A Few Words on a Gifted Writer

Margaret Ward McClain is a writer for the Essays on Childhood project.  She is also someone I knew in my years at Davidson College, and with whom I recently reconnected at our class reunion down Tobacco Road to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

I remember Margaret as a quiet but incredibly fun person when we were in school.  She was quirky-smart like many of my classmates, always alert and focused, and clearly absorbing even in her silences the antics and personalities of our more boisterous friends.  She was and is a beautiful woman, but she always had that untouchable intellectual attractiveness that so many of us long for, as you know even in your twenties how much you will covet that trait in the coming decades.  I always noticed the young men in school looking at her in a certain way, in a way that said they too knew she had a timeless “specialness.”

(It’s kind of cute now to remember watching guys try to flirt with Margaret.  They really wanted her to like them, but one could see they knew how far out of their league they were to even try…..)

On receipt of Margaret’s essay, I am reminded of what a unique and brilliant woman she is.  I also learned something about her, and that is that within her tiny frame is the courage of a lion.

I’m not sure she considers herself a writer, but I can promise you that after you read her essay, you will consider her a gifted storyteller and accomplished essayist.  I have read The Simons House several times now, and each time it leaves me in tears.  Happy tears, but really very serious tears nonetheless.

Due to the length of the essay, it will appear in three separate posts over the rest of the week.  This way if you have the opportunity to read it all at once a few days from now, you can do so; but you will also be able to read it in sections as time allows.  (For the record, my strong preference is to wait until you have the time to read all of the posts together as a single experience.)

No one has a “perfect family,” and every one of our families has been touched by grief over the years.  I’ve learned that for some people, grief and loss make it emotionally impossible to revisit old memories.  It hurts too much to relive the beauty, love, and connections that time, illness, and hardship can take away.  Only lions can, as they say, “go there.”

We may never be able to return to some houses.  But maybe we can take our children, and enter new places to call home.  I hope you will keep an eye out for Margaret’s essay beginning tomorrow, and that you will share it with others.  It is a powerful piece of writing.

Margaret Ward McClain

Margaret was born in the miasmal swamp of Charleston, South Carolina.  She spent her childhood dividing time between the Holy City and Greenville, SC, the red dirt capital of the Upcountry, where she was raised and attended school.  She says, “At Davidson College I learned how to be a better human being, and also received a B.A. in English.”  She earned a  J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law, went on to practice domestic law, and finally landed at I.B.M. Today she is a recovering lawyer residing in Chapel Hill with her wonderful husband Tim.  Professionally she is the mother of a 13-year-old son, two grown stepdaughters in-residence, and three very spoiled dogs.  Margaret’s essay, The Simons House, centers on the house where her family spent two weeks each summer.

Blue Glasses, Annoying Radio Preacher Men, and the Occasional “A-ha”

I just rolled back into town yesterday after 4 glorious days in North Carolina studying various topics in ethics. The trip down and back is a simple one when the weather is nice, but traveling alone I usually need at least some radio to pass the time.

Enter the Annoying Radio Preacher Men.

Without satellite radio, there are extensive swaths of road in the South where you just can’t find anything but guys on the air telling you what God wants, expressing their great confidence in my “nature” as a woman, and inevitably trying to sell something for actual cash money.  I try to just get a station where the voices are semi-calm and not screeching about fornication and the sulfuric fires of hell.

I don’t know who these men were, but one of them seemed to be the show’s host who was interviewing another guy who had a book about marriage he wanted to promote.  I lingered on the station when I heard the promoter say, “Men, we get on the crazy cycle because we don’t accept our wives for their true nature.  She sees the world through pink glasses.  We see the world through blue glasses.  She can’t see what you see.”

This was just weird enough that I had to stick with it.  Plus, I LOVE it when radio preacher men who clearly are misogynistic share their extensive wisdom about “the nature” of women.  I cracked my neck, took a deep drink of Diet Dr. Pepper, and settled back to be enlightened.

True to tradition, there was a tremendous amount of clueless stereotyped garbage about men, women, and marriage that I despise.  I can tolerate it because I see the increasing desperation of these voices to gain an audience and to justify their belief systems to themselves.  It’s on the way out for sure, but that is why it can be so entertaining.  It’s like listening to old tapes of Abbott and Costello.  And yet it was not all completely without value for me.  There was one bit in this routine that grabbed my attention and will hold it for some time.

