The Mouse is Dead

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I do not admire the excess of a virtue like courage unless I see at the same time an excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas, who possessed extreme courage and extreme kindness. We show greatness not by being at one extreme, but by touching both at once and occupying all the space in between.
― Blaise Pascal

I wasn’t going to write this week. But I cannot seem to stay away. I have hesitated to write because it just feels like more of the same. Another week, more stress, more fear, more sleeplessness. But I have to say. in all the difficulty and uncertainty, I cannot shake the holy – the beautiful and wonderful and unexpected. Those of us who see, who stay informed, who choose to remain in the fray (as long as their  mental and physical and relational healths remain intact) are taxed. It’s been rough. Days full of breaking stories and random tidbits regarding the character of the people who are supposed to be in charge. The whole business is bananas (that is my new favorite word on a double IPA and a delicious Wahoo’s burrito). Ba-na-nas!

And the Evangelicals keep at it – pandering, excusing, Hillary this, Obama that. It’s ridiculous and comedic if we weren’t in these dark times. I hesitate to enter into the dramatic, but I need to. I don’t understand this ability to be cavalier. I don’t understand the inclination to “let it go”. I cannot. I have children. I have parents. I have people to care for and these people are going to suffer as a result of the choices of our government.

This tension. It’s a pain in the ass. But, I firmly believe, the tension is where we as Christians, as followers of Christ, are to dwell. Consistently sticking our head in the sand. Numbing. This doesn’t help, except when it’s required to preserve sanity and marriages and keeping children alive in short bouts. But this tension, the push and pull, this amazing interplay between Divine and evil, between hope-filled and terrified, between giddy excitement and utter bafflement is where God dwells.

As I sit outside in the waning daylight, there’s a dead mouse nearby. The chickens are pecking through the grass, the evening is cooling, the goats chomping. It’s a holy time, there isn’t much better than Colorado summer evenings. I have my beer and laptop, alongside the menagerie of four-legged family, and an empty burrito wrapper.  It is good. It is a good life I have. But there’s still a dead mouse.

Tension.

It’s real.

Tomorrow I head out on my yearly backpacking trip with the girls. It might rain. It might hail. It might snow. But our memories are so sweet. And the hamburgers and beer afterwards – perfect. So, we suffer a little. Our packs, they weigh us down, we complain, we wonder, we celebrate. It’s all there. All of it. And it’s totally worth it.

I spend too much time on Twitter and I spend too much time being informed. I rarely feel satisfied at the end of a day with my screen usage, my information gathering.  But I also have had the most remarkable conversations this week – with people who are thrilled to join us in our work of planting this church. People I would have never dreamed are falling out of the sky to offer their expertise, their time, their hearts, their love. And I counter all of this with the news, the horrible processes in Washington, the potential suffering of people who cannot catch a break. I’m not sure how to do this. I’m not sure the right or best way. But I do know, we must live. We smile. We offer gift cards to struggling people with signs. We comment on social media to let friends know they are not alone. And we cry. We lament. We mourn. We engage in it all. And maybe we also eat too many M&Ms.

I am a Christian, through and through. I love Jesus. Let me repeat. I love Jesus. And my love for my Lord means I get to be uncomfortable on behalf of another. I am required to be uncomfortable on behalf of another, of people less fortunate than I, of people more fortunate than I, of people who do not share my same level of privilege. We are in this together, regardless of who we voted for, regardless of who we pledge our allegiance to, we are in this together. And we need to start acting like it.

The mouse is dead, and it stinks. My beer is nearly gone. My blog is almost done. The sun is receding. The day will end. Today is what we have.

Dwell in tension. See the people. Offer relief when you can. Be uncomfortable, find the holy in the unlikely and pray like mad.

The Beautiful Ordinariness

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Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for a good friend. Leslie was one of those people, the kind that leaves a desperate void in her wake, one that does not need notoriety, but longed for goodness and light in the world. And knew that within this longing resided her work, so she provided this goodness and light for countless people spanning the globe. She was one of the best ones, and our world will now function forever at a loss.

