Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's Only Eating!

                This morning I heard a story on the radio about a man who by studying teeth has been able to tell how long a Neanderthal was breastfed by mother-Neanderthal.  As interesting as this is, the real question is whether or not mother-Neanderthal was allowed to breastfeed her baby-Neanderthal in the mall.
                I am continually amazed at the commotion about breastfeeding in public!  Really?!?  It is the most natural thing that there is – ask any baby who does it.  It is just eating, folks, that’s all!  I find grown adults eating a greasy hamburger with one hand and a clump of salty French fries with the other and a mega-size diet coke with the other in the mall food court far more disgusting than a woman breastfeeding her baby on a bench next to the Gap.  What is not natural is for a woman who is fully equipped, experiencing let down when she hears her baby cry, fumbling around trying to find a bottle in the diaper bag to feed her baby.  Or having to go to the bathroom to nurse the baby, all because someone gets upset that her breast is not firmly in her bra cup and instead is in her baby’s mouth.  Remember, it’s eating, that’s all!  Would you want to eat in the bathroom at the Mall?  Actually, I found the Nordstrom bathroom a nice place to nurse my babies.  They had a wonderful, gently lit anteroom with a comfortable rocker, away from the hustle and bustle of the Mall.  I am sure that they put it in for the comfort of the mother and baby as opposed to the comfort of the one who is being offended by the woman FEEDING her baby in the way that God intended.  But even in the restrooms that are regularly cleaned, I don’t want to bring my mocha frappe, let alone eat a meal.  Why would I want to feed a little baby in there?
                When this subject comes up I am usually just really annoyed.  But if I think about it long enough, I become greatly offended.  Think about it.  It is the ultimate in objectifying a woman.  As Julia Roberts once said, “They’re only breasts!”  Okay, that may be a bad example as she was in bed with Hugh Grant at the time.  Thinking of breastfeeding in public as “indecent” is offensive.  I did it all the time, and probably most people didn’t know I was doing it.  I even did it in church!  (Not ever in the pulpit.  Now that would have been distracting – mostly for ME).  But even if a little skin shows while the process goes on, what is the big deal.  The walls of Abercrombie have pictures of bigger than life people who are practically naked!  (Which always intrigues me that they are trying to sell you clothes and they do it with pictures of naked people.  Maybe they are trying to coax the naked people to buy clothes?? …but I digress.) 
A breast has more functions than sexual arousal of people!  When we can only think of breasts sexually, we are on our way to thinking of women in a strictly sexual sense.  When we do that we limit the spheres where a woman can go.  We do that so that she can’t possibly arouse a man (who can go wherever and do whatever he chooses).  You think I am over-reacting.  Maybe I am.  But it was not that long ago in our own history when it was improper for a woman to show her calf in public (and I am not talking about an activity at the state fair).  It is not that far away that women are required to cover their entire body, except for their eyes and go out in public only when escorted by a male relative.   (There are still Christian versions of this dynamic as well).
Okay, you’re asking how I got from breastfeeding in the mall to burkas and beyond (that could be a name for…never mind).  It’s just that we have come a long way, (baby).  I was able to breastfeed in public more than 20 years ago.  I never fed my babies with a bottle (others did, when I was not around).   If I tried, my baby would look up at me and give me the, “You can do better than that” look.  Women before me fought long and hard so that I could have many freedoms including breastfeeding my baby in peace…or in the mall. 
So, let the poor, sleep-deprived woman FEED her baby in peace.  If it bothers you, just go buy a hamburger or go window shopping at Abercrombie.  Remember, it’s just eating.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Do Something Great But Be Safe!

When my kids were in elementary school and I was campus minister at USC, I had responsibilities on the denomination’s region staff.  My dear friend, colleague and fellow region staff person was responsible for raising support for missions among the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles.  She would put on meetings quarterly at which she would invite representatives from each of the AB churches and then bring missionaries and people in ministries of outreach that the churches supported with their money designated for missions.  She would call me early in the week and tell me that I needed to be there to share about the campus ministry.  These meetings happened on Saturday mornings which was a day that I was home with the kids as my husband worked on that day.  So what that usually meant was that I would pack up the kids and hope that they could entertain themselves while I did my thing at the meeting.  But as it turned out, my friend had a way of making those meetings so interesting and exciting that my kids actually liked going!  Eventually, my friend decided that she would go to South Africa as a missionary and as we sent her off my kids started telling people that they were “going to be a missionary like Auntie M. Cecilia.”  For some time, my son, especially, said that when he grew up he was going to be a missionary.  When my kids said that, I was proud and excited.  I knew that they could grow out of that professional goal, but wow!  I have always counted various missionaries among the people that I really admire…my heroes!  To think that my own kid would grow up and do something incredible like that is everything a mom could want… until she really thinks about it.
What if he ends up in a dangerous place?  What if she gets sick and there is no place to go to a hospital?  What if he challenges the powers that be in the name of justice and people don’t like that?  What if she stands up for someone who is being abused and she gets abused as well?    Ok, I want my kids to do great things to make the world a better place…just as long as they are safe and well fed and have all their needs met.
A few months ago my son started talking about riding across the country on his bicycle right after graduation.  At first I thought he was joking—of course he was joking!!! What a crazy idea!!!  Before long I realized that he was serious.  My response was completely appropriate:  “Are you kidding?  You need to just get a job.  After all, you took enough  time to get through college.  You have student loans to pay.  You are not going to be able to be on our health insurance for much longer, and did I say you need to get a job??”  But he said he wanted to do it in order to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking.  He wanted to go around and tell people and maybe even raise money to fight it.  I still said things like, “that is really nice, son, but… are you kidding?
When that didn’t work I switched into the next level of dealing with trying to control my children’s lives when they are not at all cooperating.  That next level is what I learned from my mother who no doubt learned it from her mother.  I switched into sarcasm.  Every time he made a comment about riding his bike across the country I responded with sarcasm.    
When that didn’t work…by the way, it never does, but it offers brief moments of instant gratification, but I finally realize that sarcasm is actually my transitional stage between denial and acceptance…so when that didn’t work I decided that since he was going to do this anyway, I should probably help him.  Brilliant, eh?  So I shocked him one day as we were riding in the car and I just out of the blue said to him, “If you are going to do this thing then you need to build a team of people to help you.”  And then I went through the list and in the process realized that I was sharing with him out of my experience of planning and networking.  I started to realize I was on the right track when he actually starting making contact with the people for his team. 
Little did I know at that time it would turn into what it has, something really big!  More than once my mother and my sisters have said to me, “Are you really going to let him do this?.... Alone?!?”  And I have to remind them that he will be 26 years old and that I really can’t stop him, so I have been trying to help him be safe and organized and supported.  For one thing, we are trying to work it out that he will be going from church to church.  That way I know that there will be good people waiting for him and if he doesn’t show up they will go look for him.
I still have the “mom moments,” when I just blurt out something that indicates that I am still scared and nervous that something will happen to my little boy while he is out trying to make the world a better place.  He just looks at me and rolls his eyes and I remind him that I can’t help it.  I can only hold the “mom” in for so long and then she just jumps out and says something.  But that’s what happens when you raise your kid on stories of heroes.  Or you talk at the dinner table and in the car about what is going on in the world and how somebody ought to do something about it.  What kind of ideas are they going to get when you introduce them to people who are actually out doing those kinds of things?  At the same time you have devoted your life to seeing that they are safe. 
What’s a mom to do, but pray… and say, “Go out and make the world a better place, but be safe!” 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thank You, Dallas.

