In Memory

Sometimes Science-Fiction has the ability to put reality into perspective. At the moment, I’m thinking of two episodes of Star Trek Voyager: “Memorial” and “Remember”.

In “Remember”, B’Elanna Torres has these strange memories – of a forbidden love that sweeps her into a world in the midst of genocide. The victors erased all evidence of their guilt, but kept around a few memorials as an object lesson: “This is where the Regressives used to live, but they were stubborn and they didn’t like our technology, so we moved them to another world where they could live in peace. It’s a reminder to not be stubborn or backwards.” Voyager might not be able to make the perpetrators pay for their crimes, but at least they can uphold their principles not to support their actions or benefit from their evil. B’Elanna allows those memories to be shared to a young generation who were lied to about their history.

In “Memorial”, the entire crew begins to experiences flashbacks of a battle, the images are disjointed and out of order. They investigate how they could have been caught up in a war against their knowledge. Eventually they discover a memorial broadcasting those events is in disrepair and the battle they remembered had happened centuries ago. They question whether or not they should repair the memorial. Ultimately, they decide to restore it. The words carved on that monument say this: “Words alone cannot convey the suffering. Words alone can not prevent what happened here from happening again. Beyond words lies experience; beyond experience lies truth. Make this truth your own.

I can’t say that I’ve visited many memorials in all my years. I grew up in a state that didn’t see any Civil War action, so I’m neither a Yankee or a Confederate. There was this one memorial, it commemorated the death of a hundred and sixty eight men, women, and children when a guy detonated a bomb just outside of the building they were in. I’ve walked by the chairs, looked at my reflection the water, and stood beside the tree that survived it all. This is a recent history that gives an outlet for our grief.

I do know that somewhere out there is a statue with the name of one of my ancestors who had a connection to the Civil War. He fought on one side or the other, I don’t really know which. I can imagine two neighbors standing side-by-side as they have to figure out how to explain this statue to a child who might ask why it’s there:

“Well, there was a war a long time ago. It tore our nation in two. This man fought.”
“Did he fight to free the slaves?”
“Why yes, yes he did. This statue is here to remind us that the time is always right to do the right thing.”
“Actually, no, he fought for the other side – to preserve slavery. This statue is here to remind us that even if you fight on the losing side, you can still end up with a statue honoring you for killing your foes, fighting for what you believe in, and the status of a hero.”

I’ve never seen this monument, but I do know that not every memorial is ours. These outlets for grief have their time and place, for a mother mourning the loss of her sons who were spent on the battlefield, for a wife to take consolation that the loss of her spouse was for something. What it meant to them – it doesn’t have to mean the same thing to us. If somebody moved it somewhere else, it wouldn’t erase him or what he did. If somebody destroyed it, it wouldn’t alter history one iota. If somebody put it in a public place and explained it to everyone who passed by – it might make some sad and it might inspire others to pick up the banner and continue on where he left off – and that’s the chief worry; apparently justified by all the violence in recent weeks. But there are some who are too reverent to these southern heroes, who only wish to walk in their footsteps and to make our country into the image of greatness that was their time.

Knowledge of history is often written by victors, and it’s sometimes skewed. Details are chosen selectively to present an acceptable understanding. If we’re not careful, we might think the “Trail of Tears” was when the Native Americans walked to their new homeland and cried because they were overjoyed to be given the State of Oklahoma as their permanent possession. We might simplify complex wars to be about just one issue and paint the combatants with one broad brush stroke of “right” or “wrong”. We need memorials to remind us of the mistakes of the past and how they thought they were doing the right thing and it’s a mistake we can easily make today if we don’t know our history. So we must teach it in a way that puts as many nails into coffin of racism as humanly possible.

Maybe we can’t choose our memorials, but we can choose how we remember them and how we react to them. Since at this present time many who bow at the altar of racism are doing everything they can to keep these statues in public places – we have to find a way to learn from the past and rise above the selfish evil of anger and hatred. Let us make a new memorial and make it plain that racism is never the winning the side.

