Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rachel Weeps

Jeremiah 31:15 This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more."

Words cannot begin to convey the hurt in my heart for the children and families in Newtown, CT. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

This verse from Jeremiah was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news of the violent tragedy in Newtown on Friday morning. 27 young lives tragically and violently ripped from the time-space continuum as we know it. Like everyone else, I am struggling to make sense of this tragedy.

As I have watched the Facebook and Twitter traffic unfold, I continue to try and find some sense of peace and understanding. Rachel is indeed weeping for her children and consolation is going to be difficult. The Facebook and Twitter traffic began by offering prayer for those affected by this tragedy, then the traffic began to turn to analysis. Why did this happen? What can we do to make sure it never happens again? Will there be a time when it will be safe to send our children to school again?

The WHY questions of life are always the toughest, because there is not often an answer to Why? I know I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know what motivated the gunman to kill his mother then open fire on classrooms of young children. I know that neuroscience tells me that this young man of 20 years didn’t have a fully developed frontal lobe, the part of the brain that moderates impulsive behaviors. I also know that having an answer to the many why questions that are emerging from this tragic shooting isn’t going to bring these children back to their parents, nor is it going bring comfort to those who mourn.

As I look at the Scriptural tradition that feeds my faith, I am reminded of two stories. The first is found in Exodus 1&2, the story of Moses in the Bulrushes. Moses is rescued from death by the Pharaoh’s own daughter, and survives the edict for all male Hebrew children to be tossed to their death in the Nile. This is the first example of infanticide that I can find in scripture. In this story the faithfulness of two midwives, Shiphrah and Puha who feared God and refused to participate in Pharaoh’s plot. There is a sense of peace that comes from recalling this story in that God’s presence is with Moses and the Hebrew people in spite of the evil edict that seeks to destroy a people. God’s presence will be with those who mourn in Newtown, CT.

The second story is found in Matthew 2:16-18 – commonly known in Christian circles as the Massacre of the Innocents. This “Feast” which is also called Childermas, is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran traditions on December 28th. Sometimes in the Christmas cycle of the lectionary, specifically during year A, this is part of the lectionary during Christmas.

It is difficult to conceive why? Why would such a joyous holiday time bring up to our memory such a horrible story of the killing of innocent children? In the Christian tradition, King Herod’s slaughter of male children under the age of 2 difficult for us to comprehend. King Herod, fearing this “King of the Jews” orders that all male children under the age of 2 years be killed. This is a second example of infanticide that I can find in scripture. This story does not bring the peace that the story of Moses in Bulrushes does, at least for me. It is difficult to conceive how a King could order the murder of his own people. And it is here that we are reminded again of the words of the prophet Jeremiah and that Rachel Weeps for her children.

Rachel is indeed still weeping, still weeping today with the nation, and with the 20 families whose children are no more. It is here that we sit today. We sit today with a weeping Rachel. A weeping Rachel who refuses to be comforted because her children are no more.

As a childless mother, I can only begin to have a sliver of understanding of the pain felt by 20 families in Newtown, CT. I, like the rest of the nation, and probably each of you sitting here today, is left asking why? In this season of Advent, as we wait with joy and expectation for the coming of the Christ child, full of hope and potential, we are instead tossed into the ugliness of sin and human depravity.

It was this very sin and human depravity where the presence of God can be found. God was present as Joseph was warned to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until it would be safe to return to Israel after the death of King Herod. God is present today with those families who mourn their children, a community that mourns its loss of potential, hope, and promise of the young lives; and educators, like Shiphrah and Puah sought to protect those young lives from the sin and depravity that broke into the idyllic life of Newtown, CT Friday morning.

So as I watched the Facebook and Twitter traffic offer prayer, I was comforted, knowing that we can mourn with those who mourn. That as a person of faith I can be in solidarity with those who mourn. That as a person of faith, there were others struggling with this dark place in the midst of a joyous season of expectation and the celebrations of Light – Hanukah and Advent.


We live in an age of analysis and pundits and we live in a culture that wants to fix things. We don’t like to step out of our comfort zones, and the events of Friday in Newtown, CT tossed that community and our nation who watched the various media accounts into a place of darkness and discomfort. So rather than live through the pain and find the deep healing that is available in God’s presence in the midst of human depravity we begin to analyze and assign blame. This human desire for understanding, knowledge and understanding shifts a focus from being able to find God’s presence in the midst of human depravity to one that wants to fix symptoms and assign blame.

Finger pointing and using this event as a springboard for a variety of social and political agendas isn’t going to bring these 20 children back to life. Knowing what the NRA thinks about this event, isn’t going to bring comfort and God’s presence to the lives of mourning families and a hurting community and nation.

The Friday events in Newtown, CT remind us again that we live in a world of pain and suffering, even as we wait for our redemption and the coming of Jesus Christ, Light of the World, during this season of Advent. After all, it was Jesus the Christ, who came to earth as God Incarnate, to show us God’s presence in the midst of human depravity. It was this same Jesus the Christ, who was a refugee from infanticide and is the same God that brings comfort in the midst of human depravity and tragedy. Our challenge in our instant fix it (mask the symptoms) and culture of over analysis and assignment of blame is to be present to those who mourn, to walk with each other as we live through the pain and in that experience God’s presence in our midst.

