Monthly Archives: January 2022
I grew up sheltered. I grew up with the shelter of a house and home. I grew up sheltered in a neighborhood of care and protection where almost everybody knew your name. I grew up sheltered in a religious community that sought to enrich and nurture me in safety and solace. I grew up sheltered by educators who cultivated an environment of learning and growth that presented challenges but at a “rate I could handle” with all the abundant resources of a high property value school district.
But I also grew up sheltered… buffered. Insulated. Because all these people and things that loved me and wanted to protect me and my childhood buffered me from realities of the world I wasn’t “ready” to experience or weren’t considered “safe”. I was buffered from racial diversity. I was buffered from poverty. I was buffered from almost everything that didn’t conform to the norms of my safe world. I was buffered so well that I find myself at times a resident alien to the world – an anomaly poorly trained at a fundamental level to engage and connect emotionally with the broad diversity of life.
I don’t fault anyone for that – who doesn’t want to protect our children? Who doesn’t choose to live in comfort? Who doesn’t secure abundance if that choice is available to them and the resources required to make it happen are given to you? And if to do that we shelter our children from the wider world, where is the harm in that? Is that not the job of a parent? There was no intent to harm here… but harm did happen. I was raised to care. But I was insulated enough that my circle of care was very small and occurred at very little cost to myself. A little hyperbole that is in fact closer to the truth than we want to admit: at best I took field trips to a different world (resident alien that I am) so that I could do some safe caring for a moment and then go back to my haven feeling better about myself. And because of this, I have come to believe that I grew up in the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel: a place crafted by well-meaning people to secure an unchanging posterity-revering life of prosperity with high strong walls to keep the insiders safe from all that was outside.
What happens when the outsiders come in?
The larger Boise community has been caught in a deep and revealing conflict for the last year. A beloved institution broke an unwritten rule: they brought outsiders to our front door. Interfaith Sanctuary has been a valuable and highly lauded member of the Boise community for years. It is our city’s only no-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness. It provides shelter for people who have none. It is hard work. It has not always gone well. But loving and dedicated servant-leaders made sure to create an environment of dignity and health for those who too often were only shunned. And their work was recognized, and they were a respected leader in our city… and I think now I recognized that part of that was because it existed outside our walls. It was in a place where many of us never go… and it kept people there who we would rather not encounter on a daily basis. I didn’t realize that – I’m not sure Interfaith realized that – until they tried to move to a new location. A location INSIDE our walls. And then the community erupted.
I have friends and congregation members who do not approve of the Interfaith’s move proposal. They are still my friends and I’m still their pastor. I understand their reasons and sometimes I’m inclined to share them. I have friends and colleagues who are part of planning and supporting the move. I think they made some missteps and assumptions along the way, and I think the process has been obscure and poorly handled by various parties on all sides (and there are many sides to this one)… but I don’t think it means it’s not the right idea, nor do I doubt any of the motives to create well-being for all the residents of Boise. All the residents.
This conversation is a volcanic whirlwind and since we cannot go backward, we have to move forward from where we are… and the only way we can even begin to do that is if we first all put down our stones we are slinging at each other. The most hurtful part of this whole process for me, other than the stripping of dignity and worth of my neighbors who already have been stripped of house and home, is the way we have treated and characterized and bullied each other in the process. I realize that the neighborhood I live in now, like the neighborhoods of my childhood, is a construct, a house of cards – and I know now that I do not like what I see when the cards all get thrown on the table. We are harming each other by exclusion, by name-calling, by celebrating the dehumanizing of our neighbors, and by making it clear that some people are only welcome if they stay outside our walls… in other words, they aren’t welcome at all. The excuses we tell ourselves and each other are poor covers for the truth and I do not think any of us like the truths we are learning in this process. But a core value of my life is putting myself in places to grow and expand my worldview and to let go of the curtains I have used to hide the more shameful truth claims I cling to.
Since my childhood I have spent time in the rural Philippines learning and being taught by many wonderful people to see the world from other eyes, I worked as a chaplain in an inner-city hospital in Atlanta rapidly expanding my experience of diversity on all the spectrums. I have been a church pastor, a legislative advocate on behalf of the underrepresented, and become deeply involved in the work of trying to end homelessness – a goal that is laudable, and I believe achievable, but is long and hard which means in the meantime we NEED no barrier shelters that are working to maintain the dignity and health of our neighbors, friends, and family. I have learned a lot since my childhood… but that kid is still in me. I still fear. I still feel like a resident alien. I still yearn secretly for an insulated and buffered life. And I still have a temptation to “other” people who don’t look, speak, and act like me. I’m not proud of it – but it happens. I am not done learning to be more than that… I have a lot of growing and experiencing still to do.
I want to build a world where children do not carry the trauma of homelessness in their bones for the rest of their lives. I want to build a world where children do not learn to fear people who aren’t like themselves. I want to build a world of bridges and a diverse community. I want to tear down all the walls… even my own. I hope that Boise can be that kind of place. We have a lot of work to do. It will be hard. It will be scary. And that is why we have to do it together. And together starts when we all lay down our stones, come out of our glasshouses… and welcome one another in vulnerability and grace. Let’s build that Boise together.
