Crisis

I don’t know how to write about this week.  I wasn’t going to, but writing helps me process and cope and think [#cheaperthantherapy] so I need to try.  

When I walked in the door last night my roommate took one look at my face and asked “Oh my gosh, what is wrong??”  This week is wrong. This week has been terrible and terrifying and heartbreaking and surreal. Monday feels like it was a month ago, truly.  I pray to God – literally – that this is as bad as it gets, that this week was rock bottom for our community, and there will never, ever be another week like this one.

I don’t even know anyone personally who works at YouTube, anyone whose safety I feared for.  I didn’t have to endure the minutes or hours of waiting for a friend or colleague or loved one to confirm they were safe, like so many people I know did.  This week has felt like walking around in a dense fog of confusion and tragedy and sadness, of navigating so many layers of work to do and action to be taken and new realities to be processed.  I’ve alternated from hyper-productive panic mode to stunned lethargy to deep grief – and that’s in about the span of an hour. I have felt – and I know I’m not the only one – off-kilter and scattered, like I’m on the sloped floor of a boat on stormy seas, pitching back and forth struggling to find my footing, to regain a sense of balance and control.

The upside of any tragedy, always, is the way it brings people together, and this week has been no exception.  There is a sense of community, of closeness that feels palpable and real – beyond anything I have felt before. There has been a stripping away of the small talk, the water cooler chit chat that comes with work environments and a returning to what makes us most deeply human.  Professional, executive people have shed tears and hugged and used words like love and thoughts and prayers. I’ve received notes and emails that are clearly people struggling to find the words to convey the depth of their sorrow and fear and solidarity.

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, taught me that the word “crisis” means “to sift.”  As in to separate what is essential from what is not. I have found that deeply true this week. The things that seemed so important on Tuesday morning felt completely trite and irrelevant come Tuesday afternoon.  This is, I realize, a trivial example, but I sent an email to 100 people yesterday with a glaring typo in the subject line – normally that would trigger embarrassment in my Type A, perfectionist self – when I realized my mistake I literally shrugged my shoulders and didn’t give it a second thought.  Part of me is incredulous that ever seemed important.

I’m ashamed, in some ways, that it took this shooting to make it real, to affect me so deeply.  As I watched parents walk their kids to school on Wednesday morning I thought “Is this how parents feel every time there is a school shooting?  That sense of ‘it could have been my child’s school? It could have been my child, or their friends?’” I was saddened, of course, by Orlando and Charleston and Sandy Hook and Parkland.  My heart broke and I was angry and grieved and couldn’t imagine what the victim’s families were feeling. The difference is now I’m not having to use my imagination. This has hit so close to home and the feeling of intense vulnerability, that this could happen anytime, anywhere, to any of us, is so real.

I’m also angry.  I’m angry that this keeps happening.  I’m angry that there is a non-zero chance that someone with a gun could walk into my office  – or a school or park or church or playground or mall – and start shooting. I’m angry that I have to add this to the list of emergencies to be prepared for at work – fire drill, earthquake, active shooter.  I was talking to a friend who was speaking matter of factly about the drills her company has for this type of situation and I felt like screaming “THIS ISN’T NORMAL!” I refuse to accept this as normal – fire, earthquake, active shooter- one of these things is not like the other.  One of these things is an unnatural disaster.  One of these things doesn’t happen in other rich, stable, developed countries like it does in the US.  I am angry and I’m determined to channel that anger into action – through voting, through protest, through signing petitions.  I refuse to accept this as the new normal.

Easter was less than a week ago – it feels like a lifetime – and I wrote a blog post about how the cornerstone of my faith is hope.  To be completely honest, I’m finding that belief deeply tested this week.  I imagine it’s like loving your spouse or child deeply, but hitting a rough spot in a 30 year marriage, or having your child test the limits of your patience – that feeling of “I know I love you but I’m not feeling it right now.”  I know I have hope, that the world has hope, but I’m not feeling it right now.

But I know I will.  I know it will get better and less scary, that time will heal some of the shock and sadness, and make it easier to figure out productive, helpful, life-giving ways to respond to this and how to move forward with deepened love, compassion and grace.

