Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Marathon Spirit

In the spring of 1996, I was finishing up my freshman year at Boston College. It was also the 100th running of the Boston Marathon that year. I made my way down to the finish to see it, and I can tell you, it was quite an event. 

Usually someone has to qualify to participate in the Boston Marathon, but for the 100th running, they let more runners in, if they raised a certain amount of sponsorship. These additional people weren’t all in the same condition that Boston Marathon runners may more typically exhibit. In other words, not everyone finished in under four hours. Or five. Or six, and I think some were still out there at seven and eight hours. 

I saw the first runners come into Copley Square, those elite bodies, practically jogging down Boylston street as if they’d just started a mile ago. We all cheered for them, and were so impressed with their accomplishment. I watched for a little while and then walked back around through the Boston Common to take in some of the sights. A few hours later, I had circled back to the finish line again - to see the folks coming in several hours after the winners.

I remember their facial expressions and body language being very different from what I had seen just a few hours ago. Far from relaxed and nonchalant, these folks were in pain. They looked utterly depleted. I imagine many of them headed straight for the medical tent after crossing that beautiful blue and yellow, 4’ wide finish line that was painted across Boylston St.; but in addition to the pain they must’ve felt, they also showed incredible relief, pride, and joy at just having completed the Boston Marathon, regardless of their time. 

Yesterday as I watched the scenes after the bombings in Boston, I had a lot of thoughts going through my head. Some of my earliest thoughts were for the runners - for those I knew had trained months, if not years for the chance to cross that line, and how many of them didn't get the chance to do that yesterday.

Of course my love and prayers go to everyone who was affected, and their families, along with the whole city of Boston. But I think it’s important that we especially remember the runners.

To be honest, I think it’s a very strange desire to want to run 26.2 miles. But these men and women push the human body to its limits, and they remind us of just how much we can accomplish if we just work hard and pour ourselves into something. Marathon runners remind us of the rewards of long-term commitment, sticking through something for the long haul, not just instant gratification. I don’t know if I could ever run a marathon, but marathon runners will always inspire me with their irrepressible spirit. 

May all of us, in the wake of this tragedy, be inspired by that marathon spirit, and may we persevere against hatred, resist vengeance, and remember that the struggle against fear and intolerance is a marathon - it’s going to take a while. It might be painful and exhausting. But no matter what our time is in the end, imagine the incredible relief, pride, and joy at just having completed the effort. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's Good About Good Friday?

My nearly six year old daughter asked me yesterday, “Why is Good Friday called that?” Despite the fact that I’m an ordained Christian minister, trained and supposedly able to answer questions such as this, my reaction was probably very similar to how anyone might react when asked such a deep question, with significant theological ramifications. I panicked. I mean, this is the religious equivalent of “Where do babies come from?”!

I said to her, out loud, trying to psych myself up, “I’m supposed to be able to answer that question, aren’t I.” 

In some traditions, they don’t blink at telling a kindergartener - “Because Jesus died for our sins on Good Friday. That’s why.” But I don’t want to give my daughter such an overly simplistic answer, especially one I don’t think fully covers the question. What happened on Good Friday was truly awful. Scandalous even. I don’t want to be the kind of parent that hides the truth from his kids, but nor do I want to give my kids more than they can developmentally handle at their age. 

So what’s a parent and a pastor supposed to do? 

We had a conversation at our church council meeting the other day about having a good bad day. And as it turned out, I think a lot of us came to understand that it is possible to have a bad day, that turns out to be good. We might’ve learned something important on that “bad” day. We might’ve been inspired to turn our lives in a different direction. Or, were it not for a particular event, we might not have met someone who turned out to be incredibly significant in our lives. To put it in another way, sometimes “bad” days, really aren’t all that bad. 

Bad and good sound like they should be different enough from each other that we should be able to easily tell the difference. But Good Friday is a perfect example of something that breaks down that theory of "good" being unambiguously good, and "bad" being unambiguously bad. Good and bad have a far closer relationship with each other than we sometimes admit. 

I ended up telling my daughter that when Jesus was killed, it was a bad day. It was very sad. But what it means is that no matter how bad of a day we have, God knows exactly how we feel, and is with us every step of the way. And the story ended up even better for Jesus, as we’ll hear on Easter morning. 

But in the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in the tough questions of this Holy Week. It’s nice to know we’re not alone - even when things seem really bad. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wailing, Lamentation, Weeping

"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." -Matthew 2:18

Every night, when I tuck my five year old into bed, she wraps her arms around my neck and gives me kisses. Every night, she doesn't want to let go, and I have to pull away, as it's really a bit of a stall tactic. Tonight, I held on to her as long as I could. She has no idea about what happened today in Connecticut. So I didn't hold onto her for her benefit, it was totally for me. 

