Foxes and Hens, Oh My

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Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.
― Eleanor Roosevelt

A year ago, we had fifteen white and black and brown and speckled chickens.  A year ago we had more eggs than we knew what to do with.  Most of the hens had names and a few had personalities, particularly the girls at the bottom of the pecking order. Oftentimes Sideways Sue, Joy or Autumn would race across the tall grass to waddle between my feet in anticipation of a special snack. Doting on the flock, I accounted for their safety throughout the days – okay, five black – check; five white – check; two speckled – check; three old – check. 

Foxes are not friends of folks who have a penchant for small farms. Their sly and crafty ways exasperate chicken farmers, no love lost between the two parties. We have been fortunate, our free-range flock unbothered, pecking through the yard with joy and abandon. We became cocky in our ignorance, failing to protect the hens from our customary predators.

And now our flock has whittled to a meager and mighty four. The other day, during lunch, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, the dart of Father Fox. Upon perusal of the yard I found the telltale sign – a left-behind lump of our last black hen, floppy feathers ruffling in the wind.

I have always loved the sight of a fox in the wild with their assured lope. But when one shows up in the yard, there is no more majestic and wonderful, only pest and menace and enemy.

I wanted justice.

In my city of Longmont, a proposal was put forward this week to name us a sanctuary city.  If you’ve read my blog, for any length of time, I’m sure you can guess where I stand. Eric and I attended the meeting and listened to a third of the sixty people share either their support or opposition to the motion. I took in the standing-room-only crowd, scanning, absorbing, noticing the tense energy in my belly. Many demonstrated their support by wearing red. Many were not in favor.

The disagreements fell upon anticipated lines. Most against the measure cited the importance of law and enforcing proper procedure for immigrants. It was oft stated that each person should do the adequate work to obtain legal status, just like the rest of us (I know I had questions, too). Others discussed the importance of changing laws, the daunting and difficult path immigrants must face to become approved was discussed at great length. Many shared stories and delighted in the merits of our community, citing diversity as an asset. The evening was educational and edifying and I will admit to rolling my eyes only twice.

A few thoughts and questions badgered me throughout the evening: How many people know, really know, an undocumented individual or family? How many of us can attest to  the horrific conditions from which some have had to flee, knowing intense suffering or death was inevitable for the children?  I wonder if we privileged, have a remote understanding of this depth of terror. When we subscribe to the rule of law, without acceptance of great tension and nuance, what happens to love?

After this disaster of sacrificing so many chickens I was no longer amenable to foxes. I didn’t like them. I hated them. Unfortunately, for my firm opinions and me, my daughter happened upon an awe-inspiring sight while walking the neighborhood at dusk. In the middle of the road, Mama Fox stood guard while her six cubs bounded and played and dive-bombed one other. Each pup beautiful and perfect with shiny, fuzzy coat and lean body. The four red and two black youngsters held no concern for our presence, knowing full well they were safe and protected by their alert mama. With her keen eye simultaneously fixed upon the two of us and the exact location of each one of her frisky babes, I couldn’t help but wonder if she and I were more alike than I imagined. I suspect she, like me, worries about how to provide, how to grow and protect her hungry and thriving babies.  I held her gaze and gave her my best, knowing I now had to dwell in a new tension – how to protect my chickens while also holding hope for this young family.

There are many people in this country who do not share the same privilege I do – white, straight, Christian, American born, abled. And those of us with this privilege need to spend a little less time afraid, standing in our truth and righteousness, and a lot more time seeking to understand another. I wonder if we might discover we have far more in common than we realize and a new generosity and empathy may emerge in our communities, churches, homes.

Our unifying language is story. Tell me your story, remind me of your struggles, your suffering and joy, your hopes and fears. Maybe we can find the common thread that cinches us together in faithful and loving community.

I hope Longmont’s City Council votes in favor of the measure. And I hope those in opposition will strive to love and know their neighbor. And those of us in support will go beyond words, wearing red, and speaking for three minutes so that we all together may participate in complete and beautiful and diverse communion.

