Bullies and the Hands and Feet of Jesus

The movie Bully is coming out in theatres everywhere tomorrow. It has been creating a lot of press, and I am intrigued. The movie follows the lives of kids who are currently being bullied, and also the stories of a student who committed suicide and a young girl who brought a gun on her school bus in response to the people bullying her.

I have yet to see this movie, but the morning radio show that I listen to ran a segment on it. The main radio personality took his nine-year-old to see the movie and they taped the conversation that they had after the movie. (FYI: Said personality says that nine is too young and only reccomends this movie for those thirteen and up.) Parents and kids who have been dealing with bullying called into the show. If I hadn’t have been driving, it would have brought me to my knees.

As a High School teacher I see the way that kids can be, the cruelty is not often in my presence, but it can be brutal. I do the best I can to keep a positive tone in my room. My general rule in my classroom is that we are going to be nice. Period. But it is hard sometimes even for me to figure out if the joking is all in good fun, or if it is something that has been going on for years and everyone is just used to it.

Every adult I know can name the names of the people who were mercilessly picked on for years. Bullying is not a new problem. But like most things, new media has made things easier to do and harder to catch. As a teacher there is nothing I can do to alter a kids Facebook page and Twitter feed. I can’t police the bathrooms and hallways all the time. But I see what the torment can do to the students and I remember some of my friends from High school and Middle school being tormented at my own school.

I was in the middle school cafeteria when the Holy Spirit broke through the chatter so clearly it was almost audible. “Abby, go sit by that kid.” I didn’t want to. I only had a few friends myself and I feared alienating them. But God would not leave me alone. So I did. I moved my lunch three tables down and sat by a kid who regularly got his head slammed into lockers. The next day or maybe a few days after that, that kid showed me the imprint of the belt he had wrapped around his neck in an effort to make it all go away.

I don’t tell this story to make you impressed with me. It was not my idea to be looking out for anyone but myself.  Now, I am very grateful that the Lord broke through that day. At the time, I was mad. I can honestly say that I was Jesus to that kid, if only for a moment in the school cafeteria. It is a testament to the few friends that I did have that they invited that kid to sit with us. I can’t say that we were truly friends with him, but we were friendly. We at least provided him a safe place to sit and eat his lunch but we did not invite him places with us. He still had it hard when we got to high school. The bullies nominated him for turn about king as a joke and then mocked his reaction to the situation they put him in.

I was reminded of this story as I listened to the radio. Listening to a mother cry as she explains what it feels like forcing her son to go to school every day, like she is sendng him off to be tortured made me ask myself this question: Lord, where are you? Where is Jesus in this mess? Why don’t you do something already?

But I already knew the answer. You are the answer, I am the answer. The church is the body of Christ, and we need to get up off the couch and do something. One of the reasons the movie Bully is so controversial, is because the camera crew (adults) just stood by and filmed while these kids were abused. They didn’t participate in the ridicule, but they certainly did not help the situation. They simply stood by, watched.

I can’t help but wonder where the classmates are who confess to knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder that in my own classroom and school. Why are the Christian kids just standing by? Maybe it is too much to ask a 15-year-old to stand up to all of his friends and the kids who are bigger than him in defense of a kid he doesn’t even like. Maybe I am expecting too much spiritual maturity to hear and heed that call, the one to serve, and identify with the least of these. Maybe, but probably not.

One of the reasons I enjoy my job, is because of the amazing things I see my kids do every day. I know that they are capable of thinking big thoughts and backing those thoughts with honest intentional outcome. These are just every day kids. Imagine the possibility of spirit-filled kids.

At another local school there is a student who got removed as student council president because (he claims) he introduced a bill that would allow for two students of the same gender be made prom kings or queens if the student body so chose. It made national news because he is suing the school. His attorney has come out recently with a statement claiming the kid is being attacked at school, in the hallways between classes.

I don’t know anything else about the situation, but I began wondering out loud what it would look like if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes said “enough.” What if they arranged to have two kids escort this kid between classes? What if they treated that kid with the humanity he deserves even if they disagreed with him? What would that look like to that kid, the other high school students, the world?

I think it would look like Jesus. Jesus stopping the stoning of the woman, Jesus advocating for the poor, the widowed, the outcasts. If the christian teens at high schools would literally stand in solidarity against the bullying, they might lose friends. They might lose popularity. They might get bullied too. After all, I have already admitted there isn’t anything I can do sometimes. But they might just get to experience what it is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that might be completely worth it.

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Easter Sunday: Still Not Over It

I wrote yesterday about my reminder on Easter Sunday, that I follow a God who came as a man and defeated death. I don’t ever remember not knowing…but it somehow struck me as new. Maybe that is a part of the whole “God’s mercies are new every morning” business.

