Tag Archives: kids

Quite literally, Ups and Downs

I entitled this piece for a reason. I’ve been thinking a lot about tempering lately. I think there used to be a time when I felt it was of value to maintain a Zen-like middle path where I didn’t want to get too excited and I didn’t want to get to upset. Thrills and depressed… that’s what Anthony de Mello used to say. But, I don’t want that any more. I am fully convinced that this is not the way to learn love, it is not the way to learn how to grieve. It is not the way to grow in our connection to Life and all of life. We have ups and we have downs and neither is better or worse that the other. Perhaps, I can explain.

I did a talk on Sunday about generosity and and brought the full Orphan Wisdom Forensic Audit Method to the teaching. I studied the etymology, I brought in a poet, and I kinda of winged it. Not saying I wasn’t prepared and not saying it didn’t land. But I experienced the full effect of being on the “receiving end.” Here is the down and up of generosity. It comes from the root “gene” which essentially means “stock, kin, and to have been beget.” When they used to say you were generous, they meant your “line” was good. Well, now, few of us know where we really come from and we live in a time of individualism and to a certain degree, miserliness. This is the opposite of generosity, which is to act in such a way as to take into account what “begot” you or what “made” you. Your land, your food, your ancestors, your people… the thing is to let this affect us. This ain’t no “middle path.” This is the down and dirty, learning to “inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully” (as David Whyte writes about), letting ourselves feel down into that and rise up out of it. “Everything comes from somewhere,” I have been teaching the boys.

Since getting back from Canada and Orphan Wisdom School, I have had a number of firsts, each an up and down of a certain kind. Part of my work in the world, beyond the spiritual director/chaplain/community builder, is to help create and do ritual at transition times. I did my first baby baptism, outdoors by the lake on a Sunday morning. The geese, paddling on the water at the edge of our steamy-breath hazed sight, took flight as the ceremony was complete. The most ideal and wonderful witnesses, reminders of the wild goose that won’t be caged. I blessed baby Sawyer, as one connected to the trees, with elements of earth, fire, wind and water… a calling her down into the land even as we lifted her up and honored her place in the family of things.

Not even a few days later, I was asked to do a funeral for a young mother, who had two young children, six and two. This would be the first funeral I had ever done, but it was one of those “can’t go on, must go on” kind of events. Difficult and heartbreaking, devastating even… but necessary and something that I knew I could do in honor to her. This was very much a down even, going down into the sorrow, but yet, as I offered to the community gathered there:

I first met Jana and Kevin, the day they got their biopsy results back… all the way back in March. I was also there, when they heard that nothing else could be done. These could very well have been among the very worst days. Yes, there were tears. Yes, there was shock. But these things do not equal a hard heart. A hard heart is when we stop paying attention. When we shut down. I never saw that in Jana. When I asked her three weeks ago if there is anything she was unresolved with, any questions that were left unanswered, her response was, “Why? Why me?” This is the question that keeps a heart from growing hard, at least if we can somehow consider that there is no good answer, no answer sufficient enough to take the pain away. When we jump too swiftly to fairness and unfairness, deserving or not deserving, even what God has to do with it… I think this stops our open heart. An open heart is a broken heart

An open heart is a broken heart. Or perhaps a broken heart is an open heart. However you want to say it, the truth of it remains. We must let ourselves be affected. Don’t shut it out. If you want to live as a receiver and as a giver, you must draw down and be affected.

One final up and down, and this is my life now, as a dad of a boy with Duchenne. Brendan fell last week. In his room. Just toppled. This something that happens with weak muscles and not good balance, nothing new. But he also doesn’t have much in his upper body to cushion his fall so when he hit his bed frame he broke his arm. I got the call and rushed to emergent care where we had x-rays and he got a sling. He was quite silent throughout the whole visit, no doubt taking in our repeated reminders to the doctor and nurses that he has Muscular distrophy and falls a lot. But when he got that sling, he smiled and did a little dance for the doctor… who proceed to say he had never seen anything like this and told all the nurses. Down and right back up again. Light in the midst of our darkness. I am schooled by a six year old.

