God wants us to vacation

God wants us to take all our vacation, AND to find pleasure in the midst of toil. Pleasure is built into the design of human beings. That’s the message I glean from the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes.

That is not the takeaway I expected from any book in the Bible. Christianity may be more commonly associated with dour endurance of life than exuberant delight in it, as diligent as certain persuasions of Christians have been at defining what we should not do. But we cannot let what is, stand in the way of what could be!

Wisdom literature in the Bible (largely found in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and parts of Job) imparts more than information; it is less descriptive of what is, and more aspirational: urging us to become who God calls us to be. For example, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat and who can have enjoyment?” (Eccles. 2:24-26). In one way, this is a description of life as it seems to be: nothing better is to be expected than eating, drinking, and searching for enjoyment in the midst of toil. But also: these things are from the hand of God! God gives us daily bread and also enjoyment, as gifts for our growth and well-being.

We are designed to enjoy creation and each other, and delight in what our bodies can do. We are designed to be thankful, but when we are frazzled or oblivious, we are far from thankful. In short, we need time out of our routines to remind us how to enjoy every part of life.

But let us not pursue enjoyment at the expense of others having abundant life too. The insidious trick of consumerism is that by trying to get things for ourselves better, faster or cheaper, we might seek our own relaxation or adventure or pleasure at the expense of others. Everybody needs time to rest, laugh, and be someone other than the worker they are every day, especially those who are over-worked. The fight for earned sick and safe time recently prevailed at the legislative level in the city where I live, but not without considerable resistance (even given the self-interest of not being infected by sick workers). Guaranteed vacation time is only a dream.

How then, could all children of God aspire to time for pleasure? How will we help our neighbors to keep from brooding over the days of their lives, and instead stay occupied with the joy of their hearts (Eccles. 5:20)? What might we do? We who can take vacation, should take it all, for God wants us to be people who enjoy life. Know what it is like to have respite, things provided for you, worries lifted even for a short time. Then strive to create that respite in the lives of our siblings who cannot stop working for fear of losing much-needed jobs or caring for relatives that requires constant supervision.

To take pleasure in our toil is not an oppressive command, but a wise inspiration. We can let the refreshment of fresh air and sunlight into workplaces. We can discipline ourselves to be in good humor in our interactions with those who provide customer service. And we can make ourselves advocates and allies for a better quality of life for those who work, especially at the minimum wage.

A Tribute to the Teens of (Our) Summer

I know it is just a summer job to you

A way to earn some cash for gas

Or back-to-school clothes

But you are also

Making a lasting impression on my kids


When you soothe the pre-schooler’s fear

Of splashing during swim lessons

Or notice the 2nd grader who cannot quite

Break into a group of friends at camp

You are shaping their childhood


They squeal with delight when you arrive to babysit

And triple-check when you’re coming back

So they don’t miss it

Don’t miss you

For you are a celebrity to them


The one who manipulates with her sweetness

And the one who seems quiet unless you make the first move

They are taking it all in

They are taking you in

Making you part of who they are


Their excitement is contagious when they report

You both had the same sandwiches for lunch

Or that you can kick the ball SO FAR

And that you didn’t smash the lady bug

But helped it escape out the window.


They will talk about you for months

They want to be you when they “grow up”

The words you utter, even under your breath

Will be spoken in their high-pitched voices

Long after they forget who first said them


From you they start to imagine that in-between stage

Between child and adulthood

They start to aspire

From me:

Thank you.


You Can’t Call God “Father,” and Treat God’s Children Like This

A God who is Our Father would never sanction the punitive traumatizing of children, by separating them from their parents at a national border.

As a parent, it is unthinkable. To my 3- and 7-year-old daughters, my presence is everything. From the moment they wake up, to the moment they fall asleep, and if they happen to wake up distressed in the middle of the night too, they want me there. We do not live in the cross-fire of gang conflicts and are not scraping by with money for one meal at a time, but I’d be willing to bet that even if that were the case, me being with them would still be the most important thing in their lives. Of course a parent who loves their children would try to escape with them to a better life, and may God go with them. But woe unto those who seek to re-traumatize God’s beloved children.