Over the years there have been times when I have wondered what heaven is like.  I confess that for a long time I pictured heaven as an eternal church service, and though there are a lot of things that I enjoy about church, the thought that heaven could be like that made me a bit nervous.  I know this doesn’t sound very spiritual, but, after a while you want the service to end so that you can go to lunch with family and friends, right?
                I have had the wonderful opportunity in my life to get to know Dallas Willard.  I met him briefly after a few years of being in campus ministry at the University of Southern California where he served as a Philosophy Professor for decades.  Shortly after that meeting I spent two weeks with him and 15 other people in a Catholic Retreat Center talking about spirituality and ministry.  It was a DMin class through Fuller Seminary.  I believe that what I learned from Dallas may have kept me from leaving ministry.  There is no doubt that Dallas has been the teacher that has impacted my theology, ministry, and my understanding of the gospel more than anyone else.  After that class I would see Dallas at least a couple of times a semester, either over lunch or coffee or in various teaching situations.  One time I was at a lunch with several university types and Dallas and I were at the same table.  Dallas told everyone at the table that he and I had gone to school together.  When I realized that was all he was going to say about that I clarified that he had been the teacher and I the student.  I have more stories about Dallas than there is room here to tell, but here is one.
                I left USC to do campus ministry at Purdue.  Though I went back to visit family several times, it had been about 7 years that I had not seen Dallas.  I decided to email him and ask if my husband and I might have lunch or coffee with him on our next visit to L.A. that summer.  He wrote back that he would be in seclusion working on a book.  Would we be willing to come to his house?  (!!)  Of course we agreed.  He said that it would be best to meet before noon.  We took that to mean that he needed us to leave by noon so I arranged for us to come at 10 am.  We came to his simple home in the hills on the edge of the San Fernando Valley.  We sat in the living room and his very gracious wife brought in a tray of crackers and jam and she sat with us a while before she returned to something she was working on.  We talked for some time about all sorts of things, but mostly about important things.  Noon came and went and yet there was no hurry on his part for us to leave.  Finally, we realized that it was after 1:00 and that we had better get on our way.  On our way back to where we were staying my husband and I basked in the experience of such a wonderful visit.  I decided that if heaven were like that, having that kind of unhurried, meaningful, generous conversation like the one we had had with Dallas, then I think that I could definitely stand it.
                Over the years Dallas taught me to understand that the Good News that Jesus came to bring was that through him the Kingdom of God was accessible to us.  Not just in the future, the Kingdom of God can be experienced even now.  Dallas taught me that spiritual disciplines were not an obstacle course put here for me to do in order to impress God—like God is up there somewhere with a checklist to see what I do each day:  “morning prayer and Bible reading, check; Sunday morning worship, check; sharing faith with someone at the bus stop, check.”  Instead spiritual disciplines are activities within my power to bring about transformation in my life that cannot be accomplished by direct effort.  Instead of duties to be checked off, they are activities which create space for me to be open to the work of God, to be sensitive to the presence of God in my life and in the world around me.  The more I experience this transformation the more I am actually becoming more and more accustomed to living in the Kingdom of God, which is a reality that goes on eternally.
                Today, Dallas began to experience the Kingdom of God in a fullness that can only come after death.  Yet, I believe that death was a simple and gentle transition for him to that Kingdom as he had experienced it on this side.  Today, I am sad.  Even though I haven’t been able to see Dallas that often in recent years and I didn’t know when the next time I would see him, I miss him. 
                I know that I am only one of literally countless people that God has touched and taught through Dallas Willard.  But I will always and especially treasure those encounters and conversations that seemed like a taste of heaven.  Thank you, Dallas.