According to the promoter, there is a sizable study out there in which hundreds of men were asked this question:  If you had to choose, would you rather a) be considered inept and inadequate by everyone, or b) be alone and unloved?

Over 80% of the men questioned chose option B.  When I did my own informal research on this, I got the same results.  I also noted that the men I asked answered with absolutely no hesitation and utter confidence.  Better to be alone and unloved than to be considered incompetent.

The promoter used this point to talk about conflict in a marriage, and how the deep commitment to and need for respect can influence a man’s behavior.  Though there was no corresponding study there was an assumption that the reverse of these priorities is true for women and I unscientifically have to agree.  I see it all the time and have my whole life.  Not every woman reflects this of course (thus my dislike for these kinds of pronouncements), but I can see evidence that many women will suffer disrespect and allegations of incompetence rather than risk the threat of being alone and unloved.

Again, all of this is quite sweeping and in no way takes into account that each person is unique, each person is not married or even interested in that, each person is not carved out of some imaginary heterosexual blue or pink stone that God grabs from his quarry and chisels into humanity in his spare time.  I rebuke all of that as untrue and quite ridiculous. But it’s difficult to dismiss the information that may be relevant here to many people negotiating long-term relationships where these gender-specific hierarchies of need may be playing out.

I clicked off the program after hearing my “a-ha” take away point.  Men struggle to show love when they feel disrespected.  Women struggle to show respect when they feel unloved.

Whoopi Goldberg used to wear purple glasses.  I say we all get our hands on some of those.  (Whoopi would have a field day with my radio preacher men……..)

Image credit:  U2 Station

Fierce Actually

Cherubs.  Soft petals.  Gooey chocolates.  Sweet nothings.  It’s all good.

But here’s a Valentine’s shout-out to the ferocity of love, which, quite frankly, is very often much better than good.  It’s what slays dragons of fear, and carries the wounded off the battlefield.  It holds despair in a powerful unflinching gaze until it crawls away defeated.  Love does chin ups and push ups and asks, “You want a piece of me?”

Herbert’s poems have been characterized by a deep religious devotion, linguistic precision, metrical agility, and ingenious use of conceit. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert’s diction that “Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected.”Poets.org

If we are smart, we’ll say yes, we do want a piece of that.  Happy love day, friends.  Be it romantic, platonic, erotic, familial or agape, make it fierce.

Image credits: Fundoo Times, Living the Romantic Comedy

Fear. Less.

“Why are you fearful? O you of little faith.”
Matthew 8:26

Sooooo…….I just joined a Presbyterian women’s book study.  Group.

I have a hard time getting out the word “group” because I am not a good joiner.  I tend to like to do things on my own, and my facilitation background makes me antsy when I’m in a group setting and facilitating is not my job.  But my friend sent me an email out of the blue inviting me to the group, and something told me I should do it.

The book we are reading is called “Fearless” by Max Lucado.  I’m approaching my new friend Max with caution, as he seems a little too successful by commercial standards to pass my theological smell test.  I don’t mean for a minute that he’s not a good and decent man; by all accounts he seems like a good guy with kind intentions.  My sensors go off, however, when it’s all too neat and tidy – complete with glossy workbooks and DVD lectures.

All of my skepticism locked on go, my defenses were lowered considerably in the opening chapter:

His most common command emerges from the “fear not” genre. The gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, twenty-one urge us to “not be afraid” or to “not fear” or to “have courage,” “take heart,” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common command appears on eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he said more than any other was this:

Don’t be afraid.

I’ve been hanging with the church for my entire life, and I have never heard this before.  In my experience, the emphasis on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth has been love and forgiveness; yet here is statistical evidence that, at least as recorded and known to us today, the most frequent lesson was about managing fear.

I’m completely hooked now.

I’m a bit like Anne LaMott.  She says she is a Christian because God came after her and gave her no choice, and some days she’s downright pissed about it (paraphrasing here).  I can’t always give a neat and clean explanation for my faith, which may be why I am suspicious of those who seem to make it so hospital-cornered.  I accept the teachings of love and forgiveness because I have never seen any other way work.  It’s a straight-up results issue for me; but without knowing it consciously before I’ve always felt like something was missing in the practical application, at least as far as it was presented to me.

Now it’s all coming together.

