Category Archives: Grief

The political roots of Mother’s Day…

Mother’s Day had its origin in the United States soon after the Civil War. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe issued the original Mother’s Day Proclamation shown below.  This statement promoted disarmament, the promotion of peace, and the end of bloodshed. What a powerful proclamation!

There is no sentimental mention of cards, flowers, or jewelry.

Anna Jarvis actually founded Mother’s Day in honor of her mother Anna Reeves Jarvis who was an activist for health and sanitary conditions for children in the 1850’s and 60’s. She was led to this activism by way of her own personal tragedy of losing eight of her twelve children to diseases.

Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis wanted a day to raise the appreciation for mothers and for what matters most to them, the health and safety of their children. She wound up so against the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she spent every last dime fighting against it.

______

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies;
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and
applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. ”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. ”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of
counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

-Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe

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First world problems…

A new found friend has taken up the mantle of victim advocate in Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the capital city of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She is wielding the weapons at her disposal against patriarchal traditions which are both native to her land and imposed from certain Western ideals.  As such, she is actively on the web setting up groups for discussion, message boards, etc. and is posting images of women who have suffered unimaginable brutality.  She’s emailed and discussed curriculum options for weekend seminars, and requested resources. She recently emailed me privately some photos: they are graphic and haunting–including fresh wounds from axes and bush knives, burns from hot irons, broken bones and bruises from beatings, amputations, and even images of a woman being burned to death and a beheading.

I am honored to be trusted with such images–honored and deeply humbled.

And traumatized.

Since receiving the photos I’ve not been able to sleep.  Days have passed and the images dog me, sneaking up when I least expect it. It isn’t that the level of violence is new to me: I witnessed ravages as such as a child growing up among the poor and prostitutes in the capital. I grew up not knowing that wounds weren’t normal–that amputations weren’t just a matter of course.  Rape was a real possibility (even if I’d gotten the logistics confused as a child).  I understood scars as women’s history written large on their bodies.    Yet as an adult, with feminist-educated eyes and a wealth of theological study behind me, the images sting anew: the status of women hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

And my initial response is silence.  I cannot bear the weight of these images alone, yet cannot share them–I don’t wish this sort of haunting upon anyone, especially those who for whom Western media has cushioned such blows (we don’t show dead bodies on TV or in our newspapers, they are censored out of our common news sources).  We witness domestic violence through movies–comforted that it is merely makeup we are viewing, and not real wounds.

I go talk to my therapist.  And I find I don’t care to introduce such atrocities to her psyche either.  I pour my heart out in frustration, but hold the pictures close to my proverbial chest.

I tell my best friend of them, and of the impossibility of sharing their burden.  He listens, pained at my frustration.  He allows me to hold them at a distance.  And finally, he offers to see them.  “I’m willing.”  And tears begin to flow freely.  And I consider it.

But I can’t help thinking back to my friend in PNG and the life-risking work she is doing on behalf of the women there.  How can I tell her that because of her pictures, I’ve been traumatized? That her emails have sent me to therapy?  That while she lives and breathes this atmosphere of violence, I spend $150 to talk to a therapist? That I fret because I’ve lost 3 nights of sleep? That I feel utterly inadequate and ridiculous?

Yet I live and work in this world: surrounded by high rises, wealth, and opulence.

Damn my first world problems and first world solutions. Damn them.

 

 

tears

A prayer…

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hocksprung, 47

Madeline F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Russeau, 30*

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N Wyatt, 6

.

Broken…

A voice is heard in Newtown,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.

I am broken.
We are broken.

(Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15)

On corporate disappearances…

Today my company ‘announced’ layoffs.  I’ve been with the company 6+ years and have weathered the storm many times–often enough that I begin to recognize the routine; the pattern of corporate demise.  Last year I took the following photo as an homage to those victims who disappeared.  I am reminded of the disappearances which occurred in S. America during the 1980s–where folks simply vanished, with no bodies to mourn, no closure.  Some were walked out on ceremony.  Others simply called at home and told not to come in.  What few artifacts left at their desks are packed up in boxes and mailed to them.

