The Evils of War

She walked in right at noon—the moment the doors opened—and it was clearly her first time at The Bridge, a day shelter for people who are homeless.

“Where do I sit?” she asked.

“Anywhere you’d like,” I responded with a smile.

Moments later, a security guard corrected her/me.

“Hey, those tables aren’t open,” he barked. “You need to sit up here.”

She shrugged and found a seat at the front of the room, near the serving line.

“My bad,” I said.

The guard didn’t care whose bad it was.

“What time is lunch served?” she asked, hope in her eyes.

I delivered the bad news:

“One.”

Her shoulders sank. She was clearly hungry. Hungry, hungry.

Several minutes passed. I made eye contact with her, and she asked for the time.

“12:11,” I responded.

She sank lower in her chair and wrapped her arms around her mid-section.

“Hey, do you want to play cards or something to pass the time?” I asked.

She hesitated, but then said, a bit shyly, “All right. Sure.”

I pulled the cards from my bag.

“Do they have brushes here?” she asked as I sat across from her. “Like to brush your hair?”

(Side note: This was the second hair-related question I’d had that morning. The first was a woman on a desperate search for a pair of scissors so she could cut out her tangles. I could probably round up six brushes at my home. Some people have none.)

“Ummm, I don’t know if they have brushes.”

I paused.

“But your hair is so short! You brush it anyway?”

Her hair wasn’t just short. It was buzzed.

She ran her hand across her head.

“Well, yeah,” she responded (with a hint of “duh”).

A nine-year-old who’d come along to serve sat down between the two of us. We did introductions, and after I was certain another guest at the same table didn’t want to play, we dove into a game of War.

We were having a blast, laughing and complaining about the junk cards being passed around. T–who had seemed so dejected–positively came to life. We’d just had our first actual war (between Kings, which she won) when I felt the security guard behind me.

“You can’t play cards in here,” he growled.

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t play cards in here.”

“But . . . why?” I asked.

The most ridiculous scenarios flashed through my head. Is there some gang association with cards? Is it because we’re playing War? Have they had fights break out over losses?

Nope. Nothing like that.

“Because we’re in a church,” the guard said, his tone condescending.

“But . . . but we’re not playing for money,” I said, my tone bewildered.

“You can’t play cards in here. You’re in a church.”

He walked away. Swaggered a bit, really.

I looked across the table at T–. Her shoulders sank as I collected the cards.

“Well, that’s just stupid,” she muttered.

“Yes. It is,” I responded. “Really stupid. Sorry.”

After lunch, T- approached the table where the chef and I were sitting.

“Thank you so much for lunch. I hadn’t eaten in two days. It was real good. Thank you.”

“Aww, you’re welcome, Boo,” the chef replied. (Everyone is Boo.)

I later learned that the actual reason cards are disallowed in the dining room has to do with a gambling ring they had some time ago. Whatever. I imagine T– would still say, “Well, that’s just stupid.

I’m glad she had a good meal that day; she was clearly hungry. But she was also clearly starving for something more than food. Maybe something like normalcy. Make something like companionship. Maybe something like being seen as a human being, worthy of attention. Worthy of the exquisitely simple pleasure of playing War before lunch.

On Planks & Specks

Planks and Specks

Last night, I returned home from an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. My time there brought to mind a post I wrote (on my old blog) about last year’s experience, and it’s important enough to me that I wanted to share it again. I’ve made some minor edits to the original.

I have some things to say.

I suspect some of you will call me brave, and others may be more inclined to use words like stupid. I feel neither brave nor stupid; I feel frustrated and sad. And a little fed-up.

A few weeks ago, I attended an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. This year’s theme, “Seek and Save,” was focused on evangelism. Much of the content was stellar. We were challenged to both announce and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. We had conversations about why fewer and fewer people are interested in attending church gatherings. We lamented the bad behavior of Christians and culture’s concomitant skepticism, cynicism, and hostility toward the Church. These were important, timely conversations.

Unfortunately, however, there was a nasty undercurrent I discovered in the first moments of the conference. It sounded something like this:

Our church has evangelism down pat! We’re converting prostitutes and drug dealers. And criminals. And homosexuals!

In many of my conference sessions, I was presented with a list of people who, presumably, are the most difficult types of people to convert and, apparently, I was supposed to feel impressed and inspired by that ministry’s evangelism efforts. I think my reaction was supposed to be, “Wow! If they’re able to reach those people, they must be doing this right! I mean, they’re even reaching the gays!”

