The Best Word, The Best Work

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There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometime lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways. 

― Richard Attenborough

Earlier this month I spent three days at the OPEN Faith conference in Indianapolis. OPEN Faith is a gathering for Progressive Evangelicals to learn and network with a growing contingent of Christians seeking ways to be a just and generous expression of Christ’s love in the world.

Many of us have wondered if there were others out there. Many of us have felt alone with our unanswered questions. Many of us were involved in churches that offered no loving language or expression for the LGBTQ population, or Black Lives Matter, or Muslims or Refugees or Guns or Women Preachers or Immigration or Poverty or any number of weighty concerns pressing for a just response from Christians.

For years, as I shifted closer to the political center, before gingerly straddling the fence and crossing over to the Left, my heart and spirit yearned for the Church’s foremost expression of grace and mercy. My church attendance clouded with concern for the inevitable souls who were not safe. My Sunday afternoons, wrecked, body and voice oozing with frustration and questions and disbelief and anger.

So, I had to quit going to church. I had to surrender this oh-so-important piece of my life. I had to say good-bye. I was toxic, I was angry, I was capable of damage.

The Church didn’t let me go for long, for she knew I needed her, she knew I loved her and she knew I was made for her. So she retrieved me in my despair, as the gracious and life-giving form of Highlands Church in Denver. My family and I have been attending now for 18 months and will be planting a new congregation, Lord willing, within the next twelve.

During our introductory session at OPEN we were invited to share one word with another person, one word that captured our feeling at that moment. My first word was happy. I was thrilled to be present, in that place, with safe and likeminded folks, eager to expand this movement. The next, grateful, to be chosen, to be able to learn and grow in this space after so much thirst and unease. My final word, however, the one that still I inhale and cradle and nurture is relief.

Relief from the pressures of prescribed doctrine and dogma. Relief from the antagonism borne from the belief and practice that some are in and some are not. Relief to release the us versus them fear-filled rhetoric. Relief to be myself without need to hide my allegiances, to love and be loved with freedom and abandon, to serve and be served without condition. Relief to be myself, as a woman, a mother, a feeler and nurturer, to know I have a place, too. A place to give that welcomes my softness and my ferocity in equal measure. A place that will invite a woman to lead.

Relief. Isn’t this the premier work of our Christian faith? To reveal this beauty of the life of Jesus? The list of rules, the shall’s and shall not’s, the burdens and checkboxes – powerless and inconsequential outside of the weight and light and relentless power of love.

Love brings relief. God’s love is relief, a sigh, a renewal, a weight removed. Grace.

We, the followers of Christ are relief, in our homes, our places of patronage, in our hobbies and conversations, in our bodies, to be the people who carry the burdens, who find the hope, who bring the light. This relief work is for all of us to do and to receive.

The voice of God is relief. I am enough, you are enough, the voice of God affirms our dignity and worth. Here. Now. Not as some far off, pinpoint in the future. Just as we are, we come, we find relief. Sometimes the voice of God can be a kick in the pants, sometimes the voice of God tells us to get off our rumps and do something, but the voice is always couched in worth and dignity and grace and rest and renewal. If the voice of God does not bring relief, we are listening to the wrong voice.

Church is relief, a place that dwells in the mess,  holds the tension, carries the burden and the grace in generous and equal measures. This church seeks to sacrifice comfort by noticing and tending to the weary, road worn traveler. Through befriending and a listening ear, through a shared meal and understanding, oppressive systems which keep our powerful wealthy and the powerless poor and sick can be overturned and renovated.

The time is now, the needs are great, the world wants our listening ears, our voices of justice and kindness, and our hearts of boundless love.

Relief is Grace.

Baptized by Green Water

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I’m always happy when I’m surrounded by water, I think I’m a Mermaid or I was a mermaid.

The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective… it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean.  -Beyonce Knowles

The summer I turned twelve, the same summer my mom died, and the summer we moved south, I was saved by my backyard. Upon moving away from my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, the new parsonage in Southern California justified this heartbreaking loss by housing my dream, a swimming pool.

