Monday, September 12, 2011

changing channels

[here's this post's soundtrack, in case you want to listen: make me a channel of your peace.]

 "Be angry and do not sin," says ephesians 4:26. in the last twenty-four hours or so, i've been furiously wrangling with what that could possibly mean. righteous anger: what does that actually look like? aside from turning over the tables in the sanctuary, did Jesus demonstrate it for us? what tables in what sanctuary would i turn over, anyhow?

i have thought of people i could ask for advice. i spent my sleepless night last night (the joys of teething--not mine, of course) composing emails i would write this morning to people i thought could help me figure it out. circumstances are such for me right now that anger is one appropriate emotion among many, i know that. but to be angry without sinning? i needed some help.

then just this morning, as i rocked my angrily teething baby, i came to the end of myself. (why it always takes me so long to get there i'll never understand; it's the best place to be, always and always. why can't i remember that?) as i rocked and patted, rocked and patted, i finally remembered who the right One to ask the question was, the One who issued the command in the first place: how can i be angry without sinning?

[an aside here: if you know me, or if you don't know me but have read this blog very long, you'll know that i'm not the i-hear-from-God type. i don't hear His voice audibly daily; i'm not regularly given life-clarifying visions. i can count on one hand the number of times those things have happened to me. which has nothing to say about God and everything to say about me, i'm sure: if only i sought those things more often, i do not doubt that He would be gracious to answer. but i digress.]

so i asked. silenty, as i rocked my poor hurting baby to the sound of the ocean, i cried out: how do i do it? immediately, i was singing:

make me a channel of your peace.
where there is hatred let me bring your love.
where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
and where there's doubt, true faith in you.

oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love with all my soul.

make me a channel of your peace
where there's despair in life, let me bring hope
where there is darkness, only light
and where there's sadness, ever joy.

make me a channel of your peace
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
in giving to all men that we receive
and in dying that we're born to eternal life.

except i could only really remember the one line: make me a channel of your peace. and i was crying, too, immediately. as the silent tears rolled down my face and the silent song sang itself in my heart, part of me was crying out, "are you kidding me, God? i asked for righteousness in my anger! you have got to be joking. that's not what this is about AT ALL!"

it's a good thing God isn't limited by what i ask for. i am reminded of a line from bird by bird, by anne lamott, which i've coincidentally (ha!) been rereading recently: "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." hmph. i suppose, then, that this God who was singing to me was the real One, not the one i hoped to create to answer the question that i had first thought to ask everyone else but Him. a channel of His peace. hmph.

the tears kept falling. at which point, i became concerned about the angrily teething baby on whom they were no doubt raining...but when i remembered to look down at her on my lap, i discovered that she had fallen asleep. peaceful, pacifier-less, painless sleep. make me a channel of Your peace.

is my anger justified? i do not doubt it. but perhaps my call is to something bigger than justified anger. (shouldn't we all hope for better, after all?) i am reminded of the woman in proverbs 31: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue...a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." what is it, after all, that my family needs from me most of all: righteous anger? or strength, dignity, wisdom, kindness, God's peace? surely all have their place, but as i looked on my peaceful, no-longer-angrily teething, sleeping baby, i realized that peace was not only what she needed but what i needed to seek, too: release from the painful anger so i can find rest. and more than anything, i need to be a channel of that peace for my family.

so although i hadn't even gotten through this post before my sweet girl was awake and angrily teething again or before the source of my own anger had once again reared its head, i am listening and actively seeking to change the channel. make me a channel of Your peace, Lord.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

repost: elliptical tears

(here's a repost from this day two years ago. i don't think i have much new to say...but maybe you didn't read this back then.)

he brought a knife to class.

i was an early-twenties community college instructor, teaching an 8am developmental english class in a computer lab. my students were of all sorts: young people getting started on an associate degree and hoping to transfer to a four-year college, older folks getting a new degree or certification in pursuit of a career in nursing or automotive technologies, immigrants getting their feet wet in a new world. they all came through my class because they needed some extra work on college writing. i was wet behind the ears, enthusiastically green and chomping at the bit to join these students in their pursuit of a whole new life.