Our immigration system is broken; all sides acknowledge that. But breaking the closest bond between human beings is not solving anything. So much brokenness and latent trauma haunts American society from taking African-American children from their parents during slavery, or removing Native American children from their families to be assimilated via boarding schools. Have we learned nothing from our collective sins against parents and children? Can we utter “Father God” or “Our Father who art in heaven” with any integrity, while perpetuating such violence to the family? Separating immigrating or asylum-seeking mothers or fathers from their children is never in the interest of the child, nor is it in the interest of our communities.

When we call God Our Parent (as Jesus did) we are claiming that God experiences the depth of the parent-child relationship at the core of human families, and God loves us like a parent does a child. This is part of what our God declares in Genesis by “making humankind in our image” (Gen 1:26); being in relationship is at the core of who God is, and we are. A Father or Mother God would never endorse ripping apart parents and children to make a political point or even to deter immigration. Can American Christians consent to this way of enforcing immigration restrictions by our government?

For what is a mother or father to their children, or a Father or Mother God to us? Our Mother is protection from all who would do us harm. Our Father is our fiercest advocate up against anyone who would oppress us. The way she repeatedly tells us how much we are loved is the foundation of our own self-worth. The way He coaches us to keep becoming who he knows we can be ingrains perseverance and resiliency in our personalities. The only people on earth I trust to have “no greater love than this, but to lay down one’s life”(John 15:13) for me, are my parents. Children deprived of their parents have no dependable protection for their physical, emotional or spiritual well-being in our cruel world. Is God to fill in those roles with no people to help?

A child being separated from your mother or father with no hope of reunification is traumatic for everyone involved. It should grieve to the point of protest, those who even hear of it. If you are the parent, a part of you dies with that separation. This is part of the self-traumatizing sacrifice of birth parents who make an adoption plan for children they are unable to parent. If you are the child, you bear what is referred to in adoption circles, based on the work of Nancy Verrier, as a “primal wound” from the separation from your first parents. Birth parents, children and adoptive parents move on, but trauma can effect the rest of our lives: our relationships, our resiliency, our participation in civil society. Families crossing into the United States have left their home countries because of trauma. Separating parents and children at the border is heaping trauma upon trauma for both parents and children.

We could mitigate our guilty feelings by quibbling over which parent God resembles and how. Some churches endorse strict gender roles in parenting, so define fathers and a Father God as ones who guide their children, discipline them, and are to be obeyed, while those in the motherly role take care of emotional nurture and comfort. Yet even such a father would never willingly traumatize children by forceful separation. Jesus challenges his hearers: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Mt. 7:9)

Although Jesus himself used the word Abba (“Daddy”) to speak with the intimacy of a child to God, God’s actions reveal a mothering character as well. God has “numbered every hair on our heads” (Mt. 10:30) like a mother who knows when any little thing is amiss and “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Ps. 121) while watching over us. Jesus nurtures and raises his disciples through not just teaching, but endless days of just being with them, making sure the crowds are fed, aligning his heart with grief-stricken mothers at the death of a child, or tenacious mothers begging for their child’s healing. God has lived in the space between parents and children many times. God Our Parent will not condone destroying this sacred bond.

If you want to admit that separating children from their parents at the border is a political issue to you and nothing else, you have other images of God you can twist and wield as you wish: God as Judge, God Who Decrees Commandments, or God Who Seeks (Your Interpretation of) Justice. But the God as Parent metaphor is no longer available to you.


Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/crazycups/

Cruel interpretations

It’s not just those people who work at the border who are enforcing this. It is me too, if I do not act to put a stop to it.

I am afraid I might identify with the Pharisees. We all could.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus does not reject the sabbath, the 3rd commandment, the law itself.

He does not reject Judaism, a religion and identity centered on a covenant to be God’s people.