The  first visit, I stepped into the wonderland of our new home, onto the avocado-green plush carpet with coordinating velvet wallpaper. My bedroom, on the main floor, spanned the space between a cotton candy pink bathroom and the dark wood-paneled family room. Beyond the family room’s sliding doors, emerald water glistened in the Southern California sunshine, algae lining the concrete walls, floating and burgeoning in the radiated, spring warmth. My body trembled, like a young puppy, with anticipation. This gift was too good to be true!

My parents, tired and exhausted from the move succumbed to our cries. Our pleading elicited a half-hearted response: Okay, you can swim. Go ahead. Just don’t swallow the water. My sister and I changed with lightening speed into our swimsuits, receiving with a dive and splash this inconceivable and generous gift.

I did not know at twelve, two weeks before my mom’s passing, how much that pool would serve me, the redemption I would find slipping my arms through the water, my feet fluttering behind my lengthening, adolescent form. My rule-follower breaths were inhaled every third stroke…1…2….3 – breathe…1…2…3-breathe. The pool seemed enormous to me with a diving board that provided endless entertainment as we perfected flips and jumps, holding contests and reenactments of strutting runways and walking planks.

The pool was my salvation. While I could only complete twelve strokes before the turn, the tumultuous days demanded I swim. The water, my grace, arms slicing rhythmically, my addled mind and awkward body achieved resurrection by the stroke, pain and grief and angst baptized with each breath, released toward hope.

The gift of water’s embrace continues to hold me well into these middle aged years. The blessing of being buoyed, is the embrace of God, Her arms slipping around me, enveloping my body, my being. The blessing of redemption poured upon me like wine, communion.

These troubled days I long for the simple reward of my backyard pool, for the chlorine fumes, the shock of cold and propelling with strokes and kicks. Yet, I find hope in the leisured walks in the park, observing the dying leaves’ metamorphosis. I find hope in the gym, my body regaining perspective through the addition of weight, strained muscles and drips of sweat across the floor. I find hope in a hike along the foothills of this breathtaking place. I find hope in creation, the making of meatballs and chocolate cake, alongside a can of beer or glass of wine, the noises of my home meandering through the halls. I find hope in writing and prayer, meditation and cringe-laughing at Saturday Night Live. I find hope in falling asleep to Eric’s conversation or a shared movie. I find hope in reading Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. I find hope in attending a life-giving, surrendered church. I find hope in clean laundry and fresh eggs, in sweeping the floor and making beds. I find hope in yoga and Pilates. I find hope in long walks with a friend, Mumford and Sons, or a podcast.

These days require our feeding. These days require counselors and listening ears and like-minded friends, finding beauty in gratitude and generous love for ourselves. These days require fasts from news and social media to rest our weary minds, discovering renewal through restored perspective. These days require I find ways to love and show kindness, while I find ways to accept love and receive kindness. These days require we seek justice and mercy, while receiving the efforts of justice and mercy made on our behalf.

Our differences can divide, and they will continue to draw the harsh lines of separation if we fail to care for ourselves, if we fail to find rest, if we fail to discover and practice what brings us hope. This election does not thrill me, I am baffled and my heart is worn through by hate’s slippery justification toward my fellow humans. I pray we find our hope. I pray we remember the beauty and the care we’ve been ushered, the love we get to give.

May we find our hope in pools, at rowdy gatherings, around tables, or in silent contemplation. Let us be embraced and upheld by generosity and abundance, buoyed by God’s gentle touch. May we smile at strangers and feed friends. May we hug long and fierce. May we let grace enfold our needy forms and may mercy reign with ferocity, remembering we are part of this breathtaking human tapestry. Our beauty is in our resilience.

 

It’s My Turn.

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I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.  -Walt Whitman

My heart broke yesterday. My heart splintered off into dozens of shards, like waffle cone dropping to the sidewalk from an unwieldy toddler’s hand. And my reaction was the same, staring in disbelief at the wreckage of my goodness and weeping without consolation over the splattered disaster before me.