and then, that morning, my slightly mysterious, quietly confused, small boy in a big man's body of a student brought a knife to class. a hunting knife, big and serrated, carried casually in a pouch on his hip. i didn't notice, wrapped up as i was in the joys of proper grammar and punctuation, thesis statements and topic sentences.

halfway through the two-hour class, around 9am, we took a break. the students left the computer lab for a drink, a snack (breakfast?), a smoke. they came back atwitter. several reported to me, quietly but not so casually, that the aforementioned student had a knife. indeed, there was no mistaking it: the poor, sweet, wouldn't-harm-a-fly student was carrying a weapon. was i supposed to know what to do about this? in all my twenty-three years of life, all my nine months of teaching experience? i talked to him quietly about the knife, asked him to leave, told him to meet me in my office after class ended at 10am. i'd explain then. he was clearly clueless and harmless, but he was also confused and very concerned about missing class. i'd fill him in later, i assured him, and (as i assured myself) i'd have my boss with me, just in case.

the rest of the students were atwitter with rumors flying through the hallways: there had been a plane crash in new york city. "aren't you from new york, mrs. jackson?" a plane crash was not high on my agenda for the morning; and anyhow, it was 9am, halfway through my class, and there was much left to cover. and i was myself distracted by the knife-wielding student. we plunged back into our work.

class ended at 10am, and i headed quickly for the adjacent building, which contained my office, my dean's office, and, among other things, the president's office and the college's main conference room. as i entered the building, i found the conference room door open, which it never was, and the big-screen television on, surrounded by many colleagues and students, including my dean.

not grasping what had happened as i had spent the last two hours in grammar-induced bliss, i hurriedly filled my dean in on my situation with the armed student; my immediate boss was herself teaching a class, and could my dean accompany me to meet the student who was no doubt waiting outside my office door? she did, tearing herself away from the television and quickly filling me in on the news.


there are six televisions on the wall in front of the exercise equipment of the gym where i work out. this morning, on the eighth anniversary of what we have all come to know simply as 9/11, i showed up at the gym around 9:30, climbed on my usual elliptical near the center of the room, plugged in my earbuds, and started jogging. was i aware of the date before i looked at the televisions? i'm not sure. but on the screen in front of me to my left was playing the footage from that very hour eight years ago; and on the screen in front of me to my right, the live memorial being held in the rain at ground zero.

the elliptical in the center of a gym full of people is not my usual spot of choice to break down. but as i watched, i was flooded with grief and memories.

memories of my beloved dean--she who tore herself from the footage eight years ago to come to my rescue--who passed away last spring from skin cancer.
memories of frantic attempts to find out the whereabouts of many city-dwelling college friends, including one who was just a block from ground zero and whose story from that day and those following still sends shivers up my spine.
memories of my sister-in-law's story of watching the smoke billow from the twin towers from her hoboken apartment as she wondered about her friend's husband, who worked on the top floor. he had been running late for work that morning, and hadn't arrived yet.

sure, those stories can choke me up sometimes, in a private conversation or a quiet moment. but on the elliptical? never before.

but the pump is primed, as it were, and i understand loss. that's the long and short of it. eight years ago, i had no idea what it meant to grieve. i had no idea what it meant to live in the inexplicable physical pain of tragedy. i did not understand fear or loneliness or mourning. sure, i cried along with the rest of the country as 9/11 unfolded, but i didn't know why.

today, on the elliptical, i did.

Friday, September 9, 2011


(my posts used to always have soundtracks. here's one for this post, in case you want to listen: sanctuary.)

