Inspired by young women…

Tennis became my favorite sport as a teen. Being a child of the mountains in the ’70s and ’80s, athletic options were fairly limited for girls. The equal opportunity of Title IX had yet to make it to my hometown. I discovered tennis on TV. I loved the international flavor of competition, the sportsmanship most players showed (I was never a John McEnroe fan), and admittedly, the cute outfits the women wore. There was no team on which I could play, but my Dad brought out some old wooden racquets, and our family would hit around on local courts.

My high school did have a boys’ team, and even though I kept asking for a girls’ team, no coach cared enough to make it happen. The tennis coach asked me to be the manager for the boys’ team. He even gave me a Letter as a Senior for tennis. (Yes, I achieved an athletic Letter, even though I never played one point in a match.) He was a kind man – I was very organized and took care of a number of things he was too tired to care about – and I guess that was his way of thanking me. I haven’t kept much from high school, but I kept that letter – it’s on a cardigan sweater, with my academic Letter on the opposite side.

I am glued to the tv, and now my computer, and even phone, when the Grand Slams occur 4 times a year. A few years back, my friend Tracey and I went to the US Open for a few days. It was definitely some of the best days of my life.

Saturday’s evening match at the US Open was decidely memorable. Teen phenom, 15 year old Coco Gauff, played defending champ, 21 year old Naomi Osaka. Gauff made a good run at Wimbledon, taking out her idol Venus Williams along the way. Yet, Osaka’s game was too much for young Gauff, and the girl understandably found herself in tears at the end of the match.

TV matches always offer a quick interview with the winner. The other player normally makes a quick exit to the locker room, letting the winner bask in the glow for a few minutes on their own. The loser oftentimes just wants to get off the court and go cry or be angry without thousands or millions watching them. Yet, Saturday night was special. The video above shows Osaka comforting Gauff, and even encouraging her to be interviewed with her. This move was not only unusual – it was unheard of. Commentators were floored by the compassion and generosity.

These two young women of color displayed dedication, extremely hard work and effort, kindness, respect, and resilience. Venus and Serena have paved a way for young women of color to make their way in the tennis world, and beyond. In the midst of a society where white supremacists are still quite prominent, and quieter racism is a daily thing, it took far more than just athletic ability to make a name (and even the greatest name for Serena) in one of the whitest of sports in the US.

Osaka and Coco understand that making one’s way in the world, especially in a world dominated by patriarchy and racism, takes courage, cooperation, and community. The mutual respect and support displayed Saturday night provides a powerful message for all of us. When we support others, and lift them up, especially if they are seen as our “opponent,” our world will be all the better. And we ourselves will be all the better for it. It makes us better and stronger people to show compassion.

I look forward to seeing many more matches with Gauff and Osaka in the future. I enjoy their playing ability, but I appreciate who they are as leaders and role models even more.

 

 

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The Farewell

L to R: "Jiang Yongbo, Aoi Mizuhara, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Xiang, Lu Hong, Zhao Shuzhen." Courtesy of Big Beach.photo credit – https://variety.com/2019/film/festivals/the-farewell-review-awkwafina-1203117966/

Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we have to do as humans, especially when we don’t want to do it. Even if the separation is just for a few days, weeks, or months, when we love someone, we don’t want to let them go. We want them to be part of our lives, to share our joys and disappointments. When we are facing saying goodbye forever, the pain can be almost unbearable. The recently opened movie, The Farewell, explores these deepest feelings of having to say goodbye. Rapper turned actor, Awkwafina, stars in this dramatic role, based upon a real life event from writer-director, Lula Wang. The movies begins with this sentence on a blank screen, “This story is based upon a actual lie.” Real life normally seems to inspire the best stories..

Awkwafina plays Billi, a struggling young New Yorker who as a child immigrated from China with her parents. Her grandmother, Nai Nai, remains in China, along with the rest of the family (with the exception of Billi’s aunt and uncle and cousin, who have resided in Japan for a number of years). Nai Nai is dying from cancer, and as was a common practice in China, the family has decided not to tell her. The family gathers from their various homes for the wedding of Billi’s cousin, Hao Hao – simply a ruse to come home for the final time before Nai Nai dies.

Billi’s Western mindset and emotional connection lead her to believe that telling Nai Nai the diagnosis is the right thing to do. Certainly, we here in the West believe it is our right to know what is going on with our own bodies. Not knowing such information would seem like a betrayal from those we love the best.

