Re-Imagining Thomas

The text we looked at in church this past Sunday was the story in which Jesus appears to Thomas. From the text, Thomas was given the nickname adjective "Doubting." I'm not sure it was a fair monicker. We aren't given much description of the event. And in Thomas' defense, it had been two weeks since Jesus' resurrection, and Jesus had first appeared to the women, then to the two people on the road to Emmaus, and finally to all the other disciples, but Thomas still hadn't been in the right place at the right time. One of my friends at church pointed out that at this point, Thomas was probably feeling quite left out and upset because of that. I know I don't like to feel left out.

As I was listening to the story the other night, I heard the story in a different light. I don't know if it's an appropriate reading or not (again, there are few details), but this is how the story spoke to me in a way I hadn't heard before:

I think Thomas wasn't so much doubting as desiring. He wanted what the other disciples had experienced. The resurrected Christ (I mean, get your mind around that in the first place--the Messiah had been crucified and buried--clearly dead--but was now alive again) had shown up to all the other disciples. Thomas had been with Jesus just as long as the other disciples. He mourned Jesus' death. He missed his friend, whom claimed to be the Son of God. Thomas had heard all the other disciples' experience with seeing Jesus alive again. Thomas just wanted that--to be in His presence again. It wan't so much that Thomas doubted (though he may have), but that he just wanted to have the same experience. If Jesus wanted him to believe, then Jesus had better show up in the same way for Thomas to see Him. (That's how I heard the story as I listened to it on Sunday at least. I'm not saying that's how it happened, but only that it's how it spoke to me.)

And Jesus obliges. Not right away, mind you. It's a whole week later--two weeks after many others have seen Jesus alive again. But He shows up. And He shows up in the same way for Thomas that He did for the other ten disciples: in a locked room He suddenly appears and says, "Peace be with you." He holds out His hands, allowing Thomas to know that His presence was real.

So here's what hearing the text in this way meant for me: when I desire to experience Jesus more deeply, He will grant my request. It may not be in the way that other people experience Him and it may not be in the timing I desire, but He desires that I know Him better. Whether or not that's what was going on with Thomas, I hope that it holds truth, none the less.


Resurrection Appearance

One of today's lectionary texts is John 20:19ff in which Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection.

The doors are locked.
  The disciples are gathered.
    Fear permeates the room.
The doors still locked
  When Jesus suddenly appears
    "Peace be with you."
He shows His hands
  And His pierced side.
    Fear dispensed. Now: joy!
"Peace be with you.
  The Father sent me,
    So I send you."
Jesus breathes on them,
  His Spirit poured out,
   Equipping them for work.
To forgive others, even
  Those who crucified Him.
    They are to forgive;
Not evangelize or convert,
  But to forgive sinners
    Like you, like me.


Stories of A Substitute Teacher

This past year, as both of my kids are in school, I've been substitute teaching. Yes, it's quite the glamour career as portrayed in many a movie and television show. Quite lucrative, too, I might add.

Actually, for the most part, I enjoy it. It enables me to be there for my kids (which was the main reason for going back to subbing at this point--still the desire for a "stay-at-home" parent who can bring in some income). I can pick and choose when and where I want to work. I don't have to bring work home at all. And some days I feel like I made a difference.

When I started out, I put my name in at several of the school districts nearby (well, it wasn't as easy as just "putting my name in"). I learned which school districts and specific schools were more enjoyable to work at, and I found that even though the pay was less, often working as a paraprofessional was worth it rather than having the added stress that comes as a substitute teacher. Plus, I get to work more closely with students.

At this point, I've mainly been working at a school district that is entirely for students with various special needs (which I've found I really enjoy, and it's a good place to work--even if I am now trained in how to handle a situation where a student is biting me or grabbing my hair or choking me) and my kids' school. I've been at my kids' school 8 of the last 10 days in the same class. It's been enjoyable. I know the kids pretty well by now (it's a Montessori class of Kindergartners and 1st Graders--I teach the 1st Graders, though I work some with all the students).

