Sexuality and Softball: Living in a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Culture

I played softball my whole life. It was my identity, my passion, my classroom, and my counseling sessions. I threw a ball, swung a bat, and knew exactly who I was, where I was going, and what I needed to do to get there.

Throughout my successful career, from five years old to twenty-two, I was always surrounded by strong, passionate women, both as teammates and as coaches.  I had the privilege to learn softball skills, social skills, and leadership skills from national champions and gold medalists. On the field, we were women who were able to break records, compete, and overcome. 

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, though, that I was confronted with the reality that this sport that I loved was shrouded in a silent but many times overt cloud of discrimination. The strong, passionate women that taught me as coaches and teammates lived within this stifling cloud.

I remember the day when someone first called me gay and hoped it would hurt me. Maybe it was because I was too close to my best friend, maybe it was because I didn’t like to wear what the other girls wore, but it was definitely because I played softball. It was one of my teammates.  She carefully chose this word too, because that was the worst thing you could call a high school girl in our town – not whore, not slut, not bitch- gay.  In a panic of self-preservation, I, of course, denied it and continued to deny it for the next seven years of my life.

I knew the stereotype-you know, lesbian softball player. I heard my teammates joke about it in the locker room in a tone of assumptive privilege because they knew no one here would ever be that. We were the pretty, athletic girls.  And lesbian meant not pretty, manly, weird, and gross. The word became a common, laughable insult when a teammate would hug another girl.  Unfortunately, the result was then having to hear details of this teammates recent date with the boy from her Algebra class, so that she could prove that these rumors were false.

My teammates would wear ribbons, bows, and makeup while we ran shuttle sprints and, between strained breaths, talked about Jennie Finch being their favorite softball player and that she was “so pretty,” not that she is one of the best pitchers and players of all time. And I joined in because I was an immature high school girl afraid that I could possibly be that stereotype, praying every night that I wasn’t.

I tell my story because, unfortunately, it is not unique within women’s athletics-a place that should be open to all ways of expressing diverse femininity. Softball pushes young women to compete when society often urges us to settle.  Softball tells young women they can accomplish great things when society often reminds us that we can only do certain things.  Softball allows us to get dirty and mess our hair up but still feel great about ourselves when society unfortunately still forces one idea of beauty and self-confidence onto us. Therefore, these injustices and inequalities of society often creep into the sacredness of sport implanting fear and discrimination and impacting the developing self-image of young women.

I proudly came out a year and a half ago after a seven year silent battle against these stereotypes and negative messages.  The feeling of fear that I felt in my bedroom that night in high school never leaves, though. Sometimes I still hear that teammate in my ear and wonder if I should really be who I know I am. I met many beautiful teammates and coaches in my seven year journey that have this same fear.

We have been witness to the cloud of discrimination in softball that allows jokes to be made about teammates being gay, whispers to be shared about the woman our coach spends time with, and vacuums of silence to be formed keeping anyone unsure of their identity silent. We have been friends with the girls that love bows and makeup but also those who wore them only to end the rumors after practice. We have abided by the unspoken don’t ask, don’t tell rule within many college softball programs. We have labeled her a roommate, friend, or fan when we knew and they knew she was more.

We have been afraid. Afraid that our identity would somehow take away from the accomplishments we had in our sport.  Afraid that a teammate would feel uncomfortable just because of our presence in the women’s locker room. Afraid that our careers, built on success and confidence, would end because of who we love. Afraid that we would have to choose love or our sport.  Afraid of being known. Afraid of what parents might think of us coaching their daughters. Afraid of being just another stereotype. 

I now coach my own softball team, empowering young women to experience all the lessons, accomplishments, and successes that I was able to in my life.  I see the cycle continue, though, and often feel powerless to stop it. Young softball players listening more to the lessons of society than of their sport.  Defining womanhood in a small, narrow box of limitations instead of inclusion. Choosing bows because they like them, but also because it is what they are told is better. Exchanging jokes and whispers at the expense of a possible silent minority.

