“I Know What I’m Doing and I’m Fearless.”

Note: This post uses Barack Obama as an example to discuss a broader point, though it’s not a post about his policies. However, if you are someone for whom any mention of the President makes your blood boil, you may want to skip this post. Go in peace.

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I’ve always admired the university tenure system. Academic tenure’s original purpose was to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics. (That’s Wikipedia’s explanation of tenure–whether it works like that in practice or not, it’s an admirable concept. Good scholarship depends on it.)

For many years, my friend Gini and I have talked about what we call “spiritual tenure.” Spiritual tenure is not granted by any external body–you grant it to yourself. Spiritual tenure is being able to speak the truth as you see it, with integrity and without fear. Spiritual tenure does not shield you from consequence, like academic tenure might do. But it does give you the personal strength to recognize when it will cost you more to shrink, to keep your opinions quiet, to keep your self to yourself, than it will to stand in your own truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Perhaps you saw this image make the rounds on social media recently:

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Meryl Streep has oodles of spiritual tenure.

When Gini and I were younger, we did a lot of work around the spiritual lives of young women, mainly because we were annoyed by the Oprah-esque, “life-begins-at-50″ messages that we saw all around us. As if we were merely women-in-training, biding our time until our moment of enlightenment arrived. We didn’t want to wait for wisdom, we wanted to seek it out and celebrate it even in our tumultuous 20s, imperfect though that wisdom may be. I remember a book came out around this time called The Quarter-Life Crisis, talking about the sense of drift that people can feel in their 20s. When the authors were interviewed on the Today Show, Katie Couric sniffed, “What, do you guys have an aunt in publishing?” Nice attitude.

Now that I am solidly in my 40s, I’m reluctantly realizing that the Oprahs of the world have a point. Spiritual tenure is something I’ve been able to grant myself gradually over time. (At the same time, the young women I know are so much more evolved and self-possessed than I was in my 20s. My hat is off to them. Maybe they’ll get tenure sooner than I did.)

Anyway, I thought about spiritual tenure again this week when I read about President Obama’s interview with Marc Maron in which he said, “I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless.” Indeed, the man has had a pretty notable week, what with the Supreme Court’s decisions on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality… and his soaring eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. There’s something very attractive about a leader who operates without fear. I’m not talking about bravado or over-confidence. And certainly fearless leaders still make mistakes. I’m talking about being purposeful, even graceful, with the actions you take as a leader.

In fact, Obama’s entire quote has even more power. He was talking about what he’s learned about himself and compared his experience to that of a professional athlete past his prime. “You might slow down a little bit, and you might not jump as high as you used to,” Obama said, “but I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless.”

As I continue in this transition period, in which I’m not currently a pastor but am exploring other identities and callings, I’m thinking a lot about this fearlessness, and cultivating a sense of spiritual tenure. I’m trying to speak up more and qualify my words less.

I’m curious what your own milestones and markers have been for this kind of work.

There’s a coda to all of this. That quote in the Meryl Streep photo? Didn’t come from her. It’s from a Portuguese author named José Micard Teixeira. He’s quite a bit younger than Meryl Streep, which goes to show–some spiritual tenure committees work fast. May yours be swift too!

~

Image: Pete Souza captures Obama’s reaction on hearing the Supreme Court decision about the ACA. Official White House photos.

What Marriage Equality Is Actually About

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Say what you will about Justice Antonin Scalia–he is colorful. In his dissent to today’s opinion on marriage equality, he wrote this:

Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.

(By the way Mr. Justice–the 20th century called and wants its examples back. Hippies? Really?)

Yes, there is a moral beauty and spiritual resonance in what happened today. But let’s be focused and clear about what this is about. It is about equal rights under the law.

In the words of Jim Obergefell, the man whose name will forever be linked to today’s decision:

Couples across America may now wed and have their marriage recognized and respected no matter what state they call home. No other person will learn at the most painful moment of married life, the death of a spouse, that their lawful marriage will be disregarded by the state. No married couple who moves will suddenly become two single persons because their new state ignores their lawful marriage.

Ethan and Andrew can marry in Cincinnati instead of being forced to travel to another state.

A girl named Ruby can have an accurate birth certificate listing her parents Kelly and Kelly.

Pam and Nicole never again have to fear for Grayden and Orion’s lives in a medical emergency because, in their panic, they forgot legal documents that prove both mothers have the right to approve care.