Well . . . that wasn’t my response.  At all.

Instead, I found myself feeling irritated and annoyed and, eventually, angry. Righteously so. “Soooo, let me get this straight,” I wanted to say. “You’ve just listed some categories of ‘sinners’ and I’m supposed to be really impressed because you’re saving, like, really bad people?”

Herein lies the problem: We’re all, like, really bad people, but I didn’t hear anyone bragging (and that’s what it felt like) about sharing the Gospel with housewives and CEOs. I jotted down some sarcastic notes: “Key takeaways . . . A pimp’s salvation is worth more than a school teacher’s. And you get more points for a drug dealer than a middle schooler.”

And then there’s the stuff about same-sex relationships.

Twenty-ish years ago, I became friends with a gay man. Since that time, I’ve wrestled with the “Is homosexuality a sin?” question. I know many of you think there is no such question; you’re certain that Scripture clearly defines same-sex relationships as sinful. I’m not about to try to convince you otherwise. That’s a reasonable interpretation of Scripture. However, I have ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends—clergy friends*—who interpret Scripture differently. So, I wrestle.

But the is-it-or-isn’t-it debate really has no bearing on this particular conversation. What I’m so frustrated and sad about is this: For some reason, gay and lesbian persons seem to have become the poster children for The Worst Sin Ever. What upset me the most at Exponential was the implication that homosexual people represent the Ultimate Conversion. In nearly every list I heard, “homosexuality” seemed to be the punchline. The save-the-best-for-last. The ultimate score.

Not one Exponential speaker celebrated the number of overweight people they brought to Christ. No one talked about how successfully they’ve been reaching gossips. I heard no hushed “Wow”or “Amen” from an audience because a church baptized a slew of people who have a habit of saying, “Oh my God,” speak poorly of their parents, or express envy over their neighbor’s new boat.

Now, my goal as a Jesus-follower is to live the way He said I should. I’m not even close to fulfilling that goal. (“Love your enemy”? Mhm. Yeah, right. Whatever.) Since I don’t get to hang out with Jesus at Starbucks and ask him a bazillion questions, Scripture’s my go-to resource for how to be more Christ-like. If I were to ask Him about the Worst Sin Ever, I suspect he’d respond like this:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV)

Some of you just yelled at your screen (or at me), “But we’re supposed to hold each other accountable! If I don’t talk about the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, I’m condoning the behavior!” If that’s where you are, that’s fine. But sharing an inflammatory Facebook post isn’t exactly the best posture for those conversations. And I’m only suggesting we should be holding one another accountable, not just a particular group of people. And maybe—actually, definitely—we ought to begin with ourselves.

I was venting my frustrations with a dear friend yesterday. At one point she said, “I just don’t get it. It’s about love. We’re supposed to love people.”

Yes, Church:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)

Love your neighbor. The fat one across the street. The divorced one around the corner. The gay one in the office down the hall. The trucker-mouthed one you see at QT most mornings. The one at work who never shuts up about how much she loves (or despises) President Obama. Love them. Right now. With no conditions. With no ulterior motives. And if you’re still hung up on the accountability thing, just keep in mind that accountability without love feels an awful lot like judgment.

Love people. And until we’re rid of our planks, that’s our only responsibility.

*For clarification, The Way (my employer) is a United Methodist Church, and the official position of our denomination is that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I’ve had hours and hours of conversation with Pastor Jimmy about this issue. When I mentioned having “ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends–clergy friends–who interpret Scripture differently,” he’s one of the folks on the “it’s a sin” side.

Constantly Surprised and Profoundly Grateful

On Thursday, I found myself standing in front of a rack of shiny, plastic playground balls at Target, vision blurred and nose stinging with oncoming tears.

Why?

Because my girls are 19 and 17 years old, and it’s been so long since the three of us stood together at that rack, trying to figure out how to get the blue one from the middle of the pile. “Lift me through the wire, Momma! I’ll go in and get it!”

When my first marriage unraveled, the girls and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the south side of town. We scored a first-floor unit with a sliding glass door that opened onto a small patio and a wide, perfect-for-chalk sidewalk. Beyond that, we had a barefoot-worthy swath of grass dotted with pine trees—perfect for chasing ladybugs and fireflies. Em and Bekah each had her own plastic ball—sticky in one spot from pricetag residue, sufficiently bouncy so as to evoke shrieks of laughter, and lightweight enough that the tiniest breeze would send them flying across the field.

