Do What You Do.

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“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Dorothy Day

I’m not sure how I feel about this 2018 new year. While I’m not a huge celebrator of the holiday, I do hold the typical excitement for repurposing and reorganizing, for embarking upon new goals, for seeking ways to spend my time and/or money with greater intentionality. I don’t prefer to stray too far from my physical routine of sleep/awake cycles so partying long into the night is not something I ever choose to do with abandon. I do wish I had this skill, but alas, I do not. I am, at 45 years of age, coming to terms with the fact that I am just not that exciting.

When times are normal, one’s natural response in this season is to reflect upon the past year’s accomplishments and mishaps while anticipating new accomplishments and mitigating new mishaps in the upcoming year.

But this 2018 feels different doesn’t it? There is some collateral damage that has yet to be resolved. We are still dwelling in weird and scary times. Our nation is not in a better place when one looks to Washington. And for me, my greatest collateral damage, I lost my ability to dream. My year wasn’t horrible and I never lost sight of how fortunate I am, but I lost my levity, my dreaming. Our collective ignorance innocence was stolen wasn’t it? For those of us that claim Christianity it’s been a whopper – none of us could have predicted the bafflement and betrayal we would experience from the church bodies that raised and reared us as their own. The costs are staggering.

This deep toll on my spirit sent me inward toward 2017’s end. I pulled away from social media, deactivating my Twitter account. I am not designed to know this much information, to have this much commentary, to feel this much angst for all the suffering across the globe. No longer could I sacrifice my sanity or my presence on the altar of “remaining informed”. Instead I had to rely upon trusted friends and family to keep me abreast.

And sure enough, come New Year’s Eve, I rediscovered my ability to dream. This 1965 brick ranch has been used hard after four-and-a-half years of ownership and my favorite room still needed a fresh personal touch. And so I rolled and splattered color on the walls while Eric relocated the television and its myriad of cords and accessories. We rearranged furniture and pictures while chattering and laughing, relearning the rhythms of mundanity and physical labor. My spirit came back, I returned to me – doing what I do – making my home safe and inviting for all of us, myself included.

And this is the hope I hold for 2018. A reinvigoration, a return to doing what we do. Instead of preoccupying ourselves with the craziness that will not end, what if we take our news in doses and focus upon caring for our bodies and souls again? What if we take care of our families, neighbors, communities? What if the nuttiness of Washington is not priority but relegated to background noise? What if we detach ourselves from our laptops and phones when we get those telltale physical signs – the heaviness between the eyes alongside the restlessness and simultaneous ache for hope?

Some could claim this is a privileged position, one which I recognize and agree. Yet, our sanity and effectiveness might depend upon our ability to unplug.

I am all about being informed. I want to be a global citizen, but my mobilization occurs here, in my body, my home, my immediate community. I want to make the business of being a good neighbor, a loving partner, an attentive parent, a concerned friend, a committed citizen, a purposeful pastor my priority. My heart must continue to break for the injustices and suffering around the world, yet how can I be effective there when  things here are not as they should be?

I’m convinced it’s all about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Our energy and compassion here translates to energy and compassion there. Loaves and fishes. It’s all about the offering, the trusting. When we move forward in the confidence of our responsibility, here, now, we change the world.

I bring my loaves and fishes to the table, to the place where multiplication happens, where miracles occur and I offer my limited resources, my paltry understanding, my hunger, fatigue, and grief, my shaky joy. I bring my body and soul, believing and accepting to the core of who I am that I am beloved by the God that made me in Her image. I am cherished, held, invited to rest upon Her breast and receive. The holy ground of my fear – not a terrified fear, but a reverent fear – this holy ground is the soil of my community, the soil of my home, the ground upon which I see this world of mine. I remove my shoes for this holy ground might swallow me up if I am not humble.

As a pastor, as we bring a new expression of God’s love to our community, I tread with humility and reverence for this task. Christianity in this nation has done lasting and horrific damage – not just in recent months but over centuries. We as Christians have grave responsibilities that must never be taken lightly. The work of dismantling white supremacy, the world of restoring dignity to women, the world of affirming and honoring the lives of our LGBTQ+ communities, the work of defending our vulnerable immigrants and their families, the work of loving our least of these – all of this is our call. Here. And the task is massive. Yet, we carry our humble lunch to the feet of Jesus. Imploring, uncertain, resolute resistance.

And we plod forth confident in Love. Love for ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our towns. For we are standing on holy ground, doing what we do, here, now.

Cloaked Minivans

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There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.

And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”
Mary Oliver

I swore we were not going to be the family that owned a minivan, but when we needed to purchase a reliable but inexpensive used car in a pinch that would fit our family of five, we turned to a used Nissan. The vehicle was in great shape, but we soon learned minivans had come a long way since this particular model’s design was implemented. The single side sliding door, the bulky infant seat blocking complete passage of anyone larger than two years of age, the gutless engine squabbling anytime someone dared press with persistence upon the accelerator all posed as slight inconveniences. The greatest inconvenience however, was our invisibility. If anyone needs to rob a bank – borrow a minivan. It was as if we were cloaked, until we attempted to pass.

It’s a hard thing to go unnoticed. While some people prefer this, I don’t. I liked my cars. I wanted to look cool, gaining certain approval while being that mom with the fun car. But when you need wheels, you need wheels, cool factor notwithstanding.

Before our van ownership, minivans were also invisible to me. But you know that thing, when you’re researching a new car and now you can’t stop seeing the thing you never saw before. Yeah, that’s how it was with the vans. My perspective shifted and I couldn’t not see them.

Perspective shifts seem to happen when we find ourselves with a fuller, truer understanding of a person or situation. Oftentimes these can be watershed moments when our old lenses are replaced with new and everything rearranges itself. We stop dwelling within our ignorant and limited view, accepting the potential for new truth. We gain fresh eyes to see. Sometimes this work is uncomfortable and leveling, but it is natural, normal, and essential.

Advent is an important time to seek a new perspective. I have found it helpful to try to place myself in the Nativity – to imagine what it might be like as Mary, preparing for birth while travailing the desert on the lumpy, itchy back of a donkey. As a wife I consider the mixed emotions Joseph must have felt as his expectations and preparations were complicated by the needs of God. And as a human, I imagine myself amongst sheep on a chilly night while a chorus of angels deliver odd, yet gratifying news of a lowly king’s birth. This exercise uncovers a new, yet familiar perspective on a nonsensical story.

But my little exercise can only take me so far, because this young family was not like mine. I am American, white, straight, Christian, privileged. I am part of the dominant narrative with a mortgage and healthcare, blonde and blue-eyed boys, a full pantry, and heat. I am passable and not sought by authorities. At first impression, I’m not a threat to the status quo. The world recognizes me and mine, and accepts us. We pass.

But this was not the case for Jesus’s family of origin. They did not pass. They were not revered. They did not get by without suspicion. Which begs the question to those of us in my particular demographic, would we ever recognize, much less accept Jesus if we ever saw Him? Is it possible? Or would He be invisible, cloaked by our privilege and supposed righteousness?

Our perspective shift, our ability to recognize Emmanuel – God with us – occurs when we line ourselves up with the people Jesus did. We get to see Jesus when we feed the hungry and offer drink to the thirsty. We discover Jesus when we visit the imprisoned and clothe the naked. We recognize Jesus when we share our home with the stranger, when we exhibit care to the sick (Matthew 25:31-46). Until we participate in the revering of the least of these, Jesus’s arrival in our lives and world will go unnoticed by us.

Cloaked.

And as I take inventory of my surroundings, I would contend one of the greatest casualties of our inability to see Jesus in our everyday, is our joy.

Joy, the lifeblood of our days, the persistence of goodness despite circumstance. Joy, the carefree release of weighty burden.

Joy cannot happen until we begin to divest ourselves of the power and privilege that plagues this affluent nation. Joy cannot happen until we empty ourselves of our self-righteousness and self-hatred and self-importance. Joy cannot happen until we seek the company of them and we recognize there is no us and them beyond a few choices and luck. Joy happens when we observe the world through lenses of empathy, compassion, love, concern, relationship.

And until we can dine with the unsuspecting, walk with the humiliated, weep with the outcast, Jesus will remain cloaked to us. As Christians, we will sadly ignore the One we claim to follow.

I do not want an invisible Jesus – one that escapes me because I’m too bent on my own gain and my own comfort. I want to see Him. I want to experience the birth of Him just as I experienced the birth of my own babies. I want that squalling infant in my arms, protesting  injustice and chosen blindness with each tear and clenched fist. I want to whisper into His tiny little ear how much I love him, knowing His love in turn.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

Bono

Our Clamoring Silence

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Your silence will not protect you.
Audre Lorde

As some of you may have noticed I took some time off from the blog. I continued to write and fill pages in my notebook each new day, but I had to remove myself, evaluating my words and my efforts.  I wasn’t sure what else to say. I was, and continue to be, in a constant state of reaction as I am baffled by the state of our nation and world, wondering how much we can handle before it all snaps. And in these times we have to stagger our breathing. We have to care for our souls, bodies, relationships, tending to our greater purposes.

This past year has rendered anyone who pays attention confused, concerned, overwhelmed. The cost of remaining informed is high. Those of us who want to make the world better are tired and disturbed. It’s been a long year. The threat to the goodness and well-being of creation continues unabated. The onslaught of head shaking injustice purported in the name of power, greed, wealth is incomprehensible. And the moral gymnastics contorting faith-based institutions and leaders to align with a political party is staggering.

In this season of church planting and discovering what it means to pastor I am pitched midway upon a steep learning curve, one that demands I accept who I am and what I can handle. This curve has me in its grip of vulnerability as I lean into places that invite me to show up, to speak my mind, to share my experience. Oftentimes I would prefer to stay to myself, to keep quiet, to listen, and take copious notes, but this is not that season. That season has passed. My learning now demands I speak aloud. My learning now involves risk and potential mistakes, trusting in what I know and admitting what I don’t.

My silence serves no-one in this stage. My silence is merely an excuse to shield myself.

And in this world in which we exist, our silence serves no-one. Our silence is merely an excuse to shield ourselves.

While choosing silence in the face of controversy can bring comfort in the short term, oftentimes choosing silence in our culture today equals complicity.

Today’s ever-present power differentials within America are acute, emanating from the grimy mist of Washington and Hollywood and everywhere in between. The eye opening, yet unsurprising movements of #MeToo and #ChurchToo reveal the sickness of male power and the reckoning that begs to be brought to completion, that begs to tear asunder the notion that we are beholden to men as our leaders, spiritual and otherwise. And our rampant racism that begs to call into account the fall out from our nation’s founding built on the back of slave and indigenous populations.

Peeling back the layers of injustice is painstaking and time consuming, while also rewarding and enduring. Each seed dropped, planted, watered is a contribution to the holistic betterment of our society. Our personal shifts in perspective the equivalent of recovery’s first step – admitting there’s a problem and our powerlessness as we are. The work is long and as people of faith, as people of conscience, as people of love and justice we will plow forward with better questions, believing the victims, celebrating the truth-telling, and upending the complicit structures to become a nation great for all.

When the world is tilted in the favor of a small fraction of folks, no-one wins. No-one knows equity. No-one knows equality. There is a misogynist and white supremacist power differential that must be reckoned with before we can entitle all humanity to one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And if we choose denial and self-serving righteousness we will continue to stumble along in the murky darkness that is the American Dream.

Since we are all in this life together we are each equal beneficiaries of the American ideal along with everyone else –

not just Christians.

not just men.

not just white.

not just straight.

not just cis-gender.

not just abled.

not just housed.

not just landowners.

not just those with 401k’s and health insurance and well-paying jobs.

When my privilege is leveraged, my power is evened. My hand reaches down to pull up my brothers and sisters, the American Dream now realized. We are as good, as full, as abundant, as righteous as our society’s most vulnerable. Our generosity to one another is key – seeing one another, examining the inner workings of systems keeping certain people in power, while keeping other people down.

There is no longer room for silence. We have to speak – clear, united, shaky – honoring our knowing voices, our truth-telling voices. The time is now, voices ringing together for truth and equity, love and compassion, ferocious for justice.

Breathe On

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“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Rachel Carson

My daughter and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend for a quick visit to see my brother. We were greeted with a cold that sinks into the bones. A cold that delivers to the layers of down and wool a knowing wink as it passes straight to the marrow. Huddling and chattering around paper cups of hot cocoa, we shivered our way through the city, including the architectural boat tour. The stunning Chicago riverfront a respite from the freeze. Autumn was in full display – crunchy leaves and overcast skies lent our visit a warm hue to color our memories.

