I am in the midst of trying to make some real changes in my life – relationally, physically and practically. I love the information provided in this video and am actually working on writing out a plan that incorporates these 5 strategies. Do you struggle with following through on the changes you desire to make in your own life? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this video as well!
It’s a late night Sunday Specials post this week since soccer filled up most of our weekend. Hopefully you all had a fantastic weekend and are more prepared than I am to dig into Monday.
After finishing the Divergent trilogy earlier this week, I decided it was time to move away from the young adult genre for at least a little while. So I kicked it up a few notches and dove head first into a book I’ve been longing to read for quite some time titled Feminist Theory and Christian Theology by Dr. Serene Jones. Swimming in the deep and thick waters of this book has sharpened the lens I’ve peered through this week.
I enter this theological-theoretical conversation as one who finds the scholarly world as potentially dangerous as it is life-giving, and I believe that both bold normative visions and a robust respect for history and difference are necessary for the liberating struggle that lies ahead. Standing in these tensions, I offer this book as a contribution to that struggle and its many participants. ~Dr. Serene Jones
As I am fully aware of my efforts to live in such tensions as well, I will only leave you with two gems in this 11th hour. Sarah Bessey ran a series of guest posts this week on her blog as she invited other bloggers to respond to discussion questions from her book Jesus Feminist. I appreciated each of them for various reasons but thought I’d share one by Sarah Schwartz titled In Which Women are People Too.
And some would try to tell us that yes, we’re people, but not to get any crazy ideas. You’re people, but you’re a certain kind of person who should know your place and understand your role. Don’t take this personhood thing too far. Fold your hands and bow your head, take up as little space as you can. Your kind is supposed to follow, not lead. You’re here to support, not dream your own dreams.~Sarah Schwartz
And alas, Jon Stewart brillantly addressed the gender dynamics evident in politics this week. I just had to share this video…but WARNING: the last line is not appropriate for younger viewers or folks of the easily offended type.
I love the question, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take one music album with you, what would it be?” I love the question, because I know the answer. My answer has not changed since I was first asked nearly 20 years ago when I was a freshman in college. The answer unequivocally has always been and forever will be August and Everything After by The Counting Crows. Love me or hate me, the reason why I always choose this album, ironically, is because it has no answers. The lyrics make virtually no sense whatsoever. The words to each song are like poetry set to music and I love to imagine spending unending hours in reverie wondering what Adam Duritz meant when he sang,
Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white. And in between the moon and you, angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right. I walk in the air between the rain and through myself and back again. Where? I don’t know. Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying. Why? I don’t’ know.
Another similar type of question, with less clear of an answer, often comes up between Karl and I. The question is, “If you could change just one thing about the other, what would it be?” I love that question…and not because I always know the answer. I love that question because his answer gives me an opportunity to know what is most important to him. His answer gives me his glasses for a moment. I get to look through his lens and see the world he sees and ponder for a moment what he wishes for and hopes for and dreams for and longs for. And from his answer, I have a moment to either hear his request and contemplate what he is really asking for and imagine what it might mean for me to honor his wish, or defend my right to remain who I am and continue to act the way that I do and turn my back on the opportunity for change.
However, I think it might take a lifetime of me being stranded on a deserted island to give him what it is that he asks for. When I ask that question, Karl responds with, “If I could change just one thing about you, it would be the way you deliver your opinion or perspective. You say things with such conviction and matter-of-fact conveyance that there is little room for disagreement, argument, clarification, or any other form of dialogue.” For those of you who know me well, you can instantly identify with Karl’s plight. Even when I may not know an answer for sure or have an idea during a brainstorming session, when I speak, it sounds like I do. There are myriad reasons for why this is true of me (I’m sure they will be exposed and explored throughout my stories on this blog), and often a necessary part of my existence. Nonetheless, I would rather be invitational and dialogical than a know-it-all.
So, as I practice with and for Karl, you, dear reader, also are invited to join in the fun. Would you answer one of the two questions posed today in the comments below and join our efforts to create not a place where we know it all, but a space where there is room for and an invitation into dialogue with one another?
In the end, we’ll all become stories. ~Margaret Atwood
Trauma has the power to strip us of all the layers we’ve worn around like clothing through most of our lives. It can bring us into contact with our primal, more fragile and vulnerable self. It reveals who we are when we come face to face with the possibility and reality of our inevitable death.