I had to pick him up and carry him to school a few days later because he can’t walk that whole way. Plus we were late and his wagon had been left at school. A fifty pound boy with one arm and another that is not strong enough to hold on gets heavy quickly so I pushed it as far as I could, telling him that when we get closer he would have to walk. “But I’ll get too tired,” he said. How do I know when he can do or when he can’t do it? Is he playing me or telling me the truth? Well, he walked because otherwise I would be the one down. We went slowly and I watched at how his left foot hit the pavement at an odd angle. Tight calves, I thought. He isn’t planting his heel first. Another problem with DMD. I felt, too, the slowness of his gait as he lagged behind and I tried to hold his hand. It’s ok to slow down. I don’t need to pull him. Innocent parents unknowingly share that we might not get in the back door, but I know we have a special pass and help him get his coat off and carry his notebook for him. It aches to see the signs, to watch the slow progression and to still find these moments of joy, as in the conversation about the frost on the grass. He reminds me… don’t miss this, Dad. I’m going down, I need you to hold me up. Or Dad, I see you are going down. Let me hold you up.

And this comes to my memory just now as I write… just today, a patient with sepsis, confused and difficult to understand, after ten minutes of indiscernible conversation, says with eyes half closed, “Hold me up… I’m going down.” I can’t make this stuff up. I am receiving it all. It’s my kin and it begets me. Be generous to me, Life, and may I respond generously.


This whole cell phone in church thing… bigger than just distractions

cellphone-3.gifI wanted to do a whole post dedicated to this idea of what our community worship experience might be like in regards to distractions like cell phones and kids. I know people may feel strongly about this and I wonder if we thought about our understanding of God and how he is present to us, whether it might inform our feelings about noise in our “service.” My thoughts on this have been greatly effected by my experiences at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, where we say, leave your cell phones on… God might have an important message for you from someone who is calling, and please be sure to answer it if it rings. Also, if a child is crying, we will stop and listen because every voice is valued in our community. Every voice. The idea is that if we are going to come together and bring our lives together, celebrating who we are and what is happening in the far corners of our city, we don’t want to put all that life aside and pretend that it doesn’t have a significant effect on how we worship together.

cellphone-6.gifIt seems that if we think of our worship time as something where information is imparted on us (scripture, the pastor’s insight, music, drama, whatever…), than any distraction from that process is a bad thing. Our “services” really are geared up for this sort of interaction. The voices that are valued are the people who have the microphone. Everyone is facing one person. We are sitting in chairs and in a way that is made for receiving. At Solomon’s Porch, our setting was more like a living room. Lots of couches, everyone sitting in the round. We were forced to see each other. Every voice is valued because we believe that God speaks through us all and through each other’s lives. Because of this cell phones and kids are not a big deal. Granted there is an element of respect that is needed… but we hope to not negate the life that each person brings to our gathering.

cellphone-11.gifBeyond it being a matter of how we view our weekly worship times and what we think about community values, this idea of God speaking to us is very important. I wonder if our weekly worship times are the best places for us to learn how to worship God in silence. First, I think that the silence through which we experience God is often times more an internal silence and peace than an external state of being. This is something that should perhaps be considered and practiced in a much more intentional setting than a hustle and bustle worship gathering. Also, God’s speaking to us is not something that we get to tailor and manipulate into our own comfortable preference… Think about it. What is the first thing that comes to our minds when we are in the middle of a prayer and someone’s phone goes off? Do we think, “Ugh… turn that off! How dare they forget to set it to vibrate!!” Or can we warmly smile and let them know that that’s okay… go ahead and answer it. I mean what if someone really needs them to answer it?

cellphone-9.gifMy main point here is that there are a lot of reasons why we insist on people putting their phones off. There are a lot of reasons why we want kids to shut up. Many of these reasons are unconscious, but when we think about it, perhaps we find it to be very revealing of how we think about God God’s-self. I am very interested in others’ thoughts about all this. Maybe one question that may help is to think about it is that we are afraid of when it comes to cell phones, kids, etc. What’s at risk?