They were 4 and 2 years old when we settled into our new place. Our new normal. They were towheads then, Emily with a long ponytail and Bekah with a sassy swing bob. They wore sparkly, velcro tennies that lit up with every leap and stomp. They were equally comfortable with dolls and dump trucks. They were precocious. Resilient. Breathtaking. As they are now.

In the middle of a huge mess—one of the worst young children can experience—those plastic playground balls allowed my girls to burst into sun-soaked afternoons and forget the drama of “mommy’s house/daddy’s house”—even if only for a few minutes.

Now, fifteen years past that apartment, I’m constantly surprised by and profoundly grateful for how things turned out. And if you’d been standing next to me as I stood in Target’s toy department on Thursday, you would’ve heard me whisper, “Thank you.”

Aviator

The Bridge

He’s a young, African American—early 20s, I’m guessing. From where I’m standing, I can’t tell if he has dreads or braids under his bright red, Cardinals flat bill. He’s wearing aviator sunglasses, a gray zip-up hoodie over a plaid shirt, low slung jeans revealing blue boxers, and spotless high tops.

I’m at the front of the serving line, dishing up pork roast, cabbage, and potatoes. Emily’s next to me, adding watermelon and bread. T–, a Bridge guest, is helping behind the line tonight, capping off the trays with thick slices of donated pies and cakes.

Aviator is not happy with T–. Apparently, there’s some disagreement about whether he’s already been through the line once. Or maybe he’s angry on behalf of the woman in front of him, Miss S–, who seems to be hoping for seconds. I feel for T–, who’s just following the rules: No seconds until/unless the chef gives the okay.

It’s not going well down at the end of the line.

I’m trying not to eavesdrop. It’s none of my business. Except Emily is right there, so I’m listening for any indication that she needs to step away.

Aviator gives up and walks off. Miss S–, a sweet, 70-something with thin, gray dreadlocks and a deep compassion for the birds outside her apartment building, tells me that if her arthritis weren’t acting up, she’d give him a knuckle sandwich. I’m not sure to which “him” she’s referring, but I laugh, because it’s clearly what she’s expecting from me.

Aviator’s now pacing back and forth in front of the serving line, offering just barely audible commentary. Emily, who heard more of the original skirmish, assures me that whatever he’s saying, it’s not directed toward us.

“You’re supposed to be helping people. This is bullshit.”

“All you have to do is look me in the eye. I’m a person, too.”

And then, “Half of y’all are racist anyway.”

“Oh,” Emily says. “Maybe he is mad at us.”

I’m mortified. Racist? Did that guy just call me racist?

I start to walk toward him. To assure him I’m not racist. To ask him why he would say such a thing. To find out what I can do to prove that I’m a good person. But he is really agitated, and Emily pulls me back. “No, mom. Not a good idea.”

At the end of our shift, I’m surprised to see Aviator sweeping the dining room—because I’ve already decided he’s a jerk, and this is not jerkish behavior. “Where’d the dustpan go?” he yells across the dining room, and I hand him the one I had been using. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Maybe, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve obviously misjudged you. You are clearly not racist.” He says nothing.

And then it hits me: People have made all sorts of assumptions about me over the years—but not one of those assumptions has been based on the color of my skin. Aviator, though? My guess is he encounters this kind of thing daily. Daily. 

I’ve written before that we don’t love one another because we don’t know one another. This morning, it occurred to me that maybe we dislike one another because we think we do know one another—based on skin color and attire and taste in music and all sorts of ridiculous qualifiers that have absolutely nothing to do with what makes a human being worthy of love. We jump to conclusions. We don’t offer the benefit of the doubt. We see issues instead of people. I wonder if thinking we know people is actually more dangerous than not knowing them at all.

The next day, I’m back at The Bridge, hoping for a shot at redemption. Aviator’s there, too. He approaches the table where I’m counting guests as they come through the line. I tense up. I hate that I do, but I do.

“Hey, can I have a napkin, please? Or a paper towel or something?”

Here’s my chance! Racial reconciliation via paper products! (Yes, I know I’m ridiculous. Remember: It’s part of my charm.) And I cannot find a napkin. (It doesn’t occur to me that I have hundreds of napkins sitting right in front of me, wrapped around plastic sporks.) AGH! This is my moment! Seriously?! Where are the freaking napkins?

I give up. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where they went.”

“Ah, no worries,” he says. “You’re good,” he says.

I don’t know about that, Aviator. But I’m trying.

I’m trying.