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Fueling the Storm

Growing up in tornado alley, I learned that thunderstorms tend to build up because of instability and they only come to an end when that instability is gone. The more instability builds up – the worse the storm gets.

My nervousness problems work in much the same way. I realized that just last night when my co-worker realized I was nervous and something about the combination of what he said, the tone of his voice, and the gestures he made while speaking made my nerves spike. I had to stop and catch a deep breath to infuse my system with oxygen in order to try to calm down a little.

It reminded me of the time I was on a long flight by myself to a foreign country. The flight attendant was a friendly guy and quite a character, it it seemed the more he asked me if I wanted anything and double-checking my response: “Are you sure?” The more my nervousness would kick into high gear and the worse they got – making him ask all the more if there was anything he could do.

Truth be told, I didn’t really know I had that bad of a nervousness problem mostly because I’d never put myself into situations to test how I would respond. But now it seems with every new thing – they’re getting worse … and the more that people try to do to help, the worse it gets.

After Earth was actually a fairly helpful movie in that the concept of taking a knee was described. It means to center yourself in this present moment, to take a deep breath and let all of the things you can’t control slip away. To decide that the fear and worry you’re fighting aren’t real – well, they are real, but they’re aren’t your real concern in this particular circumstance.

I think – I also have to come to terms with that I put way too much pressure on myself not to make mistakes; drive the car the wrong way and you get in a crash and somebody dies. Make a bad mistake at work and you could lose your livelihood. Make this mistake or that mistake and your life could irrevocably be a downhill spiral ending in disaster. Better to not make mistakes –  but all the pressure feeds into the tendency to make mistakes.

“I remember your first week of working here.” A customer told me the other day; “I felt so sorry for you, you were so nervous I thought you were going to have a break down.”

“I know – it was pretty bad there for awhile, but I eventually found my zen.” I said.

It took time and experience to take care of my first round of nerves; and odds are that’s what it’ll take to get them to go away – but until then … anything anyone does to try to make them better will likely fuel the storm. The best way to put an end to my instability is to be stable and calm when I’m around.

(Does anyone know of any good calming apps? I tried one by the name of Calm and couldn’t really get it to work for me.)

Going Where I’m Needed

I’ve learned a lot this past year about myself, particularly that I enjoy making myself useful. When I was first hired on, I was told that there was always the possibility that I’d be sent to other places in the area to fill in where they had a need. As it turns out, I’m rather good at it. I’ve been sent to so many places I’ve lost count. I’ve worked in at least three counties. Even though it’s something of  hassle to go the distance, it feels rewarding to be helpful.

Then I think back to my days in church where I was primarily expected to do nothing. I was supposed to show up, stay quiet, listen, and leave. I couldn’t really do the sort of things that I wanted to – and what was left, well, they didn’t give me much training and I had to figure out what I could as I went along. It was in those areas that were out of sight and out of mind, and not only that, but not really interacting with others.

Not really interacting with others was something I’d done a lot of for a long time. I just thought I was bad with people. So this past week when a few different people admitted: “My kid really likes you.” or “I think you’re nice.” I wasn’t quite sure how to take that compliment other than to say, “Thanks, that means a lot.”

Even as my church would sing Audio Adrenaline’s “Hands and Feet”, “I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet, I’ll go where you send me, I’II go where you send me …” It was pretty much understood that this didn’t really apply to all of us. Sure, the big mission trip once every few years was the one chance that most of us would ever get to be sent somewhere we were needed. Sometimes it was in another country, sometimes it was somewhere in the states. But being what it was, it wasn’t something just everyone could do – only small teams could go and many would be excluded.

Perhaps a big difference is that each church is insular and doesn’t interact with local churches. They don’t talk to each other and say: “Hey, we could use some help. Can you send somebody?” The places where I work at – they’re connected together. The managers know each other and help each other. Their employees work together and build friendships even though it can be awhile until the next time they work together again – which is perfect because they can do a lot of catching up the next time they meet. Each church seems to be territorial and fears loosing people to another church or a different denomination. Looking back at my churches, they didn’t really interact with other area churches very often. I think once the youth group of a different church did an interpretive dance for our church – but I don’t think the idea went over too well because we never went to other churches or other churches after that came to ours.