I am not trying to be dark and dismal as I am keenly aware of the fact that we all just emerged on the other side of Holy Week and are supposed to be lingering in the afterglow delight of sayings like “He is Risen” and “the tomb is empty”. We were only supposed to sit with the heaviness of death from Friday through Sunday morning…right? I’m not so sure that’s true at this point in my life. In actuality, the lengthier my story becomes, the greater my capacity to hold both life and death simultaneously. I’m beginning to think that this correlation between my days on earth and my capacity to bear the heaviness of both life and death is in part due to the time I’ve spent getting to know that more vulnerable part of me in the face of indirect and direct forms of trauma.
Last night I wound up observing the traumatic experience of another. My mother was helping out with childcare while I was finishing up a workday. She delivered our nine year old to her soccer practice and was entertaining our one year old until I was able to arrive at the field. Shortly after she settled onto a blanket on the sideline there was a freak accident in the parking lot involving three vehicles and one of the cars striking a mother and her four children while she was loading two of the children into a stroller. The mother and her children were all transported to the hospital but fortunately none of them suffered life-threatening injuries.
I pulled into the parking lot nearly 20 minutes after the mother and her children were taken by ambulance, but the evidence of this horrific scene remained. The vehicles had not moved. There was glass everywhere. People surrounded the area and watched as police officers tended to the ensuing investigation and firemen managed the aftermath. After surveying the expanse of the scene, my eyes eventually rested on the man responsible for striking the woman and her children. That’s when I felt an all too familiar shudder within my own body.
I woke up this morning still feeling the weight of what had happened inside my own body. In the few moments of quiet throughout this day, I have been wrestling to understand the implications of that shudder. I was overwhelmed with compassion for the man most likely deemed responsible for the accident, so I knew that the shudder was in no way reflective of judgment or repulsion. If I felt anything toward this stranger it was curiosity around how his story had collided into the stories of the victims. We often go through the motions of life exhibiting little to no awareness of just how interconnected all of us really are until our stories bump against each other in some way. Beyond the curiosity, however, I began to recognize that I was projecting my own experience of trauma upon this distraught man. I imagined he was feeling incredibly raw, vulnerable and stripped down in those moments following the accident.
Therein lies my visceral response. The shudder. The stripped down naked shudder. The raw shudder. The shudder that is more appropriately linked to a category of awe than of fear, though they’re difficult to distinguish from one another at times. It was a shudder of remembrance of what it is like to come face to face with my own fragility. It was a shudder that conjured up a recollection of moments where all of the noise and inconsequential stuff that fills our days and the pages of our stories was held at bay. The shudder was the reminder of what happens in the aftermath of trauma when we are left begging the question – what is all of this really about anyway? The shudder recalls the given answer to that proverbial question. The given answer that could be heard and known in a deeper way when trauma had left me utterly naked and entirely aware of my own fragility. The answer that still reverberates throughout my being in moments of stillness – that LOVE is all that matters, it is the truth, the reason we are all here. It is what lives on when we do not.
Sometimes in the aftermath of trauma death and life kiss and give birth to love.
It has been a week of anniversaries that are painful to reflect upon. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Virginia Tech shooting. The Oklahoma City bombing. And Columbine. So on this particular Easter Sunday I am most thankful for the knowledge I carry deep within my own soul that love is more powerful than death. This truth is what sustains all of life. In lieu of my typical Sunday Specials post, I thought it more fitting to re-post a blog entry I published on the 10th anniversary (5 years ago).
I couldn’t let this day pass without writing something. April 20, 1999 – It was quite possibly one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. So here I am…in the 11th hour. I wasn’t a direct victim. I wasn’t a student or a family member. I was simply a 19 year old leader in a local church youth group. In our group of nearly 150 kids, 45 were students at Columbine. I can still visualize through my mind’s eye the printed roster that we used to cross off the names on the list of those who had been accounted for. One-by-one all of the names were crossed off the list…except for hers. As the day carried on and it became more apparent that she was one of the fallen, I found myself in the run-down church office restroom peering at my own image in the mirror. I think I may have even spoken out loud, “This is not happening. She can’t be gone.”
We were supposed to talk that very evening after our weekly book study. Something had been bothering her and I had been encouraged by our youth pastor to get together with her to discuss what had been going on in her life, her mind, her faith. Her hair. That’s all I could think of actually. Her long blonde beautiful hair. This couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t be gone. But she was. And I had to tell her closest friend in the youth group – she was from a different high school and she was ironically named Cassandra. As she entered the youth building that evening to gather with the rest us I ushered her into the girls restroom (the closest place we could escape to for a bit of privacy). I’m not sure how I got the words out. I think I just whispered that we were fairly certain that she was gone, though confirmation wasn’t made until the following day. Cassandra literally fell into my arms and we both struggled to remain standing in that crowded bathroom where the sobs of teenage girls reverberated off of every wall.