Fuming

Fuel Pump

I was leaning against the side of my rental: a white, Fiat 500—quite possibly the cutest car I’ve driven since my dad sold our ’69 VW convertible 20 years ago. I’d chosen the slowest fuel pump in the Western Hemisphere. The one with the faulty auto-stop. The one that soaked me in fuel. Soaked me. 

I have no idea what came out of my mouth in the moment I realized what was happening, but I’m certain it was quite loud and not at all ladylike. Once I got the nozzle turned off and shoved back into the pump, my first (pointless) instinct was to grab the windshield washer squeegee thing and take a swipe at the side of the car. My second instinct was to march into the station, positively fuming—both figuratively and literally.

“Pump 7 has a faulty auto-stop, and it just drenched me in fuel,” I stammered at the attendant.

“I didn’t know the pump was faulty.”

“Clearly. I thought you might like to sop up the lake of gasoline and maybe take the thing out of service.”

“Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Inconvenience? Inconvenience? There’s a good possibility that when I start the car it’ll go up in a ball of flame; and even if I survive the blast, I don’t think State Farm will be a good neighbor on this deal; and even if there’s no fire at all, TSA’s going to arrest me for trying to board a plane as a human bomb; and if manage not to get arrested, every passenger on my flight is going to hate my guts because oh my Lord I smell like I’ve been bathing in gasoline. 

Yep. That entire scenario went through my mind as I blinked at the Shell attendant.

“Yeah. Okay,” I muttered, and went out to see how my spontaneous Choose Your Own Adventure would end.

Obviously, I’m neither a pile of ash nor in a holding cell in the bowels of DFW. I am however, wearing Dallas Cowboys pajamas.

After successfully returning the rental car and hopping the shuttle to the terminal, I had almost convinced myself that maybe I wasn’t all that stinky. The ticket agent brought me back to reality.

“Do you smell gasoline?”

“Oh, that’s me,” I said, trying not to burst into tears. “I got soaked at the gas station.”

“Oh. Oh wow. Okay. Well, ummmm, you’ll be all right.”

At which point, I began to sweat. Mmhmm. There’s nothing like a nervous, sweaty, middle-aged blond with a dab of gasoline behind each ear. I just shot up from a 5.4 to a 9.

I continued to sweat through the you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me security line, wishing the teenagers behind me would give me some freaking personal space already, ignoring the “Do you smell gas?” comments, sniffing the air with the same confused-concerned expression everyone else was wearing.

After about 10 minutes of that nonsense, I decided Jesus would be cool with me replacing my clothing for the sake of my fellow travelers, and by the time I made it through security, I’d already researched my retail options. Option, that is—singular: Dallas Cowboys for Her. Dallas Cowboys for Her by Pink. Oh goodie.

I explained my predicament to the kind woman behind the cash register, who proceeded to help me put together an absurdly expensive ensemble from a brand I positively loathe. I stripped in a bathroom stall (gross), swapped clothing, and—eyes welling up with tears—threw away my favorite jeans, a tank top, a super-cute shirt I bought just weeks ago, and my belt.

Here’s my get-up: Blue pajama pants with COWBOYS down the left leg (but nothing on the rear end, thank you Jesus) and a blue sweatshirt with DALLAS COWBOYS across the front and PINK along the back neckline. The blues don’t match. Everything’s too big. The lettering on the pants and shirt are different colors. Oh, and I’m still wearing my Converse, which were spared in the melee. I look ridiculous. As I walked to my gate, I overheard a middle-age businessman comment to his buddy, “Now, that woman’s a Cowboys’ fan.”

And that’s how I narrowly avoided death, skirted TSA, wasted $200, and became a Cowboys fan in 90ish minutes.

Did you have any adventures today?

UPDATE: People wanted a selfie. I joked about the need for a GoFundMe. My daughter took me seriously and set one up with the goal of $200. All donations will go toward something on the most-needed list at The Bridge. If we hit the goal, I’ll post the selfie. For crying out loud, people.

UPDATE 2: Well, it happened. The photos’s below. Hope y’all are happy.

UPDATE 3: Because of the generous donations from folks who played along with Bekah’s GoFundMe silliness, I’m delivering 80 pounds of chicken breast to The Bridge. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

In the Drive-Thru

Coffee To Go

For seven months, when I was 41 years old, I was a Starbucks barista.