Corporate Mausoleum

Corporate Mausoleum

Corporate Masoleum

Without bodies to mourn, these artifacts are all that is left.

In corporate America, those left behind don’t even have a list of who all was let go (due to some strange bit of legalese). We are finding out slowly as emails bounce back, and phone calls don’t get answered, desks are empty.  Key players on my projects have vanished.  People I’ve worked closely with for forty hours a week, for the last six years have simply been removed.

No goodbyes.

And I am at a loss.

Walking Papers and the Indefectibilty of Grace

The following is a sermon I preached at my local church this July.  Some of the content will seem familiar.

Ancient Witness(s):

Matthew 10: 5-14

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

The Normal Hand Opens & Closes

A devotee told Chan Master Moxian, “My wife is extremely stingy. She will not spend even a penny on charity. Could you please come to my house and talk to her about engaging in benevolent deeds?” Very compassionately, Chan Master Moxian agreed.

The next day, when he went to the devotee’s house, the wife came out to receive him. True to her miserly nature, she did not even offer Chan Master Moxian a cup of tea. Chan Master sat down and held out his fist, asking, “Madame, look at my hand. What would you think if my hand remained constantly in a fist?” The wife responded, “If it remained in a fist, then your hand is deformed! Something must be wrong with it.”

Chan Master repeated her words back to her, saying, “It is deformed!” In the meantime, he opened up his fist and held out a flat palm to her, asking, “Were it like this all the time, what do you think?” The wife responded, “That would be deformed too!”

…there should be a balance in your receiving and giving.

A story By Ven Master Hsing Yun: from Merit Times

 

The Sermon:

On Heroic devotion:

A recent mishap with a pair of kitchen shears brought to mind Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.  I’d been cutting up chicken breasts for a stir fry, and not paying much attention.  It was the difference in the density of the meat which gave me pause.  “Huh.  That must have been gristle I cut through” I thought as I glanced down toward my hand.  Huh.  It was more surprise than anything that registered. A deep V shape had opened up in the pad of my hand, just below the webbing between my fingers.  I paused with momentary interest, but then continued cutting up the chicken.  I only stopped when the wound began to bleed.  It was then that the line from Merchant flitted through my head: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

Bleed indeed!  It took a moment to start, but once the bleeding began the flood gates seemed to open.  I soaked a kitchen towel in blood trying to apply sufficient pressure to close the gap and achieve hemostasis; I even began contemplating the need of sutures. Gratefully the bleeding ceased (as it will always, eventually…).  I then found myself in a state of shock: how could I receive such an onerous wound and not even feel it?  The only thing which drew my attention to the wound was that the scissors weighed differently in my hand; that the tension somehow changed from when I was cutting chicken to when I was cutting my hand.  I’ve yet to feel pain at the site.  How remarkably odd!

That evening, as I lay in bed I thought more about the wound, and then more about the Merchant. There is an intense friendship in this play between Antonio and Bassanio. The description of their friendship at times borders on the erotic. It is that intense! Antonio, willing to sacrifice anything for the budding romance of his dear friend Bassanio, agrees to offer a pound of his own flesh as collateral in a deal with a moneylender (who happened to also be Antonio’s bitter rival). There is no hesitation in Antonio’s desire to help Bassanio.   Risky business, of course, but this never impressed me much: as a child having grown up on the mission field, I knew the lengths to which one might go out of love.

But it wasn’t this arduous love and passion which caught my attention in the play.  It was Antonio’s unexplained depression evidenced in this ridiculous statement— his amazing line: “In sooth I know not why I am so sad”—which stopped me in my tracks.  Scholars of English literature are all over the place in their interpretation of Antonio’s malaise: some offer back the complex plot line in a very straightforward fashion–that Antonio’s life was at stake because Bassanio failed to pay his debt, indeed his life was soon to be ended; others surmise there was more than meets the eye more than simple platonic love between the friends–that securing the loan for Bassanio’s betrothal to a Portia caused Antonio great pain—so much so that he experienced detachment to death itself.  The reader is left to speculate, as we always are with Shakespeare’s ambiguous, colorful characters.

