Into the Desert–A different way to think about Lent

I have always tried to find a better way to come at Lent with my kids.

This year is no different, as we are 1 day out and Annie is settled on giving up the monkey bars.

God bless her little heart, she loves her some monkey bars.

It’s probably too much to expect a 7-year-old to be reflective, but Gabe and Kate are now old enough to learn something from Lent.

And the idea of a token “sacrifice” of chocolate or cursing for 40 days has left me wanting more. Maybe because it was always presented to me as a small thing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

But what if that’s the wrong way to think about it?

Nothing I can do will ever match what Jesus did for me.

On Sunday, a solid catechism Bible Scavenger Hunt from my partner teacher Megan dropped a new way to frame Lent into my lap.

All three of the Temptation stories in the Gospels tell us Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to prepare for his ministry.

Why the desert? If the goal was solitude, why not a boat on the sea for forty days? Or a trek into the mountains?

Why the desperate, relentless austerity of the desert?

Yes, it calls back to the forty days Moses spent on the Mount before receiving the Ten Commandments and the forty years the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert and refutes the temptation, staying faithful to God, in contrast to both Adam and the Israelites. There’s a whole world of theological scholarship out there about these forty days.

But I’m just a mom in front of a laptop trying to figure out a way to grow faith in my kids, so I’m going with a boots on the ground application: Jesus went into the desert so he could focus.

In the desert, there are no distractions.

We are running with that this year: Focus—not on what we’re not doing, but on removing the distractions that turn us away from our relationship with God. Making our lives more like a desert for the next 40 days.

Pack up the toys, clothes, stuff that surrounds us. Clear out the clutter. Save money by forgoing nights out, expensive dinners, new things. Use less words, especially of the cursing and gossiping kind. Spend less time online wanting what we don’t have, or what someone else has. Spend less time watching news that is designed to scare, addict, divide. Reject all the ways we are tempted, as the devil tried to tempt Jesus, by the things of this world.

Practice simplicity. Prayer. Contemplation. Fasting.

Listen for the angels who will minister to us.

Open our hearts and hands every day to the word and will of God.

This will be our Lent, our walk in the desert. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

Violet and the Bangs

It has been a few months now, but a while back, I noticed one day that Violet, my 6-year-old, had bangs.  Suddenly. They appeared out of nowhere. The girls had just come back from a weekend at their dad’s and I asked her if she had gotten a haircut…. Nope.

Well, did your dad cut your bangs?  No.

Did your grandma?  No.

Violet, did you cut your bangs?  No.

And the Mystery of the Cut Bangs began.  

Periodically I would ask Violet about the bangs.  She always replied that she didn’t know what happened.  She couldn’t remember. She didn’t know if someone cut her bangs, or who.  It was all very strange.

Then about three months later, my older daughter, Mazie, who is 8, and I were cleaning out one of the toy bins.  I picked up a red plastic cup and Mazie said to me, “That’s the cup that Violet put her hair in.” What? “Yeah, after she cut her bangs.”

Mystery solved.  

I really didn’t care if Violet cut her bangs or not, and I told that to her.  She wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. But now, now she had been lying to me for months.  Lying to my face. And that hurt.  I do not want to raise a liar. 

Lies are slippery little suckers, aren’t they?  They’re a practiced behavior that sometimes start out so small and insignificant.  I’ve often told students that the first lie you tell someone is the hardest one to tell.  The first time you break that trust tears your guts out.  The next time you lie though, it’s easier. And the easier it gets, the bigger the lies become.  

I dated a guy once that would lie about anything.  If he had eggs for breakfast, he could swear on the Bible that he’d eaten cereal.  And he would lie about little things like that. At the time, it just didn’t make any sense to me, but when I found his emails with 4 other women, all of the lies began to unravel.  

Truth is big around these parts.  Jen and I had lots of conversations when we created this blog about Truth being the cornerstone of our writing.  I challenge you today to live in truth.  If you’re doing something you feel you need to lie about, I have an idea:  don’t do that thing! Don’t practice lying. Stop being good at it.  Walk in integrity. It’s so worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened with little Violet, this is how it went down:  She walked back in the room while we were cleaning, and I said, “Hey Violet, is this the cup you put your hair in when you cut your bangs?”  The poor little girl never had a chance. Without missing a beat she said, “Yep!”  And then her eyes got real big.  

Mama always knows. Game. Set. Match.

I want to tell you something about that kid who had to cut his dreads to wrestle.

The ref is the villain of this story. But the failure is not his. He has been honest about who he is.

The failure rests elsewhere.

Andrew Johnson is 16 years old. I know 16 year olds. They were my whole career. And I don’t need to know him personally to know things about him.

Like how he’s stuck in that difficult place between childhood and adulthood where it’s not always clear to him when he has the right to speak for himself.

That his default is still to defer to the adults in charge when he thinks he’s on shaky ground.

That he still believes people like teachers and coaches will defend him from those who would hurt him.

They are on the ones who failed him.

I watched the video of the trainer cutting his hair once. I yelled at her to stop, stop, stop. I waited for a coach to grab the scissors. I waited for someone’s mama, anyone’s mama to rush to the floor, wrap her arms around him and protect him.

