I don’t love Mothers’ Day, but I don’t hate the day. I have a great mother and I’m a fan of the original mother’s day proclamation against war. And I think it’s okay to have days that apply to some people, but not others.
Some of my not-loving of Mathers’ Day comes from the fact that I universally don’t like sweetness and chocolate, flowers and light. Or more accurately I don’t like the simplification of complicated things. If I haven’t appreciated my mom all year, I don’t think Mothers’ Day flowers will fix that. And if I can’t wrestle with what’s wrong with the stereotypes of mothering on the day that’s about mothering, then am I really appreciating it at all?
Mothers’ Day is awful for mothers who don’t have homes. Many have had their children taken from them, some due to abuse, but most simply because they are poor, or black, or brown. Not surprisingly, mothers who have lost their children have a harder time with recovery and a harder time with managing their mental health. That creates a circle, as managing recovery and mental health is necessary to the plan that will perhaps earn them contact with their child. It’s a horrible system we have where we try breaking mothers hearts to see if that will possibly make it better for their children.
Mothers’ Day is complicated for children. Complicated for children who are adopted, children in foster care, children whose parents have hurt them, children whose parents have passed, children whose parents are drunk or high, children whose parents stay too removed, children whose parents are smothering, for children who cannot ever live up to their parents, and for children who cannot let go of their parents expectations. Who is left?
Mothers’ Day enforces a binary that doesn’t exist—a gender binary, a parenting binary, and a good vs. evil binary.
My distaste for the day comes in part from the fact that I am not a mother, and wish that I had had that opportunity. It comes in part from sitting with my sister who has lost a daughter. It comes in part from sitting with unacknowledged trans moms. It comes in part from sitting with so many people with such complicated lives.
But I think it comes mostly from our ability as a culture to sanitize every radical and complicated thing. Julia Ward Howe was not asking for chocolates or a card when she declared “‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.” Link to the full proclamation. That this holiday was first proposed by a woman who both hated motherhood, and yet stayed with her husband rather than be separated from her children, makes the hallmarkification of the holiday that much worse. Link to book review of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe.
And yet I loved my chance to chat with my mom on this day, and was jealous of my brother's chance to cook for her. It was a joy when, during worship, someone interrupted my welcome to the mothers present to shout “and aunts”. It pierced my heart when my sister thanked me for the way that I mother/aunt my nieces and nephews.
I don’t love Mothers’ Day, but I don’t hate it, either. It’s complicated.
Another leadership meeting. Our pizza place is closed for the summer, so we've been meeting picnic style on the common. It's not optimum, some people are uncomfortable on the ground, if we meet on the park chairs we are in a row not a circle, so discussion is hard.
So we set up a couple blankets out and walked around and told those hanging out on the benches that our discussion would taking place on the blankets and they are welcome to join us.
One older gentleman came almost 20 minutes early to talk, so we visited with him until 4pm. Another regular from worship arrived right on time and we began with prayer and Bible Study. We are looking at Psalm 133: "how wonderful it is when people live together in unity".
Pizza (from another store) arrived at 4:30 and we talked about how important eating is to creating community. We also discussed how to drink soda without cups! Six or so people from the surrounding seats came over to join us.
Debbie, a young African American woman who had been at worship for the first time this morning, accepted her pizza but would not sit down. "I don't want to be rude" she said "but how is this church helping the homeless any more than anyone else?"
Yes. How are we helping? I offered something about how we know we aren't providing housing or food, or the things people need the most. She offered other examples of things we don't do. I agreed.
I went on to share that we are distinctive--that we are outside, so people can drink or walk around, or take a break. That we remind people that God loves them before they get sober. That we welcome all people, including those that are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. I was at a loss of what else to say.
Diane spoke up "I'm an alcoholic, and today was the first time I felt like I could stay in church, because I was drunk when I came."
Dave said "I've been sober a long time, but I need to move around. I always come late."
James said "And you guys really listen to us."
Debbie pulled up some blanket and sat down. We continued with a discussion about what makes "unity" and what makes "community."
Then we moved on to the business of the meeting. We have $600 in our budget from the offering. How shall we spend that money?
Bus tokens, or bus passes.
What should we do for a donation? Abbey's house, Jeremiah's Inn, Rachel's Kitchen. No, someone hollers, I want us to do bus passes.
"Bus passes are for us. What do we want to do for other people?"
This description of our meeting sounds so organized. Can you tell that all this is happening at once? At the same time a guy rode up on a bike, hollered for one our participants, and was told to get out of here. Two people went off to smoke, one volunteered followed, and for a few minutes we had two discussion circles 12 feet apart. Someone complained that this can't be bible study if we don't have bibles, and another handed him the printout of Psalm 133 and said "this is about community". Someone else complained that Abbey's house and Jeremiah's Inn get government money, so we shouldn't help them.