But it is Antonio’s indifference, either to his fate or to his emotions, which would not let me rest.  It was too familiar: unrequited, impossible love mingled with an unreasonable and disproportionate devotion.  These seemed to have numbed him to his own emotions, to his own needs.  Indeed it was foreshadowed in the ominous words on Portia’s casket “Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath”.  The words echo the language I was taught as a child regarding what it meant to be a disciple of Christ–that there was no limit to the sacrifice we might (be called to) make in the name of our devotion; to choose the Way of God is to hazard all things.  Such potential demands can be psychic-ally numbing to say the least!

Of course in Shakespeare’s play, Antonio is saved and everyone has a good laugh. The villain’s plans are thwarted, and it all works out in the end.

But what happens when the potential sacrifice is indeed accepted?  What if Antonio had indeed paid with a pound of flesh? Or in the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, what if Isaac is bound and splayed out on the altar, and Abraham’s fist clutching the dagger is on its way down, and no heavenly body intervenes?

Are there no limits to where my devotion might take me?  A recent reading of a good friend’s festschrift evoked these questions for me as well. In it, the editors of the collection of essays (former students) describe a radicality in my friend’s devotion which is dangerously seductive and inspiring: that nothing would get in his way of his discipleship.  As the editor’s wrote “Everything was up in the air.  Everything was to be abandoned to the way in which he felt himself called.  Marriage, school, career–everything.”

Such language stirs the valiant among us to noble ends! It motivates and radicalizes our best inclinations.  Our faith takes us to heroic heights, all the while leaving the vicissitudes of daily life for others to attend to.  In this manner, a sense of proportion is lost: this is how children end up raising themselves; how wives become mere ‘helpmeets’. These sacrifices become the fodder by which the mythology of the saints is built. I know of what I speak! (…says the girl relegated to boarding school so that her folks could do God’s will).

One week during fourth grade at the international primary school I attended in the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Lorraine, one of my classmates, went missing from class.  No one said a word to us students about it, but her desk was packed up and belongings were sent home. I went home and asked my mother about her.  Mom didn’t know, but we pulled out the weekly paper to see if any news would enlighten us.  There it was: Lorraine and her mother had been gang-raped and were immediately removed and sent back to their home country.  Her father was tying up loose ends and would be meeting them there soon.

I remember the look on my mother’s face when she read this aloud to me.  I didn’t know what ‘rape’ meant at the time, but I figured it must be just about the worse thing that could ever happen to you–worse than even death.

That night, I lay in bed and fantasized about what the ‘worst’ might be.  My ten year old mind could not wrap itself around a concept of sexual assault: at the time that was a distant and meaningless reality.  So what could be the worst thing ever that could happen to you? I remember coming to the conclusion that it must mean that someone cuts off your arms and legs (I’d seen folks from the leprosy colony nearby: I knew you could live with one of these missing, but I couldn’t imagine how you’d live with all four gone!).  From that night on, whenever I’d get scared (such as at fortnight when guys got their paychecks and had been out drinking and carousing), I would lay in bed in a ball, face down on my arms and legs, trying to protect them from being ‘raped’.

While I’d gotten the specifics wrong, it never occurred to me that such a thing couldn’t happen to one of my family members: we all knew someone who’d been touched by violent crime or some other type of catastrophe.  In my head, it was a matter of time: odds were, sooner or later something awful was going to happen–it was an issue of numbers.

And so we lived in expectation of the worst: danger lurked everywhere, but it didn’t keep us isolated nor was it paralyzing: the work of the church was far more important than any ‘thing’ that could happen to us.  And if something bad did happen, it would be “all to the glory of God” (thus enforcing the cycle of the work of the church).  It was fascinating to imagine: How much money could be raised if something truly bad happened!  I could be the armless, legless little girl who brought salvation to New Guinea. Money from the U.S. would pour in!  As would my guilt, subsequently, for fear that if I imagined it–it might actually come true: and I didn’t want to be an armless, legless little girl! I didn’t have the courage to be ‘raped’.