I spent a good amount of time in the drive-thru window–which, as you can imagine, grieved my introvert soul. Talk to people? Like, in person? People whom I don’t know? People who will be angry if I hand them a too-dry cappuccino or an overly foamy latte? Yes. And, actually, the expectations went far beyond mere talk; I was expected to “inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Yes, that’s Starbucks’ mission statement.

And you thought it was just a pricey coffee shop.

I took that mission statement seriously, and I did my best to inspire and nurture–which is reasonably difficult when customers continue their cell phone conversations while you’re trying to ask them questions about their order, when they refuse to look at you as they pay, when they forget to turn off their windshield wipers, when they ask–at the window, with eight cars stacked up behind them–to tack on six additional frappuccinos.

I overlooked rude ordering behavior: “Gimme a . . . Lemme have a . . . ” I attempted not to see people picking their nose at the speaker (yes, there’s a camera). I ignored the under-the-breath comments about how stupid I was for having to repeat back an order of a half-caff-quad-grande-no-whip-soy-extra-hot-three-pump-mocha-one-pump-raspberry-I-mean-three-pumps-raspberry-one-pump-white-mocha-in-a-venti-cup-and-make-sure-there’s-no-foam latte. (Only a slight exaggeration.)

Most of the time it was great fun, and I made it my personal challenge to cheer up the crankiest of customers. I succeeded more often than not–at least winning a half-smile. I once consoled a young woman with tears flooding her face because of a recent break-up. I asked after grandkids. I helped teenagers ask their crushes to homecoming. I remembered names and favorite beverages. Mostly, I made eye contact and smiled.

Which, it turns out, is a big, big deal.

I remember one gentleman in particular. He pulled to the window in a pristine, silver Honda. His suit was freshly pressed, his tie bright and stylish. His back seat held a couple of car seats, and in his passenger seat sat a stuffed, leather messenger bag. His wrist swam in a giant watchband, the same color as his cufflinks. Everything about him spoke success. Wealth. I asked about his day; he only nodded his head. I passed him his pastry, which he took without looking up. I was too green to be offended by his lack of acknowledgement, so I kept chattering on about nothing–nurture and inspire, you know. He kept his head down as he dug for exact change and passed it through his window to mine.  Finally, as I handed over his beverage, he looked up at me. Our eyes met, and I broke into a wide grin. I’m telling you, the look that washed over his face was overwhelming. It said, “Wait. Are you actually seeing me? Do I matter somehow?” He may’ve been successful, but he certainly seemed to feel insignificant.

A few days ago, I was helping to serve dinner at The Bridge when I experienced that same look. We were down to the last few people in a line of 175 when a young guy–early 30s maybe–came through. He was wearing a heavy coat, still zipped against the cold, and a black beanie. His hands were chapped. “Good evening, sir,” I tried. He sort of grunted, full of melancholy, and reached for his tray. And then, for whatever reason, he looked up just before he walked away. Our eyes met, and I beamed at him. His posture straightened, he held my gaze for a good three seconds, and then he smiled with his whole face before he walked away. Again, it was as though he couldn’t believe someone was seeing him. 

And then I went home, got in an argument about white privilege, and cried for an hour. But that’s a whole other Oprah.

Anyway, do me a favor:  See someone today. And risk being seen.

Shoes and Other Stuff

Shoes

Three weeks ago, a pile of shoes in front of my dresser caught my attention: three pair of Converse, one Asics, one Mudd, and a Skechers. I snapped a picture, knowing that at some point I’d feel compelled to confess to you my leanings toward materialism.

Oh, goodie—today is that day.

See, today is the first day of the season of Lent—the 40 days leading up to Easter (minus Sundays, which would require a tangential explanation from which I’ll refrain). If you don’t identify as Christian, this likely means absolutely nothing to you. Take heart: The same is true of a significant percentage of churchy folks—including me, until fairly recently.

During Lent, Christians are encouraged to give up something—in solidarity with Jesus’ suffering and as a way of being more mindful of Him as we prepare to celebrate Easter. We’re supposed to deny ourselves in the same way Jesus denied Himself.  Alternatively, one could take on something, rather than give up something: reading Scripture, for example, or doing random acts of kindness. In short, we should remove something that distracts us from our relationship with Jesus and our desire to live more like He did, or we should add something to deepen the relationship and support living differently.

Confession: My Lenten resolutions typically have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with kick-starting a diet plan. Down with M&Ms and Diet Coke and up with water, trips to the gym, and raw food. I’ve failed miserably every year—at both the diet plan and the Jesus bit.

