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30 Oct

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Reclaiming YHWH Take 2

12 Dec

The day after I posted my last blog entry about reclaiming YHWH and letting go of Zeus, a student of mine offered the following prayer that he wrote:

Translated “I AM”, YAHWEH is our most sacred name for God.  Considered so sacred, people refrain from its use, though they proclaim it with each breath.  Taking a breath, notice the sound of the inhale “YAH” and exhale “WEH”.  It is incredible, the whole world is praying God’s name constantly.  Our life is our prayer and glory to God.  Furthermore, we proclaim, “I AM”, and thus stating we are all a part of God.  God breathed his life into us (Genesis 2:7).  Our breath claims our own divinity as human beings.  Consequently, one person can make a difference in this world.  God can do and as we are divine an individual can do anything.  I want people to appreciate this and see the beauty and potential in themselves and others.  Most importantly, realize we all say the same prayer.

I found this to be beautifully insightful coming from a 17 year old young man.  I use breath as a sign of the divine with my students often.  I will tell them, “God is breath.  We have been breathing since the moment we were born.  Our breath sustains our lives.  It is always with us, we just don’t always choose to acknowledge it.”  And breath is usually associated with the the Spirit, the only part of the Trinity that can be seen by most as female.  But I like this breath connection with YHWH, too.  At some point during my day since he prayed this with us, when I am not feeling so divine, I close my eyes and listen to the sound and rhythm of my breath.  Just being is enough.  I AM, and I can feel the rest of creation breathing with me.  The abundant, self-emptying, relational love is in us and around us and moving through all of us all of the time.  There is great comfort in that for me.  The boundaries break down.  I am breath and life.  It is hard to tell where YHWH stops and my neighbor starts.  There is beauty and power in the simplicity of I AM, and there is a chance to remember that with each breath we take.

Peach Splattered Love

26 Nov

Three years ago Dan and I started a new tradition called Pie Breakfast.  Thanksgiving is such an odd time, we have no idea what we are celebrating.  Columbus was probably horrible, and yet being actively grateful is a healthy, counter-cultural thing to do.  We noticed that few people have plans early in the day on Thanksgiving, and although eating poultry with our flesh and blood family is fabulous and full in every sense of the word, it seemed lacking.  For we are equally, at this stage of life, grateful for the presence of our friends, our larger community that comes through and holds us up repeatedly.

So we started Pie Breakfast.  Pie Breakfast consists of Dan and I baking twenty pies on Wednesday night and inviting people we love over to eat said pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving.  It is lovely.  We go through a pound and a half of coffee, and not quite twenty pies because, well, sometimes we should eat dessert first.

Between baking and hosting, it is one of my favorite twenty-four hours of the year. I feel like Dan and I make our own, self-sufficient family.  We started our own tradition, and it seems to tap into what the holiday is indeed trying to celebrate.  There is something so life-giving about sipping coffee, holding a bite of something sweet in our mouths to savor, taking time to start the day in the presence of goodness and friends.

Our most popular pies this year were Whiskey Apple, Pear Ginger, Cranberry Walnut and Peanut Butter Fudge. All the recipes came from a cookbook we received as a wedding gift of blue ribbon recipes from State Fairs around the US.  On Wednesday night, a few pies into the process, I sat with the super cool apple peeler at the table and watched Dan flip through the blue and white checkered cookbook.  I tangibly felt myself fall more deeply in love with him at that moment, as he flipped fairly untouched pages.  I realized that this was still the beginning.  I saw Pie Breakfasts for years to come flash before me, and I yearned for the pages to be marked up with post-it notes and spills of vanilla and Dan’s scribble.  I wanted to be twenty-three years into Pie Breakfast when we had our favorite pies and favorite people.  I wanted our relationship to be time-tested and worn in.  But I was simultaneously excited to live through each moment until then.  As amazing as it will be to grow old with Dan, to be worn-in and splattered and rough around the edges, we are not there yet.  We are crisp and new and uncharted. We opened the book and started getting it dirty.  We started to ever so subtly earn our worn-in-ness.  One pie at a time.  I feels like the beginning of a deeply tasty forever.

Reclaiming YHWH

24 Oct

I have noticed in my three years of teaching high school theology that many young people who are brave, interesting and mature enough to ask really engaging theological questions tend to self identify as atheists.  They have given up on Church by the age of sixteen, and the saddest part is watching these young people make the possible mistake of giving up on God and Church as if it were the same thing.