And I’m afraid. Afraid for them. Afraid for myself. But, in my fear, I remember the courageous women that taught me, even in their forced silence, that change is not easy but it is necessary.  Even in my fear I am confident that things can change.  We change the culture of softball when we choose to focus on an athlete’s ability not her image.  We change the culture of softball when we refuse to talk about a person’s sexual orientation without their permission.  We change the culture of softball when we see playing and succeeding as an expression of femininity. We change the culture of softball when we are allowed to talk about and be open about our entire identity without the fear of repercussions. We change the culture of softball when we are able to compete, succeed, accomplish, and love whoever we want without feeling the need to apologize about it.

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Three Steps to Fight Big Scary Feelings

feelingsI work in an elementary school twice a week as part of my social work intern.  Most of my job description entails observing children’s emotions, talking to children about their feelings, and teaching children what to do when these emotions and feelings strike.

I help run a social skills group for special education students ranging from kindergarten to second grade.  The students in this group fall on a wide spectrum of social and emotional functioning.  Some of them have been diagnosed with autism, OCD, Down Syndrome, or Bipolar Disorder and some of them have learning disabilities or require extra academic assistance.  All of them, though, struggle with interpersonal interaction.

This week we read a book called Sometimes I Get Scared where a kid explains the many things that scare him throughout the day. The book talks about spiders, clowns, dogs and the dark.  My favorite page, though, talks about “big feelings.”  The narrator explains that we all have big feelings inside us, like anger and sadness, and sometimes these feelings build up so much that feeling them scares us.

The book continues to explain different ways children can handle being scared, like breathing, thinking positively, and asking for help.  Through these techniques, the children are suppose to learn how to control and lessen these “big feelings” to make them safe rather than scary.

As I was reading this book to the kids, I felt like I was at church. “Preach!, I thought as the book talked about “big feelings.” Being a deep feeler, this fear of feeling is all too real. Many of my days are paused by thoughts of fear, like “what happens if I’m disappointed?,  how will I react if someone misunderstands me?, what if I get my feelings hurt?, how can I hide that I’m feeling emotional right now?” Because “big feelings” don’t stop when we grow up.

While children may have “big feelings” about not getting ice cream after lunch or not being included in the popular group’s text or having to do a classroom assignment, adults have “big feelings” because they are not satisfied with their lives, their trust was betrayed, or they are stressed from work. What causes the feelings can be different, but the reactions are often the same.

The difference between adults and children, though, is that adults are expected to remain in control of these feelings while an occasional tantrum from a child is somewhat acceptable. When we reach a certain age, we are expected to be in control at all times…or at least when we are around other people, but adult tantrums happen just as often.

Has someone you love ever stopped talking to you? Shut down completely after an argument or even one comment? That’s a tantrum.  Has someone you love ever lashed out and said something hurtful to you?  That’s a tantrum.  Has someone you love ever used alcohol or other substances to block out their “big feelings”? That’s a tantrum.

So adults need to learn these lessons just as much as my students.  How do we reduce the fear we have about our “big feelings”?

  1. Allow ourselves to feel the genuine emotion.

Often when we feel big feelings, like betrayal, hurt, pain, sadness, we react without processing.  In order to shield ourselves from the pain or overwhelm that we may be feeling, we go straight to action.  Unfortunately the actions we take often lead to more hurt for ourselves or for others around us.  We shut down, we lash out, we numb.   If only we took one minute when we are flooded with a certain feeling to recognize the feeling and feel it in our physical body, then we could begin the process of control the feeling instead of reacting and letting the feeling control us.

       2. Breathe.

Emotions are physical as much as they are mental.  Chemicals are releasing and nerves are activating throughout our bodies. Therefore, when we feel “big feelings,” they feel like that are actually washing over us and coursing through us.  Our breath shortens, our heart pounds, or skin becomes hot. When we take deep breaths, we are working to reverse these automatic reactions within our body… slowing them down to a halt. We are then able to think, process, relax.