In our Bible Study on Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, you get a window into Paul’s pastoral heart – and it’s filled with joy, generosity, and yearning for the well-being of the people of Philippi. In fact, it stands in stark contrast to the opinion so many people have of Paul. Paul gets accused of much, and I’m one of those people who has done it. Much of our accusations are based on a very small picture of his character: big ego, manipulative, high-level circular rhetoric… confusing as can be. We are grossly unfair to him. He didn’t know we would be reading these letters. He wasn’t writing them to us for sure, and yet we are prepared to judge him based on a view of a few poorly transcribed handwritten letters from 2,000 years ago.
I am guilty as charged. And yet… I feel very drawn to Paul. I am an easily frustrated person who is bad at hiding my frustration. I spent much of my early years “playing from behind” in sports and academics, it has created in me a natural defensiveness that is often harmful. I easily fall into hyper-critical mode and can be more than a jerk, and more than a little intellectually condescending. I also make intuitive leaps and regularly must remind myself, “let them tell me their truth – don’t assume it on their behalf or pretend you know better.” And I’m rightly judged on those faults often enough to feel some kinship with quick assessments of Paul’s character.
However, I’m more than those faults. I am good at assessing data and making jumps and correlations that others don’t always see – taking disparate building blocks and turning them into something never intended. I move from slow methodical planning to quick agile responsiveness with some ease. I have a gift for putting into words another person’s feelings or experience in ways they are grateful for – the place this comes up the most is in memorial services. Failed humility moment: I’m good at them. Because I am good at hearing the story of a person beneath the stories that get told and giving that larger story voice. And these traits are all ALSO true… alongside my jerkiness… my quick leaps to critical opinions… and my defensiveness.
We are more than our worst moments, and we are less than our best. We are a convoluted mess of gifts and challenges. All of us are – no matter how enlightened one may appear to be. It is easy to worship a person who you never drew close enough to be annoyed by… it’s also easy to demonize them. Because unless we get close enough – we will never learn the all.
We did some work as a staff with Brené Brown’s BRAVING acronym at the end of last year and one insight has stuck with me. It’s the G which stands for generosity – but maybe not how you think. “Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”
Those are words I’m writing on my heart… and my doorpost and I commend them to you as well. We are a mess (in so many ways), we deserve to give ourselves and each other the most generous read possible.
I typically like to send out a reflection device for the new year to members of my congregation. Sometimes it’s a worksheet, one year we wrote “letters to the new year”, sometimes it’s just some thoughts to ponder. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday this year I was thinking “values audit”. What does it look like to evaluate how well our life is being lived by our core values? For some of us, that may mean even needing to identify, “what are my core values?” I think you will find we have many, and not all of them are as fundamental to our identity as others… I typically group my values into three categories:
These are things that are so important to me that to betray these values is to betray myself. These may be about family, faith, politics, personal and public economics. Regardless these are life-long enculturated and nurtured truth claims. When I find myself in a heated argument with someone it is likely because one of these values is “at stake” in the argument.
These are values I cling to but have some more give than central, core, or fundamental values. Many of these I will think of as essential values until they rub up against those core values and then they always take a back seat.
These are things you like and want to be… but they are major motivators of your actual priorities. Again, for me, what sets each tier of value apart is which ones win out (most often) when they come into conflict.
When you are “too busy” you will choose which values win.
When “money is tight” you will choose which values you put your money towards.
The Gospel of Matthew makes an important point when it says “where your treasure is, there your heart is also,” no values audit is complete without opening your checkbook or your online banking records, and seeing where your money actually goes… a budget is a values statement. So too is our family calendar because it measures the time we are willing to give to different things… and the time we are willing to give is a demonstration of values.
The point of a values audit in short is to say… does it turn out that things I would claim are central values regularly lose out in actual practice to things I claim are not? If so… I’m deceiving myself about the importance of those values or I have allowed myself to lose track of my priorities. I have lots more to say on the subject… but I think the point here is to offer you a chance to do the talking, to yourself. So, I invite you to engage yourself in your own values audit. Be honest and be open to learning things you aren’t proud of and celebrate things you haven’t given yourself credit for, and then figure out – what do I want to change here. Through it all, be grace-filled – honest interrogation can also be done gently and with care…self-care. And most likely this is also a conversation you will need to have with people in your life for whom those changes will matter because it will affect them, or you will need them to help hold you to the changes you wish to make. We cannot do it alone (central value alert!)
For further conversation about conducting your own values audit, here is a way to frame the conversation that may prove helpful: https://medium.com/the-ascent/why-i-gave-myself-a-values-audit-c1ade51af6a
And I hope this exercise proves insightful and fruitful for you.
There are many ways I’m feeling the bleakness. Directly or through shared pain…. Uncaring neighborhoods. Raging pandemic. All too many deaths of friends and congregation members and family. Challenging diagnosis. Lack of resolve to remove toxic patterns. The cold wet mud sucking reality that this is a hard world.
This image is holding my center however.
Shared to me by a friend and coworker, this is happened late afternoon today. The manger is still on our chancel for Christmastide before it gets replaced by baptismal font for the Baptism of Jesus Sunday this weekend. And it’s being bathed in the yellow glow of one of our stained glass windows. But it’s not just any window. All the windows on that side are red and blue.. except one. One bright window of whites and yellows on a wall of deep reds and blues. That window? It’s the “I am the Resurrection” window. That’s right… like the star in the sky for the magi of old that light is shining into the bleakness to remind me that hope is born anew, and joy comes with the morning.
Epiphany may be Thursday… by mine was today. And I’m humbled and warmed, worshipful and empowered to keep trying to be light and warmth in the bleak midwinter.