This morning, I woke up thinking about my pile of shoes. And then I started thinking about how pissed off I am about homelessness. And then I started thinking about how Jesus would have something to say about how I’m supposedly pissed off about homelessness, yet I have a finished, 1500-square-foot basement that’s unoccupied most of the time—except for the four hours each month when I host a group at my house to talk about homelessness. And then I started thinking about Lent.

And then I started feeling nauseous, because it’s perfectly clear what my Lent thing needs to be: Until Easter, I’m not going to buy “anything.” I’ll get to the air-quotes in a second, but let me first explain why this makes sense.

I spend several hours each month at The Bridge, a place in the city that cares for folks without homes. I also spend some time with Bridge Bread, a social entrepreneurship program that employees homeless people, and Home First, a grassroots organization that’s ending homelessness through—get this—housing people. I have ridiculous dreams about developing tiny home communities and creating mobile laundromats and turning buses into showers on wheels. Aside from passion, you know what those sorts of endeavors require? Time and money.

Well, I spend a lot of time and money buying stuff and taking care of that stuff. Jesus spent His time taking care of people. You see where this is going?

Jack and I have talked about significantly downsizing our home and possessions to release some resources to do what Scripture says: Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Living in—and with—less will create space in our heads, wallets, and calendars to do exactly that. The trouble is, we just keep talking about it instead of doing it because we have so much junk cluttering us up. At some point—soon—we’re going to start purging our stuff, right-sizing our possessions for a much smaller living space. But first, I need to stop bringing in new things.

So we’re back to this: Until Easter, for the purpose of denying myself as Jesus instructs and to release resources that will allow me to live differently, I’m not going to spend money on “anything.” The air-quotes are essential due to necessary exceptions:

  • food, but only from a grocery store
  • personal care products (toothpaste, TP, and so on) (This includes mascara. It’s necessary. Trust me.)
  • cleaning products
  • fuel, bills, and sundry unavoidable grownup responsibilities
  • pet care (I’ll bathe them, but I’m not about the anal glands, teeth, and nails.)
  • gifts for other people

When I reached this decision at 6:20 this morning, I immediately had a temper tantrum. You see, I’m preaching in two weeks and I’m teaching at a conference the week after that, and those types of occasions have, in the past, required Outfits. And now it’s too late. I’m going to have to wear something I already own. Horrors.

In addition, I’m going to keep track of what I wanted to buy but didn’t—and the amount of money I saved as a result. I’ll share that total—which is sure to be horrifying—on Easter. Today, I saved $16 by not buying a soda, not eating at BreadCo during our staff meeting, and not giving in to my craving for a latte.

Finally, I may, on occasion, look to you people to help me decide if an exception is truly “necessary.” And that’s why I’m writing this post at all: accountability. Scripture tells us not to be all boastful and woe-is-me-ish when we’re fasting; we’re supposed to do this type of thing in secret. I talked with my boss/pastor about that today, and he agreed that it’s a heart issue. I’m not putting my Lenten resolution out there so you can admire my bravery and sacrifice. I’m putting it out there because I need you to sound an alarm if you see me in line at Target with anything but dog food, toilet paper, milk, and window cleaner. I’ll be equipping you all with tasers in the next week.

So that’s it: That’s how a photo of too many shoes is going to solve homelessness. Through Lent.

(I’d love to hear your give-up or take-on for Lent if you have ’em, and I promise I won’t judge if it’s related to eating habits. For some people that is a significant issue and a good thing to tackle during Lent. It just wasn’t for me.)

But I Know This

Urban Blight

Jack and I were driving through St. Louis not too long ago when I had a sudden outburst.

“Okay, I have some questions,” I began. “Why is it that neighborhoods here seem to be separated by skin color? And why is that the areas of town with people whose skin color is anything but white tend to be more run down? And why are those run-down places more dangerous?”

Please understand that these are existential questions for me. I’m convinced I must not only take personal responsibility for figuring out the answers, but I must also do something to right the wrongs. Those of you who perceive me to be mildly (or thoroughly) high-strung now have a deeper understanding of who I am. At my core, I am angst. I don’t feel it or express it. I am it.

I know my questions could be answered be exploring history and public policy, sociology and criminology. I also know the answers are complex and convoluted. The conversation is further complicated by judgments and assumptions that get swirled together and then presented as fact:

  • It’s because they’re lazy.
  • They should just move to a better neighborhood.
  • Their mothers are crackheads.
  • They keep having babies so they can get more government benefits.
  • They could get out of poverty if they wanted to, but they obviously prefer living off welfare.