       3. Release the fear.

Feelings and emotions are important evolutionary adaptions because they warn our bodies that we may be in danger [And if your emotions are telling you that! Listen!] But many of us deep feelers tend to activate the danger signal at any slightly uncomfortable experience, therefore, these steps are crucial to surviving in adult life. After recognizing the emotion and breathing through the intense first minute of feeling, we must begin to learn to separate ourselves from the emotional experience. While the emotions are happening in our body and they are real, this does not mean they are right.  For example, I can have a strong reaction to how my girlfriend says the word “cheese” to me and the emotion that I feel could be real, but it does not mean that it is appropriate or accurate.  Therefore, it is important to think about the experience that brought about the emotion, assess whether it warrants a danger response, and if we decide it does not allow the emotion to wash away.  Like waves, emotions come intensely and crash on us but if we breathe and feel the genuine emotion instead of the primal reaction we can then allow them to retreat in a slow and methodical manner until they are needed again.  We can allow the emotions to wash away by breathing, removing ourselves, or logically explaining why we felt the way we did.

Just like my students are learning to do with their “big feelings” adults must learn to not let tantrums ruin their peace, because tantrums simply intensify and prolong emotions.  Instead learning to recognize our genuine emotions, breathe through our bodies physical reactions, and mentally watch as they emotion wave recedes can help us lessen the fear of these “big feelings” and be more in control of how we respond.

To the Boy that Killed My Friend

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t hate you.
For months, yes, I did in my anger and grief.
I yelled at you, cursed you, sometimes I still do
when I cross that fateful Marshfield street.
For a year I tried to understand you,
I tried to imagine your grip on that trigger
and how you slept that night with sounds of sirens
rushing past to clean up your mess.

But whenever I imagined
all I could see is him.
A kid.
Facing the barrel of a gun
held by another kid.
Not in this country, you’d think…
not here, you’d think.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t pity you.
For months, I wished his same
lonely, fate upon you
hoping you get what you “deserve”
but who truly deserves that?
Through eyes engulfed by tears,
I’d cry aloud for vengeance, for answers.
Yet, silence remained.

But then I remembered
that blood
that blood that now has been washed
clean from the street
will remain with you,
stained into your conscience.
For you must now live regretfully with something
more painful than death’s immediate relief.

To the boy that killed my friend
I do not fear you.
Maybe once I shivered at the dream
of your all-too-steady trigger finger
pressing again, again, again.
And then silence.

But that has stopped and all I can see
is you, or how I imagine you
a trembling child as fearful as he is feared
holding a gun bigger than his own hand
hoping his purpose, his meaning, his life
will come with each consecutive shot.

To the boy that killed my friend
I do not know you.
Maybe I could assume or guess
that you didn’t look much different than him
but I don’t know that.
You live only as an idea, a representation
of life’s quick cruelty and evil, uncontrolled.

But that’s not who you are.
And I don’t know who you are.
I know you have a mother.
I know you have a name.
I must believe you have experienced love.
And for a year I have tried to see you,
understand you as more than just this choice.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t blame you.
For too long I have hated you.
I have seen you as other, evil, worthless
but I can no longer hold that excruciating hate within me.
But instead each day I must let go
and live forever in his memory instead of my pain.
I hope that this moment has defined your life
not so you live in fear and shame
but that you hold precious each breath and hope for change.
For you deserve this hope, this chance
because my friend can never have it again.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I love you.
Not out of my own will or choice
for with those alone I have hated you
but because in moments like this there’s nothing left
nothing left but to recklessly love in hope’s that
things will change and that you will be the
last
the only
boy that will ever kill my friend.


Please read my original poem dedicated to Omar here: https://mackenseycarter.com/2013/09/04/omar/

The Way of Freedom

There once was a small, unassuming gazelle that never knew her parents. She remembered something of them… a scent, a vision… but knew nothing of who they were. At a young age she had been kept caged as a spectacle. Her beauty and grace alone brought her these many strange admirers that she would glance at through her metal bars. Other animals didn’t seem to understand. Other animals knew no other reality but the bars, the people, the prison of this place. But the gazelle had dreams, or maybe they were memories, of a different place. A free place where she would one day live.


The other animals would talk about the safety they found behind these bars, the protection and provision that this place gave them.  Whispers could be heard about the dangers and risks outside the zoo.  “One cannot trust another when one is completely free.  At least here we are safe and comfortable,” a peacock announced as he strutted for the crowd.  But the gazelle wasn’t satisfied.  She wanted more.  She wanted freedom even if it came with risk and pain.


