Tuesday, March 29, 2016

the Power of the Pack

There’s no such thing as other people’s children.

This simple, impossibly challenging phrase has been with me for a few weeks now. It’s from Glennon Doyle Melton, the spark behind Momastery, and one of my favorite gurus.

It’s been prickling my soul because on my less-redeemed days, I can roll my eyes, sigh in exasperation, and silently judge other people’s children whether their 2 or 22 or 82. 

Thinking of some as “other people’s children” gives me the imaginary distance to feel superior to them. It allows my compassion to wither on the vine. It reinforces the biological and cultural desire to care and provide for my blood kin first and foremost, even to the detriment of “other people’s children.”

That kind of thinking is what builds walls between neighbors, whether they are individuals or countries. We trade in vulnerability and connection for the illusion of safety, security, and superiority.

And we do it to our own detriment. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the amazing youth group I served at First UMC – Denton. There were a lot of things that made those kids special, but one of my favorite things was that they self-regulated. I didn’t have to exert control or correction from outside as an adult. Instead, there were such strong core values instilled in the group, that were taught and transferred even as some graduated and others middle schoolers joined, that the youth themselves kept their peers held to high standards. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a high school student say, “We don’t do that here.”

That was the power of the pack, to borrow a phrase from the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan. In his work, he would occaisionally find dogs that were so isolated, so anxious, so ungrounded in what it meant to be a dog living right here, right now, that he would take them back to his place for some pack therapy. He knew that there is no better cure for what ails us than the support, encouragement, mentoring, and accountability that comes from pack life.

What we fail to realize most of the time is that we humans are pack animals. I mean, look at us – we’re so soft and tasty. We’re not faster. We’re not stronger. We’re not bigger. Like a school of fish or a flock of birds, the original means of safety for us was life together. That and the really big brains and opposable thumbs.

But over time, we’ve forgotten the simple truth that we are hard-wired – physically and spiritually – for the power of the pack.

As a young mother, I imagine there must have been a time when women didn’t have to be taught how to give birth or breastfeed. I imagine that life together with other humans meant that you saw the life cycle firsthand and learned accordingly. Heck, you might have even helped with the process, truly living into life together.

I long for the life I imagine. To know and be known in community, where “iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another…just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another” (Proverbs 27:17, 19).

Of course, there is danger in pack life – ask anyone who has experience with the mindset of a mob or a gang. In every form, there is infinite possibility and danger, as we know from the smallest atom to the fathomless reaches of space.

But life rightly lived is life together.

This past week was Holy Week. For Good Friday, I prepared slides for worship that depicted different parts of the Passion narrative. And, I’ll confess, Lent went by in a blur this year and I wasn’t very prepared for the work. As image after image appeared in my search of the battered, bloody body of Christ, I felt the tears come.

But the one that hit me the hardest was when I imagined myself at the cross, because my creativity stood me in the place of Mary, Jesus’s mother. I felt an echo of the surge of grief and pain that must have been hers when she looked on her son, when she touched his crucified body. “Oh, my baby!”

Because being a parent, at least for me, means always thinking of my children as my babies. I’m sure I’ll do it even when they’re old and I’m ancient. But a part of me will always remember, will always be viscerally connected to their joy and pain, will always want to provide them the shelter and comfort of my own body.

I never thought I’d think of Jesus like that.

But suddenly, he wasn’t another person’s child – my compassion had been stretched to see him like his own mother did. It was heart-breaking in sorrowful and beautiful ways. In the next few moments, as I heard the news of those injured and murdered in terror attacks, I felt that same wave of compassion flood my system. Those are our children – somewhere there is a mother, a father, a whole pack, who mourns them. And beyond that, I thought of those whose desperation, whose isolation, whose warped sense of superiority and righteousness would lead them to do such things. Those, too, are our children. Oh, how my heart hurts for them.

I pray we all find our packs, our communities of redemption, including all the children whom God loves. Life is meant to be done together.

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