The scripture we read today in Matthew was the preamble to a text that was frequently levied against me as a child. If you read the admonitions at the end of this chapter in Matthew, what I didn’t have read this morning, you’ll hear that (Matt 10:37-39) “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than [their faith] is not worthy of [their faith]; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than [their faith] me is not worthy of [their faith].  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow my path is not worthy. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of their faith will find it.”  This was the text oft quoted by the denominational leadership to justify boarding school to us missionary kids. Everything was framed within the context of heroic faith, where sacrifice was uplifted as their highest calling, souls were at stake, and we were frequently told that to create problems (that is, to not behave and do what we were told, or to complain too much) would force our parents away from the work that God had called them to—the consequences were dire as souls might be potentially ‘lost’.  If our parents were tending to us, they weren’t doing God’s will.

 

Against heroics:

The question I asked then is the question I still struggle with today: Can we not with some semblance of certainty claim that anything worthy of our devotion would not require such fantastic offerings from us?

The problem was: I didn’t know how to be a moderate or ‘modest’ Christian.  I had no models.  Tales of moderation are not stories of the saints.  I didn’t know if it was possible to lead a faithful life of moderation? Or is radicality essential?

The ends of this radical devotion, martyrdom, bears with it the same ultimate escape of consequences to which the family and loved ones of suicide victims fall prey. Choose the way of radicality and you relinquish responsibility (that is, the ability to respond at all) to those left holding your urn.

I found that much like the North and South poles, these extremes in ideas (even in faith) were fun to visit–a feat to visit even–but no one lives there for good reasons as they aren’t habitable.  Humans are a temperate bunch, preferring more moderate and livable climates–we need places that are habitable.  And we need a habitable theology.

It is here that this Christian theologian begins finding Siddhartha Gautama compelling.  While Jesus stands singularly as ‘the Way’—his is a path which isn’t repeatable… a path that led to a cross.  Siddhartha Gautama explored several paths before finally arriving at The Middle Way–—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

And in many ways, The Middle Way seems far more difficult; far more challenging; and requires far more devotion to the path.  Living the middle way demands perpetual thoughtfulness and readjustment: it bears not the luxury of emotional decision-making, but demands presence without escape. It demands attention: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

And it is here that I want to return us to the text that was read in the ancient witness this morning.  Somehow how this is a message that was never fully conveyed to me as a child by my denominational leaders.  Allow me to quickly re-read the passage:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, find a worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

When presented with their spiritual path (with a ‘mission’-so to speak) the disciples were instructed to set their expectations high:

First of all: There is good to do.  And that they will be successful doing it: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

And moreover, that they should expect to have their needs met: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.”  Being a disciple didn’t have to come at their own personal expense.  They could be both giver and recipient: and as such, they were not the final arbiters of grace.   Their hands both open and close…

And finally, that they deserve respect: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave.  Shake the dust off your feet.”  We do not have to be heroes.  We have our walking papers.  Our task, following our Spiritual Path, isn’t about making ourselves miserable or enduring abuse.  We have the freedom to leave, and to seek ministry elsewhere.  And as the text reminds us: we can do so in peace.

What a difference it would have made as a kid, if I’d have heard this good news:  That my needs mattered. That I don’t have to put up with abuse.  That there isn’t anything admirable in unnecessary long-suffering.  That there are appropriate times to walk away from situations. What is so often overlooked in the Christian tradition: that is, the tradition in which a ‘savior’ dies, is that Jesus had no expectation that his followers follow suit: Jesus provided for us in his teachings our walking papers!

Indefectible grace:

Saying ‘no’ to the heroic is neither an abandonment of faith nor a deviation from our spiritual path.  Indeed, it might call us to an even higher level of trust if we abandon our own self importance in any given situation and allow others to step up. It takes considerable faith in to be willing to open our hands in release.

When I first began attending Lake Street Church, my fellow theologians asked “What is a systematic theologian doing at a church which is pointedly nondogmatic and nondoctrinal?”  Well-intentioned folks inquired, concerned that I was having a crisis of faith:  How in the world can you be happy in a church where Jesus isn’t uplifted as savior?  Where doctrine—what you’ve dedicated decades of your life to studying—doesn’t inform worship? 