Out of this week, I’ve spent (or will have spent) five days at other places than my own workplace … and I love it. I will have made myself useful by helping those who need a little assistance. I will have met a lot of new people – each with interesting stories and quirky personalities. I will have worked with all sorts of people, lifting their burden as much as I can. I’ll learn new tricks that make the job that much easier. Sometimes though, I just wish that Christianity was a little more like the world in this way – it’s not the most awful thing that they’d make it out to be.

 

 

The Bruise

It’s become a rather awkward topic of conversation of late – the sort-of square-shaped slightly smaller than a playing card-sized purple bruise on my right arm just about half-way between my wrist and elbow. It’s not helped by the fact that I have quite a few smaller bruises on the rest of that arm. Human nature being what it is likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s the result of abuse – and since abuse victims are the first to deny that they’ve been abused then saying that it isn’t only more firmly convinces them that’s the case. Should I cover up or conceal the bruise, the people who already know it’s there would think that I had something to hide, perhaps abuse. So I have little choice but to let people see it, to let people ask about it and let people assume the worst because that’s the only way to prove that’s not the cause and the character of my loved ones is impeccable.

It doesn’t help that I’m extremely pale and bruise easily as it is. Awhile ago, I realized that I had a mysterious series of bruises. I eventually figured out that sitting cross-legged while wearing shoes was the cause – something having to do with the combination of my own weight pressing down into the edges of my shoes. As for the bruise on my arm – my guess is that the likely suspect is that my dog has figured out that if he sits on his human then she can’t get up or go anywhere and he can always be sure of where his human is at all times. He’s a seventy pound gentle giant and putting some or all of that weight on my arm would be enough to cause it.

Of course, the other point of consideration is despite so much suspicion of abuse, it all falls under the category of “not my business” and that’s the limit of what people will do in the face of their suspicions – ignore them. I know that nobody wants to be the bad guy, the tattle-tale – but it’s still pretty sad that those who actually endure abuse can pretty much expect that you’ll ignore the evidence of your eyes and your gut instinct just in case you’re wrong. People don’t like to think about the unpleasant reality that they’re right and that their silence just makes it that much easier for the abuse to keep on happen to someone else they know.

I’d much rather that abuse was taken more seriously, that people would take a risk and report it and investigate it so that people who need help but won’t ask for it can get it. Everyone deserves better than to mark it under “not my business” and go on with their lives. What’s so wrong with being wrong, anyway? Wouldn’t it just prove that one’s associates are honorable? Isn’t that better to be right and silent? Given time, my bruise will heal – but my faith in humanity has a more serious wound.

Voluntold

While reading comments, I noticed one of a young mother who was frustrated that nobody seemed to want to step up and watch her children during church services no matter how much she begged and pleaded for help. My first thought was an incredibly unhelpful statement which I decided not to post. I have my reasons for not doing childcare. I suspect some people think they’re too old, too tired, and don’t have the energy or strength to chase around the under five crowd. Some realize that they really aren’t that great with kids and only like their own or their own grand kids, figuring they’ve done their time and deserve to retire from the business. To be honest, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it sucks to be stuck doing it without any real choices or acceptance of the thing that you really are good at.

It was a typical Sunday, almost exactly like the ones before it and the ones that followed after it, with ever so slightly discernible changes in the songs that were song or the theme of the message being preached as the most notable. The pastor’s wife stood up and announced that a volunteer was needed to watch the children, which consisted of her three sons and no other children. During the meet’n’greet, the woman in front of me turned around and said: “You should teach the children!” How she arrived at that conclusion was something of mystery. I hadn’t interacted with the children the whole time I was at that church. They didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs. I hadn’t shown any interest in children or mentioned children at all. In fact, the only way she could have come to that conclusion that I was a suitable teacher was if she believed that young women are innately experts at childcare. After all, I was both young and a woman. I matched the criteria completely.