Tonight, I didn't care that my 7-month-old spit up on my clothes, I just watched him chew on his Taggies toy that was also drenched in spit-up and drool, and loved watching him figure out how to move his hands around. 

I read an annoying princess book to my three-year-old, hardly paying attention to the words, as I wondered about what stories will help her handle such terrible events when she grows up. 

And as I came downstairs to my wife, a school psychologist in an elementary school, I could not help but be overwhelmed for Newtown, CT; for the parents who will never again get to read to their son or daughter, never again feel those arms around their neck or those slobbery kisses on their cheek. I could not but think of the families of Sandy Hook's school psychologist, the principal, and the other adults who dedicated their lives to building children into healthy young people, and who are no longer with us.

I am sick over this. Utterly sick. And furious. 

If anyone thinks for one second that I give a damn about someone's hobby, or that the second amendment is more important to this country than the sweet children who were lambs to the slaughter this morning, you are sorely mistaken. 

To the National Rifle Association and your cronies - you are a demonic force in our society. 

If you care more about your passtime than the precious lives of our children, you are sick. If you think this is some kind of protection against an out-of-control government, you are paranoid and delusional. 

If you start to tell me that people kill people, not guns, look into the faces of the parents who lost their babies today and tell them that. If you want to tell me it's too early to talk about gun control in the wake of this shooting, you could not be more wrong. For the students, staff, and families of Sandy Hook, it literally cannot be soon enough.

When I look into the eyes of my kindergartener, and I think about what might happen if someone walked into her classroom with one of these weapons, I am completely terrified. If we cannot have an honest, frank, sincere conversation in this country about sensible protections for the sake of our children, then we do not deserve the freedoms our Constitution provides. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

10 Arguments I'm Tired of Having

I'm getting increasingly tired of people claiming to be Christian, and at the same time, claiming that ignorance, discrimination, sexism, hatred, and intolerance are an inherent part of their religion. This is not the Christianity that I believe, nor is it consistent with my reading of Jesus. 

So here are 10 arguments I'm tired of having - in no particular order. 

1. Neither women's capacity to reproduce, nor their right to autonomy over that capacity, are a threat to Christianity.

2. Jesus told us to welcome strangers, not ask for their papers.

3. Jesus told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. He did not ask for a drug test first to see if they deserved it. 

4. Jesus healed people. He didn't ask for an insurance card, and he sure as hell didn't say "let 'em die" if they couldn't pay for the care.

5. No one has a divine right to own a gun. I'm pretty sure killing is not cool within Christianity.

6. What would Jesus do? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't claim that any kind of discrimination in his name is an exercise of religious freedom. 

7. Religion and science are not in competition. Knowledge blesses God. Neither science, nor history, nor geology, nor climatology, nor evolution, nor any other kind of scholarship are threatening to God or to Christianity. (If you're the kind of Christian who is threatened by these things, then blame your own lack of imagination, not Christianity.)

8. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer folks are made in God's image. God loves them. And if Jesus were around in June, I'm pretty sure he'd be marching in pride parades. 

9. I'm a Christian and I think free contraception is a good idea. Might even save lives. Pretty sure there's nothing about Christianity that is in conflict with contraception.

10. The only thing that can be interpreted from the Bible about marriage is that the definition of marriage has evolved over time. No reason why it can't continue to evolve.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

US Catholic Bishops Wrong on "Fortnight for Freedom"

I have a deep and abiding respect for the rich tradition and faith of my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I also hold a degree from a Jesuit institution. But the current project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the so-called “Fortnight for Freedom”, is just plain hypocrisy. 

The genesis of this project is the Health and Human Services Administration’s policy, ensuring free contraception for women from their health insurance providers. The Roman Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not new. But in the United States, a few religious authorities do not have any right to assume authority over citizens who do not share their confessional faith. Thus, the White House and HHS are actually defending religious freedom by protecting those workers who do not agree with Catholic doctrine, even if they're employed by a Catholic institution. 

I understand the opposition to contraception. However, an employee of a Catholic hospital or school should not have fewer rights than others simply because of their employer. A Jewish nurse or Protestant English teacher should be able to access birth control for free, as the same employee might at another workplace. And the Church has no right to prevent her from doing so, nor do they have a right to expect the State to enforce their objection.

In conversations about this topic, the problem tends to come from the money. Folks don’t want to have to pay for something they don’t support. I understand this. But first, it’s neither taxpayer money, nor institutional money being used, it’s the insurance company paying for it. Second, if money spent against one's wishes is problematic, where is the bishops' outrage in Catholics having to pay taxes that pay for wars? Taxes that pay to execute prisoners? Taxes that escalate violence and inhibit peace and justice? 

My hope and prayer is that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops can open their eyes to the many injustices around us - hunger, poverty, mass-incarceration, continuing inequality for people of color, for women, for immigrants, and for many other minorities. Jesus was a lot more concerned about these issues than he was about birth control.