Family

Wild Goose 2012 Reflection

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook
The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook.

The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.

I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.

But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.

There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.

For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.

God's Passionate Vulnerability

One of the drawbacks intrinsic to liturgical worship is the length of time it takes to adopt expressions that are newly current and potent into the approved forms. Certain forms of language become deeply important to a generation—key words and symbols that are pregnant with meaning, yet haven’t been incorporated officially into our forms of worship. So we often feel a certain dissonance in church as the language of worship seems impoverished by the absence of expressions we value so highly in our own exploration into God today. I long for prayers that express, directly and passionately, that God suffers. I look forward to praising God’s vulnerability. I am impatient for the recasting of prayer to praise the Creator in terms that unequivocally embrace the evolutionary perspective. In the meantime, preaching is the key field for using this fresh language with passion, in an exciting conversation with ancient expressions and classic symbols that can never become out of date, as long as we use our imaginations to keep on releasing their latent powers.

The scriptures in this season provide rich opportunities for exploring great images of God’s transforming power in vulnerability. Has anyone coined the word “paradoxology” yet to express the essence of transformative Christian worship? Only paradoxical language can point with any degree of success to the mystery of God and the revelatory revolution that springs into life out of the action of Jesus, the passion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C.

[ June 3 ]
Leadership Reborn
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29;
Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17.

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A Hundred Hidden Kisses (Day Five)

Photo via Christian Piatt
Zoe found some eggs in the hen house this morning. She smiles at the and the eggs just pop right out. Photo via Christian Piatt

We headed west toward Las Vegas this morning; chasing daylight toward the coast, leaving the kids in the care of grandma and grandpa.

I’ll give you one guess to figure out which one of us had a harder time leaving.

Personally, I know they’re safe at the farm, and they’ll have a lot more fun there than they would with us, driving a couple thousand miles over the next two weeks. Of course I’ll miss them, but I’ve also been looking forward to some “grown-up” time for a while. More specifically, this trip is not something most people ever get to do, let alone parents of two young kids.

And before we get to Portland and take our positions in the Big Kid Church, this is our chance to be a little bit irresponsible and childish. We can stay up late if we want. I can eat 12 Slim Jims for lunch if the mood strikes— though to be honest, the white stuff you squeeze out of those things turned me off of Slim Jims decades ago.

But I could if I wanted.

Hearts in the Trash (Day Two)

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.
The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.

While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.

Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.

“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”

“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.

“Taking it where?”

“Good question.”

Rick Santorum and Family Values

Most of the first punditry around Rick Santorum suspending his quest for the Republican presidential nomination focuses on his drop in the Pennsylvania opinion polls and his difficulty in fundraising. Those were no doubt part of the decision. But there’s a deeper reason more important than political considerations.

As has been frequently reported, Sen. Santorum and his wife Karen’s youngest child Bella, was born with a rare and usually fatal chromosomal condition known as Trisomy 18. Bella, 3-years old, has been hospitalized twice already this year with pneumonia, most recently this past weekend.  Santorum took two days from campaigning to be with her.

A Family's Identity Crisis

AT SOME POINT during adolescence, many young people transition away from the values, beliefs, and practices of the home in which they were raised to form an identity of their own. Some of these shifts—changing a college major or casting a vote—may be minor; others can cause such deep rifts that they tear families apart.

Over time and with dedication, some of these rifts can be mended, but the process toward reconciliation is often painful. Without the support of their families, young people in the midst of major transitions can be forced to live life on the margins—cast out, like pariahs.

Dee Rees’ debut full-length film Pariah captures the complexities of self-discovery as it manifests itself in Alike (pronounced Uh-Lee-Kay), a bright 17-year-old African-American woman struggling to claim her sexual identity. Rees infuses much of her personal narrative into Alike’s journey.

At first glance, Alike’s home life is a portrait of an average American family—two working parents, two children, and a commitment to church and education. But as the film develops, we see that Alike’s family isn’t as stable as it may appear.

As a young person still under her parents’ roof, Alike lives a double life. During school and on weekends, she pursues romantic relationships with women and is developing a queer image of her own; at home, she must abide by the strict rules of her church-going mother who suspects, but refuses to acknowledge, Alike’s sexual orientation. In one of the opening scenes, we see Alike changing on the bus after a night out with friends. In an attempt to maintain a “feminine” façade for her family, she removes a do-rag and oversized t-shirt to reveal braided hair and a white, fitted blouse with the word “Angel” written in rhinestones across the chest. All this is to please Alike’s mother, who buys her daughters clothes to “complement their figures,” offers frequent beauty advice, and insists that they be “presentable” in public.

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LifeBuilders: Help Rebuild Lives (and Souls) in Detroit with the Click of a Mouse

Image from www.lifebuildersdetroit.com.
Image from www.lifebuildersdetroit.com.

When Marilyn and Larry Johnson sold their computer business in suburban Detroit about a decade ago, they figured they'd settle into the next phase of their lives with ease. Retirement meant more freedom, fewer pressures and ample time on the golf course. But a life of leisure turned out to feel terribly hollow for the Christian couple.

"I remember coming in from a golf game and Larry asking me how my game was, and I just started crying," Marilyn told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom recently. "I said, 'My life has no purpose.' "

So the Johnsons began volunteering at shelters, treatment programs and soup kitchens. On Thanksgiving eight years ago, they wound up serving turkey dinner to the homeless. It was a turning point.  An epiphany.

TRANSCRIPT: Barack Obama and The God Factor Interview

Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.
Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani


Conversation on Prayer with President Obama

Prayer image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic.mhtml?
Prayer image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic.mhtml?id=46427416)

In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explained to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle and involved with some other work. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff but there is something I very specifically remember and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.

I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:

“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”

His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps, I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” and I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.

Something in the Blood

Red blood cells. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/ysvxWb.
Red blood cells. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/ysvxWb.

Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Yeah, right.

I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.

But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.

 

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