Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready, Aim, Fire!

photo by Stacirl

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  James 3: 7,8 (NIV)

You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for an introvert like me, but I did it again. I got upset, and instead of taking some time to step back, give the situation to God and let him quiet my heart I charged in with cannons blazing and my tongue lighting the fuse.

Let's take the lay of the battlefield, shall we?

On one side we have our history with the school district. Gates' kindergarten year was filled with problems. It was fortunate that he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge because otherwise I am afraid it might have turned him off of school for a long time. We knew that his teacher had been transferred to the school at the last minute and was unhappy about it, we just didn't fully realize how much it was affecting her work in the classroom. We spent a lot of time blaming our discomfort on our unfamiliarity with 'the system'. It wasn't until first grade that some conversations with other parents brought the realization of just how much of the problem rested on his teacher. So we are understandably leery of school district politics and the transferring of teachers who don't want to be transferred.

On the other side we have our new school, built after Gates finished first grade to accomodate our expanding side of the city. The difference in staff at every level is amazing; handpicked by the principal to fit her educational philosophy it is a beautiful model of top-down influence on corporate culture.

This year Indy starts kindergarten. On Thursday evening I went to the introductory meeting to get his teacher assignment. With less than three weeks to go before the start of school the highlighted portion read 'TBA'. During the meeting the principal explained that due to higher than expected enrollment they would need another teacher but that they had to wait for the district to do a final count on August 3rd to determine needs, which would probably result in a teacher being reassigned from a school that had fewer students than anticipated. I sat through the rest of the meeting with my sole thought being "Oh HELL no, we are not going through this again."

After the meeting I lined up with other parents who had documents to turn in, questions to ask, problems to solve. A large portion of the line seemed to be made up of parents with children in the 'TBA' class, and they were not happy. And I am ashamed to say I did nothing to make them any happier. With scathing tone and sarcastic wit I told about our past experience. I expressed my feelings about the situation. My tongue worked its magic, spreading poison with every word.

When it was my turn to speak with the principal I handed in the paperwork that was my guise for speaking with her, and then I began to question her about the teacher situation. I voiced my frustrations, I whined, I may have made vague threats about how we were NOT 'doing this again'. In short, rather than extending her grace in a situation she had as little control over as I, I dumped all of my frustrations on her and as much as blamed her for misery that had as yet to make itself known.

It hit me today as I was folding laundry (a time that is exceedingly useful for deep contemplation) that I had really screwed up. Again. It is amazing how quickly I can use my tongue to spread poison, to start fires, to tear down. James certainly had it right when he said that no one can tame the tongue. With many of my actions I have a moment or so to think before acting, time to consider if it is kind or not. But there is something about speech that seems to bypass that moment of self-awareness, spewing out of my mouth with barely a thought. And once I head down a certain path it is incredibly difficult to reign it back in, to remember to season my words with grace and kindness. I make myself the center of the universe and act like a spoiled child when things don't go my way.

I can't undo the words I said. I also can't justify them by insisting on my 'right' to feel that way. But thanks to the instant nature of modern technology I was able to sit down and quickly email the principal an apology. I was able to do what I should have done from the start, assure her that I am praying daily for a teacher placement that will be a complement to her already excellent staff.

I make mistakes (ok, no sugar coating...I SIN) because I am human, because I fail to turn to God first when problems arise. I need to walk daily in humility, sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I need to learn to speak when he says to speak, and to shut up when he tells me to shut up. Oh, how desperately I need wisdom to navigate the battlefields of life with my weapon tossed aside, seeking instead to bind up those who are already injured.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

Lord, let my words be light-bringing and life-giving to those around me instead of a raging fire. Let me never take lightly the power my tongue can hold.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church ladies

photo by Paul Lowry

This past week I hosted a spa party at my home. I invited a number of women from church and the lone neighbor who actually happened to be outside long enough for me to corner chat with her. She declined, giving various excuses about needing to mow her lawn, being all sweaty, not looking up to par, being tired from a week of work. I tried to dispel her arguments, "No really, who cares what you look like? Look at me! It's a spa party, it's supposed to be relaxing and it sounds like you could use it! Mow your lawn, shower and you'll STILL have time to come." But no deal, she was steadfast.

I suspected another reason hiding behind the surface ones, a reason that was later confirmed. Even though I hadn't said a word about the guest list she knew who was coming...Church ladies. And she didn't think she'd fit in.

When did it become this way? Oh sure, in the 1st century when Christians were being tossed to the lions I can see why your average unbeliever would say "You know, I think I'll pass on being seen at your party." And yet the growth of the church in spite of persecution tells us that there must have been something about these Christians that drew others to them. But at some point, lions and persecution aside, we got the reputation as 'People you don't want to hang out with'. Is it the picture of the pious saint, nibbling cookies and rhapsodizing about the five hours spent in prayer that morning? (On her knees. On the wood floor. With splinters.) Is it the picture of Christians as an exclusive club of dour evangelists who will only admit you to our gatherings if you accept the '5 Steps to Salvation and Living a Righteous Life Unlike Those Worldly Sinners' booklet and promise to adhere to its guidelines? Or maybe we've been pegged as the type who put on sweet faces and say "Bless your heart" as we stick the knife of gossip in your back.

It hurts my heart to know that somewhere along the line my neighbor has decided that Church ladies = people she wouldn't feel comfortable around. Like we are somehow so radically different from her that none of us have ever made mistakes or struggled with our weakness. That maybe we would regard her as a 'project' to be 'led to the altar' and then discarded. That she just wouldn't have anything in common with any of us and would have no fun.

If that is what she thinks of when she thinks of Church ladies then in some way I am failing. I am failing to reflect the love and grace that have been showered on me. I am failing to reflect the reality of being part of the body of Christ and yet part of this world. Because the reality is that in my house that night were a bunch of flawed and crazy women. Yes, I can lean towards the prim and proper has more to do with introversion than any thought that somehow that makes me more holy. But as a whole we were a motley group of brash and reserved, rocker, nature lovers, horse riding, gardening, creating, stumbling, rising, life-living ordinary women.  We worship passionately, but we also live life passionately and in that we could have found common ground.

I'm on a mission now. A mission to change what those around me think of when they think of Church ladies. I want their first thoughts to be of grace, of joy, of gentleness, of welcome. I want them to see a flawed individual being made whole by the grace of God. I want them to see my heart. I want them to see the heart of God.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3: 7-14 (NIV)