The freaking grocery store check out line
Last Wednesday was a long day.
Some sad things at church, some sad personal things: all exacerbated by hump day at VBS.
I was exhausted by the time the girls (3: 8, 6, 1) and I got to the grocery store to pick up dessert and salad stuff and a bouquet of flowers for my mom’s birthday. I was exhausted before the older two had a fight over which flowers we should by, before the baby refused to ride in the cart.
We were finally paying (how can it take half an hour to pick out six things?) when our oldest read the cover of a magazine in the check out line. Why are all these people on the cover? What happened in Orlando?
We were on vacation, in the car driving across North Carolina, when news of the horrifying violence began to break; Josh and I read reports in between trips to the beach, and as our kids played with their cousins. We were privileged in our distance from the events, though they colored our time of rest. This gun violence, this hatred of LGBTQ people, the terrible Islamophobia which threatens — there is no rest from it.
We did not speak of it to the kids. The teachable moments of the week were all around the ocean: my kids are already afraid of so much, it sometimes seems. I went out to swim in the waves with my brother in law at one point and stayed in the water after he returned to shore. The water was only waist high if I stood; I was not out far. The waves were exhilarating, not at dangerous levels. But when I emerged dripping and smiling, our middle daughter yelled at me. I was so scared! You were swimming alone! I did not want you to drown!
We want them to be wise, and careful, not terrified.
So, though we speak regularly of the diversity of people and the dangers of guns, we did not mention Orlando. Until, of course, the check out line. What happened in Orlando?
My voice broke when I told her — handing over my debit card to the young cashier — a man killed all those people in Orlando. He used a terrible gun that allowed him to kill fifty people almost at once. It is terrible and sad.
That wasn’t enough, though, so as the sliding doors opened, I continued. It’s so awful. He hated them: he thought because their skin was a different color, because they were gay — you know what it means to be gay? — that their lives were not important, that they did not deserve to live. He is so wrong, and it is so sad that all those people are dead. I try to be a reassuring, non-anxious presence most of the time; but she could not miss my shaking tone, the tears welling up.
She was worried: What about that man?
The police killed him while they were trying to stop him from hurting any more people.
And then, as is the way with family life, we went to pick up Chinese take-out and the girls went back to singing along to the VBS soundtrack.
The thing about parenting, is that you have to do it, conscientiously, all the time. These moments arise when you’re not ready; our kids’ questions trigger and push us.
But they also inspire us to action, embolden us in our efforts.
*We’re starting to give to Every Town for Gun Safety.
*The first excerpt of my book Good Christian Sex went up last week at #FacebookFirstPages and I’ve been largely delighted by the response. As might have been expected, its appearance also drudged up some opposition and commentary from folks who apparently think the best Christian witness is to rant and name call on the internet. I’ve been weathering the commentary pretty well, if I do say so myself, though I have been aided in that by the reassurances from some of the pastors and writers I most admire reminding me to consider critique from some corners to be a badge of honor. I’ve been watching the comments carefully, though, and while I’ll leave in place those who call me a heretic or ignorant of the Bible’s teachings, I’ve promptly deleted anything harmful to LGBTQI people or Muslims.
But I wrote the book in no small part because I wanted, as a pastor, to be “on the record” as one who believes very much that there is such a thing as sexual sin — but they lie in rape and abuse, misogyny and hard-heartedness, not in the God-given diversity of sexual and gender identities. I’m trying to do my part.
*I also want to get better about gun safety in my own community. We don’t have any guns in our home, but I have fallen out of practice in asking before play dates. I am also committing myself to offer the information to parents of kids who come into our home. It’s a grace, right — they shouldn’t even have to ask, or overcome the awkwardness.
I am recommitted after we hosted a birthday party at our house last month and one of the guests made herself quite at home. I ran upstairs to fetch something and found her in our daughter’s room, playing quietly be herself with the dollhouse, while twenty or more kids hung out in the backyard. I hadn’t even missed her. Luckily, we have nothing dangerous around. But this is how accidental deaths happen; curious kids go exploring, someone forgot to remove the last bullet from the gun.
*We’ll continue to participate in congregations and communities that enthusiastically affirm the worth of all people. I lost it in worship on Sunday — was reduced to tears by the communion anthem: a contemporary Gospel number called “Here I Stand.” Mostly because the vocalist was so amazing, but also because it was the culmination of a service that proclaimed a truth I want desperately for my daughters to know: that we are all beloved by God, and that nothing can separate us from that love.
Sometimes the world breaks us and makes us weep; sometimes, the Spirit of God is present in the church, and picks up the pieces of our broken world and our grieving hearts and makes us weep for joy.