Donald Trump’s words of vile debasement about me, and worse, about my daughter, my sisters, niece, and mothers, were not surprising. He has revealed his character to Americans over and over and over again. He has decimated the dignity of a disabled reporter, of Muslims, refugees, immigrants. He has offended veterans returning from war – something few of us can fathom. He has threatened Mexican Americans, African Americans and beauty queens, the list continues and will continue to do so. He has hitched his wagon to hatred. There is no shred of remorse or concern for anyone but himself and his own ends. And now he has attacked me, my daughter, my people, in words I have never once heard uttered from the mouths of men. I have never once been in the company of such despicable language, around the boisterous snickering and guffaws, reducing my gender to parts and pieces, numbers and letters. Trump’s language about me, about my people, the other beautiful, courageous, remarkable women was sickening. He splayed each and every one of us upon a platter before the ogling eyes of his kind, critiquing us like slabs of beef at a backyard barbecue.

For years now I have sought to learn love through empathy. I have practiced the painstaking work of trying to build a compassionate base, focused upon individuals with different stories than mine. I have had conversations, I have been in relationship, I have asked questions and wrestled for answers. I’ll admit, I have a privileged life. I have men who will defend me, but generally they just stand by, at the ready, while I fight for myself, because I’m able. I am white. I have resources. I am healthy. I’ve got it all – which is a liability when you try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Except now, I have a greater understanding.

You see, when Trump called Mexican Immigrants murderers and rapists, I was mortified and angry but I did not understand.

You see, when he called for the sequestering of Muslim Americans, I was reviled and shocked but I did not understand.

You see, when he criticized veterans for their inability to withstand the rigors of war and combat upon return to The States, I again, was angered, but I did not understand.

And now, it’s my turn, it’s my daughter’s turn. He flung our bodies out on the chopping block, naked and afraid. Donald Trump is nothing new for women, minorities, disabled. He is just one more bully in a long string who get their kicks from belittling the underdog, enlivening the basest of humanity, procuring a cheer from those who have no credibility or admirers, but think they do.

And now I must speak directly to Mr. Trump:

Mr. Trump, you surprised me, I see more clearly now.  I get a truer sense of the fear and loneliness and longing others have felt. I understand now when bodies are not cherished, when the stereotyped color and gender and nationality are the shoddy representatives of personhood, rather than beauty, humanity, and beloved-ness as children of God.

Mr. Trump, you have provided me with greater empathy, a greater capacity to grieve and celebrate alongside my fellow humans. Your intentions ring loud and certain and I am rocked to my core. I am speechless and quaking, not by your words, those were to be expected, but at the silence of your followers, your supporters. I am devastated by the profession of Christian faith and the defense of you by Christian leaders. And lest you believe me to be overreacting, I know to my center, I could never trust you as the leader of this nation to be alone in a room with my child.

Mr. Trump, you have revealed the hearts of fear that surround me. You have uncovered the hatred masked in ignorance and blindness. Your words have awakened me to the realities of the majority of the citizens of this land.

Mr. Trump, you have uncovered the greatest reason why many are leaving the church – hypocrisy. The support of your candidacy by many seems to be a forced choice, a quiet “yes” with a resigned shoulder shrug and accompanying eyebrow raise. These same Christians say they love Jesus, and strive to live a holy life, yet the disregard for our oppressed through choosing to vote for you, choosing to support you, is deafening. As the Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”

Mr. Trump, I love better today because of you. I may be more pained, as my naivete plummets headlong toward the flames, but this is good. This needed to happen in order to live my life in greater love – loving God, loving my neighbor, loving myself.

Mr Trump, you have awakened me alongside an entire people group to the reality of what so many face each and every minute of their existence. I hope you are resting well, for you have a long journey ahead. I hope you find your peace. And for the remainder of us, well, it’s going to be a long road, but it is a good and worthy road for  “..the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King). Fortunately, you and your kind are just a sorry, horrible blip in this remarkable, hopeful human narrative.