So, I’m taking some deep breaths, and I’m doing what I can – to help, to reach out, to find those glimmers of hope and light and beauty and love in what right now feels like deep, deep darkness.  Because I know the truth, even if I can’t feel it right now – that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  I know that the greatest forces on this earth aren’t hate or anger or bullets.  They are love and compassion and community – the reality of our shared humanity.  I’ve experienced that shared humanity in profound ways this week, and I’m walking forward with a renewed sense of gratitude for the people I love, and a clear-eyed vision of what matters most in this world – loving each other well.

Christos Anesti

I grew up going to Christian churches of every denomination, from Episcopal to Presbyterian to Lutheran and from ages 8 – 12, our family went back to the church my dad grew up in – Greek Orthodox.

I loved my time in the Greek Orthodox church for so many reasons.  I loved the warm sense of community that came from a bunch of loud, passionate Greeks getting together every week. When I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ I felt like I was watching a documentary – I recognized every one of those characters, loud, loving, deeply involved in each other’s lives and always trying to get you to eat more.  

As an eight year old, I found the repetitive, liturgical nature of the Orthodox service boring but looking back I am so thankful that those words, spoken aloud week after week after week, are embedded so deeply into my memory that I can never un-know them.

I loved the deep sensory experience of the service – the ashy smell of incense, the plumes of dust just visible against the rays of light piercing the dimly lit sanctuary, the priest’s robes, heavy ivory silk, swishing as he walked, chanting and swinging a silver urn full of incense. 

My dad’s side of the family is Greek, and I have a special place in my heart for Greek culture – since he died, it’s become even more meaningful to me, a part of my story and my family’s story stretching back across time and oceans and traditions.  The fact that the food is freaking delicious doesn’t hurt, either.

A few years ago, on Father’s Day,  I stumbled into a Greek Orthodox church and as soon as I walked through the doors, the smell of incense hit me, and I began to weep.  That smell evoked deep memories of community and belonging and family and history.

For all the Greek Orthodox church’s faults – and there plenty, which is why we left – that richness and depth of history and tradition and meaning – the cultural and the spiritual, fused together – it was a special and precious thing.

The Orthodox Church follows a different calendar than the Protestant church, so Greek Easter was often a week before “regular” easter. Regardless of when it fell, we celebrated the same way – with a midnight walk around the church on Easter Eve carrying the cross, silver urns of incense being swung about by the priest, a large luncheon together after the service, with plenty of red-dyed easter eggs to go around, hitting them against each other to see whose would crack first, and greeting each other with the Greek version of “Happy Easter” which is “Christos Anesti!” [meaning “Christ is Risen!”] to which the response is “Alithos Anesti!” [He is risen indeed!].

My mom still texts me that Easter greeting every year – “Christos Anesti!” and I text back immediately “Alithos Anesti!”

My life  – and my faith –  have changed dramatically since I was sitting in those wooden pews at St. Basil’s every Sunday.  My faith has always been a significant part of my life, but the way I embody and express that faith has shifted dramatically over the last decade of my adult life.  The last few years, especially, have been a process of questioning so many beliefs that the broader American Christian Evangelical culture drilled into me, and trying to find a way to embody my faith in way that feels right and good and true – marked not by dogma or religiosity or exclusivity but by radical inclusivity, grace and love.

Today is Easter, and as I reflect on what this day means to me now, as an adult, what my Christian faith means to me, I can sum it up in one word: hope.  Today for me is about Jesus literally defeating Death, not just for himself, but for all of us.

We sang a hymn in church this morning called “Christ is Risen,” and there is a verse that says “O Death, where is thy sting? Oh Hell where is thy victory?” and it caught my breath in my chest, as it always does.  I thought of my dad’s death, and the death of other people I love, but also of all the kinds of death – of pain and suffering and loss – in this broken and beautiful world we all live in together.   That is what my faith is about – it’s about a belief in a God who defeated death, in all it’s forms, and replaced it with Hope.

The faith I celebrate today is about that simple and powerful and life-changing Hope  – not optimism, not the power of positive thinking, not a denial of how utterly broken and deeply painful life can be, but a belief in the real, true, blood-and-guts God who became human, died and was raised to life for us.  All so that we may have hope – that this isn’t the end of the story, that death doesn’t get the final world, but that He is at work among us making all things new.

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to Him who showed great love
And bled for us

Freely You’ve bled for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bowed to none but Heaven’s will
No scheme of Hell, no scoffers crown
No burden great can hold You down

In strength You reign
Forever let Your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night

Sing it, o death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead, He’s alive, He’s alive

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave