Tuesday, December 30, 2003

End of Year

This is always a weird week for me. First the week doesn't start the way normal weeks do. This week begins with Christmas Eve. The entire month of December seems to rush toward that single night. And what a night! About 15 years ago I discovered the wonder of the midnight service at my home church. There is a peace, a serenity that I find in that service that I find no where else. The familiar stories and music are a balm at the end of a prolonged rash of cultural madness. At the end of the service the lights are dimmed so we are lit only by candle light. The whole congregation is on their knees singing "Silent Night". It's wonderful!
This week ends for me on New Year's day. It's kind of weird starting the week with one of my favorite holidays only to end it with one I find utterly idiotic. I avoid going out on New Year's Eve if at all possible. And I have very little use for college bowl games. The day is usually of complete indolence. Food is prepared in the crock pot and left to warm all day long. It's a great day to not bother even getting out of my PJ's. I watch old movies and begin thinking about getting the tree out of the living room.
But it's this week in between. It's a vast expanse of nothing. No projects will be started this week and few will make much progress. You can't have a meeting because so many people take the week or parts of it off. No one wants to think about anything. If the world ended this week would anyone even notice? This is the week for long naps, and quiet days. Turn off the television and watch the snow drift gently by the window.
On balance maybe this is the perfect week for the end of the year. A chance to sort and sift and think. Take the opportunity and enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Of teens and their parents

My daughter turned 16 two weeks ago. To be honest I have trouble imagining my "little" girl as a HS student. It only seems a couple years ago that she would greet me at the end of my work day by flinging her self against my legs all but knocking me over. It was only a couple years before that when I held her tiny, 3.5 pound body in my arms, small enough that her butt was at my wrist and her head nestled against my elbow.
Last night she drove my car (with me in it) for the first time. Is this how my Dad felt? I remember those first times in the driver's seat with him next to me as some of the most terrifying moments of my life to that point. It was petrifying! The fear that I would mess up (my greatest fear is and probably always will be failure. Especially in front of my family) stopped just short of debilitating. Now I'm in the other seat and I'm almost as worried.
She did fine, especially for someone who has only been driving for two weeks. But I found myself grabbing, as unobtrusively as possible, the handle on the passenger door. I made sure that my comments and corrections came out quietly and calmly. I refrained from slamming my foot down on the "parent pedals" on the floorboards under my feet. My voice never became strangled or shrill. To the best of my ability I sat calm and supportive in my seat, speaking only encouragement and gentle advice.
That of course was the outside. Inside I cringed several times, shouted, pounded on the dashboard, and looked about wildly attemtpting to identify the next obstacle between me and safety at home. I noted every defect in her style, her hand positions, her use of the controls, her focus. Within I was a screaming lunatic, bracing my feet against the dash to brace me against inevitable doom as I hung dangling from the seatbelts.

In the end we arrived home without incident. I gave her a solid B for her work. There was no parental nervous breakdown.

So I suppose we both passed.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

LIghten Their Backpack

(This was originally published in the December issue of "ChurchActs" the official newspaper of the Diocese of WNY)

I only caught a glance of them. Two young men out in the woods firing what looked like some heavy-duty weapons. They seemed pretty pleased with the destruction they were causing. A chill ran down my spine when I realized those same young men with those same weapons walked into the high school in Columbine, Colorado a couple years ago and opened fire. It was a videotape that was found a couple months ago and shown on national TV.
Those images nag at me. Images of youth so alienated from themselves and their community that this seemed like a good idea. As if in addition to the omnipresent school backpack they carried a psychic backpack. One so filled with rage and anger and hurt that it shattered them. How heavy did that backpack have to be?
Social stress is never higher than in Middle school and High school. It’s a time when we feel weird about ourselves. It is a time of experiment and change. Embarrassing yourself is the worst thing that could happen. The entire world seems to judge you. Many of us seem to fall short of the mark. Out of that environment grows frustration, anger, self-doubt, and depression. The emotions bubble up inside of us seeking relief. If you’re young you don’t quite know what to do with it. You end up yelling at family and friends. Sometimes you act in ways that afterward just don’t make a lot sense even to you. It all makes you feel worse.
At that moment what would you really like to happen? When I was a teen I struggled with the same frustrations. I wasn’t particularly athletic, I was terminally shy, and I was branded one of the “brains”. I became the pet target for a variety of people to rank on. The popular girls snubbed me because I was skinny and awkward. The jocks occasionally used me to bounce off lockers. The kids who didn’t like school mocked me for getting good grades. And I got mad. Too many days at school just made me feel foolish and clumsy and strange. When the weather was warm I’d walk up the hill in our back yard to a little grove of trees. There I’d find a stick of just the right length and suddenly I had a sword. I wasn’t the resident geek anymore. I was Conan the Barbarian and my foes fell by the dozens. What can I say, I had an active imagination.
But in the end that’s not what I really wanted. What I wanted was someone to listen to my feelings without criticism. I wanted someone to reassure me that I wasn’t going be like this forever. I just wanted people to be nice to me. On those occasions when one of the popular girls smiled and said hello it was a great day. When someone came to me with a question because they knew I knew the answer I felt great. Looking back it’s amazing how simple the answer was. As Christians it’s set out quite simply with Jesus’ “new” commandment – Love one another.
Loving one another means accepting that not everyone is like us and that’s OK. It means remembering that the geek and the jock and the popular and the weirdos are people. Every single person in your school is part of God’s creation. The next time you walk into school you can control how you treat others. All of them have their own psychic backpack filled with pain, worry and fear. The question for you is are you going to give them more to carry in that backpack or less? Smiling and saying hello to everyone, treating everyone with respect and refusing to allow disrespect to happen around you will certainly gain you a reputation. Plenty of people will think you’re weird. Let them. Continue to fulfill the commandment and many more will begin to realize that around you their backpack is lighter. Along the way you may discover that you’ve picked up some “strange” friends. Good. Most days some pretty strange people surrounded Jesus. Most days He sought them out.
Look around and watch for others whose backpacks have begun to burden them. Lighten their backpacks.
Peace, Jay