Not only have I been marveling at the fact that it happened, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I have been thinking about the implications of it. What exactly does that mean for me if I identify with Christ? (Which I do, see here.)

Somewhere along the way I became deeply connected to my identity with Christ on the cross. In the third grade, when I prayed the sinners prayer after Wednesday Night Alive with Mrs. Wiegand, it was because I knew that I was not enough. Somewhere deep in that 9-year-old body I knew that I was never going to be good enough on my own. I needed saved. I did not have to be convinced of my own sinful nature. I just knew.

If the gospel ended right there, if Jesus dying for our sins was the last chapter in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, then that would have been it. No Acts to Revelation. No early church, no current church, no Christians. The power of the cross is only realized when linked with the power of the resurrection. Jesus died for our sins, yes. Sin leads to death so even though it is an amazing sacrifice that someone else would die for my sins, a sinless God who is also fully man, in a way it is expected, credible. The story had to go there if we were to be saved.

I am in no way trying to diminish what Jesus did for me. I am so very grateful He did it. But I think perhaps I have been ending my reflection there, at the cross. The reason Jesus died on the cross for me, and for you, is so that the story doesn’t end in death.

The story doesn’t end there. There is more. Jesus Christ was resurrected into a new body, a new creation. The old went and the new came. My sins died on the cross with Jesus, and I have been resurrected with him. I am a new creation too. The sacrifice on that cross lead to the incredible miraculous transformation of the resurrection. The man who was killed, became the living God. Hallelujah. It is unexpected. It is incredible. It is beautiful, and miraculous, and completely indescribable. It is big and unexplainable. Perhaps that is why I have kept my distance. But the resurrection is also personal.

I am supposed to identify with the resurrection as much as I do with the cross. I am a new creation. When I got baptized on Easter Sunday morning in the sixth grade, Mrs. Wiegand’s husband, Pastor Wiegand, didn’t leave me at the bottom of the baptismal, symbolically buried with my sins. He brought me back up, as a new creation. I was buried with my sin and then resurrected as new.

The newness, the holiness, the miracles. I get to claim those too right along with the sinful nature now pierced and dead. Because the story didn’t end at the cross. There was a resurrection. I don’t know that I have been lately, claiming the new creation that Christ has promised me. Sometimes the sinful nature still seems so evident to me. I am sure I have not been identifying other Christians in their newness.

The sinful nature not only can be conquered, it has been conquered. The old has gone, the new has come. Hallelujah. I am not sure what exactly this means, walking it out day by day. But I am excited by the possibilities that this newness has to offer, the hope of the resurrection. Yes that sounds good to walk in. I’ll take more of that.

We Still Want a Political King

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I grew up in church so I’ve heard the Palm Sunday stuff before. That it was traditional in the day for a ruler to come through the town. A stallion meant war, a donkey meant peace. But I heard a new tidbit this year (Thanks Pastor Tim). The palms that were waved as Jesus passed through signified that the people still expected Jesus to lead the political revolution.

A week later the same people who were screaming “Hosana” were screaming “Crucify Him!”  They did not recognize Jesus for who he was. Their savior, someone who came to deal with the depravity of their own hearts. They were looking for someone to come and revolutionize the political system, to finally usher in God’s law and then they would get to be the ones on top.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus came back, would we recognize him? Would we be paying attention to the people and places that Jesus would go to? Would we beg him to get off the cross and go in to congress and do something already? Would we understand it any better the second time around?

I think we are still looking for the Political messiah. We are still waving those palms, begging God for our nation to turn toward Him. We still want a political messiah, not a personal one. Because a political savior deals with them and all of their stuff, and a personal savior deals with me, and my stuff.

And it is a whole lot more comfortable to have others change based on what I think, then to allow the Holy Spirit to rearrange my life, and trust that He will rearrange other people’s lives as well. I do want Americans to come to know the Lord, every single one of them. But I don’t think that is going to happen one law at a time. I think it can only happen one person at a time, one heart at a time turning toward God.

This Holy week, as I think about the beauty of the cross. I cannot get over how very personalized it was. For me. For you. To connect us to God. I think Jesus could have come to reign as king of a nation. It probably would have been a lot easier to rule a people who adored his decisions. Instead, Jesus chose to die on a cross, to sacrifice himself for people who literally curse his name. He was dying for people’s sins even as they became angry with him for saving them.

We are still clamoring for a political king, but Christ wants so much more than that. He doesn’t just want the hearts, and minds of the nation as a whole. He wants my heart, my life. He wants us to follow him regardless of what the laws say. He knows that changed laws do not change hearts. Christ centered hearts create Christ centered lives, and people are drawn to those lives. Then their hearts change too, and pretty soon no one cares what the law says. We just all follow Jesus.