And while I could have set up shop in defense of the congregation, my responses have always been quite simple: I see evidence of the Divine here.  That’s what drew me, and that’s why I stay. All that the Christian traditions have passed along I’d mastered, but had I tried to manipulate answers or forced us into tidy categories, I’d have closed a tight  and suffocating grip on the very thing which made this congregation so special: the Spirit.

But aren’t you afraid of where this might lead you? What if you end up not believing in anything at all?

There is an old Reformed doctrine called the doctrine of Indefectibilty. Whereas in the Catholic tradition, indefectiblity functioned along the lines of ensuring the perfection of the church—that is, an insistence that the church can be trusted (which has been often used as a power play), the Reformed spin on the doctrine shifted the emphasis from the church to the Spirit.

In this way, in this shift in emphasis from the church to the Spirit, the doctrine is less about the promise of the church and more about the promise of the Divine: that is, that the Spirit is indefectible: she won’t defect from us.  She won’t leave us to our own devices.  She promises abiding presence, in spite of our selves.  She can be trusted!

So it is a robust pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit) which has kept me here.  I can open my theological/doctrinal stronghold (open palm) and trust that where I see the presence of the Divine, I can relax my defenses, and I can stop pretending that ‘it is up to me’.  I can trust the winds of the Spirit to blow where she will… and I can breathe…

It yes to trust and a yes to the unknown, and a yes to the Spirit….

And more often than not, it is a YES to those who will eventually pick up the slack (and they will…),  to those who do things slightly differently than you would, to those who are testing the waters of their own leadership skills, to those who are learning…   Saying no to the heroic is a YES to the next generation.

 

Conclusion

What things heroic tasks have you taken on unnecessarily?  Are you functioning with an inflated sense of self importance? Perhaps the questions we need to be asking ourselves is not what it is I’m sacrificing, but who?  Can we trust one another to fill the gaps? Can we trust the presence of the Spirit….

BLESSED BE.

Call to Commitment:

“I wish for the seedling to become a tree. For a doctrine to become a tree, it has to be believed for a good while; for it to be believed, it has to be considered irrefutable. The tree needs storms, doubts, worms, and nastiness to reveal the strength of the seedling; let it break if it is not strong enough.  But a seedling can only be destroyed—not refuted.”

When he had said that, his disciple cried impetuously, “But I believe in your cause, and consider it so strong that I will say everything, everything I still have in my mind against it.”

The Innovator laughed in his heart, and wagged a finger at him.  “That kind of discipleship,” he said then, “is the best; but it is also the most dangerous, and not every kind of doctrine can endure it.”

–Fredrich Nietzsche,  Aphorism #106, The Gay Science

BENEDICTION:

Go in peace, knowing the good you have to do in the world, and also knowing that it all doesn’t rest in your hands!

Beat me, bore me… never ignore me…

One fateful Sunday lunch during high school, my adolescent wilfulness and rebellion had tried the patience of my mother to the point of exhaustion.  I was flippant and irritable, and wanted more than anything to NOT be at the family table for dinner.  Anything would be better than sitting there with my folks.  In spite of all my angst, however, I knew that my parents demanded propriety:  I asked to be excused.  My mother, frustrated beyond recognition, cut her eyes at me and pronounced “You may leave the table when you have said the following ten times aloud: Beat me, bore me, but never ignore me.”  A subsequent marathon-length battle of wills ensued:  neither of us was willing to give in.  We sat there staring at each other for hours.  Dinner plates got cold and crusty.  My dad and brother had long left the table and were no doubt indulging in the Sunday-afternoon-after-church nap. Yet we sat.  Finally, I mumbled out the phrase the tenth time and fled the scene.

Of course sitting there like that didn’t break my spirit; if anything it escalated my anger exponentially.  But I knew better than outright disobedience.   In my adult years, I can look back on that incident and laugh and tease my mom about the battle for power/control.  But as a teenager, I was livid.

Now as an adult, I’m amused at how often that phrase comes to mind: particularly in moments wherein someone is wrongly lording their power over me.  I thought about it during this incident.  And more recently, in response to a woman in my local congregation who loves to be on committees and loves to manipulate herself into control.  I swear she wins by filibuster, as we are all too sick of her to keep arguing.  She wields her ill-gained power like a sharp knife and possesses an amazing ability to cut your throat without you realizing it.  She smiles, nodding in feigned comprehension and agreement, as you continue your narrative, and watches the life-force eek from the wound she inflicted.  Finally you collapse.  She’s left standing, and deems that you were too weak anyway… she is merely thinning the herd.

