Archive | March, 2010

The Power of Lament

25 Mar

Meet Joe.  Joe is a fifteen-year old who was randomly placed in my sophomore Hebrew Scripture class.  He walks in disheveled, out of uniform and groggy every morning.  He sits in the back, slouches, and never raises his hand.  I have learned that instead of becoming offended by a kid like Joe, it helps to get curious.  But when I would ask Joe questions, he would not be rude or mean, he was just slow to light up or offer me much.  But I don’t mind earning it.  Relationship does not always come easily.  Toward the end of the term, we studied lament.  I would read my students lament Psalms and play them songs that had lament lyrics.  I found most teenagers are afraid to call God out, to get angry or be sad or blame God.  That fear often leads to distance, apathy and resentment.  We talked about lament as possibly the last relevant form of prayer.  In prayer we ask for things a lot, but rarely take the time to give thanks or offer anger.  I assigned my students to write a lament to God.  I told them to scream, cry, doubt, throw whatever they had at God.  God can handle it.  Anger is less offensive than apathy.

On days that big assignments are due, I have students share projects with the class.  They only need to share what they feel comfortable sharing, but on lament day, Joe raised his hand for the first time.  He began to read his lament, filled with raw, honest why questions, aloud in front of his twenty-five classmates.  We learned that his favorite aunt had died unexpectedly while she was pregnant at age thirty-five.  One page in, his voice got high, his chin started to shake, and heads dropped in reverence as he began to sob.  I sat, awe-struck in the front of the room.  All the kids looked to me, but I did not know what to do.  I held my breath and let him cry.  The distance between me in the front and Joe in the back felt oceans away.  He started again, only to break down twice more.  Determined to finish, he would rub his eyes on the sleeve of his black hooded sweatshirt and try his voice again.  We gave him space to lament.  When he finished, we sat in silence, but it did not feel awkward.  Joe had filled the room with God.  I thanked him for sharing, for being brave enough to lament, for teaching the class better than I ever could.  As we transitioned, I put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he needed a break.  “No, I am ok now.  Thanks.”  And now, when I see him in the hall, he is the first to say hello with the faintest of smiles.


Apologetic Conviction?

21 Mar

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” –Rebecca West

I recently ran across this quote in a feminist bookstore in Austin, TX.  It was on the front of a greeting card, and upon reading it I broke into audible laughter as the truth resonated in my being.  Sometimes it feels as though my two options are raging feminist or doormat.

What others have coined my “passionate voice” is starting to become a problem.  On several occasions over the last couple of months, well meaning men who care about me deeply have pulled me aside to offer me advice.  The advice basically boils down to this: “I love your enthusiasm, but you may want to be careful.  Some people may be turned off by your passionate voice.”  My spouse pointed out to me that if I change my tone, people might be more able to hear me.  My dad, who himself loves to argue and play devil’s advocate, suggested that I start more sentences with, “In my opinion…”  A crude male co-worker stated that women who swear out of anger offend him while another male co-worker admitted to dismissing my opinion, stated in my so-called passionate voice, due to my irrationality.

When I form an opinion carefully, especially when it is based on my life experience, I can at times state it strongly.  I can be articulate, assertive, confident, committed and convicted.  Yet four men who want to see me succeed have essentially warned me to not come off as too passionate lest my strength be misconstrued as bitchy, irrational, pushy and moody.

Rebecca West has laid out my options so clearly.  I do not want to concede my passion to make others feel more comfortable, even if that is how the world currently works.  I do not believe that I must state things in a quiet voice or with docile body language to be heard as a woman.  Especially when other women say they find my passion liberating.  Even if I must choose between an offensive feminist and an effective doormat, I am choosing the former.

Confessions About Confession

14 Mar

A few times of year, once during Lent and once during Advent, my school offers the sacrament of reconciliation.  It is always one of my favorite days of the year.  Do I believe that we need a priest as a mediator between us and God?  No.  Some of my most authentic moments of confession have happened when I am alone with God crying on the bathroom floor.  And I do believe that our limited, human brains cannot begin to comprehend God’s mercy and love.  I would guess that we are somehow deeply and fully forgiven before we even ask for forgiveness.  But there is something powerful about confession.  There is something radically powerful about reconciliation.  There is something refreshing about being able to talk to someone we may never have to see again like a priest or counselor.  And something in my heart changes when I take the time to say I am sorry and hear my own voice ask for forgiveness.  Our chaplain at school refers to it as a spiritual check up.  We take care of our bodies and respond to pain, but we often ignore our hearts and souls and conscience when it wants our attention.  Why is it human nature to distance ourselves from love?  Why do we deny ourselves the opportunity to be forgiven and know wholeness?  I truly think if God is not constantly pursuing us than God is at least not running from us.  It is me who is doing the backpedaling.  I am creating the distance.  I am denying myself the opportunity to know abundant and unconditional love, healing, wholeness and peace.  I think it may have something to do with hard work.  It is easy to be angry and be convinced that I am right.  It is harder work to be wrong and move to let go of anger and righteousness.  But there is physical, emotional and spiritual liberation that happens in the act of reconciliation.  It is beautiful to be a part of.

In the history of the Catholic Church, there was a time when the sacrament of reconciliation was very public.  Penance was public, which makes sense when I think about how many people in my community are affected by my projectile vomiting and misguided anger when my heart is broken and in need of confession.  When we distance ourselves from God by things we have done or not done, may I dare say when we sin, I do believe that we also distance ourselves from our community and our authentic self.  Thus, penance was public.