Our challenge is to live through the pain and walk with those who are also in pain – pointing to the hope we have in the redemption that is brought by the Christ Child. This earthly life still has pain, yet God is faithful still, this a claim of our faith, this what we wait for during the season of Advent, God’s faithfulness in the midst of human depravity and tragedy.

We can’t hide from pain…legislate it away. We can take a stand like Shiphrah and Puah…we can listen for God’s presence as did Joseph.

We can also be present with those who are hurting…take the courageous step of walking with them through the valley of the shadow of death. And in doing so…demonstrates the expectation we have for the redemption of the world we know in Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I got a tattoo

I have been fascinated by tattoos since I sat next to a woman with tattoos (more than one) on an airplane trip (one of my first) to Seattle in 1969 or 1970, when my mom took me with her so she could visit her mother in a nursing home. Tattoo acceptance, especially for women at that time was not where it is today. What I remember was this lady was really nice and enjoyed talking with her (I was 6 or 7 years old at the time) she was very accommodating to my questions about her tattoos. Now of course my mother was horrified. I was one of those kids who would talk to anyone and everybody about anything. Social propriety and looking good in the eyes of others was something that never crossed my mind. People were interesting and they still are to me. I was fascinated by this lady with tattoos and wondered why some people thought less of this lady because of her tats

One of the most interesting conversations about tats came when I was in a now defunct coffee shop with my knitting group. A young man of 18-20 came in and he had this big tat on his arm and several spaces were empty on it. He told us his story of how he wanted to do certain things in his life and when he achieved those things, the particular empty area of the tat would be filled in as a symbol of accomplishment.

As I grew in my life and my faith, the stigma of tattoos was still part of my growing up years. People with tattoos were considered ‘rough’, ‘wild’, and not proper. Of course I wanted to be proper and fit into the right place in society. Over the years I have talked with many people who have body art. I have asked them what their body art has meant to them, and I have learned some real interesting stories and experiences. Recently I spoke with a CNA at a nursing facility that I visit in my hospice work. She had a tat on the back of her neck. She told me she regretted getting it. We talked a bit and then she said to me, when I told her I was thinking of getting a tat, “you are too nice to get a get a tat.” Am I? Isn’t that the same reverse stereotyping of labeling people with tats bad? I have over the years met people who regret their tats, and have grown beyond their tats, yet their tats are part of them, bearing witness to that life event or stage in their life cycle.

I’ve discussed tats with a lot of people, including my husband. I appreciate that he is accepting of my tat, even as he wonders why people scribble their bodies. He has lovingly told me that we are self-differentiated enough that he is OK with my tat and he joking says he has his own natural tats on his legs from a health condition.

Then there was that sticky wicket of the verse from Leviticus 19:28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” I was able to work this one through theologically for myself…even as I continually joke about the tattoo shop on Lake Street in Minneapolis called Leviticus Tattoo. The CONTEXT of the passage from Leviticus is important. It was an admonishment to the Hebrew people as they differentiated themselves from the foreign tribes around them. Many of those foreign tribes would shave their eyebrows and get tattoos as a sign of mourning. And many of these foreign tribes worshiped multiple gods, unlike the Hebrew people who worshiped the One G*d. The Hebrew people differentiated themselves from those around them by not getting tats.

So as a 21st Century Christian, I realize that I don’t live under that Levitical law. I live under a covenant with Jesus Christ. In Christ there is a lot of freedom.

In my own journey of faith I have been pondering what it means to be embodied and to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. I will be writing more on this in coming weeks. I have also wondered what the big deal was about tats. My fascination continued to grow, so I pondered what it would mean for me to get a tat. What kind of tat would I get? What is so important to me that I would want to scribble it on my body? My faith has always been important to me. It has got me through some interesting times in my life. It has allowed me to experience some of the richest human experiences. My faith as saved my life many times over and I would want to symbolize that in a tat.

As a Presbyterian minister and hospice chaplain, I wanted a cross…not a crucifix…because my God suffered that death and the cross is now empty. I am also of Scots-Irish and Northern European (Norwegian and German-Swiss) descent and drawn to everything Celtic. I wanted a cross with Celtic elements.

So I got a tattoo. I went to the Illustrated Man, one of the oldest and most established tattoo establishments in Kansas City. The owner Jack and his staff are Christians. We talked about God and Jesus and the importance they played in our lives. As I got my tat, I got to hear the life story of a tattoo artist who has been doing tats for 40 years. I felt safe as I got my tat. I would do it again. Did it hurt? Not as much as I thought it would. I have had dental work that hurt more than my tat and experienced other pain in my life that hurt a lot worse than getting a tat.

So judge me if you want. I have exercised my freedom in Christ to express my faith in a new embodied way through my tat. I now know what it is like to get a tat and can share that experience with others. I have to live with my tat. It is now a permanent part of me and who I am.