My previous church pretty much believed the same thing – that young women ought to plug-into church ministry by serving in the nursery indefinitely. Once on the rotation, there was this unspoken expectation that they would continue to serve. There were two exits – one was having a child of their own and the other was quitting the church in some form or another. To remain in a church and quit doing childcare was to be constantly guilt-tripped about being selfish, hating children, and hating our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was almost a constant imposition based on the belief that all young women ought to take care of young children. There never seemed to be a viable alternatives.

Not watching kids was turning my back on whatever was meant by biblical womanhood. It was as if I was the pot declaring to the potter: “You can’t use me like that! I won’t let you.” There was never a moment to consider what my gifts and skills and talents pointed to another reality of something else that I made for, because having been young and female, then I could only be a nursery worker because the Bible says so. These days, when I ask about what the Bible teaches about Biblical womanhood, there’s a lot of quiet, beating around the bush that ultimately says that my role is that of wife and/or mother, preferably both. It says I can be/do anything so long as I’m submitted under the authority of my husband (preferably, if I had to I could be submitted to my father as long as I remained single but ideally I’d eventually get married). It says I’m defined by my relationships – somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother and that I’m never a somebody in and of myself. Related to the video – it bothers me that I refer to these people just that same way – somebody’s mother, the pastor’s wife, the elderly woman who sat in the row ahead of me next to her husband. I couldn’t tell you what their names were. Their names are less important than their role and it shouldn’t be that way.

These days, I’ve learned not to rely on the church. They can’t see what’s in front of them. While they would have me serve in the nursery, they ignore my increasing skills with foreign languages, my increasing knowledge of church history as well as ancient cultures, the finer points of theology, and my interests in other things. Obviously, I can’t be trusted to teach other women and children because I might corrupt them into questioning what the church is telling them to believe about their role in the church. These things would make me a great candidate as a potential teacher – if I were a guy. But I’m not. So obviously, the only thing I can do, and should do, in order to serve God is to watch children indefinitely because God never made women with another plan in mind of how they could best serve the church. Except for maybe as a missionary, but the idea that women can’t teach white men because they would deceive them and yet can teach foreign men suggests sexism and racism is alive and well. But hey, what do I know?

Doom! Disaster!

My father had been perusing one of the news sites, unaware that they now feature stories that are commercials for products. He found once such story, reading about a man who had successfully predicted calamity. He went to it’s main site and turned on the video. It featured a smooth voice talking in a calm tone. As the voice spoke, captions appeared on the page. There was also the occasional graph to illustrate the numbers. The story was that the man was an average person who had a few contacts in positions of power. He narrowly avoided disaster and then got into the business of scouring the newspaper stories for information. Eventually he was able to discern a pattern and start the largest newspaper you’ve never heard of for reliable proof of treachery, financial doom, and other really bad things you should pay attention to and be prepared to face in the near future. He talked about one such occasion when the government was on the brink of disaster, the politicians all called their wives to tell them to withdraw everything they could from ATMs just in case the banks shut down before their last-minute negotiations failed. Everything turned out just fine in the end though. But a governor from one of the states heard the warning that disaster was about to come. He shared this story with everyone he considered a close friend so all of them decided to go to the bank and withdraw what they could – just in case the banks closed and/or ran out of money.

Last night, ‘A Wonderful Life’ was on, and there’s a similar scene where everyone runs to the bank in a panic to withdraw everything, playing into the hands of the the guy that owns the other bank who is willing to pay ‘fifty cents on the dollar’ to tide people over as long as it takes for everything to return to normal. I couldn’t help but wonder if the guy was doing just that – setting off a panic trying to get people to buy into his product to save them from disaster that others won’t be able to see coming because they don’t read his newspaper, ultimately causing the very panic that he warned others would happen. Bailey had to explain that their money wasn’t actually in the bank, but tied up in building each others’ houses to make things better for everyone.