As for me, I choose goodness, I choose hope, I choose beauty and I choose what is right.

Who’s Calling Now?

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If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?

 
-Stephen King

I tend to throw around the word call a fair amount. There were times I believed I was called to a relationship or to eating more vegetables or to slowing down my social media intake. I have experience the call to hike or spend some time gaining perspective or to deny my adult self and play trucks or dolls on the floor. I can say I’ve heard a call to reign in my spending and be more intentional with how I occupy my time. I have also believed I was called to stay home with my kids. I consider these calls each wonderful opportunities to better myself, to regain perspective focusing on the important things.

However, these little “c” calls of mine, while beneficial and welcome and often harmless, cannot hold a candle to the Big “C” Calls. The Big “C” Calls will take your life and flip it upside down and question all the stuff you thought you knew. These Calls will take your comfort and send it flying. They will take your location and make you reexamine your neighborhood and your community and town and state. They will make you reconsider your personal relationships and entitlements and privilege and make you see things that you don’t wanna see.

A Call such as this could take hours of meditation and writing and prayer and hiking and swimming and conversations and tears to tease the whole thing out. This Call will carry implications requiring you to do no less than pick up your mat and walk, in search of your next clue. And sometimes the next clue is a fork in the road, demanding another bout of prayer and discernment and vulnerability to determine the best course. These Calls don’t let up, they pester and poke and prod at ungodly, inconvenient hours. They will not be ignored until something is done to scratch the itch, to appease the urging and relentless voice. Until we find the one next thing, and then the next and the next, like a trail of breadcrumbs on the forest floor, the Call will call and call and call.

Two years ago, I uttered the words aloud, I need to start a church. Two years ago, I uttered the words aloud, I need to start a blog. Two years ago, I uttered the words aloud, I can’t do this anymore, I cannot keep attending churches that don’t get it, that don’t love, that don’t talk about the pressing issues of injustice.

At the time, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what this meant. I just knew something had to change. I just knew I could not keep going to church every Sunday, sucking up my frustration and heartbreak for the souls who could not be safe. I knew I had to leave. I was called. Seemed a bit odd and treacherous, considering how I was raised with church attendance as a non-negotiable. Only fevers, barfing and chicken pox were satisfactory reasons, otherwise, we were present participants.

I am part of planting a church. Tomorrow I get on a plane to Indianapolis, attending the OPEN conference. Tomorrow I’ll take the next step, picking up and examining the next breadcrumb. I am closer to discovering the beauty of the bigger picture, the completed product. I consider this Call one of my greatest desires and finest opportunities for terror and risk and divine partnership, inviting me to trust and suspend assumptions. This Call will not let me go. This Call needs me, I need it.

Answering a Call is not for the weary. This Call thing messes with us, questioning all of our worthiness and talent and commitment and comfort. It pecks away at the assumptions we make, at the comfort we claim, the expectations we hold. This Call thing demands change. It demands we take inventory of our existence, of the carefully crafted lives we love, the ones that have humming refrigerators and multiple televisions and fast internet and feather pillows and warm water. This Call says: Will you trust me? Do you know that I love you? Are you aware of my generosity and abundance? I will provide. 

The Call offers a choice.

Do I trust enough in the soul’s quickening to release control of my present circumstances?

Do I trust God to provide, to nurture?

Do I trust the work Eric and I have done in our marriage, in our parenting, to embark on this journey, knowing my absence and distraction will not harm, but will offer new life and opportunity for the whole family?

Do I trust myself, believing my perceived lack is a benefit, an avenue for learning and for greater trust and surrender?

I am thrilled to have this opportunity, considering this Call to plant a Just and Generous church one of my life’s greatest joys. I want to be at the forefront of bringing relief to the world’s weary travelers, to offer life and hope and communion to all. I’m grateful the Call did not quiet and shrink away, for in this work I get to discover the beauty and glory of a life lived seeking, questioning, hoping, waiting, realizing.

How about you? Where are you feeling called or Called? Please know you’re in good company.