Too Tight and Ill-Fitting

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Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted or enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Pulling out the spring clothes every year is an eye opener. While staying warm through the winter months, I tend to return to the few, comfortable, just-right items that fail to alert me to the post-election-beer-drinking-warm-bread-eating-cold-of-winter extra couple pounds. My weight lifting regimen has also remained, so my warm weather clothes don’t fit quite like they once did. I may make what I have work, or I may get some new pieces that fit better. I think we can all agree, there are few things more miserable than clothes that restrict in the wrong places.

This week I had two very important conversations regarding our new church plant. We believe in the importance of informing local evangelical pastors of our plans. While these churches cannot support full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, we are requesting an acknowledgement of what these churches can provide for these individuals and families, and to refer them to our church when needed.

The pastors with whom I met are kind and generous men, seeking to serve and provide for their communities. They each respected my concerns, listening with attentive minds and hearts. The conversations were not easy, but a mutual respect was shared as we challenged one another’s beliefs and practices. I was impressed and grateful.

This is the world in which I was raised. These are examples of the people who loved and helped me. Who tended to my children and honored our family. They led my communities of faith and instructed us in our growth. I am aware that they are seeking out their own best expression of love and truth, striving to be the best bodily expression of Jesus in the world. I know these people. They were once mine.

But so much has changed for me, I can no longer bear the burden of a tight and ill-fitting set of beliefs. I am bulkier, stronger. I have become expansive in the ways of invitation and abundance, inclusion and celebration. Things don’t fit like they used to. My former church doesn’t fit like it used to.

I no longer find comfort in the church of my youth. When people suffer and die from poor theology, from silence, from literal reading of Scripture, I cannot stand by and ignore. I cannot respond with anything less than outrage and deep, deep devastation.

And so, I stand on this precipice, this space with my former world behind me and my new world before me. I stand knowing I cannot convince anyone if they are not experiencing doubt, asking the questions, moving in the direction of affirming. I must step forward into this beautiful and new space, with room and true freedom and calling and faithful generosity. For many it might seem too free. We like our rules, we like things defined, particularly so we can guarantee we are solid for acceptance into Heaven. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve walked that fine line. I can be the best good girl. I can follow rules like a champ. But this is not what we are called to. We are called to a life of abundance and wide spaces and so much grace and alleviating suffering. This god of wrath and vengeance is a tragedy. We have a God of vibrant, constant, consistent love that whispers into the depths of our souls Her love for us.

I attended, last night, a local gathering of people interested in providing sanctuary for at-risk members of our community. I saw new friends, fellow pastors in the area who are not of the conservative evangelical world from which I hailed. They greeted me with open arms, each one excited for the arrival of our church, thrilled to be partners on the path of doing the mighty and essential work of justice and providing for ALL people in our county. This is an outfit I can wear – one that allows me to breathe and move and dance. The colors are vibrant and alive, seeking to bring relief to the least of these, to the marginalized and hurting in our community.

I used to wear the perfect clothing of certainty and truth, self-righteousness and good girl-ness. I was blinded, unable to consider a faith filled with beauty, wonder, and vibrancy with everyone invited to the table, everyone welcome, everyone included just as they are. All I could see was black and white, and eventually a drab shade of gray. I have outgrown this rule-based-faith. I feel smothered and anxious, readjusting, measuring, gauging the atmosphere,  unable to fully be myself. I’ve become too strong, too solid, bulked up on hope and curiosity, freedom and acceptance. The clothes no longer fit, and no matter what I do, I can’t shrink enough to make them comfortable and attractive again. I will not return to restriction and exclusion in God’s name.

I will try not to malign my old church. But this new church world? My goodness, it is breathtaking and hopeful and everyone fits. The days of I love you, but… are gone. The days of Yes, but… are gone. I can now with full confidence, shout: We love you. We see you! We can’t wait to watch what you will do. Yes! All of you is welcome and celebrated. All of me is welcome and celebrated.

We are each loved desperately, AS. WE. ARE. Nothing alters this love. Nothing minimizes or increases this love.

So, maybe I will reconsider an adjustment to my wardrobe. Loose, easy, colorful – this is who I am and how I want to express myself now. The tight, ill-fitting, constrictive – nah, not so much.