A few years passed and the gazelle grew older, but no less hungry for that familiar yet distant idea of freedom.   Every waking and sleeping moment found her dreaming of wide open fields and unending waters.  Her desire grew stronger as rumors spread of the zoo closing its doors.  Maybe I’ll be sent where I belong, she thought. She didn’t really know where that was, but she knew she needed to be there.  She started seeing other animals shoved into crates and cages and carted off into large moving trucks.  Maybe those bring the way to freedom.


It was finally the gazelle’s turn to be packed away and for some time her prison became even smaller as she leapt into the open cage meant for her.  Freedom was close.  She could feel it.   After a long journey, the cage was flung open and the gazelle slowly, hesitantly inched her way out.  Everything shone with an intensity that she had never experienced before.  She closed her gentle eyes for relief from the radiance and commotion around her.  When she was finally able to open them again, though, the land that lay before her was her freedom.  And she leapt and ran for joy in this new, exciting world.


The gazelle learned many things about this new world in just a short time.  She learned that food was no longer scheduled and provided for her, but that she was suppose to find it herself.  She learned that water came out of lakes, rivers, and puddles instead of plastic.  She learned that sometimes there was no relief from her thirst, hunger or fatigue.  And she learned that freedom is often lonely. 


She was busy and excited for a month or so.  Finding new birds to watch or new places to eat or ponds to lay by.  Life was exactly how she knew it was meant to be.  She had the feeling this is how her parents lived.  But soon the young gazelle grew tired of this new place.  Every day there was so much responsibility, so much work, so many choices.  And every day she was alone.  Until that fateful day.


It seemed like a normal day.  The gazelle did her usual routine, by herself.  But as she was grazing in a new field, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.  She had learned that the rumors about danger in freedom were true so this new presence made her uneasy.  She tried to casually walk away from it but something about its movement drew her gaze.  She had yet to see the full figure but she knew it was another animal.  An animal she had never seen before.  She was fascinated and excited by the prospect of a companion.


She knew enough not to approach this strange creature but still found herself moving closer and closer to it until its full figure was in her view.  Never before had she seen such a beautiful, sleek and majestic thing.  Even though something inside of seemed to hold her back.. warn her, she moved even closer.  Finally she could no longer be ignored, but instead of a normal welcome the stranger began coming toward her with increased speed.  Such a moment of intensity left the gazelle frozen, unable to move, though her own danger now seemed apparent.  After what seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, the gazelle started running away.  Heart-pounding.  Not knowing if what she felt was fear or attraction.  But, after being in a cage for years, she was no match for this stranger.


Once this cat-like creature caught the gazelle, there was a single moment, a choice, a connection between the two animals.  The gazelle helpless in the grips of this immense creature but the creature loosened its grip, let the gazelle step back and chose something different.  The gazelle could barely breathe, knowing her innocence got her in this danger.  For she had never known that cheetahs and gazelles were not meant to live in the closeness, the intimacy that she so desired. But, why, why did the cheetah stop?


The cheetah, as shocked by his decision as the shaking gazelle, paused for another second feeling a sort of pity for this new animal.  Pity is not a feeling he was use to feeling at the top of the food chain and he didn’t like it.   So to break the silence and confusion he told the gazelle who he was, he told her his story.  The gazelle didn’t know what to say, she felt powerless in front of this predator but loved the way he spoke, with passion, commitment, determination.  She felt like she could trust him, despite his teeth, which were a constant reminder of the risk to choose to be close to him.


That day was the day that changed everything.  The gazelle and the cheetah were inseparable.  The danger, the excitement, the attraction between these two unlikely partners was intoxicating drawing each of them closer and closer.  Now the gazelle had someone to protect her, to play with her, to be with her.  Now the cheetah had a partner that forced him to slow down, to feel, to remember.  The gazelle just kept thinking, I knew freedom was worth the risk.


But after a while, the cheetah started hearing his friends talk about his new friend.  He knew that they were disappointed, confused, upset.  Why would a cheetah need or want a gazelle? He must be weak, they would taunt.  The cheetah sulked.  No one calls me weak, he thought. And the next day he would show them, he would show himself that he was strong. That he didn’t need anyone else.