Jesus rejects the way these Pharisees are interpreting the law, and that would make anyone defensive.

The interpretation of the Law they were forcing on others, was hurting real people. To forbid healing, eating, or traveling to bring the good news to more people on the sabbath is a perversion of God’s Law. But no doubt the Pharisees who were enforcing these practices didn’t jump to those outcomes on day 1. For who would hear Moses reading from the tablets and immediately declare: Those who are in need of some kind of restoration to wholeness in body or in relationships, can’t seek that one day a week? Or those who are hungry but didn’t have the means to prepare ahead should not eat that day? Everyone would see the inhumanity in that.

But there is this slow creep of apathy, of gradually letting go of things that are intensely important, core to our faith, and our knowledge of God’s love for humankind, that happens to all of us. Because, well, we weren’t holding on, keeping it at the core of who we are, or we simply weren’t paying attention and it was taken away. One day we look up and we are not who we set out to be. We let go of some principles when we’re holding too tightly to being right or being the authority or just trying to keep things they way they are. It happens to all of us. Jesus summarized the entire Law in just 2 statements: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Yet we loosen our grip on these commitments, and how much effort and intentionality they take, and we let their interpretation slip into the hands of those who want to control, manipulate, or frame them for their own benefit. Sometimes those people are even ourselves.

Take for example, the ways children are being separated from their parents when crossing this country’s border as immigrants or asylum-seekers. Those who present themselves to a checkpoint to seek asylum through the approved process, fleeing violence in Central America, have their children as young as 18 months taken from them, with no time-line for reunification. I cannot even fathom the cruelty. Most of us didn’t even know this was the practice of this current administration to “deter immigration” until it was in the news earlier this week. But it has been going on for months, as the political conversation about immigrants has turned from talking about them as refugees from violence and poverty – neighbors to love – to criminals who are trying to “enter our home illegally.” There is no excuse for destroying the only security these parents and children have left – each other. Oh, it feels shameful to be called out on this. My attention was diverted elsewhere. I thought we were past the worst when the Muslim travel bans were mostly struck down in the courts.

But now I have to recognize: this is who we are, or who we’ve allowed ourselves to become. Desensitized to what I know is the most cruel form of punishment for already traumatized people, ripping apart parents and children. And I have to admit that it’s not just those people who work at the border who are enforcing this. It is me too, if I do not act to put a stop to it. When Jesus asks if we know what is right or wrong and we stand mute, like the Pharisees in our Gospel reading, we are complicit. So how do I respond, when I realize that instead of insulting these Pharisees, I might actually be like them in some ways?

Do I plot to discredit or do away with those who call me out on my sins of commission or omission? I wonder if there was even one of those Pharisees who was convicted by meeting Jesus, stopped in his tracks and realized, “He’s right. I love the Law of Moses and God, and we’ve twisted it.” What does he do? It takes tremendous courage to put your self on the line for strangers who are being harmed by your peers, the group you are a part of. Maybe he doesn’t fully agree, but there’s too much at stake personally, or for his family, supporting these people has gotten him where he is, and they could take it all away. So he says nothing. We don’t want to reckon with the powers that have put us where we are; we are beholden to them. We don’t want to admit that our principles are not what got us where we are, but our complicity with letting them go.

To confess that we are doing wrong in the present can also dredge up past sins, for example, that separating parents and children of color is part of the fabric of this country: first slave children from their parents, and all the way into the 1970s, separating Native American children from their families to be assimilated in boarding schools. This cruelty is not new, just a new form. It is so much to reckon with, of course we become defensive.

The Pharisees immediately begin conspiring with the Herodians to have Jesus killed. They aligned themselves with others who would shut him up, so he would have to stop calling them out on their sins. Yet there is a choice, even from the middle of a crowd of angry Pharisees, of how to respond when Jesus shows us the truth about how far our lives have strayed from the Law of God. We fight this, or we fight Jesus.

