really wanted to live because the religion of her childhood instilled a bone-deep fear that she would be sent to a fiery eternity.
Amy’s fear, however, was the saddest such declaration I’ve ever heard. She wasn’t afraid of eternal damnation. She was terrified of eternal separation from her only child, who died at the age of 15 after a car hit her as she was crossing a street on her bike. Continue reading Am I Good Enough for Heaven?→
I argued with a church leader and teacher a few months back about Rachel Held Evans, best-selling author who died tragically last weekend at the age of 37. I’d recently read her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, and I suggested it as a book study for our church’s Adult Education Hour.
The church leader, who, like me, is a former evangelical, actually snorted. “You need to move past evangelical writers. Some of her work is just silly. I left those people behind when I was 19. She needs to get a good therapist and do the same.” Continue reading The Sweet Spot of Rachel Held Evans→
If so, are you eligible to vote? If you are eligible, have you registered to vote?
If you’ve ever felt frightened or sad or angry in the wake of tragedies like the mass shooting yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, please know that you have tremendous power right at your fingertips.
Like many Americans, I am fearful for our country. I am angry—at the so-called president, at the people he’s choosing to fill his Cabinet, at his executive orders, at my fellow Americans who voted him into office—especially those I count among my friends and family.
Some anger is good, I think. Perhaps a little more righteous anger might have prevented a whole host of tragic historical events, from the Holocaust to that darkest period in American history that allowed an entire race to be enslaved.
At times I feel I need an anger translator—the kind comedians Key and Peele provided for President Obama—who will help me compartmentalize my emotions.
During the Christmas season, I was particularly angry at evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for a man who represents none of the values of Christ (as he demonstrated in his remarks at his first National Prayer Breakfast). I was so angry at those who share my faith that I wrote in a blog post,
Evangelicals don’t need the Baby Jesus this year.
They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.
They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.
But I also worry about what our anger is doing to us. Whenever I comment on social media in a way that seeks to understand the people I count among my friends, but who voted for Trump, I invariably get a storm of replies from liberal friends and acquaintances who are angry at me for not being angry enough.
At such times, I think of theologian Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister I admire. At one of the angriest times in my life, I printed out this passage from his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and put it in a frame over my desk:
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
I ask myself on a daily basis these days how I can find a balance between righteous anger and inner peace. I want to make a difference. But I don’t want to become the skeleton at the feast.
Many wise people warn of the dangers of anger. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most well-known Buddhist, says this:
Whether we will be able to achieve world peace or not, we have no choice but to work toward that goal. If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. (How to See Yourself as You Really Are)
Literary giants, too, have warned us about anger:
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)
Angry people are not always wise. (Jane Austen)
Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that—it’s helpless…it’s absence of control—and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that—I have no use for it whatsoever. (Toni Morrison)
As a Christian I remind myself that the Christ I seek to follow achieved that balance, though even he sometimes found it hard. The Gospel of Matthew describes him as so “grieved and agitated” that he went up on a mountain and threw himself on the ground to pray. The Gospel of Luke describes him as praying in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” But when he came down from the mountain, he had found a divine peace that helped him hold on to love in the face of unspeakable hatred.
I have to remind myself that even Christ, in his lifetime on earth, did not achieve the justice he sought. But he never gave up his humanity. He never became like the religious leaders who hated him. He was never the skeleton at the feast.
Perhaps I, too, should take more opportunities to walk away from the madding crowd and find my way to the mountain to pray. I can’t stay away too long, but perhaps I’ll come back more ready to go on.
A funny thing happened on the way to my daughter’s wedding. Well…we haven’t actually gotten there yet. The wedding isn’t until next weekend. But in the four years since she met her fiancé, they have changed the way I view the world.
Born to a Republican father who essentially got to vote twice because he told my mother how to vote, I revolted. I registered as a Democrat as soon as I turned eighteen, though I didn’t tell my father, a man who laughingly informed me that before he would give my husband his blessing, the man would have to sign a paper promising to vote Republican. When Nixon resigned in disgrace a few months after I registered to vote, I became convinced that Republicans represented all that was wrong with the world. Continue reading Love in the Time of Politics→
Holy Week this year has much in common with that first Holy Week, over 2000 years ago, when Christ turned his followers’ attention toward the inevitable. His disciples had been filled with hope that he could change the world for the better. After all, they’d seen him turn water into wine, feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, heal the sick with the touch of a hand, raise the dead with the power of his voice. Continue reading Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week→
As a child I, too, stood in the face of a brandished gun. Like you, “I recall it in the slowest motion, as though in a dream.” Like you, I did not tell my teachers, and I did not tell my friends.
I did not tell my parents. Because they were there. My mother, too, stared down the barrel of the gun—a gun wielded by my drunken father.
Like you I asked, “What was the exact problem? Who could know?” It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime to understand the demons that drove my father to hold the people he loved at gunpoint. Continue reading Who are the Dreamers?→
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.
My mother taught me that it was rude to say, “Shut up.” Later, as an English teacher, I taught my students to hear one another out. No version of “shut up” was acceptable in my classroom. But more and more, I feel like shouting, “SHUT UP!” to the people on the two extremes of the issues that face us.
Drawn by the glow of the cross in the moonlight, I opened one of the glass doors at the back of the sanctuary. On Sunday mornings, the doors are closed at the beginning of each service to separate the sanctuary from the cheery chatter of those who attend other services but stay to catch up with friends. But on that evening, when I was there for a meeting in another wing of the church, the stillness of the sanctuary beckoned. I stood by the doors and felt a Presence in the soft moonlight.