Some of the school districts trained us not to touch a student in any way whatsoever. I understand the rationale behind this, but I don't believe it is healthy. Thankfully, the boys' school isn't like that. Kinders and 1st Graders like to hold hands with teachers when walking through the halls. It provides security. They also like to scoot up close to you while sitting in group circles. I give a pat on the back to affirm a student or a quick hug to console them. And the students clearly desire touch (psychologists have long affirmed it as a need of human beings); they will grab your hand or thrust their arms around you. I'm sure--especially in the very urban setting of our school--that many don't get much touch (at least healthy touch) at home.

Another thing that's often fairly clear is the students who have parents who care about their education. Some parents treat school as a babysitter. Or as the sole responsible party for their child's upbringing. Others are clearly engaged with their children at home (rightly believing that education isn't solely compartmentalized to a school building or school time hours), not pushing their children, but supporting them (including giving boundaries and discipline). It makes a huge difference.

I'm also reminded of how education has changed. When I was in elementary school we had one 15 minute recess in the morning, 30 minutes after lunch, and 15 minutes in the afternoon. We had an afternoon snack of bread-and-butter and milk. When it was someone's birthday, we all made cards for that student (and the birthday child received birthday "spankings" from the teacher).

Today, recesses are rare (and short) at many schools. Lunch is usually the only food during the day (other that before school breakfast). And birthdays get a brief nod. At my boys' school, they get one recess, but it's a fairly lengthy one, right before lunch and often some outdoor playtime at the end of the day every so often. Families are assigned to bring healthy snacks for the students a few times during the year. And birthdays are made special. Often a year-by-year timeline of the student's life is made and brought in by their parents. Each student gives the birthday child a special wish (while dropping a grain of rice or a bean into a piece of fabric which will be tied up and given to them for good dreams as they sleep). I have been able to be a part of these events and appreciate the acknowledgement that more than just the testing facts are needed for a student to learn and thrive.

Tomorrow I'll be back at school with the Kindergarten-1st Grade class. It's been a long week, and there have been plenty of frustrating moments of getting students to do their work or stop misbehaving, but I'm looking forward to being with those kids again. In teaching them, I get to learn a lot, too.


The Hood: Love & Hate

I love the diversity in our neighborhood. Surrounding us is an Ecuadorian/Mexican family, a few Hmong families, a couple Somali families, a part-Cherokee family, a few African-American families, and (most recently) a couple other Euro-American families.

I hate that we have to keep everything locked up or it gets stolen or broken, that our yard becomes the neighborhood playground when we're not around and that things get broken or treated carelessly.

I love that we have so many parks nearby. Within a mile and a half in either direction I can bike in the Theodore Wirth Park with its woods, rivers and lakes, the Victory Memorial Parkway (which runs into Theo Wirth), or along the Mississippi River.

I hate that I get woken up in the middle of the night by flashing police lights as they do a drug bust on a neighboring house. Or that I can't fall asleep because of the noise of the neighbors next door.

I love meeting the people around here. Like the man down the block who picks up garbage in the street many mornings to keep the place clean. Or our Ecuadorian neighbor who is always willing to help with an automotive problem.

I hate that we can't have friends in our yard hanging out without the neighbor kids coming over to play with our toys or eat our food. I don't mind that they do that, but I don't like that it happens every time. I hate that my son dislikes they neighbor kids because they ruin his playdate with his best friend that he hasn't seen for a long time.

I love the opportunities around us: museums, concerts, nature centers, libraries, sculpture gardens, athletics, rivers and lakes, etc.

I hate all the broken glass, garbage and other unsavory things in the street and on the sidewalks. I wish I could walk outside barefoot.

I love that I can bike around easily--that there are many bike lanes and trails.

I hate that someday I'll have to explain the "n" word to my kids (and probably quite soon). I hate that it's said so flippantly by the inner city African Americans. I hate all the other language that's used on the street that my kids (and I) have to hear.