On the return flight, I learned my window seat companion was en route to Montana to meet up with buddies for a hunting trip. He, a resident of Pennsylvania, had never been west of Ohio. I tend to be one of those people on the airplane. I like to pass the flight, chatting about this and that, learning and listening to stories. Mike’s and my time together was entertaining as we perused the flight map and traced the arced line to determine our general location. I’m not much help in these situations. I guessed we were somewhere over Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska.

Anticipating his first view of the Rockies, he inquired about each and every dirt hill across the patchwork of farmland. I answered with expertise that the mountains would be obvious.

Once the peaks came into view his excitement was uncontainable, for this was his first time in twenty-seven years to witness snow covered peaks. He asked why I didn’t tell him they were so amazing. I shrugged. Words can do no justice, I said

The wonder upon his discovery was infectious. For me, flying into Denver, the view is nice but the mountains are small and distant and everything is brown this time of year. It was nice to try on his lens for awhile, to view the landscape from his perspective.

I needed his wonder for I am finding myself desensitized. As a person who seeks information and understanding, striving to respond, I realize with our current news cycle that wonder, awe, expectation have become collateral damage. This is a tragedy.

Tuesday’s attack on Manhattan barely shocked me. I was sad and hurting for the community, but the news wasn’t surprising. Has this level of violence become commonplace? Are we supposed to now accept trucks running down pedestrians and high-powered rifles spraying crowds?

I asked my daughter for her thoughts. She shrugged and said: This is the world we live in. It’s been going on my whole life. True.This is her life. This is all of our lives.

But I’m not ready to accept this as reality. I’m not ready for this to be my normal. I’m not okay with ignorance.

Just as I want to be awed by season changes and beauty in nature and snowcapped peaks, I want to remain shocked by events such as this.

But it’s every day. And I’m tired. My body, mind, and heart are not designed to consume this much information. The news is unrelenting, but I will not claim ignorance. I cannot claim ignorance.

As a teenager and college student I participated in choir and band. One of the techniques we employed to collectively carry a long tone, longer than our lungs allowed, was staggered breathing. Through negotiation and planning, my neighboring musicians and I would consult one another to determine where we could each breathe without disrupting the larger sound. This accomplished two things. One, I didn’t faint in my attempt to support the greater good. And two, the tone remained strong and healthy, aware, uninterrupted.

We have to learn how to stagger our breath. We have to protect our souls, our minds, our relationships, our communities. We protect by working together, by employing our neighbors to be on when we need to be off. We have to protect our shock and outrage, reacting as needed to injustice, abuse, and lies. We have to protect our wonder, our hope, and our generosity toward our neighbors, supporting the larger community through our wholeness.

The fight against cynicism and nihilism and numbing is real. These days are overloaded – a new crisis, a new normal, a new baseline all clamoring for our apathy. I don’t want to settle for this. My faith and my conscience won’t let me. But the fatigue is ever-present and we are being asked as a decent and loving people to endure more than we are capable.

Who are our trusted friends? Who are our fellow travelers and breath staggerers in this resistance movement for decency and hope?

We cannot afford apathy.

We must persist for joy and goodness.

Mike, my airplane neighbor, upon witnessing the snow capped Rocky Mountain peaks for the first time was reverent and grateful. He could not contain his excitement as his infectious awe melted my accustomed heart. His wonder drew a tear to my eye, a reminder of my tremendous need to claim hope.

The goodness of the world demands our rest and our fight, our outrage and our peace. Through renewal, we can stand firm and refreshed in our convictions. Through sharing the load by staggering our breathing, we can protect wonder and awe and beauty.

Breathe on friends.

A Cacophony of Colors

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Photo credit: Claire Jepsen

 

“In every change, in every falling leaf there is some pain, some beauty. And that’s the way new leaves grow.”
Amit Ray

The trees out my window are all the acceptable autumn hues – crimson and golden and the unturned green. The sky is the bluest of Colorado blues. A bird with pink breast settles upon a branch on one of the two already naked trees, purveying the scene below. Squirrels scamper over and across, leaping through the crackling foliage, gathering and storing. Nature summons me outdoors before it’s too late.

Change in process – scenes of nature in dynamic flux. Always in flux. There is but a moment to take a breath before another change asserts itself.