Let me speak to those, just super-quick:

  • Yes, I suppose some people could be described as lazy. But why? What’s going on that some people decide, “Why bother?” No, I’m not trying to justify bad behavior, and yes, people should take personal responsibility for their lives. However, it seems many people do everything “right” and nevertheless continue to encounter systemic obstacles that prevent them from moving forward. I suspect I’d quit trying at some point, too. Isn’t that better described as oppression than laziness?
  • If you think it’s easy for people to just pick up and move to a “better neighborhood,” please recognize that gentrification is making better neighborhoods wholly unaffordable.
  • Tennessee implemented drug tests as a prereq for receiving public assistance. Know how many applicants are users? Less than one-quarter of one percent. In fact, “economically vulnerable people are less likely than the general population to use drugs.”
  • State regulations vary, but when I worked in social services in Nebraska, babies born after benefits started didn’t count in the formula. In other words, more babies does not equal more money.
  • Have you ever seen a welfare check? “Living off welfare” is an oxymoron. (Okay, in all fairness, if people are benefitting from every available program, they’ll be better off than some people with full-time employment. Which, of course, is a whole ‘nother conversation.)

Here’s the biggie question, I suppose: Why is it that people in poverty are disproportionately people of color? I don’t believe for one tiny second it’s because White folks are more hard-working. I think it’s because having white skin offers some unfair advantages. (Normally when I say that, someone–always a White person–suggests that I’m experiencing undue white guilt. I don’t feel guilty for having white skin; I feel guilty for not working against power structures that perpetuate white privilege.)

Listen, I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the race conversation in America today. I almost didn’t finish this post because I feel critically under-qualified to approach the topic. I can’t speak with any authority about the systemic issues that give rise to economic injustice. I have a vague sense that education is a massive piece of the whole mess, but I’m unable to speak intelligently or persuasively about potential solutions. In other words, I’m basically clueless. (And I’m almost certain someone’s going to argue with me, which I’ll take personally, and then I’ll have to eat my feelings. In fact, I’ve already eaten a large-ish bowl of Lucky Charms in anticipation of the forthcoming backlash.) (I’m what you’d call a piece of work.)

Anyway, like I said–I don’t know all the intricacies of this race conversation, but I know this: If the Church were doing her job, the questions would disappear.

Economic injustice wouldn’t be a thing, because we’d each have only what we need, and we’d give the rest away. That is not socialism. Well, maybe it is; but it’s also biblical. Unfortunately–in my experience–it’s Bible-carrying folks who tend to be the the least merciful and the most judgmental about “those people.”

It’s so much easier to ignore a problem when we dehumanize the people whom it affects, isn’t it?

The whole concept of “those people” would disappear, because we would recognize everyone whom we encounter as a person of great worth. There would be no divisions based on race or class or gender or nationality or whatever. Also biblical.

Here’s where things might be breaking down: The Church seems to think that our purpose in serving “the least of these” is to introduce them to Jesus. So, instead of being Jesus to people living in poverty, we’re trying to bring them to Jesus. Ludicrous. Some of those most faith-full people I’ve encountered were also the most destitute. I’ve had people without homes in St. Louis and people without shoes in Guatemala pray for me. And if people in poverty have given up on Jesus, it might just be because we haven’t represented Him well. Or at all.

Also, we’re prone to feeling a bit superior and calvary-ish when we decide to help in some way. Our posture’s all wrong, even if our heart’s right, and because people in poverty in this country tend to be not White, we inadvertently widen the mental gap between “us” and “them.”

Agh. My brain’s all over the place, so let me sum up:

I don’t understand everything about race and poverty, but I know this: Some people experience a radically different quality of life because of their skin color. That’s abhorrent. And the Church cannot continue to ignore it.

Sick

Meds

Since we’re friends now, I feel like I can be honest: I’m pathetic when I’m sick.

Now, it’s my understanding, based on dozens of conversations with married friends, that this role is typically reserved for the guys. Well, I’ve never been one to kowtow to gender stereotypes.

It’s not like I ring a little bell to summon family members to my bedside (because I don’t own a little bell). Instead, I lay on the couch and fuss about how stuffed up I am or how sick to my stomach I feel or how painful my toenail fungus is.

(You guys. I totally made up that last bit. It’s on my mind because of that stupid Superbowl commercial last night, to which I won’t bother linking, because ew.)