Cooper can grow into a man knowing Joe and Rob are his parents in all ways emotional and legal.

I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John’s death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace.

It is so ordered.

~

And a blast from the past: the piece I wrote for TIME almost exactly a year ago when the Presbyterian Church (USA) made the move to marriage equality.

Image: states where gay marriage is legal. Source.

Screen Time in the Summer–What’s a Work-From-Home Mom To Do?

article-2241437-164A0D73000005DC-831_634x637When we first began practicing Sabbath, we weren’t sure what to do about technology: TV, video games, social media and the like. We started out by putting a limit on those activities without banning them outright. Each of the kids received a coin that they could spend whenever they wanted on 30 minutes of screen time, which was usually watching a TV show. Now that the kids are more into MineCraft, Wii and (in Caroline’s case) emailing and texting friends, we’ve expanded that to two 30 minute blocks.

But with Robert and me both working from home this particular summer, we needed something a little more robust. We need the kids to be more self-directed–we can’t be monitoring who’s doing what and for how long. Besides, the girls are reading more and more books on tablets–who wants to keep track of whether they’re reading or watching Netflix?

Enter the Momentum Optimization Project, in which kids can have unlimited screen time, AFTER they have completed ALL the items on a list written by the parents.

Here’s the philosophy behind it:

As a freelancer who makes her own hours,  I’ve learned a few things about personal momentum. I’m a morning person, and my peak productive time is before 10:00am. If I start my day by sitting at the desk at, say, 5:00am, and digging in on actual work, I’ll keep going all day. If I start the day by, say, cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or phaffing about on the interwebs, I’m in trouble. And if,  God forbid, I sit on the couch and flip on The Today Show, all bets are off; I’m not moving until bedtime.  I think of it as Newton’s Law of Personal Momentum, for I am an object that will either stay at rest or stay in motion, based on where I am at 5:30 am.

My kids are the same way. And because they are youth existing in the 20teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever. I know all the reasons why that’s a bad idea, but since my kids are growing up, I don’t feel like it should be up to me to find ways to entertain them. At ten and thirteen years old, they should be figuring out what to do with their own time themselves.

Here’s the summertime edition of the MOP.

We were in Dallas over the weekend, so our MOP began in earnest yesterday. Yesterday’s list included:

  • tidying rooms
  • reading for 30 minutes
  • vacuuming basement (James)
  • changing sheets on the top bunk (Margaret)
  • washing and folding one load of laundry (Caroline)

We also took a trip to the library so each kid would have an arsenal of books.

It went pretty well. With morning swim practice, the MOP doesn’t really begin in earnest until 10:30 or 11, making the day more compressed. But I could have given them slightly more to do. So today’s list includes a few of the same things, plus:

  • 45 minutes of reading instead of 30
  • emptying the dishwasher
  • going through the books in their rooms and sorting them into “keep” and “giveaway” piles. (We’re moving at the end of the summer, so I expect each day’s list will include some decluttering task.)
  • doing something creative for at least 30 minutes, e.g. playing music, doing art, Legos, or cooking.

The underlying benefit of the MOP is oftentimes you get immersed in an activity and forget all about screen time. That seems less likely to happen with James, who loooooves his video games, so I need to be mindful of that when I compile his list. But yesterday Margaret ended up inviting a friend over and didn’t have much screen time at all. And Caroline is currently making muffins, which will end up taking longer than 30 minutes.

[pause writing for a quick trip to the grocery store–we were out of eggs. While there I picked up ingredients for Margaret’s “something creative.” Both recipes will be linked below.]

The challenge for the “something creative,” clearly, is that I need to make sure they have adequate supplies. Plus they are full of questions. James wanted to know if he could use the old boxes in the garage to make a tunnel. Caroline wasn’t sure which dish to use to melt the butter in the microwave. I’m encouraging them to try to solve the problems themselves first, then ask me if they get stuck.

I’ll report back as the summer goes on, but so far, so good. They are definitely having more screen time than they would with two 30-minute tokens, but I can’t imagine it’s more than I had at that age. I did all the standard childhood-summer-in-the-1970s stuff–swimming pool, playing outside, but I also watched an epic amount of TV. (The above image is from I Dream of Jeannie, which was an indispensable part of my summers, along with Bewitched, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, and of course, The Brady Bunch. And somehow I am not ruined. And the great thing about the MOP is it’s a hybrid of self-direction and parental guidance.