Debbie called us all to attention. "I have an idea. How about we use the $60 that we give away to buy food for Abbey's House. Then we can meet a church in the area and make dinner for the women there. You know they have to get together and cook dinner for themselves every night."
"It's 10% of $600."
"I want bus passes."
"We can do that, too."
"Shall we do dinner for Abbey's House?"
"All in favor say 'aye'."
We passed the proposal just as lightening ran across the sky. "Someone pray us out." I said, "quickly!"
Brian prayed for the homeless everywhere, and for the women at Abbey's house. We handed out the last of the pizza and raced to our various places for shelter just as the drops poured from the sky.
There was much talk on Facebook those days, about the boots that the police officer gave to a guy who was sitting shoeless on the streets of NYC. The officer saw him and reacted out of compassion and bought him warm socks and boots.
And someone took a picture as it happened and posted it on Facebook and we love the fact that he did this and so we all, millions of us, me included, we shared that picture of compassion.
And someone thought it would be great to follow up and find the guy-who-got-the-boots, and they found him and he wasn't homeless and he was barefoot again. He didn't have the boots. It turns out, also, another women came forward and she had given the guy-who-got-the-boots shoes, too, a few weeks earlier.
And so we started blaming poor people and homeless people and alcoholics and people with mental illness, we, those of us who have enough, we were hurt by this story. I'm not poking fun here, honestly, I personally was hurt to imagine that the guy didn't appreciate the gift. It felt like a scam. It made my heart hurt.
How on earth can we change the world if it goes like this: we see a problem and we figure a solution, and we pour out our compassion, and then it turns out that that solution wasn't the right one?
All this happens and I come home from being on the streets, and I'm upset that Sam got sick and had his hours reduced, and so now he is homeless. Every time I talk to him he wants to talk about how to get his brother to let him see his grandmother. I want to talk to him about how to get housing, but what bothers him, in 24 degree weather, what bothers him is that his brother won't listen. “How can I get him to understand” Sam asks me. And I listen to him.
And I'm upset about Jack who sleeps in the woods near Institute Park. Jack waits until after 2am, so the police won't wake him, and he is not worried about finding housing. He is worried about his next appointment with the pain specialist. Because two years ago he had leg surgery and they did something wrong and now it hurts all the time, and he's been clean from drugs for five years, but as an addict he can't take most drugs for pain so they are going to give him a cortisone shot but they can't do that for two more weeks. I want to talk to him about moving inside while he waits, but he won't talk about that, he will only talk about whether cortisone will work, and why can't he get an earlier appointment.
And so I'm hurt by the fact that Sam won't let me help him to get housing, and I'm hurt that Jack won't go inside, and I'm hurt by this damn not-homeless-guy in New York and I come into my house and I sit down on my lovely couch, where there is this quilt.
This quilt was made by Mary Jane Eaton, one of the founders of Worcester Fellowship. When I asked her about the colors, because really, not everyone puts purple and orange together in a quilt, and she said simply, well, “Liz, God is orange”.
And yet it’s true, the quilt exudes God. It exudes God not because of its calming, homogenous, single color charm. It exudes God because it emphasizes difference. The purple and the orange, so different from each other, trying to hang out together, expressing God together.
I think the trick to expressing God is the differences. It is the way we notice that we aren't all the same. The way we trust that our differences are a good thing. You've got to love the fact that we, human beings, are completely different from each other.
So different, that we can't know what another person needs without talking to them. Without asking them. Without spending time finding out what is happening in their life, and in their week, and in their day, and in this very minute. We can't just declare "people need this" and have that turn out to be the right answer. We can’t see a guy with bare feet and know that what he needs is shoes.
I know that I am uncomfortable with recognizing difference in that way. For me, when it’s cold and you have bare feet, boots sure seem like the answer, and naked hands and heads need gloves and hats. The solution to hot days is water and juice boxes. I want to stick with what I know, what I feel, what I would want.
To find out what someone else wants I have to stop and listen before I provide boots, hats, water, juice. Yes, in fact, I have to listen before I know if a person without a house is looking to get one. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes closing my mouth and listening.
Shared Ministry starts with listening. Trusting people to know their own needs. Trusting God that if we help people in the ways they say they want help, perhaps later they’ll help us by wanting shoes, or hats, or houses.
#5loaves2fish12volunteers #RoadTriptotheGoose #WildGoose2021
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.