I always thought that was a better picture of how Christians ought to help each other, not as if we were a bank where we could expect to deposit $30 and later on withdraw $30 exactly, getting out what we get into it, but being investors in each others’ lives. Thing is, we have to avoid the voices that tell us that the best way to avoid disaster is to withdraw from others and put ourselves first. I’m reminded of a rather sad poem where a group of people are stranded together on a freezing winter night and each of them have a stick that could have fueled the fire that would have kept them warm, but because all of them figured that nobody else would use their sticks, they didn’t either and the fire went out and so they all perished.

What really dooms us is when we decide that we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. When we don’t trust people, when we don’t invest in the welfare of others, when we don’t care about the consequences our actions will have on others. When we do that, we will have little choice but to start the very disasters that we see coming down the road. Why, the only way to avert them is to fuel the fire that will save us, putting our resources to help others so that in turn others will be able to help us when we cannot help ourselves. That is how we avert disaster.

Am I needed?

Remember always that people want to feel needed. They want to help out and be a part of what you are doing. When you satisfy this desire in people, you receive their admiration, loyalty, respect and cooperation.
Other people can be a powerful source of ideas, of motivation, of business contacts – if you encourage their participation. Most people are only too willing to help. Most people are genuinely flattered when you ask for their opinion or their expertise.
On the other hand, you must not take advantage of people. Asking someone for their help out of laziness on your part will not win you any points. People are willing to help you only if they see you are putting forth your own best effort. No one will want to help you if you don’t help yourself. However, if you’re striving toward excellence every day, people will jump all over themselves to be a part of what you are doing.
And always show sincere appreciation. People will want to help you only if they feel you are truly grateful.
It’s very, very difficult to accomplish anything alone. And it is quite unnecessary as well. There are plenty of people willing to help you if you will only ask.
– From: http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/leadership_reflections/making_people_feel_needed

In most of my churches, the services are simple, show up, start with the first item on the list, end with the last item on the list and then you’re free to go. There’s really not a lot of ways that you be helpful because somebody else already has. Somebody else decided what music to use. Somebody else put together the PowerPoint presentation. Somebody else already set up the tables and chairs. Somebody else prepared the coffee and brought in the donuts. There really isn’t a lot to do but to show up, listen, and leave.

But every now then there’s an opportunity, a teacher or facilitator is needed to help guide a class. You’re finally needed – to turn on the DVD player, to read a few paragraphs of the study materials, and to moderate any discussion from the participants. Sometimes that kind of being needed seems more like being needed as a ‘warm body’ to fulfill a specific list of tasks – something anyone can do. Your own ideas and contributions, and by extension, you specifically aren’t needed.

People need to be needed, but people also need the freedom to serve freely, drawing off of their own ideas and contributions and expertise in order to find satisfaction. That’s something that a lot of churches are missing. You see, there are a lot of people out there who are disqualified from serving to fulfill the church’s particular needs. Kitchens and nurseries are their domain, but that’s their limit. What chaos would break in the church if just anyone could do just anything! Why, women might even become preachers in droves! What could be worse than that?

When I look around my church, I see that some of the millennials are teachers, choir members, and sound & computer technicians, and are always on the look-out for something to do. But my church is unusually well-represented with six of us. I think that the rest of us often can’t find anything to do. Either we’re not allowed or somebody else doesn’t need help. We don’t feel needed. Then when Christian leaders say things like “… as dross is being removed from silver, the church is being refined …” millennials get the message that they’re ‘dross’ and there’s no place for the impurity they represent in perfectly pure churches that don’t need them.

Ten years ago, the movie Robots had this slogan: “See a need, fill a need.” There’s a whole generation (or two or three) who are happy to do that – but the church doesn’t need them, so they volunteer everywhere else. Perhaps it’s a good thing, there’s no limits on who can do what in the real world, they need all hands on deck.