Billi listens to her family’s rationale behind such a decision, and learns that Nai Nai didn’t tell her own departed husband of his fatal diagnosis years before. One family member tells Billi that the community is more important than the individual, and that the family “carries the grief” for the dying member so that the one dying does not have that burden.

Carrying another’s grief is such an incredible, beautiful image. In this society, filled with rampant individualism, we don’t want to carry our own grief, much less another’s. We just want to anesthetize pain with food, alcohol, ignorance, or means of escape. As much as we try to ignore our own pain, we do an even better job ignoring other’s. We want to blame people who are experiencing difficulty, instead of sitting with them in the dark days and working with them to find some better path or to change systems and structures which create pain.

I am so thankful for loved ones who have wanted to carry grief or pain with me. I hope I can at least do that in part for others – to carry what I can that might help relieve the burden.

Without giving away the ending, the movie does tell us that Farewell is never really a permanent goodbye. One of the most beautiful (and entertaining, as real life often is even in the midst of pain) scenes comes from the family visiting the gravesite for Nai Nai’s departed husband. They give offerings (a common practice in many cultures), and celebrate his presence with them, even if his physical presence is gone.

I pray that we in the West can better understand what it means to be community and to carry another’s pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pollenacolypse & Easter

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Central North Carolina is beautiful right now. Everything is in bloom, the sun is out, and a cool breeze keeps it from getting too hot. (And on a side note, I have asked too many students if they have sunscreen!) Yet, along with the beauty comes the seasonal pollen. This is the most pollen-filled place I have ever lived, and this year the pollen is worst than normal. My allergies are raging, some of the roads are covered in yellow, and my car could really use a daily washing. Some people have even coined this particular year as the season of  the Pollenacolypse.

As I sit with Holy Week, preparing for Easter, it seems like the pervasiveness of a dampening blanket of yellow which takes away my ability to breathe, or even think clearly, is symbolic of the heaviness of the season. Holy Week is flat out depressing. There is no way around it. Most Christians do try to work around it – They wave palm branches and sing joy-filled songs on Palm Sunday, and then ignore all the other holy things until Easter Sunday arrives. But the fact remains that if we don’t experience the fear, isolation, pain, and death of Holy Week, then Easter simply becomes one more day of the year where we dress up, sing happy songs, carry flowers, and eat a big meal.

Life is tough. No one willingly wants to experience a Holy Week. No one wants to feel abandoned, alone, dealing with pain and grief and suffering. Many people experiences holy weeks on an ongoing basis, when life just throws too much at us, whether it is on a personal or communal scale.

Yet, as a resurrection community, we are called to remember hope and new life always awaits. And when we can’t feel it in our hearts, we can remember it in our brains and words. I always liked the advice of Philip Otterbein, “Preach faith until you have it.” On the days when we think the hard times will never end, we keep telling ourselves that it will, until it finally does. I know the pollen will go away. I don’t know when, and I wish it were sooner than it probably will be. And as a person of faith, I know Easter will come. When we have our times of “holy weeks” – when life is too much – Easter will come. We won’t know when, and we will wish it were sooner than it actually is – but it will finally come.

As the pollen will be washed away, painful days will be washed away – and the world will be as new.

 

What Hope Looks Like…

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Last week was a whole lot like life in general – the truly wonderful intermingled with the truly awful. I was fortunate enough to be in Albuquerque during the time elected representatives of my denomination, the United Methodist Church, were at a called international General Conference – gathered to figure out a way forward from division over the issue of homosexuality. My denomination has a long history of focusing on social justice and progressive ideas. The fact that I, as a woman, am clergy is representative of that. My denomination also has a long history of trying to be an umbrella which is inclusive, even in terms of theological interpretation. We have been straddling this fence for so long that it is not tenable anymore. If we were only a national denomination, the decision to be fully inclusive and welcoming would have been made well before now. But we are not. And so a minority of conservatives, funded by outside sources which also have tried to shape our political landscape, have been able to band together with international delegates to pass a plan which is virulent in its condemnation and scope.

