Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's the context?*

A few weeks back I sat in on a discussion/exploration of Genesis 2.  It was led by a professor of Religious Studies at the church I currently attend.  As the discussion unfolded, I became more and more aware of how context can influence the Bible.  Understanding who the text was originally written to (and by), what was normative understanding for their culture at the time and how certain words could have different meanings are important to interpreting the text itself.  It wasn't a new thought, more a reaffirmation of conclusions I have come to on this journey of faith.  I left the discussion that night excited and inspired.  As an aside, a Bible Study group I had been a part of a few years back, took on Genesis 2 and pulled it apart FOR WEEKS.  We came away with many of the same conclusions the professor of Religious Studies had made that evening...yes!

The day or so after the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, there was a national news agency that attempted to change the intentions of the shooter.  The original context of the incident seemed clear to me; the white culture in the United States continues to struggle with racism, with seeing others with different colored skin as lesser than or as a threat and this young man, in particular, choose to act on his fears and racism.  9 people died because of that continued struggle with racism.  Yet, because it happened in a church, this news agency kept trying to change the wasn't about race, it was about belief in Jesus.  I'm not buying it.

The headlines I saw last Monday morning on my Yahoo page attempted to take the context of words spoken by the President of the United States and manipulate them to have people jump to a conclusion without reading the actual statement made by POTUS. (Yes, I have watched every episode of West Wing...multiple times.  Thanks, Netflix!)  The actual statement is bold and truthful...we have a long way to go in this country in regards to racism.

As a white, middle class woman I take a lot for granted.  I haven't experienced much in the way of discrimination.  I can't put myself in that context...but I can watch, listen, learn and change my own way of thinking.  I can speak up in my social and family circles when something is said that sets off my racism radar.  I can choose my own words carefully and wisely.

It's past time to starting looking at the context of racism in the culture of the United States.  It's time for us to re-examine our ideas about those who "look" different and stop feeding the fear that keeps racism alive.  As a wise person once said, "When you do what you always do, you get what you always get."  It's time to do something different.

I'm not going to try to change the context of the events of the last two weeks...but I am going to start to change me.

*This post was powered by my respect for Opinionated Friend and the freedom she has to express her opinions.  Many times I get stuck in fear of saying something that will offend others.  A recent discussion with OF reminded me that it's okay to say what I'm feeling and thinking...a well timed lesson indeed.  Thanks, OF! 

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Last spring, Youth Pastor friend made the decision to step away from full-time ministry.  Can I just say, for the record, the timing between Youth Pastor friend making his decision official and leaving and my Dad's diagnosis and death really, really *ahem* stunk.  But that's all for another post.  Anyway, Youth Pastor friend's last day was the last Sunday in July 2014.  A day later we learned there was a new Children and Youth Director starting the following Friday.  A day later.

Side note:  On behalf of volunteers in churches, I humbly ask that church hiring committees include at least one person who is involved in the specific ministry in question in the conversation about who is being hired...they don't have to be on the committee but at the very least ask for their input and then keep them in the loop about where the process stands.  I cannot emphasize that last part enough.

It was a rocky start.  The volunteer leaders were incredibly offended by the lack of communication (or warning) of someone new coming on board.  Eventually, I sat down with the Lead Pastor and had a very open and honest conversation about the whole a volunteer and as former youth director.  It was an incredibly wonderful, refreshing conversation.

The New Director was gracious and willing to work with the team and couldn't be faulted for the beginning.  However, new beginnings are always difficult, especially with a group of 15 High School Seniors who just didn't want to adjust to a new person.  It was tough going.  As we moved farther and farther along, the High School leaders were all coming to a realization.  All five of us, unbeknownst to the others, decided we were done.  D.O.N.E.  It wasn't healthy for us to continue as volunteers, knowing that we were having a hard time with some changes and feeling as though we were part of the reason why the group wasn't able to move forward.   And then New Director announced his resignation.

It was when we sat down with some church leaders to discuss how things were going to proceed (yes, I pushed that meeting) that we all figured out just close we had all come to quitting.  As we talked, it became apparent that we could keep things running through the end of the school year but after that two of the leaders definitely couldn't continue, one leader could continue but only until August, another leader was on the fence and really needed a break and then there was me.  Four years ago, I could have run the program all summer by myself...when I was in full-time ministry!  Now, there's not a chance.  My 45+ hour a week job/commute barely allows me to be a competent volunteer.

So, the volunteers agreed to run weekly meetings through the end of the school year.  We've been very open about our intentions with the Deacon board.  We just can't keep going at the rate we're going.  It's painful.  It's hard to seemingly walk away from the students and this program that we have invested ourselves so deeply in, but this youth ministry train needs a really good engineer who is going to put time and energy it and make it work.  We just can't keep pushing the train with a missing wheel, a wonky track and no coal or steam to power it.

Parents and church members have not been afraid to let me/us know just how they feel about the lack of youth group over the summer.  I walked into church this morning and the person leading the announcements and prayer* started off by saying how disappointed she and her 14 year old son were that there wasn't anything happening over the summer.  Not in a "we're so thankful for the volunteers who kept this going for the last three months and know they need a break" understanding kind of way, either.  Then the person reading the scripture said pretty much the same thing.  And then someone after church stopped me and said the same thing.  Not one of those individuals volunteered to help do anything about the situation, though.  They just lamented at the lack of something happening.

I left church this morning really, really tired, discouraged and done in a whole new sense.  I don't need daily thank yous or to be told how wonderful we are, but I do need to hear grace, compassion and understanding amongst the laments.  Sadly, in this situation, that has been lacking.  One of the youth volunteers said on Wednesday night, as we were kind of debriefing and looking ahead, "I won't be coming to this church again."  Wednesday night I was frustrated with that statement...this morning I got it.

*She also chastised those of us who come late to church on Sundays...and then her sons and husband walked into the sanctuary five minutes later.  Words fail.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A year and a day...

The last family photo we took together was found on my Dad's computer just days after he died.  He had this way of taking photo's and then editing them and never doing anything with them or at least we family members never saw them again.  As soon as I saw it, I remembered taking the photo in the house in Tahoe, Thanksgiving night 2013.

We took several photos, with Dad setting up the camera and trying to figure out the timer and then rushing to sit on the arm of the couch.  Little did we know, as we sat there giving him a bad time, that would be the last official "O" family photo we would have.

The man sitting on arm of the couch on the left, in this photo, just shouldn't have died so soon. There is a part of me that wishes he would just get up off the arm of the couch, walk in the room and say "Gotcha!" and erase all the pain and sorrow of the last year.

 What I wouldn't give for just one more family photo.