Accidental Communion

Lately life has been coming at my family like the waves in the ocean. Even the coming up for air is exhausting. You can see it on our worn faces, can hear the gasping in our voices. Those waves have been getting the best of us lately, we are drowning under them where we once were riding on the top. We are slowly swimming to spring break but this week has left me wondering if we were in fact going to make it.

Tuesday I got a series of texts in the afternoon: one telling me I was being prayed for, one asking how could they help, and one letting me know that I was no longer in charge of my own dinner tonight, it would be brought to me and does my family eat broccoli? We sure do and we were eating it that night. (My friend from work told me she was tempted to join my church simply for the likelihood of the occasional dinner.)

When she dropped dinner off, we chatted and let our kids run around my backyard. Her son may have peed right there in the backyard and the Peanut may have then tugged on her pants until I helped her pull them down and attempted to do likewise. Standing up and holding herself. We may have stood and watched the whole thing and laughed.

But when my friend headed home and the laughter faded I found myself gasping for air again.

I grew up in a church tradition that centered around the eucharist. I don’t know what else you are going to get at any Disciples of Christ church, but you are bound to get communion. Bread and grape juice passed amongst the people. It is so central to the faith I was given, and the one I claim as my own. I remember once on a church camping trip grape Snapple and wonder bread passed around as Luke 22 was read. The blood of Christ poured out for me on the shores of Lake Michigan as the gulls sounded. I was maybe ten.

When I am drowning in life, as I have been lately, I miss the eucharist every week. I sometimes need a physical reminder to cling to in order to keep the faith.

I finally got the Peanut inside and pulled back the foil on the home-made pot pie that was waiting for me in the kitchen. It was still warm and I could smell the comfort wafting from it. There on top of the pie my friend had taken the extra pie crust and formed a cross. It was as clear a sign of hope as a stained glass window at a sunrise service. I heard something echo inside of my heart. This is my body, poured out for you. My body, the church body. Poured out for me right there in my kitchen.

It is communion I have been desperately seeking. The symbolic act of being one with God, receiving his great sacrifice as I in turn attempt to lay my life down for others. And it was communion I received. A hot meal delivered to me, by the body of Christ, when I had nothing left. Poured out for me, broken for me. Take, eat, in remembrance of Him.

The Cleaning of the Wound

“It is like a festering sore,” she said. “It’s just going to keep bubbling; you’ve got to do something about it before the infection spreads. It isn’t going to get better on its own.”

This is an interesting dynamic for sure. Lately I have been the one speaking in spiritual similes, and I am not sure how I feel about the sudden role reversal. But it is accurate, this description. Sore and stinking pretty much sums up my attitude these last two days. My anger is bubbling, refusing the healing that I know I need.

The grossest part is the way I have been treating this wound. Red and puss filled I present it like some kind of righteous badge. “Look at what has been done to me.” The pain pulses through it and around it to the rhythm of my heart. Theirfault Theirfault Theirfault. When bumped tears roll down my cheeks. Angered flesh mirrors the way I have convinced myself I am entitled to feel. The truth is I have been nursing this infection, unwilling to clean it out. I want to ensure my pain stays with me. A constant reminder of my wound.

The people closest to me begin to smell the rot that is in this wound. My husband, my sisters, they warn me of the infection they sense, it is evident in almost every conversation we have. The poison seems to be spreading to places it does not belong. I had planned on keeping it contained, I thought I was controlling it, but it is damaging things I never intended it to get close to. Spots of red flesh are cropping up in seemingly unrelated places, and the hurt is threatening to invade my veins, join my very blood on a path straight to my heart.

Still I protest. I have a right to this infection. I have a right to feel this wound. I was hurt after all. If I allow this to heal it will be as though I was never wounded in the first place. Isn’t that the point of healing?  I hear the Spirit whisper. I am tempted to tell God to shut up.

I feel like it happens just moments before the infection joins the path of no return. I decide it is time to let go of the pain, and let the Lord clean out my wound. I am well aware it is only His prompting that allows me to ask. It is my nature to cling to this angry wound until it destroys me. It is a little scary, asking the Great Physician to clean me out. I am ashamed at how long it has taken me to ask, how bad I let it get. I know from experience that this is certain to sting. It does sting. This wound is cleansed with an apology that humbles me. In order to release this stench I also must release my pride. My pride it turns out, has been fueling the infection of anger.

As I release my own pride and allow God to pour healing into my wound I can suddenly breathe again. It turns out I had been holding my breath against my own righteous stench, and I didn’t even know it. The Healer leaves my wound raw but clean. The sting was temporary and gave way to relief. I was not aware of how bad I was hurting. How much of that hurt was the infection, and how little the actual wound.

