Kindergarten 9-18-13 Yellow jacket sting and rules.

I missed kindergarten last week. My car wouldn’t start. Nearly two thousand dollars later I’m back, ready to try again. Then just before getting ready to go I got stung while doing yard work.

There are small yellow and black stinging bugs on the way into my house. I think they are yellow jackets. They are right next to the steps to the front door. There is no easy way around them since they are directly on my path into my house.

The ivy has grown up nearby and I need to trim it. They think otherwise. They think I’m threatening them. I got stung twice before, about a month ago. I’ve found I’m not allergic to their stings fortunately, but they sure don’t feel nice.

I went inside and doctored up my sting. I’d gotten stung on my earlobe. It could have been worse. I should have worn a headscarf like I’d thought I was going to, but I didn’t. I shouldn’t have waved around at the bug when it got near my ear, but I did.

When it was time to leave about thirty minutes later, I walked carefully by them. I was terrified. If these things read fear I was an encyclopedia. But I kept walking. I prayed, afraid, but I kept walking. I think there is something to this. It isn’t about not being afraid. It isn’t possible to not feel fear all the time. But I didn’t let it stop me. I kept praying, and I kept walking.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you are feeling. It matters that you just keep going.

So I got to school and I had V. again. I could tell she just wasn’t into learning today. Maybe she just isn’t ready for school yet. Her Mom thinks this too. It took a bit to figure out if she was playing or just wrong. She would count two cars as 6 by going over them again and again. This happened a lot. I’m only able to be there for an hour so I told her we were done and went to the next person on my list. Quality over quantity, after all.

It was J., a boy I worked with briefly the first week I was there. He was very eager to show me how much he knows, and bragged about it. I was ready to be dazzled after the first student. He was fabulous with his numbers. He put everything in order and did it quickly. He’s still counting on his fingers but then again so do I sometimes.

Then he wanted to show me that he could write his name. It is a long name and he did well until the end. He wasn’t sure what the last letter was, and wanted me go to his desk where his name was written for a prompt for him. It took me a little bit to understand what he wanted. I’ve since confirmed that he is in speech therapy. I realized he wanted to see his name written so I wrote it for him on the white board. He was very surprised that I knew how to write his name.

Then we started to work on matching capital letters to little letters. This did not go as well as the counting did. The biggest problem was that he likes every letter in the alphabet that is in his name, but not any of the other ones. Now, all told that is a fairly large percentage of the alphabet, but still it’s not going to cut it. You have to know them all.

I went to find the wooden alphabet board and we worked using that. There are a lot of different tools to use, and I’ll try them all. It was interesting to watch him work. He had very specific ways of doing things and ways he expected things to be. It turns out that he is having problems making friends because of his need for rules.

Sometimes rules get in our way. Sometimes we use rules to make things make sense. Sometimes our home lives don’t make sense so we cling to rules. Then the rules start to strangle us.

People don’t always follow rules. We all do things a little bit differently. Some things need to be the same, otherwise we will have chaos. We can’t arbitrarily decide what letters look like for instance. But some things have wiggle room.

So it was slow going. I’ve asked to work with him again. He reminds me of my husband. I want to save him. I want to rescue him from the pain of these rules. I can see a certain sadness in his eyes. I can tell there are a lot of rules at home, and they don’t always make sense.

But then am I helping, really?

That pain of being stung this morning gave me a valuable lesson. I’d learned about walking through my fear. I’d learned that it was ok to be afraid. Perhaps this pain is something he needs to walk through too. I can be there to cheer him on, and guide, but I can’t rescue him.

Sometimes pain is our greatest teacher.

Praying at a football game. On inclusion and good witness.

If Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to take Communion at a Catholic church, she would be refused. She wasn’t even baptized as a Christian. She was Jewish.

If she showed up as a potential church member, an unwed mother, she would be shunned in most churches. Tongues would wag.

How many times have we as a church turned away someone because they didn’t measure up to our standards? How many times have we not acted in a Christ-like manner because we think someone isn’t acting “Christian” enough?

It isn’t for them to act Christian. It is for us to. And Christ was radical about inclusion.

I recently mentioned about Mary not being able to take Communion in a Catholic church and a Catholic friend stopped and thought about it and realized I was right. She’d never had to think about this before, had never even thought about the exclusionary rules. Of course not. She was in. The rules don’t affect her. She hadn’t had to think about it.