My hunch is this might actually be a semantics issue.  We may need to think about a new vocabulary surrounding God.  The early Christian Church was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, so it would make sense that the Christian God became a mixture, too. When Jews, who believed in YHWH, asked pagans to believe in one God, Greeks picked their most powerful god- Zeus.  The problem is that the Jewish YHWH and Greek Zeus deeply contradicted each other. YHWH is humble, self-emptying, abundant love.  Zeus is a self-contained, muscular, sexual, manipulative, controlling male.  YHWH is relation with, Zeus is domination over. Zeus deals with creation like an appendage, YHWH is deeply in, with and through all of Creation.  Our Church today is worshipping a very Greek influenced God.  Zeus is winning.  We have lost touch with YHWH as we read the Hebrew Scriptures less and less.  Art from Western Europe, which makes up our mental prototype for God, is actually Zeus in part because one cannot draw YHWH.  This reinforces our idea of a God as Zeus. We are hard wired for Zeus because he is easier to understand, more like us.  And we yearn for simplicity. If we don’t start making the vulnerable, relational YHWH God accessible, we are going to keep losing young people.  When I offer this idea, the overwhelming teenage response is, “YHWH is what I believe in.  Maybe I am not an atheist.  I just don’t want to worship Zeus.”

“A church committed to a Zeus-god will play upon our fears and keep its membership infantile in order to control it.” (Maggie Ross, Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood, and Spiritual Maturity, Harper and Row, NY: 2007, p.76) And the young people I know want nothing to do with that.  Our church needs to reclaim YHWH.  Although there is a part of us that would like God to be a puppet-master, deep down we do not want to be in slavery to God’s will.  I believe young people want responsibility in the world and an authentic relationship with the divine.

There are young, brilliant, energetic, relational, intuitive teens out there who want to make the world more beautiful.  They are self-reflective youth with extremely high spiritual intelligence.  They are leaving the Church in droves, and some of them are leaving God while they are at it.  They see God being co-opted by our limited, sinful human brains, agendas and actions and refuse to worship Zeus as people of integrity.  As we learn more about our YHWH God, we give young people the hope that the light they see in nature, justice work, in themselves and each other is actually the light of God.

A Call for Conversation

14 Oct

There is a lot of buzz about Waiting for “Superman,” the movie about the educational system in the US. Now, buzz can be good and bad.  Our kids and our educational system need some buzz, so I was excited to see that there is talk popping up around the film.  The buzz seemed positive at first.  Oprah loved it, the trailer gave me goosebumps. This was exciting!  Education is on the pop culture radar! Let the conversation begin!

But let’s be honest, our polarized society is having a hard time with conversation as of late.  I mean, there is talking and then there is conversation.  We like to proclaim and pontificate and not listen.  We like to blame and deflect and use anger, which is not always good buzz.  And stakes are high.  People have decided they did not like the film just off the buzz.  I did not want to be that person, so I went on opening night in Minneapolis. I really thought the film had a lot of good things to offer the conversation, and I am so dedicated as a teacher to that conversation.  The anger and defensiveness in regard to the film addressing ineffective teachers, charter schools and unions surprised me because there is no one way that will reform education and offer children more opportunity.  This seemed like a useful voice in the conversation.

I will openly admit it was easier for me to not get defensive watching Waiting for “Superman” as a private school teacher.  I take my different perspective seriously when listening to teachers talk about the film.  At my school, there is no tenure, we have to earn our contract every year.  There are no unions at my school.  We get paid less than our public school counterparts, and we have a waiting list, hundreds of families waiting to pay $9,000 a year.  I was struck by the disconnect between my daily reality and the reality in the film.

It was interesting to watch Waiting for “Superman” in the state of Minnesota.  People move here or stay here and brave horrible February blizzards in the name of good education. And our education is good here, comparatively.  But we rank very high in achievement gap.  Embarrassingly high.  I am a white woman.  Our faculty is almost exclusively white.  We have 18% students of color, many of whom are tracked for non-honors courses.  Closing the gap and making our school actively anti-racist is work we are currently and urgently engaged in.  I was encouraged that that work needs to continue.

The film is not perfect.  I don’t think it is not meant to be.  It is one part of a very important conversation.  Good teaching is an art, and every teacher I know is a brilliant hero.  But we still need to talk about ineffective teachers because even as a numerical minority, they do exist.  There are advantages and disadvantages to unions, and we need to talk about it.  Charter schools are one possible step, but far from the only solution.  I liked this film because I think it is igniting a very important conversation about the state of education in the US.  And I get sad when conversation gets replaced by polarized talking.  I would recommend seeing it, and I would encourage you to be part of that essential conversation.  Be an active stakeholder whether you are parent, tax payer or educator.  Adults have to come together and work together so that children who want to learn have access and opportunity.  The most powerful part of the film for me was when it stated that adults are fighting in the world of education and the youth are the ones suffering.  So I find it ironic that adults are fighting over the film, some without even seeing it.  I am glad people are talking, now let’s start conversing.  Buzz is not enough when education is on the line.  We can take this energy and the increased voices at the table work together toward complex, holistic, compassionate transformation and improvement.

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