We don’t know how Andrew feels about all this today, because he hasn’t spoken yet. But we saw how he felt about it after the match. And as I watched him cry, I knew one thing:

Not worth it, not worth it, not worth.

I wish to God that the story had been about the high school athletic trainer who was fired because she refused to cut a boy’s hair for a wrestling match. Or the coach who was arrested for unruly behavior towards a ref. Or at the very least, suspended from coaching for forfeiting the whole meet in protest of the ref’s decision.

I wish the video was of parents who came down from the stands and stood around the boy to protect him. Or all the coaches at the meet throwing the ref out of the gym.

Instead, there were adults who thought a forfeit was worse than cutting a child’s hair off his head.

Adults who thought their stony silence was enough.

Adults who should have known better.

Just a few years ago, I would have read this as a story about a nasty bigot. But since then, some of us have been forced to face truth about how far we have come with racial equality. Not as far as we thought. Only 13% of Division 1 college wrestlers are African-American, which means the sport is weak at recognizing and responding to racism in its ranks.

This was it.  An abuse of power by a man who had previously demonstrated his bigotry and been allowed to return to interacting with young athletes. And the complete failure of the adults around Andrew Johnson to protect him from that abuse.

Bigots need permission. Everyone who stood and watched gave it to him.

Poon With Marshmallows

My sainted grandmother used to make a thing that was called sweet potato poon.

It had marshmallows. That’s all I remember about it. That and the year she was NOT DRUNK, NOT DRUNK I TELL YOU and left it under the broiler until the marshmallows caught on fire.

A few years ago, I went looking for a poon recipe. Couldn’t find one. Not online. Not in my Charleston cookbook. Not in my Oklahoma cookbook.

I chalked it up to family tradition, kind of like the Charleston Shorts cookies she made every year, for which there is no recipe on earth.

Wednesday, I was reflecting on my Thanksgiving menu, and out of the clear blue sky, it hit me—maybe she meant pone. I will chalk this inspiration up to Outlander and Charles Frazier. I searched sweet potato pone and bingo—1 million recipes.

I called cousin Lesley and yelled “She meant PONE!” and because we’re family, she knew exactly what I was talking about. Then we conference called all our parents who happen to be staying in one place this week. We had a good laugh about the little ol’ lady from Charleston

“What is pone?” Lesley asked. Good question, especially since the pictures I was looking at online did not look like the poon I remembered. The official definition is unleavened cornbread in the form of flat oval cakes or loaves, originally as prepared with water by North American Indians and cooked in hot ashes.

No mention of marshmallows. Huh.

Thirty seconds after we hung up with our parents, my mom called me back.

“You aunt just went in and turned on the Today show and GUESS WHAT AL ROKER IS MAKING????”

This.

Poon

I could hear my grandmother laughing at me all the way from heaven.

PS: My English/Irish/Hawaiian husband cannot hear this word without snickering, thanks to the 70s. Turns out neither could Twitter after Al Roker’s segment, which drove some folks to investigate further and yes, poon is a Southern variation of the word pone.

PPS: I made the poon. I damn near burned the marshmallows. Broilers are a tricky business and it had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SPIKED EGGNOG.

100 Days

 

photo-59

Somehow in the mess of the world, I lost sight of the fact that IT’S OCTOBER.

And you know what that means??????

100 days of Holidays has officially begun!

We have red trees and orange trees and yellow trees and yes, that is SUPER early for us, but everyone is saying the 30 days of Smoke (which is quickly becoming another part of the Oregon social calendar) is to blame.

I’ll take it. The skies are blue and the clouds are fluffy and white and the smokey days of August seem so far away.

I am not coming at you with Halloween decor, or recipes for 10,000 things to do with an apple.

I’m going to start you off gently.

  1. It’s time to ask your kids what they want to be for Halloween. It is. I’m sorry.
  2. Go to this website and order the world’s greatest coffee: http://www.doorcountycoffee.com. I recommend Wisconsin Harvest and a BIG 5 LB BAG of Door County Christmas.

That’s it, friends. Two things. Ease into the crazy.

I’ll be back later with the stuff about the apples. In the meantime:

26 days til Halloween

48 days til Thanksgiving

81 days til Christmas.

 

Maybe Like Me

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that what happened to her, to you, to all your friends, was assault. Maybe you thought that a torn shirt or ripped jeans was not a crime. Maybe you knew someone who had been raped and told yourself “It wasn’t like that, so it must not have been anything.”

Maybe like me, you internalized the narrative that boys will be boys, and if you go where the boys and beers are, you know what you’re in for. Maybe you learned to stay away from the narrow spaces of clubs and bars where men seemed to stand and grab at every woman who walked by.  Maybe you gathered a tribe of sisters around you and pledged to keep each other safe. Maybe you told each other that it was the price to pay for a night out with drinks and dancing.

Maybe like me, you never wondered if the men had to do the same.

Maybe like me, one night you looked at your teammate broken on the beer soaked floor of the bar and decided you’d had enough. You socked the man who did that to her right in the eye. Maybe you felt great satisfaction for the two weeks he walked around campus with the black eye everyone knew you gave him.