I glanced at her boy throughout the service, remembering my almost twelve-year-old self sitting in the same front, center spot during my own mom’s memorial service in 1984. He seemed so little, yet, back then, I felt so old. I felt the weight of responsibility, this void of my mother’s, now mine to fill in some strange way. The roles of nurturer and laundress and grilled-cheese maker and little-boy-hair-brusher now mine.

There was a disservice done to me when my mother died. My mother was canonized. She was frozen into perfection. While I’m not sure this was my doing or someone else’s, it happened. She was a remarkable mother, a pastor’s wife with four young children. We were loved well and endlessly. And  yes, I know she wasn’t perfect, but it took me awhile to remember or realize she wasn’t, because she was pretty darn close.

And so, when it came my turn to bear children, to stay home (my choice) and raise them, I assumed I was a constant failure. My canonized mother would never do the things I did. Or maybe she did and I couldn’t remember. I know she was tired. I know she gave beyond what she had to give. I know she was loved and honored and treasured by everyone who came to know her, and yet, I could not rise to that level, I could not step over that moving, high bar.

Observing this young man last night, I realized his parents did something really good. They were honest with him. Spoken from the stage was a true story of someone who loved in exquisite ways, but someone who was also exceptionally human and remarkable and beautifully familiar, grounded. And in her beautiful familiarity, she got stuck sometimes. She needed help. She blew it.

We all get stuck and we need a helping hand. We all fail and we all blow it beyond what we ever imagined. We all need boatloads of love and grace from our fellow human travelers. May we not try to uphold some impossible standard for a life and do a disservice to one another. May we seek to share and demonstrate a modicum of honesty and vulnerability, setting aside our need to win, to be better than.

As a Christian, I am bound by the rule of love. And the rule of love sometimes means I put others before myself and other times it means I put myself before others. Sometimes personal healing and health is the priority, seeking freedom from oppression, defending myself against unfair treatment and injustice. And whether I’m learning to love myself or others, I realize love is not a passive endeavor. I am convinced there is a reason loving God and loving others as we love ourselves is our greatest command. One can spend an entire lifetime deciphering what love truly is, as the most confusing, uncertain, non-binary task we undertake. Love is not bound by rules, but love does have ingredients: vulnerability, honesty, empathy, compassion.

When we place another into the elevated position of worthy – this is love. When we seek to understand, when we recognize the creation of God before us, when we respect another’s story, this. This is the work of the Divine. This is the work of honoring our people. Leslie reminded me that to love is to be humble, gentle, and remarkably exceptional in our ordinariness, in our familiarity. And in appreciating the ordinary, the simple, we discover the extraordinary in the minutest of moments. We discover the extraordinary in the most ordinary of people. And each person is transformed, transcendent, exquisite. Each person is the most important person on the planet, in that moment, elevated and holy.

I pray for my friend’s family. I pray for their process as they move through grief and loss and redefining a new path. I pray for myself, for my own work in upholding the rule of love. I pray for all of us as we seek to love those in our homes, our neighborhoods and communities, extending life, goodness, and light to all.

I pray we all seek to live the life of beautiful ordinariness, that seeks to see and know the people who believe and act different, who vote different, who parent different, who love different. May we heap oodles of kindness and compassion so our world may heal the rifts and we may see and know how to freely give so we may freely receive.

 

Building the Universe

 

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Song of the Builders

On a summer morning

I sat down

on a hillside

to think about God –

a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw

a single cricket;

it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.

How great was its energy,

how humble its effort.

Let us hope

it will always be like this,

each of us going on

in our inexplicable ways

building the universe.

– Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early (2004)

There are days where it all feels like too much. There are days where the relief is a long time in coming. There are days when the news is equal parts compelling and overwhelming. I suppose I am a glutton for punishment, one of those folks who doesn’t know when to stop. One of those folks who doesn’t understand when it is too much. I walk the fine line of being informed with being freaked out, unsure what the right answer is, unsure what the point is. I walk away from time to time, recognizing the remarkable privilege I own, that I can walk away, that I can rest.

And while these days feel big and I quake in my bed, the overwhelm tries to edge me toward despair. Yet, what always emerges in my contemplative practice of  prayer is a light, a stillness, a beauty. Gratitude flows and God’s mercy is displayed centered and true.

I’ve never been a glass half full kind of girl, I prefer to not assign an expectation but to be grateful that there is liquid in the glass at all. I have a sunny disposition and a warm smile, but the creases in the furrow of my brow are riveted, deep and permanent – a result of both age and concern. I welcome many into my fold with ease and without suspicion. And I do try to seek the best in all people and all situations.

But I get tired of all the feels. I’m tired of knowing this shit to my bones. I’m tired of seeing. And I’m tired of being tired and a freaking internal disaster.

A therapist friend called this morning in the midst of my staring-out-the-window grief and confusion. She asked how I was and I could not hold back. My tears, frustrations, and fright all tumbled out along with the apologies and backpedaling attempts to not also add to her burden. But in her gentle kindness she held my verbal and emotional dump with honor and care, echoing her own concerns and stories. We always have fellow travelers. We may have but a few, but they are a dedicated and diligent few, present at the right moments in the most important of times.

And in our conversation I recounted the incredible goodness of my week. The celebration of twenty-four years with my most wonderful partner. A late-into-the-night 50th birthday party for a dear friend who wasn’t supposed to see this side of 40. A precious soul who has gone through six years of hell, now living life to the fullest again – her beauty, peace, and kindness radiating like the sun. A girl with three years of grave health concerns, graduating from high school and preparing for college. A mama robin touring her babies through the yard, educating them on how the ground works and where the juiciest of worms reside. A delicious cup of coffee in a funky cafe in the mountains, while the youngest dirt bikes to his heart’s content. Soaking thunderstorms in the night. Three games of Yahtzee and a delightful movie to cap off a good day. A daughter with her own health concerns, carrying the stamina to work for the Forest Service through the summer. A human chain of 70 people saving a family from sure drowning at a Florida beach. The hope of a new church coming to my community and the people climbing out of the woodwork offering unconditional love and support.

And it hits me, I am one of the builders. Those of us who choose to see, who choose to know too much, who choose to own our responsibility and our discomfort. We are the workers, the builders, the strivers seeking to reconcile Creation to its Creator. We choose to dwell in the tension of no longer shirking in denial, no longer hiding in fear. We still quake in our beds and the ground is unsteady under our feet, but we choose to face. We choose to own. We choose to wrestle.

The degree to which we experience discomfort and suffering is the degree to which we can know joy. The degree to which we see the world and the people around us is the degree to which we can know truth and understand our privilege. The degree to which we know our privilege is the degree to which we can make peace.

My calling is to somehow be a part of the grand work of reconciling Creation to the Creator. The only way to counter hopelessness is to receive God’s love for me, and in turn, love others. The earth is groaning. Creation is crying out for relief. Science is our greatest indicator of the physical risks to our planet, and many are denying the evidence. We are called absolutely to the work of love in our world, to our world, bringing restoration and reconciliation through the making of peace. And until we open our eyes and SEE, until we look at what IS, and cease to dwell in denial and personal comfort, our efforts are nil.

May we be brave, may we know, may we see. May we risk comfort and eschew denial, bringing justice to Creation – each of us going on in our inexplicable ways building the universe.

The Wonder Women

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We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.

Margaret Atwood

I have to admit July 4 has never been my favorite holiday. Maybe it’s the heat and bugs, or the crowds, I’m not sure. Growing up, my family celebrated the day with minor enthusiasm, often accepting an invitation for a barbecue and fireworks. I don’t know from where my lack of interest arises, but I find the day annoying.