I am left with a pile of clean white cloth, instructions to tend the wound. Keep it bandaged, change them often, watch carefully for signs of infection. The wound is still there, but it is healing. It is not my responsibility to heal the original wound, but it is my responsibility to protect from infection.

From Pee to Living Water

I think sometimes I overlook miracles. Ones that happen everyday so they no longer seem impressive. They happen every day at my house, two under two lends itself to miracles. Two babies with clean diapers at the same time, synchronized nap times, first words, first steps, a not-yet-two-year-old who agrees to go along with the plan. They don’t happen all the time. But enough that I forget they are miracles.

Lord, allow me to pour out you Living Water.

But it is emotional miracles, change of heart miracles, miracles you can’t see I have been noticing lately. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the healing, the manifestations, the return of $900 for your $500 deposit. I’ve seen them, and plan on seeing more. But the emotional miracles, the ones you can’t see. I’ve been seeing a lot of those lately.

Like the time just this weekend when God changed pee into living water. I wish I was speaking metaphorically here, but I am afraid that a misguided child snuck into a friends house and offered his practical joke in the form of peeing in her boot. A child that she could have ignored, but instead has been kind to. A child no one else thinks about much. His parents are too busy, too sick, too overwhelmed, too underserviced. The best that they can is not enough to meet the needs of the kids they have in the house. So the child sneaks into another house, and pees in a boot. Who knows why really, he probably doesn’t know himself.

The pee in the boot was not the miraculous part. It was the gross part. The miraculous part was the Living Water that was poured back out. The initial reaction was expected, I am calling the police (you should I responded) I am telling those kids I am done (be done I agreed) I am telling those parents that I don’t care how overwhelmed they are, they need to get a handle on those children (it is for the children’s own good I encouraged.) But then we prayed about it. And the bitter, stinky, gross puddle of waste that was pooling in our hearts was touched by the finger of God. And as the puddle rippled…..the piss in my friend’s heart was turned into Living Water. I love praying with Godly people.

I wonder if those kids would like to go to church with us? (I wasn’t so the church’s kids community could handle all that.) I had planned on asking those boys to walk my dog with me, I wonder why I never asked the parents. What would it look like if I were radically kind to those boys in direct response of being pissed on? It would look like Jesus. Like what Jesus did for us. What Jesus does for us. Even when we know we are doing wrong and continue it anyway, just because we feel like it.

I know that there are other miracles that are flashier, water to wine lets you continue to party. Manna every morning lets you keep walking. Being healed of blindness, lameness, leprosy; tumors disappearing all of these are glorious things. But turning a puddle of pee into living water, and watching someone pour it out to the pisser. How do you get more miraculous than that?

This post was written for Just Write. Go check it out!

Where we used to sit.

I remember where we used to sit, a worn comfortable table that we never worried about spilling or scratching. Those spill and scratches, bumps and bruises only added to the tables warmth, its charm.

We started out across from each other, carefully bringing what we had to offer, setting it on the table. Explaining what we had to share. But pretty soon we scooted the two chairs next to each other, threw everything on to the same plate and ate right off of it. Together. I don’t even know when it happened. It just made sense at the time.

And in that sharing because it made good sense, my soul was fed. It was like our hearts came right out of our bodies to meet each other, recalibrate their rhythm and beat again, differently, better because of each other. My heartbeat as much my own as yours. We were doing this thing together. We were less alone in our struggles, less alone in our joys. I would tell people I had a tiny piece of the community I am sure is waiting for me eternally.

I don’t know who moved first. Honestly, I no longer care. I only know that we are no longer sitting next to each other, sharing, saving the best bites for each other. We have migrated away from the table. And in our worst moments we were across the room with our arms crossed and glaring. I may have even stomped my foot in frustration that you won’t see it my way.

We have since approached that worn table again. Uncrossed our arms from our chest so that our hearts may hear each other. We are sitting across from each other again, but on opposite ends of the table. Offering the things we know the other will need. Soon we will pull out the chairs and sit again. Perhaps you have already.

We are careful with each other. Thank you’s and pleases and are you sures, each taking what we need but keeping our portions small and polite. I miss the days of sitting next to each other, everything on the same plate.  The simplicity of sharing everything, sure that there is more than enough to go around, sure that everyone will get their own best bites.

I can hear our hearts reaching for each other across the table and the awkward silences. Wishing to recalibrate once again. We inch to toward the seats we were once comfortable in, prints worn into the wood reminding us that the seats next to each other are where we belong. The plate is still there, between the two seats waiting for the offering of shared lives.

I am hopeful we will find our way back there, next to each other. That it will once again feel like one heart beating, one story told. My heart yearns for that once easy communion. The way it once was. The way it will be. Forever and ever. Amen.