About Abby Norman

I live and work and love in the city of Atlanta. Former teacher, future preacher, current wife and mother and writer. Always looking for more Jesus.

Good Friday Thoughts

I preached last night, and though I am truly a resurrection girl, I am finding the importance of slowing down to sit in the dying. Here are my thoughts for Good Friday 2018.

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

22 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

    and by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,

    enthroned on the praises[a] of Israel.

4 In you our fathers trusted;

    they trusted, and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried and were rescued;

    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,

    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;

    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;

8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;

    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;

    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.

10 On you was I cast from my birth,

    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Be not far from me,

    for trouble is near,

    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;

    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

13 they open wide their mouths at me,

    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,

    and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

    it is melted within my breast;

15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,

    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;

    a company of evildoers encircles me;

they have pierced my hands and feet[b]—

17 I can count all my bones—

they stare and gloat over me;

18 they divide my garments among them,

    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!

    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

    my precious life from the power of the dog!

21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!

You have rescued[c] me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;

    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!

    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,

    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or abhorred

    the affliction of the afflicted,

and he has not hidden his face from him,

    but has heard, when he cried to him.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This is a line you would expect to hear on Good Friday. This is a thing Jesus said from the cross. But this is a word we have learned intuitively we are not supposed to utter. We are only supposed to quote. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus says that. We don’t say that. Even if it feels like it, even if we think it, we don’t say it out loud. Good Christians don’t mention that they feel God-forsaken.

But what if we did?

Because, as it turns out Jesus was not the first to cry out to God in this way. Jesus is quoting someone to. According to our traditions Jesus is crying out to God just as David did before him.

While this psalm certainly points prophetically to the experience of Jesus on the cross, it is written in the midst of David’s life some 1000 years before. And if I am honest, and oh Lord do I not want to be, in my darkest moments I have cried out to a God, who I was sure had forsaken me. I have been sure that my circumstances were God-forsaken, that I was alone.

And those of us who have been there know how dark, scary, and hopeless that place is, the place where we are crying out that God has forsaken us. And when there is nothing else to offer to ourselves or our loved ones we can offer this. You are not alone. Me too. David too. Jesus too. We too have cried out that God has forsaken us.

For most of us, our God forsaken moments show up in the darkest corners of our lives, where no one else sees or enters or even knows about. Ones we do not tell anyone else about. But not Jesus. At the moment of deepest despair Jesus is splayed on the cross, a spectacle of suffering that the Empire might prove once and for all that they are in charge. The empire believed that the humanity of Jesus was the place he could be pierced, and they were right. They jabbed him in the side and humiliated him. They ripped his clothes off of him and raffled them off. The empire was not just seeking to get rid of Jesus, but to make a mockery of him, to hold his body up to the crowds as a reminder of just what they might have coming to them.

And you know what? They did make an example of Jesus.

I am poured out like water,

    and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

    it is melted within my breast;

15 my strength is dried up like a pot shard,

    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

    you lay me in the dust of death.

Jesus, the living water, was poured out, in front us, because of us, for us, and with us. Jesus cries out forsaken and completely forsaken for us, like water. Like living water, poured out for us.

Jesus, who sits at the well and proclaims to the thirsty woman that he is the living water that will never run out, is nailed to a cross and poured out for us. And just like water that is poured onto the ground, the living water is always drawn to the lowest points. The tiniest cracks, the deepest crevices, the water runs into the places that are our deepest wounds. The places of suffering are not the places we need to handle before we come to Jesus, the places of suffering are where we find Jesus, where Jesus already is.

On the cross, Jesus, the living water is poured out before us and just like water that starts in the sky, and the mountains and the springs that start rivers, water always eventually finds the oceans, because Jesus always moves to the lowest point. Jesus always meets us in our lowest point, because Jesus took on our lowest point was poured out, dried up, heart melted like wax. On the cross Jesus took on our suffering, joined us in solidarity, saved us from our sin, ourselves, redeemed our brokenness

We worship a crucified savior, one who showed himself as deeply human, pierced and mortified on a cross. And we have been asked to join him there. Because he joins us there, meets us like water rushes into our lowest points, whispers to us me too. I too have been humiliated. I too have been abandoned, I too have been totally sure that I was God forsaken. Me too.

Can I tell you that this solidarity seems like such a small thing when it is all I have to offer my suffering friends? Can I tell you that it feels impossibly small to offer solidarity to my friends who I have no answers for? They are facing terrible things, illness, poverty, injustice, a system that is stacked against them as they fight for their lives and the lives of their children. How do you offer solidarity when there is so much more that needs to be done, and nothing else that you are in control of?