Mind you, I must be clear, I have a lack of regard, shall we say, for all holidays that aren’t Christmas or Thanksgiving. The pomp and build-up, the overtaking of social media, the inevitable comparisons that reveal my lack of interest and/or creativity are overwhelming. I tend to wish these days away. Valentines’ Day? Yuck. St. Patricks? Forget it. Halloween? Never. I do love, however, when friends who adore celebrating invite me along.

But this 4th felt different. More than an annoying day on the calendar, or an obligatory social event, It felt oppressive and uncertain. I know how fortunate I am to live in this country. I know I have freedom to spout my frustration. I have privilege to say the things that I want to say. I can go to fireworks if I want, or stay home if I don’t. I have much to be grateful for. But this day, this year has been hard. Conversations are fraught with difficulty. Family gatherings are more silent than conversant. I wish it was different, but I’m not sure how to make it so. I try. I fail. I leave feeling bereft.

When you love something, you can also hold criticism for it. I love this country. I love the people in it. I love the vision we’ve been invited into. I love democracy and the idea that we all have equal participation.

But do we?

Do we really have equal participation?

As a woman I don’t believe I do. And I don’t believe black people do, or brown people, or indigenous. I don’t believe gay or transgender people do, nor do people from less than upper, middle class. Which leaves us to one specific demographic – white, wealthy, straight men.

I took my daughter and son to see Wonder Woman this week. As the credits rolled and the lights came on, my daughter took a deep breath, and stared at me with her eyes wide. Her affirmation of the movie was clear. She uttered an expletive and I shared her awe. We departed the theater with light in our eyes and hope in our step. My twelve year old son wasn’t quite as enthralled and a bit confused by our exclamation. He enjoyed the movie fine but couldn’t identify with our passion, delight, and enthusiasm.

Driving south toward our cabin, out of the little mountain town, I shared vehemently, but not unkindly, with him the reason for our exuberance. As I blew through the reduced speed limit signs onto the rural highway, I failed to notice the flashing lights in my rearview. Explaining the significance of a female lead in an action movie with actual fight scenes, the beauty of women, and the ferocity of a Mother God who desperately adores us, I had no idea of my speed.

The officer asked if I knew how fast I was driving, to which I replied, “No, I’m so sorry. I was too excited. We just saw Wonder Woman!” Amused but stern, he departed, license in hand, leaving myself and children to reflect on my mindless mishap. My son mentioned, to my deep joy, how proud he was of my lawbreaking abilities. The 68 MPH clip was significant in the 55 MPH zone, but the officer let me off with a warning and a reminder to slow down, also mentioning he did not want to ruin our perfect Wonder Woman evening.

“Thank you so much, sir.” I said, with undaunted enthusiasm and relief.

The hope for our communities, churches, nation, and world rests in the rise of women. As Wonder Woman claimed her power and understanding throughout the story, she experienced points of great pain and disillusionment. But this did not lead her to rest in defeat. After careful consideration, she owned what was, and determined it was her work to bring the relief and justice and mercy to the situation, to the people.

I believe I  was justified in my sadness yesterday. I believe I am justified in my resolve today. I know the work I am called to – whether it is scratching my child’s back, making a meal, planting a church, writing a blog, or hosting a dinner – is changing the world. And the grief, disappointment, and resolve are my super powers. Through the process I find the strength that has always been mine. I discover the desire, the gifts, the burn to put myself in the hands of my call. I marinate in the resolve, owning my agency in creating a more just and generous world.

Women will change the world. We already are. Not at the expense of white, wealthy men, but alongside, in equality. Let’s discover what truly makes us sing and what makes us want to spit nails. These are significant clues to what matters and what we are designed to offer our world. Do not believe for a second you are not worthy or qualified.  Each of us equipped to do the good work of reconciliation and restoration. The essential work of Love.

Join me.