Now owning this sin and try desperately to repair it sounds exhausting, for people who weren’t trying to hurt anybody, but just, you know, were carried along by the momentum of being comfortably in the midst of this crowd. Yet confession and restitution are like sabbath for our souls, a gift from God. A sabbath of grace. God loves us unconditionally, without us following any rules or making anybody else follow any rules, without our defenses up and our positions protected. Just loving and being loved. But to do that, we have to recognize the truth. Resting in God’s pre-emptive love, we can step out of our position embedded among the Pharisees, and follow Jesus, who knows the truth about us. He will take us, even as we are, but he will not leave us there. Give us courage, O God, to step out of the crowd and follow you.

Summer Goal: Family Playdates

We technically live near each other. Why is it so hard to get together?

Both my spouse and I yearn to talk to adults unrelated to our work lives, but the best of intentions don’t seem to pan out often. Our daughters see friends even in the summer at tee-ball, vacation Bible school, swim lessons, and playgrounds. But when do my husband and I get to catch up with friends our own age, other than on social media? We need play dates, maybe more than our kids do!

We used to try to have friends over to dinner about once a month, with varying degrees of success. Everyone needs to eat, right? But between the time my husband gets home from work and the kids go to sleep, we have about an hour, give or take a bit on weeknights. Because of our house’s floor plan, we have to kick them out for the kids to go to sleep. Plus, if the friends have kids too, mealtimes can be fraught with challenges. With our 3-year-old, sometimes even staying at the table is a challenge. Then, there’s the theoretical obligation to clean. Even with making a commitment to “scruffy hospitality” though, it may take some effort to bring the house up to the standards of “it is OK that people live here.”

Since my spouse and I both bring work home with us and there are always dishes, laundry and yard work to be done, “down time” at home is never that. We often have to leave the premises to play.

So I am making a goal, writing it down and sharing it publicly with the hope that I’ll stick to it: We will have a family play date at a park or festival, at least once a month from May to September.

I coach myself, “Don’t argue, this is the easiest possible solution to our adult friendship isolation.” My motivational strategy includes the following:

  • Finding a babysitter is irrelevant to making these plans.
  • Festivals have specific days and times, so unlike a nebulous commitment to “get together sometime,” we have an actual time to put on the calendar. Some festivals we go to every year are part of how I curate our family memories. They will probably be even better with friends.
  • Each family brings their own food to a picnic in the park, obviously. If one or the other family cannot show up for some reason, we are still somewhere fun (and I haven’t expended the effort of making a big dinner, ordering too much food, or even of finding a restaurant that meets all of our dietary requirements).
  • It is an excuse to explore different parts of our city. I am highly motivated by ice cream, so if certain friends live near a park not that far from an ice cream shop, I am making it happen. Friends we hardly see because they live in a different part of the metro area will be part of a destination play date.
  • There’s no excuse of a home or yard in utter disarray, for any of us to avoid making such a play date. Likewise, there’s no coordinating food preferences, and no dishes to wash afterward.

The payoff for a little planning is significant: conversation with adults reminds us that we are not just our jobs, even if that job is exclusively being a parent. That’s a payoff worth the effort!

Non-milestone anniversaries

“How did you two end up meeting? I can’t remember.”

My husband and I have been married for eleven years; I bet no one has asked me that in at least 5. For very good reason though: we’ve been parents for the past 5 years. While our two daughters are among the most wonderful parts of our marriage, they seem to have overtaken our outward identity as a couple (as a “family”) and even how we relate to one another most of the time. Becoming parents to each child was indeed an adventure that we braved together, but it was so little about “us” because it has to be all about the child for quite awhile in the beginning. So it was a genuinely surprising pleasure to visit the town where we were married, stay with a friend from that time of our lives, and (after the kids were asleep) to have her ask that question, “What’s the story of how you two got together, again?”