So the gazelle and the cheetah met at their normal spot.  The gazelle excited to tell the cheetah all about the beautiful things she dreamt of last night, but the moment the connection between them was made, the gazelle knew something was wrong.  This was the first time since their meeting she saw a fear, yet an anger in his eyes.  She moved away but not quick enough.  The cheetah in one motion clawed his friend.  The gazelle let out a yell of pain loud enough for the cheetah’s friends to hear, but the cheetah showed no remorse.


The gazelle stayed away from the cheetah, healing her wounds both from his claws and from his detachment.  What had happened? I thought we were friends?  Did I do something wrong?, the gazelle obsessed.  She replayed every conversation, every touch, every look they had shared hoping to find an answer to this burst of hurt, of anger, of pain.  But she couldn’t find any so she started blaming herself… I knew I wouldn’t be good enough for him.  He is bored of me.  I don’t excite him anymore.  And suddenly the gazelle’s freedom became another prison.


Meanwhile, the cheetah came home proud to his friends.  He had proved them wrong.  He was strong.  He was a true predator.  But when his friends were gone.  He was left alone.  And in that space of self-reflection, the truth lay exposed.  What have I done? he thought.  She was my friend and I hurt her for no reason but to feel better about myself?  I am worthless.  She should get as far away from me as possible.  But how do I go on without her?


The next day the gazelle, hoping to make things right with her friend, wandered over to their meeting place, head down, cautiously waiting.  The cheetah saw her and ran to her, but in that moment the gazelle thought he came to finish what he had started and began to run away.  Before she got far, though, the cheetah gasped, “I’m sorry, you’re perfect, what would my life be without you?” And the gazelle was stopped in her tracks. Without turning around she said, “How can you say that? Do you know how bad you hurt me?”  The cheetah fell to the ground in remorse begging for the gazelle to forgive him.  He needed her, in that moment, and she liked that.


Things went back to normal after that.  In fact, their intimacy increased after sharing such an intense experience and they grew closer and more entangle in each others lives, but every few days that cheetah would claw at her once more opening afresh old wounds and scars.  And every few days the cheetah would apologize and the gazelle would build him back up again.  The cheetah would say, “Only with you can I learn to be better, to think before I act, to see things differently.” And the gazelle would be drawn even further into her need for him. 


 

But she started hurting all the time.  Wounds wouldn’t heal and more would appear.  She knew she could no longer love this cheetah.  For his very survival depended on her destruction.  For she noticed that every day with him her glittering world of freedom became a little more like the cage she use to know.  Slowly the cheetah began convincing her that he was all she needed.  That the birds and the sun and the ponds and the grass were all meaningless without him for he could save her.  But even his intimate touch felt like a sharp pain to her badly scarred body.


One day the cheetah showed up at their normal meeting place ready to play this day’s game of chase, but the gazelle was no where to be found.  He searched, frantically, but there was no sign of her presence around him.  The gazelle had left.  She had remembered.  She had recaptured freedom, the freedom she once knew.  For she learned that even without bars, even without cages, freedom is elusive.  Freedom is not something to be obtained, owned or held on to.  The gazelle now saw freedom as knowing, in the deepest parts of yourself, that you deserve to be whole, to be alive, to be healed.  And the gazelle chose that freedom.

 

Life Around a Table: Part Four

“These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Come to the table.”  Two simple sentences that transformed my understanding and practice of the sacred communion.  Transformed from a simple wafer and mini shot glass full of grape juice passed from pew to pew on oddly-shaped, stackable, saucers into a tangible experience, a communal gathering and a transcendent reality.  A reality, lived and partaken in around a table that calls us into a dysfunctional family, an on-going justice, and, for me most importantly, an inclusive community.