Maybe it took you twenty years to realize that his black eye was poor payment for what he did to her.

Maybe like me, you still hate to walk into a bar alone. You hate it so much that even when your giant husband is with you, you make him go first so everyone in there knows you’re with him and that feels safer. Not safe. But safer.

Maybe like me, you haven’t counted the cost of being a young woman then. You didn’t realize how much you carried it with you until you heard people yelling “It was 35 years ago! You can’t hold that against him now!” and you knew that you have been holding it this whole time, the scar from that culture that patted drunk frat boys on the head and promised them the future.

Maybe like me, you’ve thought about that man you punched, and why you did it, and if you would have the courage to stand up and tell that story to the world if he was being considered for the highest court in the land.

And maybe like me, you’ve spent the last weeks really considering what Dr. Ford’s story means to her and to him–and to you–and how the world was then, and how it is now and what that should mean to her and to him–and to you–but the one thing you know for sure is that she isn’t lying.

Because like me, you saw it. You lived it. And that’s exactly how it happened.

 

 

Why I’m Staying In The Catholic Church

I learned that the clergy was full of liars in 1994.

We had a pedophile priest in our parish. His name was Ted Llanos and in 1994 he was accused of sexual abuse of a minor by a person connected to my family in such a way that we knew the accusations were true.

Two days later, I sat at a meeting in our parish hall, facilitated by Monsignor Timothy J. Dyer from the Los Angeles Archdiocese. When he was specifically asked the question “Has this happened before?” he said no.

My dad leaned over to my mom and said “He’s lying.”

It would be two years and dozens of victims coming forward from parish after parish before the lie could no longer be sustained.

Over the next ten years, the American Catholic Church instituted diocesan child protection plans that are too stupid to be believed. Background checks for the parent volunteers? Yes. Gnarly video with lay pedophiles who went to prison (making them different from their clergy brother pedophiles)? Yes again. Parents voicing their guilt and shame that their children were abused by priests? Trifecta.

Victim blaming because God forbid the church take the full and complete blame for any sin it has ever perpetrated in its 2000 year history.

In The Archdiocese of Portland, there have only been two incidents of alleged abuse since the institution of these programs. But that has everything to do with awareness and nothing to do with the clergy.

Now Pennsylvania proves to us that the clergy have not repented. The last 16 years have been a tap dance for the public. The church still keeps secret files. The church still pays lawyers to defend statutes of limitations. The church still lies—Vigano, I’m looking at you—to protect the priests over the children.

Enough already. And not like 16 years ago when all the words were right but the intentions were not. For reals this time. Real shame. Real accountability. Real penance. And until the clergy walk this road to Calvary of their own making, the rest of us HAVE TO STOP RECOGNBIZING THEIR AUTHORITY.

Yes, we need the man in the collar to make the Eucharist. It is his ordained spiritual gift. But we are all ordained through our sacramental vocations. He is different from a husband or a single man. But the idea that he is better is how we got here.

My pray-pay-obey sisters and brothers, listen up. You are a huge part of this problem. I know you live in the penance-punishment construct because you like to believe you are dirt on the bottom of God’s shoe, but here’s the thing: that’s NOT Gospel. And when you preach it and practice it—mostly against others, don’t think we haven’t noticed—your mental/emotional illness is showing. You have to cut it out because God really does loves you AND IT MAKES YOU COMPLICIT IN THE SEX ABUSE.

Yes, it does. Your sadistic Christianity requires an authoritarian regime and the wily and ambitious among the clergy were happy to volunteer. You gave them absolute power and we all know what Lord Acton said about that.

They are a brood of vipers but you are tending and defending their nest and that has got to stop. Same with Church Militant, FOCUS, Conservative Catholic America, EWTN and so on. They actively support clericalism and THEY ARE COMPLICIT AS WELL. Stop sending them money. Stop tuning in. Read your dang New Testament once in while in between sacrifice beads and daily fasting. Repeat after me: The children are more important than my addiction to feeling like a bad person all the time.

Here are the other things that need to happen:

  1. The church should work actively to reform the selection, formation and ordination of the clergy. The system is broke. Fix it already. Stop ordaining the mentally and emotionally ill.
  2. The church has to root out clericalism. Like, yesterday. Offer a stark choice: Accept your humanity with humility or turn in your collar.
  3. John Paul II—he knew. He called the accusers “enemies of the church”. He is complicit and should be stripped of his sainthood.
  4. Pope Benedict—he knew. He needs to say he knew and repent. He was the man in charge of investigating abuse cases and for the twenty years prior to his elevation as Pope, he opened not one investigation. He is complicit.
  5. OPEN THE FILES because the truth will set us free.

Which brings me to my point: Why do I stay?

The answer is simple: I have walked away from God and my faith, and that’s a fastpass to no good. I have been to other churches and while the people there are lovely, they are not my faith tribe.

The people kneeling next to me celebrating Eucharist are my faith tribe.

This is my beloved church. I will write, fight and pray.

But I will not cede it to the vipers.