Saturday, December 5, 2015

What a pastor should NOT do.

Pastors should not throw a fit at the Christmas tree lot.

Picture the scene: fussy baby, sick mother, agreeable father, and a kind-hearted grandfather.  A sunny and warm Saturday in Mt. Pleasant, SC -- perfect day to get baby's first Christmas tree.  We tried a few nights ago, but because the baby had a meltdown and the all the trees were scandalously expensive, we decided to try again another day.  That day was today.  And this mother - this pastor - threw a fit in the Christmas tree lot.  Not a big fit.  But a fit nonetheless.  It went something like this:

Carmen standing next to the family car: "I want a tree, but $65 for a tree is outrageous."

Clark, cheerful and ever cognizant of our public roles as pastors: "Let's go home, regroup and try this another day."

Carmen: "I hate that Christmas trees are this expensive around here!  I keep thinking of all the poor folks who cannot have access to a simple Christmas tree! It doesn't seem fair that the poor cannot celebrate Christmas." (Yes, I said that.)

Clark, knowing that his wife isn't particularly rational at the moment: "The good news is that the profits here are going to charity."

(Loud sound 10 feet away- we turn and look and see that a squirrel has fallen from a tree and hit the pavement - doesn't move)

Carmen: "This is the worst!  All we are doing is killing animals all day!" (Clark and the grandfather have been fishing)

Clark, eager to redeem the moment: "I think he's just stunned!  Like when we played soccer and got the wind knocked out of us."

(enter cheerful church member)

Church member: "Everything okay?"

Carmen, forgetting that she is a pastor: "Why are Christmas trees so expensive around here?!?!"

... blah, blah.  The encounter went on.  I gathered myself, proceeded to run into multiple warm and lovely church members who were happily purchasing trees, and was mortified when we were given a generous discount when finally paying for a tree. Pastor for the win.

I am now in bed, the baby is wailing, and we have a tree in a bucket outside. I have a hunch Jesus is smirking.  Or because Jesus is definitely doing something supremely more important than smirking at my bad behavior, I plan to lay here and feel badly for 5 more minutes.  Then there will be grace.  And throat lozenges.  Throat lozenges for everyone.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fear Not

The fog that permeates the mind of a new mother is real. Before the birth of my daughter three months ago, catching a flight required next to no energy.  Cruising through security in time to get a cup of coffee before boarding the plane was perhaps my greatest challenge.  My luggage and my life felt streamlined and organized.  The plight of new mothers juggling bags of bottles and diapers, doll-sized pajamas and blankets, were simply not on the radar.  But things have changed. Today I am lucky if I get to the airport having taken a shower in the last three days. The adage is true: parenting is all joy and no fun. 

Today as I sit in my office a million miles away from all that is manicured and fashionable, I am thinking of Valarie Kaur, a new mother like me and a fellow faith leader who was at the airport yesterday preparing to return home in time to celebrate her son’s 1st birthday.  As she was organizing the many trappings of motherhood she innocently pulled a tag off the bag carrying her breast pump.  This small gesture alarmed a nearby passenger who after scanning the lovely, brown-skinned woman, angrily asked what had prompted such a move.  More passengers got involved as did a gate agent who demanded she open the bag and prove that she was carrying a breast pump.  The air was thick with suspicion and fear and though no one uttered the word, terrorist filled the thoughts of those involved.

Fear is a powerful thing. I am a Presbyterian Minister and in our faith tradition we are celebrating the season of Advent. In these four weeks leading up to Christmas we are preparing our hearts by telling stories connected to the birth of Jesus. In many of these narratives found early in the Gospels, we find a divine command: do not fear.  Why is this command given over and over again? I believe it is because fear makes us the most miserable version of ourselves. Fear is like a disease that eats away at a person before being passed along to others, transforming them into shadows of their once-bright selves. Fear has the capacity to so transform hearts and minds, that new mothers become suspects. Bags carrying supplies that help feed small babies are transformed into a security threat. Long, dark hair accompanying a brown-skinned woman becomes a sign of danger.  In the United States today, fear is transforming our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters into enemies.  I have had fellow Christians ask me recently, voices full of apprehension, “Have you studied the Qur’an?  Do you know what is in there?”  I reply, “No.  I am a Christian.  I study the Bible.  Do you know what is in there?”

Now is the time for those of us who are not profiled as terrorists to raise our voices against foolish stereotypes that breed fear and mistrust. Now is the time for open conversation among followers of all faith traditions as we attempt to address social ills together.  And now is the time for this new mama to say to another new mama: I am sorry.  I am sorry for what happened to you yesterday as you prepared to celebrate the first birthday of your little boy. I promise I will do what I can to raise a daughter who will not fear your son, but embrace him, learn from him, and delight in this good world alongside him.