I love that many people in the community care. They rally together to make the place better. They stand up to violence. They look out for each other. They try to make the place better.

I hate that there is violence to have to stand up to. And drug abuse, and racism, and theft and too many other things.

I love that we don't have to keep up with the neighbors. There isn't the talk about going to the cabin on the weekend or trips to places my kids probably won't ever see. Many people are content with what they have.

I hate that too many kids in our neighborhood are basically on their own. Their parents have to work all the time so they're not around or they just aren't present. I hate to think what their future will be like without healthy formative influences and boundaries. I wish all kids could experience loving homes.

Anders was telling me the other night as we were having some "cuddle time" before bed that at times he wishes he lived somewhere else and at times he wants to live here forever. And I could honestly say that I feel the same way.

Living in "the hood" is not for everyone. Heck, at times it's not for me. But we felt this is where we were supposed to move to. There are ills in the suburbs as much as in the inner city--they just look different. Wherever we live, we want to leave a positive impact. We want to make the place a little better. Plenty of people do a lot more in that area than we do, but I know that ever little bit matters. Sometimes I wish it were a lot easier. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to deal with it all. Sometimes I long for the wide open spaces of the country. But this is where I am. This is my neighborhood. Love it and hate it. It's where I live.


Living in the Hope of Easter

I haven't written in a while (which is obvious, I know). I haven't been on the computer much for a while. I've also been working on personal issues. We've all got them: sins, troubles, idols, addictions, psychological issues, family issues, etc. We don't always talk about them. Often, the ignoring or the isolation that sometimes comes with feeling alone with our issues just adds fuel to the fire. This isn't the place to go into details (that's happening in plenty of other arenas). But I acknowledge that they exist.

For a long time I've struggled with the idea that I have to be good; that I can't have any faults, struggles or sins. And what issues I do have, I can't let anyone discover them. I have to make sure they have a good impression of me--that others think I'm a good person. If they find out I'm not, it bursts the image of myself that I've worked to create.

Christians are known for hypocrisy. We try to come across as being morally righteous or superior, but we do many (many) unChristian things. And in many ways, this should be no surprise to anyone. We're all sinners. We just seldom address that. We like to focus on our salvation but ignore the fact we usually still have sin in our lives. We only want others--including other Christians (maybe especially other Christians)--to think we're perfect. That, or we only want the people we meet on Sundays to think we're perfect, and everyone else to think we're just the the rest of them.

So it is with me. I'm a hypocrite. I've addressed this before--the struggle with being a sinner and a saint. But I need to own it more. And I still need to work through it. I need to get over needing everyone to think I'm a "good person."

I'm a person. Not necessarily a "good person," but not a bad person, either. I do plenty of bad things (way too many) that I've carried plenty of shame over, but I've also done plenty of good things. I'm just a person. Just like every person, I was uniquely created by God and deeply, magnificently loved by Him as well.

I struggle with this sometimes. I don't always accept that God can love a person like me. But that's Who God is. He doesn't wait until we're perfect or even until we reach a certain level of goodness to love us (He is patient, but He's also realistic). He loves us while we are still sinners.

I will always be a sinner, but God will always love me.

He desires for me to grow: to examine my issues, to work through my shame, to live by the Spirit, to get beyond my selfish desires, to open myself up to others. I need to focus less on whether I'm good (or bad), and focus more on Him. I know that sounds like a bunch of ultra-spiritual talk, but I also know it's what I need to do.

It's been a week since Easter Sunday, but we're called to be Easter people: people who live in the hope of the resurrection and under the lordship of a risen Christ. For me that means I need to set my eyes more on Him and less on me (while at the same time working through the things I need to work through in my life).

So I'm thankful for a loving God who came to walk among us and show us His love, Who suffered horrendous pain and died for me, but Who also conquered death that I may have the hope of life. Not just a religious life or even eternal life, but a transformed life. And maybe transforming is a better word. It doesn't happen all at once, but day by day. And that's all I can do is live one day at a time.