Then the sacrament went through an extremely private period when there was a whispered conversation between a person and a priest behind closed doors.  The Church has moved toward finding a mean that often entails having private confession in the presence of community.  So a couple days a year, the 1350 students at my Catholic high school stream into the theatre at some point in the day.  The lights are down and candles are lit.  Soothing music plays.  Especially kind and warm priests from the neighboring parishes come and sit with the students and talk.  The community as a whole admits that we are limited creatures who fall short on our journey to the fullness of self.  It is powerful.

For one, there is something that feels countercultural about sitting still and being quiet for forty-five minutes.  We are rarely encouraged to slow down and reflect on our lives.  And it is amazing to me how much the tough, too cool for school teenagers adore confession.  One of my ninth grade students usually comes to class very tired and disheveled.  She is a hockey star with multiple tough older brothers who is rough around the edges in the most endearing way possible.  Totally out of character, she found me after our time in the theatre, grabbed my shoulders, literally lit up and expelled, “I love confession!  I feel so good now!”  I walked out with another ninth grade boy with the most monotone, deep voice I have ever heard come out of a fourteen year old.  Without my prying, he simply offered, “Wow Ms. Roscher.  That was great.  I bet I will be sin free now for about twenty minutes.”

In the middle of one of the sessions, I had a student come sit with me in the back.  He shared, “I am not really sure about this priest thing.  I mean, I believe in God, but my mom is not Catholic, so this all seems a bit odd to me.  Do I have to go up there?”  I reassured him that he did not need absolution from a priest to be forgiven by God, and then he proceeded to talk to me about what has been heavy on his heart.  It took me a minute after he went back to his seat to fully realize that he had approached me to offer him the sacrament of reconciliation.  Although I do not have that specific power according to the church, our conversation was precious, and I do believe something real happened.  There is nothing like building enough trust with students that they feel safe with you.

This year during the sacrament, I was struggling with an odd cold.  Daily the symptoms would change.  On reconciliation day, my eyes stung and watered for twenty-four hours straight.  Multiple times during the day, a sweet student would gently approach me to offer comfort, asking if I was ok.  I would smile as I realized they thought I was crying, possibly in a deep confessional moment with my God.  Even though the tears were a consequence of my body fighting germs, they worked as an invitation.  And each time a student would come sit with me and check in, flipping the normal power roles of teacher and student, a very sacred moment would pass between us.  Although I was not saying sorry for anything, they still offered me a gift of love.

God is present all the time.  God is everywhere.  But I do believe there are intensifications of that presence.  It is good now and again to work to dissolve barriers that stand between us and the divine.  Take away the desks, the lights and the lecture, and we may, just for a moment, be reminded that God is indeed alive and well in each of us.  We are granted a glimpse of the wholeness that is to come.

Yet even in this thin space, I do not go up.  I watch my young students one by one, be brave enough to go claim their forgiveness.  Not yet guarded, not yet bitter, ok with their brokenness, ready to start fresh.  They amaze me.  There is something so vulnerable and precious about a fourteen-year old student strutting across the stage to ask for forgiveness.  But I cannot do it.  In my three years at the school, I have never gone up.  Why am I confessing to cyberspace what I am unable to admit to a priest?  I want so badly to be able to articulate my limits and get healing doused on me.  But my heart is hardened.  I do not want healing from a priest.  Going up, in some way, feels like admitting my inferiority as a woman.  So I stay seated, stubborn, struggling, unabsolved in the eyes of the Church.

The Beauty of Sweat

3 Mar

In our quest to break down gender roles, it is essential to be able to offer young people who identify as female more scripts to choose from.  When my mother was young, she had very few script choices.  She honestly felt that the professions she could choose from were nurse, teacher or social worker.  She became a social worker.  As a heterosexual woman, she had one script: she would marry and have kids.  My mom moved from her dad’s house to her new husband’s house at age twenty-three.  After paying my dad’s way through dental school, she quit her social work job and raised five children.  Yes, she picked her script, and yes, she has enjoyed her life.  But we often talk about how many more opportunities and paths I was offered thirty years later.  She was jealous of my sports career, as her athleticism was never applied to competitive sports.  She expressed regret as I grabbed opportunity that she never had to travel, live on my own, date through my twenties, and choose from a plethora of career options.  Yet, young women still need more scripts to choose from.  There is still pressure of women to only dream of marriage and raising children.  Media, mirroring reality, still portrays doctors, CEO’s and principals as men while women are nurses, secretaries and teachers. There are more and more women denying the scripts offered and writing their own.  Don’t misunderstand.  There is nothing wrong with women being social workers and raising children.  These two lifestyle choices are beautiful and powerful.  Yet, it is not for everyone, and women deserve to have access, opportunity and choice as well as men.

Watching the Olympics has surprisingly given me hope about scripts.  Yes, I see race and class issues saturating the winter Olympics.  And yes, it bothers me greatly that while male Nordic skiers give interviews with snot in their beards female alpine champions wear tiaras and make-up, clearing planning out hairstyles for the podium. But I also see many scripts.  Young girls are watching mainly wealthy, white women succeed.  But they are also seeing women be strong and powerful.  Young girls can dream of being women who are rewarded for training and using their bodies as tools as they celebrate empowered and embodied playing.  Their bodies, instead of being at the will of the male gaze, can be pushed to do amazing things.  Female Olympians are more often appreciated as amazing, hard-working physical specimens, an alternative to seeing our bodies sexually objectified.  In addition, young girls can dream of becoming Olympic hockey players or figure skaters, snowboarders or speed skaters.  We see different body types, personalities and expressions of the female form.  A young girl can dream of putting on pads and a jersey, baggy snow pants and boots or nylons and glitter to strive for an Olympic medal.  When watching the Olympics, I saw many celebrated options of powerful femininity, and that gives me hope.

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