After allowing for a time of gathering together, praying with and embracing one another, a handful of us departed and spent the rest of our evening at a nearby elementary school where the families of unidentified victims awaited news. Waiting. We just sat there waiting. I watched therapists and crisis relief counselors wander around the gymnasium scanning the room for an invitation. There was another room set up with a television broadcasting the continual news coverage. I couldn’t stay in that particular room for any length of time. But I didn’t know what to do. So I waited. I watched. There they were sitting surrounded by faces I knew and faces I didn’t know. The Bernalls – Brad & Misty. I don’t remember seeing Cassie’s little brother Chris, but he may have been there as well. All I could do was watch. And wait.
I’m fairly certain, though I’m sure some details have been constructed by my own mind, that it was that evening that we first heard rumblings of a conversation that may or may not have taken place prior to Cassie’s execution. Our youth pastor had heard a student exit the building screaming, “They asked her if she believed in God and she said yes…and then they killed her.” I’m not sure how or when it became the story that much of the media frenzy focused upon…but it happened. She was called a martyr by many. I always had a difficult time with that term only because it seemed to imply that she died as direct result of her faith in God and I’m not sure that was the case. From this vantage point, it seems that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not specifically targeting anyone in particular. Mass destruction, mass murder – that appears to have been their sole aim.
On the other hand, I don’t know of a better term than martyr to explain the decision to lay down one’s own life in order to follow a God of love. In that sense, Cassie was very much a martyr – not in her death, but in her living-daily-death to the parts of her self that prevented Christ’s love from flowing through her into the lives of others. So whether or not she was asked that poignant question at the time of the shooting or not, she did say yes – with her life.
We were criticized as a church by many. The first controversy we encountered was when we made the collective decision to plant 15 trees in a prayer garden on our church property. I still have the notes I took during a meeting with all of our leaders as we discussed what our purpose was in erecting this memorial garden. Our intent was never to memorialize the two boys who brought about such horror, but we acknowledged that there were 15 families suffering an unimaginable loss and we wanted to always remember their heartache. I’ll never forget what it was like to watch our youth group kids serving coffee to the protesters that stood in front of our facility crying for vengeance. They chopped down two of the young trees in our garden. I waited. I watched. One of the members of our congregation used the remains from the trees to construct 15 beautiful ornaments.
Misty wanted to write a book about Cassie’s transformation. We all wanted to share the story of her life with the world. Many have called this exploitation. They claim that we utilized a mythic story to propagate Christianity. Looking back, I am willing to say that there was some level of exploitation…but not to manipulate people into converting to Christianity. But we may have exploited the story of Cassie’s life and death in order to tend to our own sense of loss and devastation. We honestly believed it was a story worth sharing. She was a young girl worth knowing. And we wanted everyone to know her. We wanted her life to matter to more than just us. And it has mattered to many others as a result of our mutual sharing of her story.
Many have accused us of spiritualizing the entire event. And they’re right as well. We found meaning in her death, and the deaths of the others as well. We believed that through this horrific tragedy God was collectively enabling us to loosen our grip on this world so that we might live with eyes for the kingdom. This may not make sense to others who didn’t experience Columbine in some way, or possibly a similar trauma or experience of loss. I don’t mean to suggest that we became detached from this world in the hopes of someday being rescued and reunited with those we loved. Instead, we became convinced that love was all that mattered. Living now – moment to moment was all we could commit ourselves to. I still believe that God was very much a part of what we experienced that day and in the years that followed.
In the past few years I have “psychologized” the experience. I have attempted to explore the ways in which we spiritualize certain aspects of this life in order to cope or even escape realities too painful to bear. I have tried to make sense of what happened in the minds of Eric and Dylan – what were their possible pathologies and how did they happen to be simultaneously fractured in such a way as to create the perfect storm for mass destruction? I have analyzed my own response to the trauma too many times to count and from every possible angle.
Am I any further than I was ten years ago in making sense of not only this traumatic experience, but in making sense of this life? Maybe. Or maybe not. But I think that there is room in my soul for questions to remain unanswered. And with this space for unanswered questions remains a certainty that love is all that matters.
Cassie, you have been dearly loved. Even still.
I also reflected further on how tragedy can shape our calling over on the Allender Center blog a couple of years ago. Bless you all on this day. May you also be reminded that love overcomes death.