 

When God is Mother

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“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”

― J.M. Barrie

As a mom of three teenagers, my life chapter requires that I care for myself, shirking the voices of failure and scarcity. I am tasking myself, somedays successful, with the primary and essential work of listening to the overtures of grace, kindness, generosity. This season has rendered me vulnerable, the demands of end-of-year school activities, growing bodies lining my home, the shifts in expectations as warmer weather arrives with its notions of freedom and abandon. I have to be kind. I don’t have a choice. I have to give myself the benefit of the doubt. But, we all know, somedays are better than others. The sinister voices weasel in and shriek loud of what responsible and fun and not-so-tired mothers would do.

Sometimes mothers need mothers. Yes, many of us have our moms, and many of us do not. But regardless of our station, sometimes we need a mother of a higher order, one in which perfection is at the top of the job description. Sometimes (or oftentimes), we need God to be a Mother. We not only need Mother God’s love to pass onto the people in our lives, in our world. We need Mother God’s love to pass to ourselves, in our fumbling frailty and foolishness. I need a mother’s love to pass to myself.

And so I sit quiet and still, watching the birds mate dance in the still-bare trees. I consider the hairy golden dandelions peek their heads from the concrete driveway’s cracks. I witness the fox pair feed their burgeoning den with my favorite chickens. The fresh blossomed trees sway in striking contrast, aligned against the backdrop of Colorado’s bluest sky, not a cloud misplaced. Nature happens and nurture follows close behind.

I’m held, born again into Creation. Loved.

In this time of unwieldy teenagers and hormones and broken curfews and dances, I have to release the frustrations and the building fear. And the only place that holds it all, that sustains me is Mother God. I have to believe She laments and grieves and ponders alongside, as I write and meditate in the earliest hours of the morning and the latest hours of the night. I have to believe She understands grief of the tallest order, the kind that watches intently upon the suffering of her own Son, the kind that wails, mourns and beats her breast at the intensity of it all.

When God is Mother she has the questions bound together with an abiding knowledge that Love always reigns.

When God is Mother she weeps with those who weep and mourns with those who mourn. Her pain and joy etched in the lines across her face, her suffering born in the manner in which she carries herself.

When God is Mother fear is not unbeknownst to Her, bearing the scars of motherhood she stoops low to gaze into the eyes of children and elderly – all the same. She knows. She knows the terror and concern, the unassailable fear that maybe things won’t work out as expected.

When God is Mother She reaches and holds her dear children close, arms enfolding with fierce determination and fire.

When God is Mother She knows when to hide her face, She knows when to let things play out as they need. In her ample wisdom She knows what is best for her little ones.

When God is Mother She carries our humanity, our joy, our desire, our hope, our despair. She has nourishment at her table, enough to fill bellies and brighten sad eyes.

When God is Mother, the rhythms of birth, growth, life, death are carried close to her breast – shaped in the form of us all.

When God is Mother, Creation bears witness to wonder, beauty, rebirth and hope. Resurrection is her language, her greatest gift. Death is undone, never holding the final word. Life reigns glorious.

Did God grieve that day of her Son’s brutal suffering in death? If God is a Mother, I  believe in the absolute certainty of the answer – yes.

And I have to believe, when we suffer, She knows. Her heart undone, broken into infinite shards, covering over us with shimmering love.

The week of Easter, the season of Lent always sneaks up hard on me. I push and fight and resist – forgetting what it’s all for. And I remember in the quiet stillness. I’m called back to the cross, turning my gaze, reflecting upon the suffering. Our Mother knows and bleeds and understands. We are made whole, we can hope, our true home in the heart of God. And we gaze upon the bloodied, wretched form of Jesus – the Son – who bore the heart of God into the world, to show us, to lead us in the better ways. The better ways of justice and kindness and mercy and truth. The better ways of Love.

This week may we lie low, in humility, holding the gift of our Mother’s love close. May we turn toward the feminine, finding wholeness for our souls and bodies, finding relief in being held and known and very much adored.

The Missing Other Half

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I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.

― Annie Dillard

Church is in my DNA. I grew up in the Nazarene Church, a small, Wesleyan, tight knit evangelical denomination. My father and grandfather are both pastors, plus a great-grandmother on my mom’s side. I attended a Nazarene University and remained a faithful member until my early twenties when we relocated to Colorado. I was the best churchgoer, still am, but a couple years ago, we had to take a break. I couldn’t make the churches in our community work. I could no longer stomach the conservative, right leaning dogma that composed many sermons. Certain friends excluded without a loving, hospitable place to rest. Anger burned. I was rage-filled, toxic, exhausting my people with the venting. I stayed too long. To preserve my own integrity, to preserve my own sanity, we left.