Before hearing those two sentences, my thoughts of this sacrament were wholly separate from my life outside of Sunday mornings.  But these statements made sense to me.  These statements reminded me of the warm, intense, and often challenging times that I experienced around a number of different tables. Tables around which I was welcomed, invited, nourished, and accepted regardless of my imperfections or differences. Hence, why I decided to write this blog series about such experiences in hopes to explain both my fear and my love of this particular Communion table.

~~~~~~

My Nana’s Table

“These are the gifts of God…” Nana knew that everything on her table from the food people enjoyed to the imported china was a gift.  She intimately knew what it meant to have nothing but through this knowledge she learned how to cherish every good thing.  She prepared her food as if it was a spiritual exercise and for her it was.  For what she knew even more than the gifts of such precious physical nourishment was the irreplaceable gift of those around the table through which her soul was nourished.

Thinking of this image of my Nana’s joy in preparing her table brings a new depth to the image of Jesus around the table at his final meal.  A meal with imminent importance and unimaginable finality.  Yet this meal was most likely seen as a rather ordinary Passover celebration to those others around the table.  Many meals had been shared between Jesus and his apostles, many blessings and most likely they didn’t realize the extreme importance of this final meal.

Thinking about this, though, I wonder if part of that was because Jesus was present this meal in the same way he had been present his entire relationship with them.  I imagine that Jesus saw each meal, each gathering around a table as a important ritual.  One where those present found nourishment both in body and in soul.

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said as he broke the bread before them.  My body is for you.  My body is broken for you.  I am for you.  I live and I will die for you.  Through me the spiritual is made tangible, as tangible as this bread.  And just as I have shown you complete sacrificial love and selfless giving, you too must sacrifice and give in order to nourish your souls and through that refresh in them my spirit.

That’s what I see when I partake of this sacred gift: a more perfect version of how my Nana cared for her table and those around it with an unassuming, selfless offering of her love and soul.  When the meal was complete, she would sit silently, lovingly and be nourished by the love shared through the breaking of bread.  For as we partake of the gifts of God around the table, our souls and bodies are meant to be nourished both by the sacrificial love of the incarnate God but also that same love alive in all those around us that are welcomed at the table.

~~~~~~

My Family’s Table

“…for the people of God…” My family never really agrees on much.  Maybe a sports team here and there but often any table with all of us around it carries only a mere semblance of harmony.  In fact, shallow table conversations between my family members often carry the depth of past wrongdoings, painful words, or disappointing choices that are present in most significant relationships.  And yet the table remains our table and we are welcomed however we are.

Hearing “…for the people of God…” for the first time in reference to communion frightened me.  Ringing in my ears were the arguments from each side of the never-ending debate among churches, sects, denominations, or religions over who God’s “people” really are.  ‘Yeah, because, yah know, sure they are Christians or spiritual people or humans, but obviously we are the real Christians…you know, the enlightened truth-telling ones.  And, let me tell you, what a burden that is…’  Does that illustrate my fear well enough?

In the midst of my minor panic attack over the complicated debate my mind had just witnessed,I returned to Jesus around a table with his disciples, his family.  Something that had always seemed significant to me when I heard this story is when Jesus points out that one of the men around this sacred, communal table would betray him and another would deny him.  In fact, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus even says “one who is eating with me” will betray me.  Someone around this celebration table.

But Jesus goes on to break the bread and share such a meal with the man that will go out and betray him later that night.  This is a meal for the people of God. So what does it mean for our communion sacrament that even a denier and a betrayer shared in this gathering? What does it mean for our communion practice that even after this betrayal was announced, Jesus chose not to withhold the nourishment of this meal and blessing from this man?

I think that it means that this act must offer individuals hope and mercy, even if they are not ready to accept or fully understand it.  I think it means that the definition of “the people of God” must be all that are called to the table.  I think it means that even though my family is not the perfect family and is sometimes not even the family I wish they could be, they are always my family.  The mess and the resentments,  the hurts and the apologies, the uncomfortable silences and the inaudible whispers do not change the transcendent power of belonging to a family.

If we had to make amends, confess our sins, and right our wrongs before gathering around our table and receiving nourishment, then we would never come to the table.  I think this is the beauty of the communion table.  We trust in the sacrificial love of that it represents to be real and present regardless of our own heart and wrongs.  Our imperfections, our mess could never decrease the spiritual presence and power of this sacred meal.