The fact is that our churches are filled with people who identify as LGBTQIA. I have more clergy friends than I can count across this country who identify along those lines, and some of whom have long-standing marriages with happy children. One of those colleagues said to me last week, “They will have to pry my ordination from my hands.” And in my over 20 years of collegiate ministry, I have sat with far too many young people whose families and churches broke ties or condemned them because of gender or sexual identity. How can anyone hear those stories from God’s children and support such legislation as barely passed in St. Louis last week?

This isn’t the end. Most of the legislation has already been ruled unconstitutional, and in all likelihood our Judicial Council will affirm the unconstitutionality next month when it meets. But the damage has been done. The fight for property and the name of what it means to be Methodist will continue, but the pain and suffering inflicted on my siblings cannot be undone.

The good part for me last week was being at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. Close to 200 were gathered, and one of my joys was seeing all the young women who were present. It filled my heart to hear their stories, ideas, and vision for collegiate ministry. Our closing dinner took place Tuesday evening, on the heels of the final vote at General Conference. I was seated at dinner with some other UM clergy, and two young women from colleges in the Northeast. One is Muslim, and the other is Jewish. In the few minutes before food arrived, we had all been instructed to share with our dinner companions about positive things that had occurred from the chaplains’ conference. All of us UM ministers were so grateful for the support of the rest of the chaplains, and as I explained a bit of what was going on with the UMC to these two young women, I told them that the highlight of the conference was seeing so many young women, and especially of different faiths, present at the conference. I told them it gave me hope for the future. And I started to cry. The Muslim woman immediately reached out to hug me.

LR Knost wrote a poem that states we are all drops in the same ocean. When I see the goodness, the love, the compassion, the humanity from our younger generations, I see hope. When I see what we have in common, what binds us together, I see hope. When I see that the wisdom of the Divine Spirit speaks in more languages and manners that we can possibly imagine, I see hope.

There is much work to be done in my denomination, my church family. The Spirit of God will continue to move and work in powerful ways, regardless of what happens. And I will not abandon those who have been wounded so deeply. With the compassion my young colleague showed me last week, I will continue to reach out my arms to include, and love, and lift up each one of my siblings. I see hope…

Book Review – The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education

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Please to go Convergence on Campus (enhancing institutional climates for religious, secular, and spiritual identities through policy and practice) to check out the January magazine, which includes my review of the fantastic book by John Schmalzbauer & Kathleen Mahoney, The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education.

Just Generosity – A Christmas Message

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Below is the message I recently gave for our College Christmas Candlelight Service…

A milestone has recently occurred in my family – one that many people my age and older always appreciate, and one that all our students here are looking forward to with great anticipation. My son finished college a couple years ago and moved out to the Rocky Mountains, where he can snowboard and climb sheer rocks all he wants. And this past summer, he got his first real “adult” job – one that has a decent salary and benefits and all those wonderful things. And I know that many of our students – especially our seniors – have lots of Holiday dreams about when that time will come.

A couple weeks ago, my son Caleb was asking about what I wanted for Christmas. He is actually able to come be with us in person this year, so I told him his presence and some dark chocolate covered cherries were plenty. And he said, “No mom, I can be really generous this year. You’ve done so much for me my whole life – and I am glad it’s my turn to be generous.”

Of course, I teared up – because that’s what moms do – but the word he used – generous – has stuck with me. People toss around that word a lot – I believe without actually thinking about what it really means. We might tell someone at the dining table – “Be generous dishing out the mac and cheese!” We like it when people are generous with their praise or thanks, especially when we are reading comments on a returned paper. We always appreciate people who are generous with time and money.

Generosity is a trait we all can admire, but it seems also to be something that people feel like they can only offer only after they have everything they need. The Christmas story before us today is one that abounds with the message of generosity, and from many people who had so little.

Teenage Mary knew all sorts of problems could come – even to the point of being stoned for adultery – when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus – but she generously offered praise and thanks for the blessing of being the mother of Jesus.

Joseph knew Mary was pregnant with a child not his – but yet he cared for her and protected her, and “adopted” the baby Jesus as his own.

The owner of the inn had space that was overflowing with people due to the government decree, yet he found room in a warm and friendly manger for Mary and Joseph, generously offering the best he could.

The shepherds in the fields were some of the poorest in the region, with days and nights filled trying to keep their sheep safe, yet they were generous with their time, coming to lavish praise and wonder on the event of Christmas night.