I am departing a slow season. One where days stretched and answers were slow. Voices prattled about productivity and worth and earning one’s keep, tricking the mind. The slow seasons are important, crucial – a still space to learn the rhythms of grace, to hone imperfect patience, to shore up defenses in preparation for the call that will not relent. The slow seasons seem long, but when the go ahead is given, no amount of slow can prepare for the good and abundant and frenetic activity that befalls.

These years of staying home as mom offered me the luxury of focusing on the kids and myself. I had other things here and there that fulfilled me, while knowing I was doing the good work of raising the next generation and caring for our home. But now, here I sit, on the cusp of starting and pastoring a church. It’s a lot and it’s everything. It’s all the good things.

And so, all of a sudden, the season has shifted. A gust of wind and the leaves are gone, we now await the snow. Quiet days while the kids attend school have now morphed into meetings and deadlines and phone calls and emails in a few short days. The onramp feels like it never existed. The runway shortened. What happened?

We think we know what to expect when the shift happens. We think we’ve anticipated and planned and yearned enough that the discomfort of the adjustment is abated. But no. In all my years living this life I can’t think of one thing that went as I expected.

As a One on the Enneagram I carry a permanent expectation of perfection. I believe there is an ideal way to execute most things (well, really, all things). Parenting, marriage, relationships, life all bear a weight that I carry. I must do it perfectly. And when the myth is busted, I believe the lie. I assume it’s my fault. I’m deficient. I’m broken.

Growth isn’t pretty. Growth hurts. I go to the gym three times a week and I’m always dealing with an annoying twinge. I always have sore muscles and tired legs. I’m not injured, I’m just uncomfortable, yet I’m growing stronger. I feel it when I lift a bag of chicken feed or I hug my kid tight. I feel it when I run and I am held together. I feel it when I have a rest day and I return and everything is easier. Growth hurts, but is so rewarding.

I am gonna have to figure out how to be kinder to myself, how to roll and set aside the notion of any perfection. It’s such a myth. There is no best way to do anything. We do what we do how we do it, with our foibles and failures, our wins and successes. This is all we are guaranteed.

A church is getting planted. It is happening, sooner than we can be prepared for, I’m sure. But you know what? Isn’t this where we all want to be? In a place where we’re met, where God greets us in our odd and messy humanity, in our mixed motivations, and ideal expectations. Trust is hard. It’s easy to get antsy, to take matters into our own hands and finagle outcomes. But I’m not sure that’s the best way.

The season of wait is a great teacher. There isn’t much forcing you can do and there sure isn’t much you can control. Patience and courage and honesty are forged in the fires of wait. The exact ingredients one needs when life ramps up.

Just as the seasons shift, the beauty shifts, too. And each new season is met with anticipation – changing leaves, first snow, springtime flowers, late night barbecues. And each season has its hassles – brown stalks, frozen pipes, muddy dogs, hot nights. We can focus on the pain or we can focus on the gains.

Or we can focus, as we often do, on a little bit of both.

 

When We Were Girls

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The Church says: the body is a sin.

Science says: the body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

Typing, I observe my hands, unadorned but for a gold band to mark the years of marriage and life together. I now must wear reading glasses, viewing anything closer than the length of my outstretched arm is tricky. My jeans are a size bigger than I’d prefer, they bag and sag at the right places, allowing freedom of movement. I began coloring my hair, the gray decided to make its entrance post-election, while in the throes of parenting at peak teenager-dom. My face is lined, normal for a Colorado-dwelling 45 year-old. I could do something to smooth over the hard-earned etches, but I hate making appointments.

I gaze at my face in the mirror, picking and pulling at this and that. The person staring back surprises me, for I half expect a young girl to be reflected. How is it that I’m the one to make important decisions and raise teenagers and be married for nearly a quarter of a century? Surely these benchmarks are for someone far more qualified than I. While in my heart and mind I feel young, all I have to do is look down at my legs or my hands to be reminded I am on the better side of middle age.

But as I look down at my legs and hands I am grateful for this body, this container I have. We’ve been through some tumultuous times and I am now able to appreciate her generosity, her adaptability. I was gifted a healthy, sturdy form. She carries me where I need to go, she’s a hard worker and creative, preparing me well for birthing and rearing babies. She is of good stock.  Health and old age abound within her lineage, although possibly shortened some by that pesky Diet Coke habit.