While this meal did not reconcile Judas to his community or change his decision to betray Jesus, it presented him with the mercy of still being a part of this gathering and the choice to seek reconciliation through the love experienced around the table.  Sometimes I choose to not forgive my family members, I choose to intentionally hurt them, or I choose to disassociate myself with them. In those moments I reject the opportunity or the moment to create reconciliation. But sometimes I ignore the burning pride within me and ask for help or forgiveness.  Sometimes I choose the reconciliation against all human odds and it’s in those moments that I see importance of always being welcomed at the table just as I am in that moment.  For only at the table am I present to the hope of possible redemption within my messy existence.

While this suggestion in particular is a controversial one, it is one that I hold strongly to because I believe that if one is never welcomed or accepted at the communion table, the sacred gathering, the experience of sacrificial love, one would never see the opportunity for reconciliation and redemption, let alone choose such spiritual hopes.  Judas was given the vision, the opportunity for reconciliation and even though he chose not to embrace it, he was still radically welcomed at this communion, celebration table.

~~~~~~

My Community’s Table

“Come to the table.”  An announcement that, in my Amate House community, could mean a variety of different gatherings from an actual meal to a house meeting to a skit video-taping.  But such an announcement never failed to invite us all to gather together after long, exhausting days at our individual volunteer placements.  A repeated invitation to be refreshed and remember each other.

Another reason why these words, “Come to the table,” uttered by a pastor at LaSalle Street Church before communion one Sunday, still echo within my mind is that they were accompanied by a movement by the congregation to approach the alter.  While I had been to many churches where the congregation approach the front of the church to receive the elements, never had I seen it done quite like this.  Instead of individually receiving the bread and the wine and then moving quietly back to your seat, we stood in a line probably ten or so people long and we each partook of the meal, waited for each other to be finished, and then the individual that gave us the bread and wine blessed us saying, “Go now in peace to love and serve the world.”

Come to the table.  Come to the table together to be nourished.  Come to the table together to be nourished so that you are reminded that you are not alone.  So that you are reminded that you have a community.  So that you are reminded that you do not bear the burdens of injustice, disappointment and pain on your weak, frail shoulders.  So that you are reminded that people that may not even know you are united in love to you through this table.

Amate House taught me more about the communion table than any church service or minister could teach me.  My community taught me how to come to the table without fear that I would destroy the bonds of our community with my own struggles and mistakes.  My community taught me how to come to the table daily despite my desire to isolate myself and bear the burden on my own.  My community taught me to come to the table so that I could finally be nourished instead of worrying about nourishing others.  My community taught me to come to the table so that I would have the courage and strength to face the next work day full of injustice.

I came to the communion table every night around my Amate House table for I was surrounded by sacrificial love, offered the opportunity for reconciliation with others and redemption of my own story, and reminded of the presence of a community around me.

No wonder Jesus says in Luke’s gospel, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  For only through being surrounded by a community, by being nourished along side someone that is as desperate for nourishment as you are, by celebrating small mercies around a table, would even the son of God, Jesus, have been ready to endure future suffering.  Suffering increases our desire to be alone but it increases our need to be with each other.  We come together weekly, daily, hourly, to remind each other that we are safe to take risks even if we fail, suffer, or make a fool of ourselves because we are sure of the community waiting to celebrate with us regardless of the result.

Communion must be about nourishment for both body and soul, but it must always be an act of unity and community.  Only around the table, any loving community table, can I muster the strength to do the work of justice every day.  And on the days that I’m unable to see the hope and promise of redemption, the community that gathers with me at the table is living proof of the reality of this promise.  We must always respond to the call of community, which we most frequently hear during this call to communion, but is also present around other tables.  Responding to the call means giving up the crushing weight of the whole burden to instead carry your portion arm in arm with the person next to you.

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I have not explained nearly half of my thoughts about this all important topic, but I have given you a glimpse into the tables of my life and how they inform my understanding of communion.  May we never forget that despite our beautiful, human imperfections the power and the sanctity of this communal meal never changes.  Each gathering brings a new experience, insight, and understanding.  And through this we are changed by it.