Lord, prepare me
to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy,
tried and true.
with thanksgiving
i'll be a living
for you.

each tuesday morning, our church staff gathers at 8:30 for a morning prayer service. we spend an hour or so praying together and digging into scripture, getting our hearts and minds oriented to the "why" of what we do before we sit down to our staff meeting and all the "whats" of what we do. it may be my favorite hour of the week.

we gather in the sanctuary, setting a circle of chairs just in front of the chancel, quite literally at the foot of the cross. we recite a liturgy that is centuries old, repeating words that have been repeated by generation upon generation before us. we read scriptures that have been prescribed for us by that liturgy, long before the moment we're in right then, facing the things we are facing just now. we join our voices with the heavenly hosts as we recite the jubilate or the te deum. we are not alone, we seven (or eight or six or however many we may be that week). it is when it is raining that i am most clearly reminded of that fact.

you see, at that spot in the building where we circle our chairs, there's not much between the ceiling above our heads and the roof, uninsulated and unfinished as that part of the ceiling is. and the roof, well, i'm not sure, but i'm guessing it's made of metal. because when it rains, it's something to hear sitting there. there are times--like this past week, when the remnants of a tropical storm were passing through--when we have to shout to be able to hear each other over the deluge. it's a sound something like what i remember niagara falls sounding like when you walk under it, something i haven't done since i was a child but have never forgotten. i love that when we recite the prayers together, along with that deluge, i know that our voices are not alone.
there are also those sweet moments when the rain abates, even just for a moment, at just the right place in a prayer, like when our rector prayed for peace this week, and the deluge settled abruptly--if only momentarily--to a gentle drumming. i cannot help but smile at those moments, too. and there is in all that rainy noise also a loud reminder to be grateful for that roof over our heads, surrounded as we are by people who aren't so blessed. the occasional leaks the roof springs are nothing but a small headache compared to the experience of those who have no roof whatsoever whose leaks to lament.

sanctuary: that's what we call that part of the church, the place where we gather to worship. but a sanctuary is more than just a room in a church; literally, it's a place of refuge or safety. that roof, that drumming rain, that circle of chairs, the people in those chairs, those ancient words--those things represent refuge and safety for me even more so than the roof that so loudly receives the rain. even as i am protected from the rain by the roof of that sanctuary, and even as i rejoice in God's provision of that roof, i am reminded of the sanctuary that is the sound of that rain, the reminder that my voice is joined with many in that deluge even as it is joined with the few gathered there with me at the foot of the cross.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


maybe i'm the only one who notices.

there are seasons to dishwasher loading, i think. tonight i was having trouble fitting in all the things i needed to. then i realized that was because the contents of the dishwasher are different now.

seasons. we are in a season now--all of a sudden--when space must be made for colorful plastic things: sippy cups and tiny spoons and little bowls. those things take up spaces that are different, leave gaps that are different. with school lunch-packing in full swing and soccer season hard upon us, water bottles are taking up spaces that had been vacant or filled with summer iced tea glasses instead. i'm not sure if it's my current cooking rut or the people around my table, but for whatever reason, there are very few plates in my dishwasher right now--those easy-to-fit-right-between-the-pegs inhabitants--and many more bowls, which take up more room than they ought to, i think. and we who are filling the dishwasher these days seem to be filling the silverware slots faster than we are the rest of the dishwasher, maybe because it's just not filling that fast these days, in this season.

it's obvious, isn't it, when you've had a dinner party--the dishwasher contents are significantly different on those nights. many wine glasses, maybe, or too many forks to fit in just one load. it fills faster on those nights, and it's obvious to anyone from the dishwasher load that the eaters and drinkers that night have been different from the usual. but as the contents are affected by seasons of life, the changes are more subtle. and it's not until a night like tonight, when suddenly nothing fits, that you realize how much the dishwasher loading has changed. just now, it seems, right between loading the dishes last night and tonight, the contents seem to have changed completely. right under my nose, and i hardly noticed until just now.

it's the sort of thing that takes your breath away, really, when you finally notice. and i hardly noticed until just now.