Are you willing to be poured out for those? If we say we are Christians are we willing to follow Jesus to the cross, to offer our literal bodies in solidarity for our neighbors and friends who are suffering, who are being persecuted, who are dying at the hands of the empire? Are we willing to stand next to those we claim to love and advocate for and cry out with them WHY HAS GOD FORSAKEN THEM? To feel dry as a piece of broken pottery in the desert, to feel our heart melt with the injustice of it all?

Why would we do that? Why would we not protect those pieces of humanity with everything we’ve got and say look I am sorry you are having those problems but we need to protect ourselves here. We need to hedge our bets and hide our weak points. We need our humanity not on display. The empire takes the humanity of Jesus attempts to weaponize it, to prove to us that Jesus was not who he said he was, but instead Jesus calls from the cross that he is with us! That he is poured out and will meet us, in our suffering, in our agony, in our death.

The empire says look at how God has forsaken Jesus, and Jesus cries out YES! Me too! Though he did not have to, Jesus claims solidarity with the battered and broken bits of humanity, the lowest point we are trying desperately to avoid is exactly where the living water meets us.

For he has not despised or abhorred

    the affliction of the afflicted,

and he has not hidden his face from him,

    but has heard, when he cried to him.

The world may ask us to hide our wounds, to tidy up our messes, and pull a curtain over our dark places, but Jesus does not. Jesus meets us there. He does not abhor the affliction or the afflicted. He does not hide his face from our suffering. He has heard us when we cry.

And those are the places we can meet Jesus. On the cross Jesus met us in all of our suffering, in all of our mess, even the places we are sure God has forsaken

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Brown vs. Board vs. But what about My Baby?

Linda Brown has died, the woman who was a little girl when her father sued for the right to sent her to the school just five blocks away, instead of to the school 20 blocks away has passed on from this world. Her name became a lightning rod for school de-segregation. The little girl who showed up as the only, she has died as an old woman, and I wonder what kind of progress we have made.

The NPR story I was listening to tells me that since 1988 we have seen a decline in school integration and we are currently at the levels of segregation present in 1968. We are not going forward. We are not making progress. We are not moving forward. We are re-segregating ourselves and we are doing it with the false cry “but what about my baby?”

As our nation pours more and more money into charter schools, touting school choice as the answer to all of our educational woes, despite the fact that the long term research shows that charter schools preform at level or worse than public schools even though they tend to operate with bigger budgets and less kids with special needs. As our cities experience a resurgence in people and property values and push our poorest neighbors into places they have no community assets to rely on, still our schools stay segregated and our communities, while now next door to each other, mostly remain unchanged.

White people, this is on us. We do this. The re-segregation of our schools is on purpose and we are to blame. People claim that what they want is a diverse school, what they mean is they want a white school where kids of color attend. When they say they want their children to have immersion experiences in other cultures they mean ones they approve of as appropriately educational. We want our kids to be stretched, but in a way that is comfortable for us. We glaze all that over with “but what about my baby?”

What about your baby? What if you believed your baby could and would thrive, despite your discomfort, despite your nervousness, despite your understanding that the white way to do everything is always the way it should be done.

Every white person I know thinks Linda Brown and her father are heroes. Every white person I know will tell you that they would LOVE for their child to be in a multi-racial school. Most white people I know have a long list of reasons their kids simply cannot go to the neighborhood school. The ratings are bad, they know one person one time who had a bad experience, their kid is extra sensitive, or extra gifted, and simply need a different school, they don’t want their kid to be the only, they don’t know anyone else who goes to that school.

And what I hear, when I hear all of that is “I think my child is better and deserves better then the other children in my neighborhood. I think my child is smarter or more special, more in need of protection. I think the people I socialize are better than the people I live next to, and I want to do what they are doing.”

I hear “while the neighborhood may be good enough for us, the school is not because we are better than our neighbors.” and “I am willing to sacrifice the good of the whole of our community for the comfort of myself and my family.”

I don’t know what to say to that, except it isn’t the neighborhood school that needs saving, it is your moral compass. 

We have been in our “failing” neighborhood school for the past four years. Both of our girls go there and we still really love it. As my neighborhood gets whiter and more affluent slowly, slowly, the school is changing. In fact when a neighbor toured it and expressed a positive opinion someone on the local Facebook group replied “I would not even send my dog there.” The vested interest of people who have not set foot in the building in years to make sure everyone thinks that the school is terrible is bordering on pathological. I called her and we talked about it and she has happily sent her kid to the school since December.