The Wise Men were generous with not only their time and money in journeying far to visit the new babe, and giving costly gifts, but even more generous in their wisdom of not giving away his location to the King who wanted to execute the baby Jesus.

Generosity is a theme we see throughout the Biblical narrative – in fact, it’s a theme throughout the major religions of the world. Every major religion has at its heart the message of treating others the way we want to be treated.

And we certainly want others to be generous with us, don’t we?

Ron Sider wrote a book first published almost 20 years ago, entitled Just Generosity. It’s a wonderful play on words. Generosity is the foundation of the spiritual life – being compassionate, loving, kind, supportive, understanding. Yet, true generosity is not possible without Justice – thus Just Generosity.

Generosity is not about the sloppy sentimentality that people can so easily fall into during this season.

Generosity is not about having big hearts, giving what is comfortable with our financial means, saying we love everybody, and being blind to systems and actions which harm others.

True, just, generosity is about giving when we aren’t certain we really can, and doing so with a loving heart.

True just generosity is about relinquishing our own power so that we can include someone who is on the margins and barely hanging on.

Just generosity is about taking our whole beings – our material possessions, our time, our ideas, our likes and our dislikes and our loves and our hates – and giving fully so that we can be connected with the rest of humanity and thus share in the true peace that only comes in that connection.

The old adage is that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And it is. It’s a good thing to receive, but it’s an event better thing to give. And to give generously and justly – of what we have and who we are – that is the best thing of all.

So my Holiday wish for each one of us today – let us be generous in spirit – with each other – with those we love and those we don’t like. And let us be justly generous in all the many ways we can make this tumultuous world a better place. Amen.

The Tree of Life

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Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. – Elie Wiesel

Reverend Jes Kast tweeted this morning, “Repeat after me: I was made for this. I am needed for this era.” Those words spoke to the very depths of my soul. How many times can a heart be ripped up? How many times can we continue to be outraged by the hate, violence, and evil filling our society? Two black men were killed in Kentucky on Friday, simply because they were black. Eleven people, from ages 54-97, were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue Saturday morning simply because they were Jewish.

The past two years have seen a massive increase in hate incidents and crimes due to skin color, religion, and political affiliation. Elie Wiesel’s words seem to have been written for this very moment, even though the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate has been dead for 2 years. Each and every location for these evil acts must be the center of our universe. We cannot rest, or ignore, or deny, until we have worked our damndest to change this society.

Jesus said if we are not with him, we are against him (Luke 11:23). If we are not actively with the people being persecuted and murdered in our society, then we are against what is good, just, and loving. And just saying the words is not enough. We all know that actions speak louder than words. It’s been more than enough for months now, but let’s remember that we can continue to work together to fight this evil.

Timeless speaks the Truth

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Lucy Preston, an historian who is a lead character in Timeless

When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”

These powerful words concluded another compelling episode of NBC’s show, Timeless. This amazing show is in its second season (and unfortunately, just a short season of 10 eps), and it just continues to get better and better. The diverse characters are fully realized – strong, goofy, intelligent, complicated, loyal. Women are changing the world – they support each other – and their lives do not revolve around a romantic interest (even when there is one present). It’s hard to believe each person isn’t actually a real person, even if they are the “bad guy.” It has action, humor, drama. But the best part is the social and human truth it embodies each week.

Last night’s episode was about the Suffragist Movement. Once again, the show uncovered forgotten history, and showed how women were treated as they tried to have their rights represented. We all know that being able to vote does not make one an equal citizen, but it is a crucial first step. As we have seen the rights of anyone in this country who is not a white male (and supposedly Christian) trampled in the past couple years, this show could not be more timely. The parallels between the various historical settings each week and what is occurring in 2018 hits almost too close to home. In the climax of the episode last night, these words were uttered, “When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”

Silence is complicity. If we ignore the oppression of others in our society and do not make the effort to speak and to act, then we are just as bad as the oppressors. If we act like all lives matter, without realizing that black and brown ones suffer far more proportionally, then we are part of the problem. If we choose not to worry too much about women dealing with sexual harassment and assault and lower pay, then we are part of the problem. If we turn off the tv when we see a child ripped from a parent because of lies about immigration, then we are part of the problem. When we choose to ignore continual lies and inflammatory language from our highest elected official, then we are part of the problem.

It reminds me of that old bumper sticker, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” But anger is not enough. The anger needs to propel us to action.