This reminds me of when I attended a public high school and the majority of my friends weren’t Christian. They were either Jewish or Hindu. I felt so awkward for them when we had prayers before football games. The principal of the school would come on the intercom while we were in the bleachers and pray to God and Jesus before a football game.

I noticed that he never did this before tests or anything else that really mattered.

I’ve never understood public prayers before football games. Sure, it is good to be mindful and hope that they play safely and with respect. But not everybody there is Christian. It is strange for the principal of a public school to pray to God in a situation where everybody has to be there. We didn’t have a choice. It was mandatory attendance at these gatherings. It isn’t like it was just for the Christians, or those who chose to be there. I felt bad for my friends. They couldn’t leave. I wanted to leave as well, and I was Christian. This guy, this authority figure, didn’t represent me. It just didn’t feel right. It felt like some line had been crossed.

What would parents have said if the principal had been Wiccan and said a prayer before the game? This is important to consider. If you feel there is a difference if it is one faith or another, then think about that for a moment. Why is it different?

Remember, this was a public school, not a faith-based one.

I can hear one of my coworkers now saying “If they don’t like it, they can go back to where they came from. It is our country.” She says this about us having a Christmas tree set up in our public library. I’m opposed to that too. If we have one image from a faith, we need to have all of them, or none.

She says “our” country quite possessively. She gets very defensive about this.

The problem is, it isn’t “our” country if “our” only means one group. “Our” means all of us. Remember how the Puritans came over the sea to America to have the freedom to practice their religion as they wished? Remember the first sentence in the first Amendment to the Constitution – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This also means we have freedom from religion. We don’t have to practice anything.

For Christians to force their viewpoint and their faith on others or to force them to listen or participate in public prayer isn’t Christ-like. Jesus never did this. It is insensitive.

I don’t care if they think they have “it” right. When Christians do this, they are doing it wrong.

Sure, you can pray in a public school. Nobody is taking away that right. Anybody can pray. You just can’t pray in a way that forces other people to participate. You can pray privately. You can pray with a prayer group. You can pray with your friends. You just can’t pray over an intercom to the whole school, or pray in a classroom to the whole class.

Not everybody is on the same page. Not everybody shares the same belief system. And that is OK. In fact, it’s not only OK, it is wonderful. It is part of what America is supposed to be about.

Forcing your belief system on someone else isn’t going to turn them into converts. In fact, it is going to turn them off. It does the exact opposite of what you want. It says that Christians are more interested in sharing a message than in having a relationship. It says that Christians are more interested in talking than listening.

The best way to get people interested in the message of Jesus is to live like Jesus. Be kind. Be loving. Welcome the stranger. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Work for justice and peace.

Let your life be your testimony.

Little seed

Little seed, reach up.
Reach up to the light.
What light, you say? What light?
All I see here is darkness.
I’m surrounded by dirt and dark and worms.
It is wet. It is sad.
I am sad.

Reach up, I say. Feel that tug. Feel the warmth pulling you up.
Feel the pull of the earth pulling you down.
Soon you will burst forth, break from your shell,
break forth with a shoot going up
and roots going down.

Soon your shell will soften
and the old curiosity will grab hold of you
and make you stretch stretch stretch
like a cat, like a yogi
away from where you are
to where you need to be.

Soon you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
Soon you’ll see why I’m cheering you on.

Sunlight! The warmth of the day tickles your tiny
tender shoots.

Rain! The water, like honey, bathes you, feeds you, blesses you.

You are blessed and baptized in this rain, this gift, this beauty.

You never knew the blessing that was sun,
you’d never know the bounty that was rain,
if you’d stayed hidden away in the dirt.
If you’d stayed there, you’d never know
this other life,
this life on the other side
of here
and now.

On prayer – dialing in God.

I find it heartening that the most popular topics that people are searching for that find my blog are about prayer. How to pray, prayer bracelets, and the power of group prayer are all read weekly. All other the stuff I’ve written sits quietly while these topics keep being looked at. People are also looking up how to recognize the signs of the Holy Spirit.

What is the interest? Why are people searching the internet for information on these things? Why aren’t they finding the answers from their faith community?

Perhaps they are like me. Perhaps they have felt mislead by their faith community and they are searching on their own. Perhaps they are waking up to the idea that we all need to take ownership of our lives, and after-lives. We are all waking up to taking care of ourselves, body mind and spirit. It is as if the “occupy” movement has shaken everything up and made us aware that we need to do things for ourselves. It has spread from being engaged with politics to education to healthcare to nutrition to religion. People are waking up and asking questions, rather than being spoon-fed.