I see my white liberal friends moving into neighborhoods like mine, ringing their hands over segregated schools, then jumping through hoops to make sure their kid goes to a majority white school. If we believe in de-segregation WE have to de-segregate. If we really believe what we say we believe, if Black Lives Matter, then black kids and black schools matter enough for us to go to them, to invest in them, to learn to not have it our way all the time.

If white people want our kids to live in a truly diversified experience then we need to purposely place our children in communities that do not center whiteness. We live in a world that centers whiteness and it took me almost thirty years to really notice. My kids already notice and think it is weird. We need to want to de-segregate because the white community desperately needs it, not because it fits our liberal ideals.

And we will only put our children where our mouth is when we really and truly believe that Black Lives Matter on their own accord, and not just when they are sprinkled into white schools.

#Thisisnotokay (and we’re not “sis”)

Hi, Hey there, White ladies. We need to talk.

No, like we REALLY need to talk, and I know that in this climate it is generally a poor choice to have a white lady only meeting and publish it on the internet. But, I think this is the one time it is okay. Because what we need to talk about is whiteness. What we need to talk about is what it means to be a white lady, and how much like my friends who raise boys sometimes whisper in their ears “you will not grow up to be trash men” I sometimes look in the news and at my daughters and saw “we are not that kind of white person.” Because right now, too many of you are.

I need you to know, before we start talking about this specific problem that it is not a one off, you know? This not like everything is totally hunky dory except this one tiny thing and if we correct it then we can and dance in the sun like we are all in that classic coke commercial where everyone is skinny and beautiful and happy. I know that us white ladies really like to pretend that is what is happening. It is not.

Do you know how irritating it is to be told by men how safe we are when they don’t even know to ask someone to watch their drink, or to pretend they are talking on the phone, or turn their keys into wolverine claws when they are walking alone in the dark? Like come ON man you couldn’t make it a week! Do you know how annoying it is when you are explaining to someone the dumb stuff that a man asked you about why it takes so long to get ready in the morning, the same man who commented you on your “natural look” when it took thirty minutes for your to wing your eyeliner correctly. Like…..how do you even respond to a person who thinks winged eyes are natural?

Sigh. I feel  like because we now all the dumb stuff men say to us, we should be sensitive to the fact that perhaps we don’t know everything about being a black woman, and that there are perhaps some experiences we do not, and should not have access to. There is a reason I love girls night, and I love my husband but he is not invited because it is girls night. It is not for him. Just like when you walk in the room it changes the dynamic between your kids. I do not care how much you and they want to be there, it is just different. Y’all no matter how down, or woke, or whatever you want to call it you THINK you are, if you are white, your presence changes the dynamic of a primarily black space. It just does.

And this is why we need to talk about #youoksis and how it isn’t ours to use. #Youoksis is brilliant, a social media campaign designed to not only talk about street harassment, but also give people the tool of centering the person who is being harassed. And the SIS that part is important and it is on purpose. Very often when street harassment is being portrayed in the media white women are the victims even though black women are even MORE likely to be hollered at inappropriately (Pro tip: you cannot holler at a woman you do not know appropriately.) with a three word hashtag Feminista Jones was able to center black women, tell us how to fix the problem, and also totally benefit ALL women who would like to just walk to their car in peace. It is genius, and it is by a black woman and centers black women, and all of that is on purpose. We benefit from it, but it isn’t designed for us. In fact #youoksis was designed in response to the fact that very often black women are ignored when discussing street harassment.

So imagine my horror when I came upon this #youoksis concert put on by, featuring, and I believe benefitting white women. Like COME ON! The hashtag has sis in it! White women do not call each other that! How could you not pick up on that. Well, they COULD Abby, maybe they do, you don’t know. I know that if they do, they need to stop.

Look, you know how your best friend can call you bitch, or a dear friend can refer to you as girl, but your husband or your male boss cannot? Yeah. That is the same dynamic happening here. There are black women in my life who love me like a sister. I care for them as I do my sisters. I do not call them sis. Because I am not allowed to and it sounds stupid coming out of my mouth anyway! I do not even call my own biological raised in the same house group text each other five hundred times a day sisters sis. We do not use that word. It is not ours to use. We were GRACIOUSLY included in #youoksis and we were being helped by it, but then we did the thing we do and we took it and made it ours.