As my shape began to shift, around the age of ten or eleven, I took meticulous inventory before the wide bathroom mirror. I resisted and lamented as thighs rounded and breasts formed. I was never one of those girls that longed for womanhood. I was afraid. I wanted to remain young, carrying the shape of a child – undefined, vertical, edged. For in becoming round, I knew I was vulnerable, threatened. Body now rendered noticeable, open for criticism, available for critique, fair game for commentary.

This week, the news from Hollywood and the legislation from Washington has me reliving this vulnerability. As women emerge with firsthand testimony about abuse and assault, subjected by a man and his lackeys who carried power over dreams, careers, bodies, I am reminded once again our bodies are not revered. Our bodies are not to be managed by us.

These egregious actions and decisions remind us our bodies are threatened. For when one of us is violated, we are all violated, knowing we each are equally at risk. No industry is loyal to us. We know deep, down to the core of our marrow that we are the target, fair game for scrutiny at best and physical violation at worst.

And even at 45 my body is still fair game. I still feel vulnerable. I still feel the eyes. I’m still that young girl checking every new crease and bump for signs of failure or success. My body is my scoreboard, the points marked across each dimple and exposed rib, across the stretched lines from the babies to the wrinkles on my hands. We have been conditioned to believe our bodies are our currency, our bodies are our measure of success, our bodies are our ticket to approval.

And I wonder, with the amount of time trying to beat my body into submission through relentless exercise and poor nourishment and hate-filled thoughts, what toll has this taken?

Yet through it all as I learn my body and her generous offerings, my deep appreciation grows. She leads our reunification after the divorce which commenced upon the rounding. She teaches me about the gut rumble, the sixth sense, an alert to something amiss. She forgives for choosing carrots over hamburgers, for selecting a run over a rest day. I make efforts at peace, offering her kindness, consideration, listening, regard. I offer up reassurance of my mutual commitment to our reconciliation through pants that don’t pinch, through mammograms, and long showers. I wear makeup and walk, I smell flowers and hug my children, I lift weights and no longer push through pain. I am heeding her call toward anger and righteous causes. I know she means it when she prods me forward despite my insecurity and sweaty palms. She knows. My body knows my deepest desires.

And no relationship is perfect. The gold band on my fourth finger reminds me of this fact. Yet through forgiveness and reconciliation we – my body and I – continue to press forward.

To my fellow women – I must confess to you my comparisons and measurements. Forgive me. I admire you and I have been unfair. I tried to make deals. I wanted to swap my body for yours. I assumed you were faster, thinner, healthier, happier. But through respecting my own body, I respect yours, I honor yours. May we stand firm together, in appreciation and generosity to ourselves. May we protect one another from the powers that seek to divide. May we link arms, affirming our fearfully and wonderfully made forms, giving thanks for all we’ve been entrusted.

The Best Stories

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“The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”                               – C.G. Jung

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Monday’s dreary chill was an appropriate backdrop to process the horrific events in Las Vegas. The clouds hung low, allowing for the pain and sadness, the questions and pressing hopelessness to run their course. I walked slow with the dog, taking moments to slump over for tears, stopping to look up at the changing foliage to witness the ebb and flow of seasons, the ebb and flow of grief. Such lessons in timelessness are helpful in these vast events of nonsensical human suffering.

Our park is busy, but not on days such as this. I took my chances, let Clem off-leash. She darted and bounded, an appropriate response after a long, slow weekend. After the park loop, I reattached her leash for a neighborhood loop. A familiar friend approached on the path, my neighbor Tony. He was alone, which is unusual, for he and his wife chat up the ‘hood pointing out where our cats were last seen while sharing collected tidbits from recent strolls. His glasses were fogged and his raincoat drippy, with a spring in his step accompanied by a thick and jovial, everlasting New York accent.

We stopped in the street, as neighbors do. He asked how I was after I inquired of his wife and her pained knee. His gentleness caused my face to fold in. After choking on my answer, his ready compassion encompassed me in a fierce embrace, partnered with a bonus kiss on the cheek and generous, kind words of hope. We walked the circuit and I hugged him again, so very grateful for a kind ear and a ready, welcome soul.