In the nine-month hiatus (I know, brief for some, eternal for me) my belief in the work of the Church was restored. My understanding of the true responsibilities of the Church were renewed and I cultivated a compelling desire to bring a congregation to my community, my town. I aligned myself with a new friend, Paula Williams, a leading national church planter, and we all found our footing and hope at Highlands Church, an open and affirming progressive, evangelical church in Denver.

Surrounded by a beautiful team of similar minded people, I can say with confidence, excitement, and terror, our new church will begin Sunday services this Fall, 2017. And I will also say with equivalent confidence, excitement, and terror that I am called to the ministry.

The Nazarene Church of my youth is considered one of the few egalitarian evangelical denominations, where women and men work and learn equally alongside one another. The evangelical churches I attended in Colorado, are not. While it took me awhile to make the discovery, the absence of women was not something of which I took particular note. When your dad’s the pastor you don’t know much else.

Somewhere along the way I adopted the mindset that my primary work as a woman was to support my husband. With three young children and a lack of motivation to find substantial work, I took on the role of stay-at-home-mom without much struggle or concern. These years at home have not been easy, but my work was secure, my tasks enveloped in keeping the kiddos alive and fed, warm and loved. But I also developed some deeply complementarian beliefs. I believed the success of our marriage was based upon my ability to say yes without complaint or grumble. As a good Christian woman I was tasked with being the wind beneath his wings, for being the strength and backbone, the quiet but faithful supporter of his endeavors. I had goals and achieved some lofty pursuits, for which I am proud, but all were held loosely with the understanding my primary work was the kids. The division of responsibility was convenient, keeping us from some hard and difficult decisions. And Eric, thankfully, did not see our roles in the same way I did. We navigated the best we could with what we had, and it worked for us, for the time. On the outset one would not think I was compromising my call, and I didn’t believe I was. I felt I was in the right place for the right reasons, and Eric did too. But the chapter is closing, the pages turn and I must change and follow the pull of my desires.

There’s a rub. My ministerial call is welcomed, invited, celebrated in the progressive evangelical church, but not in most evangelical churches. Women cannot lead men. If females are relegated to primary leadership of the women and children, how can a full expression of the heart of God be demonstrated? I’m not interested in changing minds or engaging debate, I just want to work. I want to lead in the ways I am geared to lead. My giftedness is not male. My giftedness lies along stereotypical, female roles. But I don’t want to just be a “helper”. The church needs women’s voices. The church needs men’s voices. People need to see women at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. People need to see men at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. The church needs to see women as equals, as partners in this life of living out justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with God. I need to know there is ample room at the table that holds space for my unconventional and nonlinear communication and thinking patterns, that relies not on bullet points or well-crafted arguments, but on the nagging feeling in my gut that needs to be hashed out, oftentimes with fear and trembling.

My gifts of feeding and compassion, mercy, wonder, exuberance, heartfelt grace, and connection need to be revered just as much as another’s ability to crunch numbers, start programs, organize fundraisers, and collect the masses. Our churches need both. Our churches deserve both. Until that day comes, I’m afraid the face of God we get in our places of worship, in our towns, is that of a man. I do love my men, but the ferocity of a woman’s heart? The dedication of mothers? The tenacity of a human who knows how to feel and breathe and weep and endure through suffering? Nothing compares.

Until then, our churches will be shells. These remarkable, powerful qualities of God relegated to the sidelines, served quietly, revered without authority. For some, this is enough. For me, it is not. I want the fierce, the fire, the deep, deep compelling of justice and compassion to burn from the pulpit. I want everyone to know the depth and breadth of God’s love. And until the women speak and lead and carry the weight of authority? This will not be the case.

I didn’t know what was missing, all the times, my entire life, I listened to men. I didn’t know the tender-hearted presence of God’s Love spoken through the mouth and the soul of a woman, until recently. My palate whetted, I can’t turn back. I need the fullness, the balance, the beauty. I need the total portrayal and power of the heart of God.

And my community needs this too.

Stay tuned, friends.