Fear is an impediment to many things, not the least of which are love, healing, and wholeness.  I can draw a bright line from my own fears directly to my failures.  It makes perfect sense that if we are filled with dread and anxiety we are unable to connect and serve in a whole way.  We cannot connect to God or other people, and we cannot give our best to any situation because we are clamped down on it inside.  You don’t teach someone how to swim who won’t get in the water.  The learning to swim is what’s important, life-saving even, but you can’t get there until you get the person in the water.

God wants us in the water.  At least that’s what I’m hearing, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

The women in my group are incredible people.  Multigenerational and diverse, they have come together to trust one another as well as themselves as we dig into the issue of fear and how it affects our spiritual lives, and consequently our lives in total.  One of our discussions centered on separating apprehension from real fear.  When you’ve been punched in the gut by real fear, you know the difference.  I think sometimes we hide behind apprehension as our definition of fear.

(Side Bar: It will be interesting to see if the fear of other people knowing what we are really afraid of gets in the way of figuring out what fear is doing to us.  Oy vey!)

I will never discuss here anyone’s personal stories in our group.  I hope, though, that readers of this blog will be willing to read some of my musings on personal fear and maybe even help me understand this issue of fear better.  I don’t think one needs to be a professing Christian to learn from and analyze the words of a renowned teacher in Jesus of Nazareth; I’m confident everyone has some level of fear, so whatever your source of understanding, feel free to bring it here and share it.

Welcome, all fellow human travellers.  We all know fear, some more intimately than others.  Maybe we can help each other along.

Image credit: 30 Before 30 List

Call and Answer

On an icy night this week I pulled into my driveway, exhausted, with an angry toddler in the backseat.  My child was what my brother-in-law calls “strippin’ mad” — that state of fury where very young children just start tearing off their clothes, throwing things, and running.

As I sat in the front seat trying to compose my own tumultuous mind, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the shape of my husband hurrying down the sidewalk to help.  I almost wept with relief.

He quickly opened the back seat and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got her.”  “OK,” I said, “But be careful, she doesn’t have any shoes on.  You can’t put her down.”  He gave me a curious look and said, “I see.  It’s fine.  Come in the house.”

I gathered my last-minute shopping bags, purse, diaper bag, and what was left of my sanity and struggled out of the car and up the snowy walk behind my family.

It was then that I saw the footprints.

Merry Christmas to all, and may each of you find and offer selfless love, this season and throughout the year.

How It Stops: Some Thoughts on “Westboro Baptist Church”

“Westboro Baptist Church” is the name of a disturbed cult of a few dozen people.  They are not a church, they are not Baptist, and they are most likely severely mentally ill.

If you don’t know about this group, congratulations.  If you would like to learn about them in some detail, you might start with this link in the Huffington Post and then do some Google searching on your own.  I prefer not to link directly to any of the group’s websites.

I have seen this group do its thing in celebration of the deaths of West Virginia coal miners.  What got my attention above anything else seeing it “live” was the presence of children.  Weeping children are dragged along, forced to carry signs that say “God hates (fill in the blank).”  Because the children are with the WBC adult picketers, any negative energy that comes from opposition to the protest on the street lands like another crushing boulder on these young souls.

Keep in mind that WBC does what it does very well, and by design.  It is an emotional terrorist organization that preys on grieving communities and attempts to spark rage and backlash so as to further fragment fragile situations. 

Fragmentation increases the likelihood that people will turn on one another over the slightest differences or misunderstandings.  The first thing to do is have a moment of outrage in private with people you trust.  Get it out of your system if you must, but it is crucial to move on to a firm conviction that these people have no power, no authority, and no voice of significance about God, your loved ones, or your community.  They are themselves desperately in need of positive energy and even prayer for their well-being.

The children in the midst of the chaos need the most help.  However tempting, don’t engage WBC in anger.  The only way this ends, be it WBC or any band of disturbed hate-mongers, is to respond in peace and love.

Fake it if you must, but get it done in front of these kids.  That is how it stops.

Image credit: Pablo Picasso

Memoirs of a Bullied Kid

It’s not often that this blog defers an entire post to another site, but today is one of those days.  This issue is too important.  I implore you to take the time to read this man’s story.  It is painful, but it is compassionate and real.  He has some advice for all of us that could change the world if we are willing to listen and do new things in new ways.

Please click here to read Memoirs of a Bullied Kid.  Thank you…….