I can do little about folks willing to manipulate and connive their way into positions of power.  But I can sure as hell pay enough attention to flee when I see the flash of the knife.

The day the rabbit(s) died…

No, I was not pregnant.  I was 19 and working as the head of maintenance for the summer camp for the Peoria Southside Mission.  The camp was located 20 miles outside of Peoria, on 380 acres of wooded land. It seems that when you’re raised an MK, there are a lot of assumptions made about your skills–assumptions you yourself embrace. Who doesn’t want to be considered a renaissance woman? a Jill-of-all-trades?

That summer I fixed fences, door frames, and roofs. I plunged toilets, mowed lawns, painted, planted trees, you name it–I even learned to drive a bulldozer.

The camp had a petting zoo of sorts–all donated animals who were found to be misfits in their former homes.  We had three horses, two miniature goats, three very large goats, a flock of geese, several dogs and puppies, and there were always kittens around.  Half my day was spent tending to the animals–either simply feeding or grooming them–the other half was spent (it seems) chasing them down and repairing fences.  I have been known to walk two miles with a full-grown goose tucked under each arm, green goose shit running down each pant leg.  Sigh.  But I digress.  The point I was making is: these animals were misfits.  On any given day, someone would drive up with a dog who was pregnant, and not wanting to terminate the pregnancy, decide to ‘donate’ the dog to the mission.  And we took in anything that wasn’t sick and didn’t bite.  We’d seen how therapeutic it was for our inner city kids to spend time with the animals, learning to care for them and grow attachments in healing and healthy ways, we were pleased to take the strays in.

One day I received a phone call that someone would like to donate some domestic rabbits.  Could he bring them over right away? Knowing our policy of accepting pretty much any healthy donation, I said “Sure! Bring the bunnies over! The kids will love them.”  I set the phone down and began to scramble to figure out what type of cage I could quickly assemble for these rabbits.

I should have asked more questions.  Really.  Within half an hour of the phone call a pick up truck drove up in the hot July sun with a large wooden crate in the back–the crate literally filled the truck bed.  The donor walked across the yard and asked where he could set the crate, and I cast about for a suitable temporary spot and pointed to a spot telling him it would be fine to ‘put it there, under those trees in the shade.”  To my surprise (and subsequent panic) he and his buddy unloaded that huge crate FULL of rabbits.  “I reckon there are about 100 of them.”  I filled out the tax deduction form for them and quickly as they came, the gentlemen were on their way.

Good grief!  I was building a pen for a few rabbits–I’d been thinking 5 or 6. Now I had 100 to deal with! I set about anew, trying to figure out not only how to contain these animals, but where I could put such a large brood!  I phoned my boss in the city, and he suggested a temporary run on the grass, where we could then build up a proper hutch/shelter. He was excited about the number and had visions of inner city children quietly holding and stroking these gentle lapin.

It took me about an hour to gather the posts and fencing and wire to create the ‘run’ on the grass and locate a suitable site which would provide shelter and shade as well as some bright sunny spots. As usual, I had about 20 kids watching my every move.  I set to work.  It took an additional hour to get the pen set up in a satisfactory fashion: I needed the rabbits to stay in, and the local raccoon and coyotes to stay out.  As I was finishing up, my boss arrived from the city.  He inspected the pen and was pleased with my progress.  He then asked to see the rabbits.

It turns out that the shady spot I’d picked out for the donor to set the crate in remained shady for only a few minutes. As the day progressed (unbeknownst to me, as I was frantically building a rabbit pen) the shade shifted until the majority of the wooden crate was exposed to the hot July sun.  My boss began yelling…

I came running with a crow bar to open the crate.  The rabbits had gotten so hot they were huddled all on one end of the crate, trying to get into the shade.  They were piled on top of each other.  Those on top were sweaty and panting.  I ran for a hose, while my boss began sorting them out.  We hosed the lot of them down in an attempt to cool them quickly.  My boss suddenly stopped what he was doing and laid into me with a barrage of blame.  “These animals were in your care and you neglected them!  You’ve killed them!  This is your fault!”  The barrage went on for a good ten minutes or longer.  The kids who’d gathered round began crying.  I was crying.  My boss was crying and continuing to scream.  He finally assaulted me with a “This is on your head!” before storming off.