And I get some folded laundry out of the deal.

~

Margaret’s “something creative”: Creamy Orange Popsicles

Caroline’s “something creative”: Brown Sugar Muffins

The World Is Still Beautiful

Last night I posted this to Facebook with the caption

It’s a beautiful time to be alive.

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I posted it at 8:30 p.m.

Of course I didn’t know that at that moment, a young white man was sitting in an iconic black church, words of love and liberation washing over him, calculating just the right time to open fire on people whose only crime was being black in America.

It was a lynching.

As of this writing, my Facebook post had 162 likes. Many of them came in after the events in Charleston. I’m grateful for every one of those likes, because I have a hard time believing it’s a beautiful time to be alive. I’m so tired of the violence that I can scarcely even muster the energy to be outraged.

And if I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, I can only imagine what African-American friends and colleagues are feeling. A friend shared that her church is having a meeting to see about hiring a security guard, which they would share with the church across the street. I don’t need to tell you the racial makeup of those congregations.

162 people clicked a button in agreement that it’s a beautiful time to be alive., which is such a small thing, but I needed every one of those affirmation.

Because it’s true. We must fight back with beauty.

But the beauty we employ cannot be a soft, Thomas Kinkade beauty. No, we need beauty with an edge and a spine. We need Mark Rothko beauty. We need Sylvia Plath and Langston Hughes and Miles Davis.

My friend Denise Anderson wrote this post. Read it and suit up.

It is a beautiful time to be alive. But only if we make it beautiful. And we have to. We just have to.

On Being a Nerd Pastor

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A while back I led a retreat with some United Church of Christ pastors and asked them the icebreaker question, “What’s saving your life right now?” (Thank you for that, Barbara Brown Taylor.) One of the women said, “Just a few more days until I get to go to Comic Con!”

Pastors are naturally bookish sorts–in many cases, our training involves an advanced degree, often including the study of ancient languages. But I meet a lot of pastors who are also interested in things that have been traditionally classified as nerd/geek things: comic books, cosplay, science fiction/fantasy, and so forth. I haven’t quite parsed whether pastors are more nerdy overall, or my pastoral circles happen to trend that way, or whether the culture at large is becoming more embracing of nerd culture, or at least, diversifying enough that nerds can find one another.

The other day I posted to Twitter that I was thinking about writing an article about nerd pastors. Who do I need to talk to? I asked… and was flooded with responses. One person said, “@RevHez1 has been working on a theory that fandom = ekklesia.” Another sent me a keynote address he’d offered to a group of pastoral counselors called “Confessions of an American Nerd.” Aric Clark has his LectionARIC YouTube channel that promises to meld scripture with pop culture/”geeky” content. There’s the Church of the Geek podcast. There’s GeekdomHouse, which has this to say on its About page:

Our belief is that by engaging and participating in all aspects of life—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual— we can strengthen and enrich communities that already exist through our love of geekery. George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis are prime examples of people who contributed excellence to the community while allowing for things like faith, ethics, and creativity to interact with one another.

Tolkien and Lewis: serious church nerds.

From time to time, the annual gathering for NEXT Church (which I co-chaired for two years) gets called “the cool kids conference.” This always makes me laugh, because in my entire life, I have never been cool.

That said, I sometimes hold off on calling myself a nerd/geek. Not because I’m too cool for that, because see above, but because nerd/geek sometimes implies a level of knowledge I don’t feel I can claim. I love the Lord of the Rings movies, and have preached sermons on them, but I couldn’t make it through the books. I love a good superhero blockbuster (and preached a series called “Parables and Pop Culture,” which included two weeks on comic book superheroes) but I don’t read comic books myself.

But is nerddom about a specific body of knowledge, or is it an orientation? Glen Weldon, a frequent panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour and author of Superman, The Unauthorized Biography, is writing a book about nerd culture through the lens of Batman fandom. He says the basic quality of the nerd is enthusiasm–a pure joy that makes you want to delve deep into your particular area of interest. Nerds aren’t posers–those people who scoff when “everyone” has discovered the obscure band, TV show or book that they loved and considered special because it was obscure and quirky. Nerds want to share the object of their enthusiasm with the world. Operating under that definition, incidentally, we need more nerd pastors in the church.

What do you think? Where do you see intersections between nerddom/geekdom, spirituality and faith?

~

Image is from XKCD.