I went to church a couple weeks ago for the first time since the spring and found I couldn’t stop crying. My husband wasn't even with me, so it was just me, crying in the pew by myself, trying to make sure my mascara didn't run. Weird times.
Something about church, and prayer, just showing up, ready and willing, listening for whatever, can bring things to the surface - stuff I didn’t even know was there, don't even know what it is.
So I thought, well, it seems like I need this. Something is happening here. And I saw that my favorite guy is leading a study of the book of Paul, so I went to that.
Now, first I want to tell you, I’ve never been to a bible study before. Even saying that, I’m like, no, that probably wasn’t me.
(Well, maybe back in the somewhat culty Christian group I got into for a few months in high school but I just had a crush on a college girl named Kathleen there - she was from St. Louis, she had this long dark curly hair. Mostly that was just a Kathleen study.)
And also I want to tell you about my favorite guy at church. He’s gay, he was a theater kid, so he gives amazing sermons, and he is just so honest. He’s married to another priest and he’s funny, he’s so smart. He’s the kind of teacher, I’d take whatever class he’s teaching. So, ok, he’s teaching a class on Paul. Ok. I’ll take it.
So, I show up early to go to this class, I get my son checked into childcare. I’ve got a beeper in my purse in case he needs something, and I go to the room. No guy. It’s like 3 gay guys, a hundred old people, and me. And the three gays and I are looking around, like, where’s our guy?
He’s not there. An old southern woman leads the talk and I’m sitting near the door, thinking I didn’t come here early to listen to some random lady talk about the bible. I wonder, can I just go? But, it’s only 45 minutes. We’re sitting in a circle, looking at each other. No exit.
So, we read this passage from Philippians 4. Paul starts out the chapter by talking about these two women in the church who are fighting and says, basically, they should stop fighting. And then he says, Don't worry. Just keep praying. Be thankful, and pray for whatever you need.
And then Paul goes on - this is the part I've been reading the past couple mornings - "For the rest, my beloved, whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things. And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these things practice. And God's peace will be with you."
So, I heard the connection with new agey things like the Secret there, and with 12-step, this idea that we should clean up our own attitude, take care of whatever we need to do on our own side of the street, and then leave the rest to god, that this is the way to serenity. WHAT? This is in the bible?
Ok. I’ve been volunteering in my son’s 2nd grade class for the past couple weeks. Last week, it was mayhem. The teacher is great, but these kids - they’re a rowdy group. They were supposed to be doing these math games with objects (manipulatives, they’re called), but no less than six items were sailing through the air.
One kid was lying on the ground, kicking the wall. My son was on the good end of bad, but still on the bad end of the behavior spectrum. He and his partner were sort of shooting their items across the desk - ok, not throwing them through the air, so that’s good, but still, way off task.
I looked at my little group of 6 kids I was supposed to be helping and like 4 of them were out of their chairs, pulling things from each other’s hands. I got between two kids throwing a folder back and forth like it was a ball and said, "Please stop throwing that." This kid looked at me, and I know this kid - he’s slept over at my house, eaten my pizza - he just looked at me, and tossed the folder.
I stood back and thought, they’re monsters. I’m a terrible parent. My whole generation are terrible parents. They’re ruined - these kids are ruined. Good luck, world. These kids are monsters.
Then, I went to the principal’s volunteer orientation and saw on a powerpoint presentation that the first criteria to be a good volunteer is to have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Oooh. Dang.
So, this thing from Paul rang out, and I heard it in my head as I was going into the classroom this week, Paul saying in this exasperated voice, OMG, I get it - the weariness of the world, it’s the worst - but WHATEVER good, WHATEVER kind, if there be ANY virtue, ANYTHING worthy of praise - think only of these things.
In class this week the kids were doing an art project. Cutting out an egg, writing a letter from an egg to his friends back in the refrigerator (it’s a long story.) Some of the kids still struggled: I’m not gonna be an egg. But I looked, again and again, for ANYTHING good, anything worthy of praise, I got to see some delightful, second grade things:
- One girl told me, I’m writing about the only famous artist I know - Bob Ross
- The example letter on the board was just signed “From”, but one kid, the son of a writer - signed his letter “Sinseerly.”
- And then one girl in a kitty hat wanted to walk around the room for the whole time holding my hand.
This is what I saw when I turned again and again to the good, the true, the things worthy of praise and turned away from the mess of our class. The kids did better and so did I.
So helpful. The Bible. Who knew?!
So, this week, if you’re struggling with the ways the world seems so screwed up, it’s not that you’re wrong. You’re not. It’s just not all there is.
We can look around us this week and see WHATEVER is good, WHATEVER is true, if ANYTHING be worthy of praise, we can appreciate it. We can just absorb the good that’s around us, and leave the rest to God.