And please PLEASE do not tell me that it is okay because some person of color handed you a “black card” that is not real and you do not get one. You just don’t. You want to know why? Because we aren’t black and we inevitably prove it. Like the one and only time I was awarded a black card only to look at the offerers shirt signaling he was a proud member of a black fraternity…and squealed in delight because I thought the shirt was signaling his affiliation with Hufflepuff, a Harry Potter house. Oh the caucasity.

#YouOKSis is by black women for black women and a freaking concert where only white women are represented is the whole reason so many black women don’t trust us. We need to do better, because we do know better, even when we pretend we don’t.

Guns are not the answer Teachers are begging for

Guns are not the answer teachers are begging for. Teachers are begging for a lot of things, the right to carry a gun into a classroom is not one of them.

I taught english in three different high schools over the course of 9 years. In that time I asked for a lot of things, never once was one of those things a gun. I sometimes debated my students with the policy “Teachers should have the right to carry and use tasers in the classroom” but I taught them to debate well, and they always beat me. Weaponizing teachers is a terrible idea.

The thing that is so infuriating about the idea of weaponizing teachers is that it intones a level of trust and respect for the institution of teaching the public abandoned before I ever got my license to teach. It is infuriating to me that the same politicians who voted to make tests the end all be all because teachers could not be trusted to actually teach children, are now so trusting in teachers they would allow a teacher to carry a loaded gun into a classroom?

You have got to be kidding me.

There are a million things I needed trusted about and was not given that trust. I needed trusted that I knew my kids well enough to know when they needed to ditch the lesson plans and write it out because something terrible had happened. Emotional development was “not part of my job” and “not standards based” (even though I was a language arts teacher and we were writing and talking about it and very often attaching it to the experiences of the characters in the book we were reading) and “not part of my job.”

I needed to be trusted when I said a kid was not okay, especially a kid I knew from ninth and tenth grade. I needed to be trusted that my understanding of that kid was not a one off, that I had tried to talk to them. I needed social workers and counselors who were not overwhelmed by paper work and scheduling and all the paperwork things that take up their whole job. I needed a mental health professional in the high school, not a list of people that I could email parents who may or may not care or have the capacity or insurance money to be able to do anything about it.

The idea of having teachers carry guns is a way, I think, of ackowledging that teachers are the front lines of protecting kids, and that much is true. Teachers ARE the front lines of protecting kids. But this is not the way we should be protecting kids, not with guns, not like that.

We can protect kids if you listen to us. I sat in a classroom and really got to know my students. I knew who was having a bad week and whose dog died. I knew who needed me to put my hand on their back and who needed to be told to take a lap around the hallway. I knew them. I knew when something was off, I knew who was a danger to themselves and others. I knew how to teach them so I could have this kind of relationship with them and also talk about Shakespeare.

I did not know all my kids like this, but enough. There were 5 other periods in the day. A kid could connect with at least two adults a day. But I was told this was a waste of instructional time. Why did I ask them how their day was when I could spend four more minutes teaching about gerunds? Why would I get to know them? Emotional intellegence is not in the standards? Waste of time. Waste of time. Now you want us to shoot them?

There are so many things that teachers need. You are right to assume we are on the front lines of keeping the kids safe. Can you please just give teachers the resources they are asking for? They don’t need guns, they need you to trust them as experts in their field, as experts who educate their kids. They do need your support and your trust to do emotional well being work with the kids. Teachers don’t need guns.

Star Dust to Star Dust

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. For the first time I put ashes on people’s heads as their pastor. I have such affectionate feelings for my congregation I can hardly stand it. Like a new mom trying to show everyone I can how sweet this church is. And I put ashes on their head to remind them that they die. I did it to my own children also, who looked back at me with their eyes that look like mine and my mothers, with teeth and personalities they are still growing into.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

One of the things that sets Christianity apart is that we talk about death. You can get community and zen moments and laughter and thoughtfullness or yoga or book club. No one at your mommy kiddo strollercize is going to remind you that one day you will die. I guess they could but that would be awkward.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I think it is important to remember that we all die, that death is a part of this thing, that we cannot out run it, out smart it, out invent it. We will die. This thing here that we are doing is not forever. There was something before. There is something after. That something is God. We belong to God.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Last night I was reminded that also from God we belong, and to God we will return. We come from a God who made us from dust and breathed life into us. We come from a God who is molding us like clay….like wet dust. We are not finished, we can be reworked, we are from clay, and we are being worked by a master and even if we mess it up it can be reworked.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Dust in my house is useless and gross, but in God’s hands dust is the beginning of all. It is like molecules and atoms, the building blocks of life. God uses dust to make us, and we will return to dust one day. And God uses dust to make the stars, the stars that sing of His glory. The stars that shine in the darkness. The stars that lead us home.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Star dust, wet dust, beauty in the hands of God.