“These are the gifts of God, for the people of God.  Come to the table.”


If you missed this blog series, you can find the other posts here:
https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/09/life-around-a-table-part-three/

https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/07/life-around-a-table-part-two/

https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/05/life-around-a-table-part-one/

Picture from: By Victorgrigas (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Life Around A Table: Part Two

17056_568427814026_8232112_n-1“Who wants to pray?,” my mom proclaims as the five of us scurry to the dinner table.  Usually that question was answered with averting eyes and silent hopes that she wouldn’t call on any of us to bless the food before us on the table.  The uncomfortable silence was often broken by Heath’s inner duty, as the oldest Carter child, to take the burden for us, even though we all knew he really loved doing it.  After the prayer, you couldn’t blink without missing the food being devoured before your eyes.

I blame this Carter habit on my inability to actually chew my food.  With two older brothers, it was eat fast or don’t eat at all.  So this survival technique has followed me into my adult years.  Throughout the constant food-shoveling, we would often go around the table and talk about the highs and lows of our days in an attempt to have everyone’s voice be heard.  This tradition, though, would often devolve into a argument about how long everyone got to explain all the details of their day, thanks to Ashley’s tendency to dominant the conversation with every minute detail, and whether “the end of this dinner” could count as one of our highs.

My family table.  This is where I spent 18 years of my daily life and this is the place that continues to always offer me an open seat no matter where life leads.  The Carter table never promised to be peaceful or quiet or even enjoyable, but we were always promised a seat.  Often the table is where we would hash out the latest sibling argument or more likely sat in an unbearable silence as we all shot death glares at each other across the table.  No words were necessary because everyone knew what we were thinking.

Our table was the center of our holidays and our celebrations.  And even as my brothers left our house for college, it remained the central meeting point, the war room, the game center, and the reminder that no matter where everyone’s life took them, we could all return to this table.  While it would be nice to be able to say that I learned the best manners, the most mature ways of dealing with conflict, and the best practices in handling a board game defeat, that would definitely be distorting the truth.

It was common for table conversation to be interrupted by a thunderous sound, which we soon deduce had come from the behind of one of the Carter men.  This deduction would then lead to complaints and proclamations that the offender must spend five or ten minutes in the bathroom for his crime and in hopes to prevent a future offense from occurring in the general vicinity.  Family game time would begin with Ashley’s typical speech about abhorring games and leaving the area in order to avoid being forced to join in on a round of Taboo or Scategories.  I’m convinced, though, that it all stems from an embarrassing round of Scategories when he proudly announced his answer for “A Four Letter Word” and it happened to be one letter too many.  Then, of course, family game time would necessarily end in tears, shouts, and accusations of cheating.  Yet somehow we continued to gather around and play together.

My family’s table taught me that I can be myself, no matter what that looks like at the moment.  I’m still accepted if I’m playing the role of the bratty youngest sibling tattling on my older brothers, if I’m mad about my assigned weekly chores, or if I spend the whole time gloating about my recent victory in Taboo or a good report card from school.  I am always welcome at the table.

My family’s table was the picture of dysfunction and brokenness, but we always found a way to celebrate.  We were able to bring our genuine, authentic selves into communion with one another with the reassuring knowledge that, in the end, we are family so we have to deal with each other.  This table was the one place that we could all take off the roles that we often portrayed to the outside world and be our ugly, manipulative but extremely awesome selves.  The end result was we all knew we were pretty messed up but we accepted each other and worked to love each other in the best ways we could each day.  There was no fear of rejection, no pretense of perfection and no desire for winning the other over, because we were family.

I learned to embrace the mess that I often rejected in the rest of my life.  I learned the practice of constant forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I learned that even if we are angry, hurt or depressed we can still come to the table, shovel food into our mouths for nourishment and know that we can be exactly the messed up and disappointing people we often are.


If you missed the first post of this blog series, you can find it here: https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/05/life-around-a-table-part-one/

Home

The unknown of you
gives an electricity to every moment
you even try to enter my busy thoughts.
The unknown of you
protects you from complete ruin.
The unknown of you
thats the part I never wish to know.
Right now you are perfect to me
and I wish for you to remain
in perfection.
In that space no other human
has the privilege of residing.
There you find your home.