Anywho, I’ve been sick since October, minus about three weeks, with the almost-never-ending cough. There were intermittent outbursts from my family: STOP COUGHING. My own outbursts were more frequent: OHMYGOSH I’M SO SICK OF COUGHING. Finally, after antibiotics, inhalers, steroids, and a magical, codeine-laced elixir, the cough went away.

Aaaaaaaand now the cough is back. This time, it brought its cousin from the country: sinus congestion. I’ve taken decongestants and expectorants and am nevertheless still mouth-breathing. Since Saturday, I’ve had about four hours of sleep. I’ve been working from home this afternoon, which is a good thing, because I caught myself whimpering. Whimpering. Also, I’m taking an antibiotic that’s making my tummy fwoopy, so I can’t even ask Jack to bring me an orange julius or something “for medicinal purposes.” (Plus my throat doesn’t hurt, so the whole “medicinal” schtick would be a big, fat lie.)

Emily’s away at school, Bekah’s at a late rehearsal, and Jack’s stuck in a meeting, so no one’s here to feel sorry for me. Well, except for the dogs, who are clearly sympathetic, as demonstrated by their insistence on being on my person at all times. Or? They’re cold. Because of the groomer debacle.

And to all you weirdos (term of endearment, I promise) who use the Neti pot: No. Just no. I’m sure it’s miraculous, but I have zero interest in inhaling salt water unless I’m at the beach.

Oh, that’s brilliant. The beach. For medicinal purposes.

Painfully Pink Belly

I’m a terrible dog owner.

Brooklyn and Skittle* know “sit,” but they don’t know “stay” or “down.” Or anything else. They bark incessantly, jump all over people, eat poo, and steal houseguests’ underthings. I don’t blame the dogs for their lack of canine character. Their training was my responsibility, after all, and I shirked that deal hard core.

Also, I won’t trim their nails, and I don’t bathe them all that often. And that, my friends, is why every few weeks they wind up at the fancy dog grooming place: “fancy” because that absolves me of my guilt—because what dog doesn’t love a day at the spa (except all of the dogs)—and “grooming place” because that means someone else has to clean up their eye boogers, express their anal glands, and, potentially, lose a finger to Skittle’s 700-PSI bite the moment she spies the nail grinder.

At yesterday’s drop-off at the groomer, I got the standard question, “Same as last time?” to which I gave the standard response, “Yes, please.”  I’m not sure if it was the “same as last time” or the “yes, please” that was misheard, but one or the other of those phrases became, “They will leave here with no fur.”

Exhibit A: Last Time

Fall 2014

Exhibit B: Today

Today

See the fuzzy looking stuff on their chests in the top picture? It’s fur. It’s supposed to be there.  

Skittle’s on the left, and I know that face she’s making. I know it, because I’ve made it. It’s the “I just paid a lot of money for a really bad haircut and I hope no one’s home so I can wash all the gunk out and try to make it look normal before they see me” face. As for poor Brooklyn and her painfully pink belly, I think she’s just putting on her brave face–much like the high-fashion models who find themselves teetering down the runway in getups like this one. (She’s wearing nearly the same expression, isn’t she?)

And what’s the deal with their ears? Did the dogs say, much like I do: “Hey, make sure I can still make a ponytail when you’re done with those scissors”?

And no, of course I didn’t complain when I picked them up. Actually, I didn’t even really notice (!) until it seemed too late to say anything. It wasn’t until they were relieving themselves in the field across the street that I took a good look and said, aloud and loudly, “Good God, puppies! What did they do to you?” (Followed quickly by, “Oh gross! Don’t eat that! That’s disgusting!”) And what was I supposed to do? March back in there and declare my dissatisfaction? Really? How does one complain about their dogs’ haircuts?

Oh.ma.gosh. Do you expect me to take them out in public like this? Eww.

The dogs are still depressed this morning. Brooklyn’s kicked off her runway stilettos and is chain-smoking cigarillos while she watches clips from America’s Top Model. Skittle’s exhausted from trying to turn on the bathtub tap with her teeth and is currently curled up in the fetal position on the couch. “Look away,” she just said to me, all Kramer-esque, “I’m hideous.”

So let this be a lesson to you: The next time you find yourself responding, “Yes, please” to questions like, “Same as last time?” or “The usual?” make sure the question posed doesn’t actually mean, “Shall we scalp you and strip you of all dignity?” Brooklyn can actually pull off “painfully pink belly.” You probably can’t.

 

 

 

*Hey, I bet your dogs have dumb names, too. Don’t judge.