I had forgotten just a little bit the pace of our falling in love (not in my long-term memory, but you know, in my short-term memory and daily interactions). How we were such a good fit, and not only did we both know it so quickly, but others recognized it too. Our friend’s follow-up comments named that in ways we haven’t named to each other in awhile. “It sounds like you were really lucky to find the one person who…” she said. She’s right. But we haven’t thought about that luckiness lately.

There seems to be this horizonless middleness – maybe it is middle age? – where we aren’t peering into the exciting unknown with exhilaration, making the person whose hand we are gripping key to jumping off that cliff… because the present stretches on without much change in topography as far as the eye can see. The daily routine of taking care of and providing for kids (whom we love!) is part of the flat surface of the foreseeable future, but so is working without striving for a diploma or residency to complete.

Remembering who we were to each other at the beginning, prodded by someone who has had pretty limited experience of us in person since then, was just what we needed for one of these insignificant, non-milestone anniversary years. With a simple inquiry, she helped me to recover some gratefulness, and actual awe at what we have in each other.

Hand-me-down Church

This year, the hand-me-downs are downright thought-provoking.

Last fall they made me sentimental, because it was the first time my younger daughter fit into clothes that used to be her older sister’s, whom we adopted as a (tall) 2-year-old. Now as our pre-schooler tries on warm weather clothes from her older sister, it’s not just about misty-eyed remembrances for me. I’ve been “bridging” (read: filling in during a holding pattern) for a congregation that is awaiting a pastor re-developer. They are at that point in decline. The “hand-me-down” church they wished to pass on to the next generation does not fit, and in fact, even their direct descendents refuse to show up in it except for funerals.

Some of my daughter’s hand-me-downs have stains that have only come to light after years of being packed in boxes in the basement. Did I notice them when I first packed the clothes away? I can’t recall. Or maybe some of them, (like I learned baby spit-up stains can do) show up yellow after awhile of being out of laundry circulation, since they haven’t been in use for awhile. Church wounds can be like that too. Maybe we had no idea someone was still clinging onto something alienating a pastor or church member said to them years ago, but if it has been packed away and never dealt with, the stain may actually have taken hold deeper than it looked originally. And that’s why they are not here, but we will never know.

Also, my two daughters have bodies of different proportions and personalities. Our eldest grows out of the length of clothes long before anything becomes tight around the waist. For our youngest this is not the trajectory. Also, our first rarely has opinions about what she wants to wear or not, but our second throws over items if she struggles the slightest bit the first time she tries it on, or decides a half hour later it is intolerable and WILL NEVER BE WORN AGAIN. So I am glad they were hand-me-downs anyway. The same clothes look differently on them, or may be judged as “not right” for various and sundry reasons. Showing up for church dressed comfortably for yourself, with children behaving how they naturally behave, could lead to stares. Going to church to simply listen, when younger generations are accustomed to the pace and participation of social media, may seem to some like a waste of an hour or a silencing of their voices. They may not have a ready opinion until they try it on, but then feel like it just doesn’t fit them.

Most of our hand-me-downs are not precious. If they were mine as a child, saved by my mother, I don’t give them away. But the vast majority could be interchangeable with other clothing that fits within my parameters, whether it shows up in photos of my older daughter at this age or not. That’s the least sentimental way I feel about buildings or congregations with a long history. If there are congregations in a few mile radius or even closer to your home than this one, I acknowledge they are not the church of your long-standing memories, but they could become the congregation of your new ones. Memories are not a reason to keep setting out clothes no one will wear.

In a way, I am very much pro-hand-me-downs. It means less shopping (which I loathe) and less expense. It seems like good use of our resources, and the world’s resources, to reuse instead of buying new. But I don’t know that I feel the same about congregations. There may still be enough money and a building – resources that should indeed be used for good – but are the established culture, the tight-knit group that perceives belonging, and the history of that congregation ever going to fit a new generation? Is there a point of decline past which it is better to put the hand-me-downs out with the recycling instead of putting them on another child? I do that with clothes when I am too embarrassed to pass them on in the state they are in, to our friend’s daughter one year younger than my youngest. How do we determine that point for a congregation?