So, prayer. What is it? Why pray?

Prayer is communicating with God. It is communion in the truest sense. It is connection. It is erasing the line between us and God. In reality there is no line, there is no separation. God is always with us. We just don’t know how to listen. We don’t know how to connect. We get distracted.

Learning how to pray is like tuning in a radio. For the longest time we stay on one channel. Then we hear about another channel, one that has useful information. The one we were listening to is full of pop tunes and negative news. We don’t learn anything from it, and we feel a little uneasy all the time.

We are either distracted or dissatisfied listening to that channel.

Then we hear about another channel and we try to dial it in. We’ve forgotten the call numbers. We wander around, spinning the dial. We hear that it has a positive take on things, that it isn’t all about war and violence and heartache. It is about how to live through all that and how to be helpful. The message is one of love, and a love so big that it can’t be written about in a greeting card.

Some people are suspicious about this station. Our society seems to think that people who are happy and who smile all the time just don’t get the big picture. They just don’t understand everything that is going on. They have their heads in the sand, so of course they are happy. They don’t know any better.

But it isn’t that at all. They do know what is going on. But they refuse to fill themselves with poison. It is like the difference between someone who eats well and someone who eats junk food. The person who eats well has vitality and energy, and the person who eats junk food feels lethargic and cranky. But if you tell the junk-food eater that he’ll feel better if he quits drinking soda and quits eating high-fat, high-salt food, he’ll start getting suspicious.

Many people would rather stay miserable, because it is what they know.

I mentioned to one friend that I was looking into other faith traditions, specifically the Baha’i community. He got very concerned and said that he didn’t think that was a good idea. He’d seen a cable access show that was Baha’i and they all seemed “so happy” that he thought something was up.

Yeah. That’s a reason to not check them out. Let’s stick with the miserable people.

Right now, I’m supplementing my need for church with a bunch of different things. I go on retreats. I’m part of a quarterly circle where people share their views on deep topics like forgiveness. I’m part of a group that is dedicated to compassion. I read scriptures daily. I listen to a Jewish podcast.

I don’t feel qualified to tell people how to pray. I think there are as many paths to God through prayer as there are people. I think the biggest thing I can tell you is that God wants to hear from you and wants to connect with you, and that however you do it is good.

Prayer doesn’t have to be about sitting and reciting words from a prayer book. It can be anything that gets you there. God is the destination, and prayer is the vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you take a car or a boat or a plane or you walk – you’ll still get there. Some ways may take longer, and some ways may be easier. It doesn’t matter. Just get going. The going-towards is what matters. God will make up the difference in distance.

I’ve written previously about various different ways to pray, so I’m not going to replicate that here. I’m trying not to duplicate myself, but that it hard sometimes. Sometimes I have a topic so big I try to open it from a bunch of different angles. I write a lot about Communion, and how church should be open to everybody.

Perhaps what I’m trying to do here is exactly the same thing. Prayer is for everybody, and there is no one right way to do it. But why pray? What is the point?

This is hard for me to explain. To me, this is like a fish trying to tell you the value of swimming. Prayer is essential for me. The more I do it, the more balanced and connected I feel. And I don’t mean just connected with God, but connected with everything and everyone.

Because God is everything. Everything came from God, and everything is part of God. No – I don’t worship God as a rock or a tree or a mountain. That is a whole different religion.

Prayer can be as simple and as essential as stopping for a moment, as often as possible, to “check in” with God. It is an inward look, a pause. It is taking a breath in and turning away from the everyday minutia of life and reflecting on the eternal.

Tuning in that radio channel isn’t easy. There is a lot of static. But the more you try, the better you’ll get. And just like in the story of the prodigal son, when you start walking towards God, God will start running towards you.

I don’t think I’ve told you anything about why or how to pray in this post. Sometimes blog posts are like prayer. They don’t seem like they stayed on topic. They don’t seem like they got anywhere. But prayer and writing and physical exercise are all the same. It is the effort that matters. We won’t be perfect every time. We won’t get it right. Sometimes we do it in fits and starts. But keep on. Keep on trying and stretching and growing. That is what matters.

Keep on reaching towards the light, little seed, and eventually you’ll see the light.