Sobbing, I kept sorting the animals.  The ones on the bottom were wet and stiff.  The ones still living were placed in a box in the shade–I think there were maybe twelve still living.  The rest I threw into the back of a truck and headed off to the dump.  All the while I had kids from the city watching… and some of the older ones rode with me to dispose of the lapin bodies.  I backed the truck up to the edge of the dump and the kids made a game out of tossing the 90 or so rabbits into the ravine.  I then covered them with the bulldozer: picture the college girl in tears behind the controls of that land mover.

The kids talked about it as one of the most fun days of their whole camp experience.  I, however, went back to my cabin and sobbed.  And can still end up crying when I think about it for long.   I know that it was an impossible situation, exacerbated by a boss whose crass display of frustration only compounded the guilt I felt.  But I felt responsible: all around responsible–for the deaths of the rabbits, for the experience of the kids who watched–for it all.  I caused the deaths.

The next morning I got up before anyone else and released the remaining rabbits.  I couldn’t bear to face them.  My boss cornered me that evening and asked if I was the culprit.  When I affirmed, he stared at me grimly and told me they’d likely not survive in the wild.  “You’ve killed them all.”

Missing wantoks…

I’ve been in a funk this past week and I know it is related to news from New Guinea.  There was a landslide which took out two villages near Mendi (about 40 missing–buried) and then the ferry capsized off the coast of Lae–there were 250 students on board, and 104 are still missing (days later).  Several of those on the boat were from the Melanesian  Nazarene Bible college.  It is heart breaking…  and especially frustrating how little press it received.  (Given how much press the cruise liner off the shore of Italy received… where only 24 are still missing.  I guess it once again pays to be European).

There is a system in PNG called “wantoks”–which literally means “one talk”–that is, you speak the same native language. What is implied therein, is that you are from the same village, and are related, and your concerns belong to all your wantoks.  There is an obligation to tend to one another’s needs.  Sometimes this is good–no one is left out and no one goes without help.  But at times it is also a pain: relatives can just show up and demand things.  It is heavily intertwined with the lack of a notion of ‘personal property’ and the fact that language groups are so very small, isolated, and tight.  Anyway… I’m missing wantoks these days…

And the grief I’ve experienced over the news from PNG kinda exacerbates that feeling: to whom can I turn when I feel like this?  There isn’t anyone around who speaks my language… who has shared these experiences… who shares my grief.  It makes it very difficult to even talk about New Guinea at times.  I remember once when dad and I were riding his motorcycle, we came upon a bus accident.  I was about 10 years old.  Dad worked to triage folk, and we noticed one man who was bleeding out.  Dad said there was nothing to be done, so we tried to make him comfortable, and then went to help the other injured.  We heard a gurgling noise and saw someone pouring water down the man’s throat–literally drowning him.  The rationale: he’d lost a lot of fluid so this good Samaritan was filling him back up.  When we told this story in the US, it was met with disbelief that the ‘natives’ were so ignorant.  Sigh.

And I recall a time when a missionary family was driving the highlands highway (the only highway)–which was treacherous in and of itself with 20 some rivers to ford–to visit us on the north shore for vacation.  They never arrived at the appointed time, and we traveled to find them, only to discover a large landslide had covered part of the highway for several kilometers.  We spent 4 days digging people out, removing bodies and vehicles and debris, only to find out that the landslide had occurred before the missionaries got to that part of the road.  Because it was impassable, they merely turned around and went home, never thinking to notify us where they were, or that they were safe.  And their spin on the situation was that God had somehow intervened and saved them from being buried.

With whom can I share such tales?  Who can hear them without sensationalizing them, or using them for their own agenda?  In my grief, I am missing my wantoks.  And my wantoks are missing…