 

 

Persisting and What the Church is For

I had the most horrible procedure I have ever had on Wednesday. I told the very pregnant woman shoving the tube down my throat that I would WAY rather give natural birth again than do the thing where they test my esophagus. Then we talked about my favorite birthing books and how she could TOTALLY do this, because I am always me.

My esophagus failed spectacularly. Even my body doesn’t do anything half way. If it only exerts 60 percent of swallowing pressure you need surgery. Mine exerts 0 percent swallowing pressure. Just a free fall down to my stomach.

With my new church and my school work and my already full plate we don’t really have room for an emergency. We don’t have room for a mom who is tired because she isn’t getting enough calories. We just don’t have room.

It is really easy to blame myself in all of this. If I could just not have a broken esophagus. If I had not over filled my plate. If I could just write faster, work harder, do better. If I could just be more then I would not be behind on the laundry and desperate for a nap. If I could just….

Here is what I know to be true: This new church gig I picked up is so perfectly orchestrated for me I am sure this is what God has. I am sure I am supposed to be in seminary. I am sure my family is well cared for. I am sure I am supposed to be doing all of the things. I am not sure how the dog is going to get walked.

The really really brave thing I did today was ask. I had my church set up a meal train. I asked my people to walk my dog. I invited people to pre-blend me soup. I cannot believe how hard this is for me.

I love helping people. Making food for people is my love language. There is no meal train I do not want to sign up for, no person in my church who I would not want to make a casserole for. There is nothing you could do to make me feel more loved than to feed me or my family. If I am supposed to do all the things I know I am supposed to do I also need to let people love me. Not from afar, but actually in my own house with food and dog walking and if I get really brave laundry folding.

I have persist for this year, and I have been given impossible things to persist through on my own. But maybe I don’t have to do it that way.

When I was in the third grade my mother had a seizure and could not drive. My predominant memories of that time are of casseroles with noodles and meatballs and red sauce, of being picked up and dropped off by people that I knew vaguely as my mom’s friends from choir. When people ask me about what the church should be, this is still what I tell them. Church is for casserole drop off and getting your kids to piano lessons when you can’t.

What a gift to my girls. Church is for walking your dog and bringing your mom blended soup and meals when she can’t cook. Hallelujah. Together we can do this.

 

When I am Longing for a New Hope

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address last night. This is sort of a big deal for me. In college I hung out with the kinds of ladies who hosted SOTU watch parties and joked about Ted Kennedy hosting a party every year afterward. (We used to just call the whole night the “Kegger at Ted’s.) I couldn’t watch it. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t watch the clapping on one side the stone faces on the other. I couldn’t stand to hear one more “immigrants are murders” jab that is just soft enough no one has to own what they say. I don’t want to think of politics as a zero sum game where if I am winning the other side is losing. I love people on the other side too.

So instead, I sent emails and made phone calls. I sent a text message about what should be played in church on Sunday and I started writing my very first sermon for my very first church appointment. In the midst of a political scene that feels chaotic and scary, God and my district superintendent were quietly ordering my next steps in ministry.

The name of the church is New Hope, and I feel like a proud mother showing off pictures of the beautiful building and telling the stories of the kind people I have already met. I am dreaming with the community that also loves this place about what the future may look like. What might New Hope look like in this world?

At the beginning of my seminary journey, when I thought I was going to be a youth pastor, God whispered to me that I was being prepared for a new thing, a thing that hadn’t been tried before, and here I am on the front edge of a missional partner church. I get to still be on staff at the church I have grown so much in and am so supported in, and I get to preach every week at New Hope and together we all get to figure out what this partnership might look like. I am a really bad loan wolf, but now I get to keep my pack and be a pastor to a church and we all get to live through new ways of doing things. We all get to figure out what God’s New Hope is together.

There are so many things I am excited about, so many things we are beginning to dream about, so much to learn. So many ways this feels like the very right next step for me. I had no idea this was a possibility until it was handed to me. No we don’t know exactly what a New Hope might look like, but we know it is God’s and we know we are grateful for it. This world needs a little more New Hope in the world.

Sunday is my first sermon. We meet at 11. All are welcome. I sure would appreciate your prayers.