The divisions are running long and thick through our communities. But our stories bind us, our compassionate responses will heal these growing rifts.  Our stories send us into the tension, an uncomfortable tension that if we allow, will refine and renew. The tension will make us better as we dwell within the questions and seek the best answers. But we don’t like the unknown. We fear the uncertain. We eschew the uncomfortable. And so to deal with the frustration of not having ready answers we succumb to stereotype, bias. We choose issues over people. We choose progress over persons.

Later that evening, Eric and I attended a debate of our city’s mayoral candidates. My socks were not knocked off with excitement, but I know the importance of involvement in local politics. I know my sense of powerlessness comes from waiting on Washington, rather than participating in the soil of my own community, seeking change from the ground up. I listened, open-minded, seeking information about the concerns that press an expanding town. The issues were discussed, issues of homelessness and development, affordable housing and water. The nuts and bolts of a community hashed and rehashed with obvious care and concern.

But, when we paint with the broad brush and reduce our communities to a series of issues, rather than a collection of humans, we lose the color, the spark, the intricacies, the detail. We forget that the people are truly what make our towns and cities and neighborhoods great. When we align ourselves with issues, we lose the spectrum of humanity. We ascribe to binary thinking: good vs bad, right vs wrong, holy vs evil. Yet, when we learn the people, their stories, their situations, their strengths, and their shortcomings we no longer can paint with wide, sweeping motions. No, we have to fine tune, zero in, color in with specific detail.

And absolutely none of this is comfortable. None of this helps us lay our heads on our pillows with glee at the end of a long day. When we consider people over issues, we know the name of the guy on the street corner who doesn’t get a warm, cozy bed. We know the name of the family who just lost their healthcare. We know the name of the young man whose father is being deported next month. We know the name of the transgender teen. We know the name of the daughter gunned down in Las Vegas.

People are messy. But you cannot convince me that I should be anywhere else.

If Tony had written me off Monday, in my grief, as some white lady with too much time on her hands, I would’ve been dehumanized, made less than. I needed him. I needed him to see me, to hug me, to hear me. It didn’t require much, just a stroll around a block and a kind word. We must resist the temptation to categorize, to sort people into groups. I know it’s so easy, cleans things up, gives us space to be. I fight it and fail every single day, but I recognize my tendency and therefore hope for personal reform.

People are people to be seen, to be heard, to be honored in their unique, messy, remarkable stories, stories that involve mothers and fathers, children and siblings. Stories with sordid detail and odd facts. Each person has a story to be revered.

May we listen well, help where we can, and love through our attention to detail, filling in the beautiful, precious landscape of a life.

A Pair of Opportunists

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It’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.
Mary Oliver

My sister and I were opportunists. We knew what we wanted. We knew how to justify, to determine if our particular choices were going to get us into trouble. We were good girls with a penchant for seizing the perfect moment, that moment to make the ask, to take the risk. And with twenty-one months between us, we shared most things – clothes, rooms, friends. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it didn’t. We knew about each other’s misdeeds and promptly tattled and told, a way to even the playing field and not let one get ahead of the other. Justice was our commodity. Equality our language. There was nothing unequal about our existence. All things meted out to the fraction.

Julie and Jenny were not troublemakers for the sake of being troublemakers, we were opportunists. At the grocery store, while our mom was preoccupied with the little brothers and checking out weekly foodstuffs for a large family on a budget, we would pilfer through the bags of peanuts piled underneath the bulk chocolate candies. Stuffing our mouths full of the renegade pieces offered our sweet toothed cravings a respite.

Another notable moment, while waiting outside for a parent who ran into Kmart “real quick”, Julie and Jenny waited for an unsuspecting mother to add her change to the carousel’s coin bank. As the most-fortunate-child-for-whom-carousel-rides-were-purchased  chose the best of three little ponies, Julie and I claimed the other two and rode on the shocked mother’s dime. We were not rebellious but we were opportunistic.  If our parent’s weren’t going to purchase chocolate candies in bulk or carousel rides at Kmart, we were going to figure it out for ourselves.

I often wonder if we were stealing. Were we wrong? No-one said anything, except our parents upon discovery, but that didn’t seem to stop us the next time when we exercised our opportunities with the other parent.

I’m not sure how I would feel if my children were pilfering loose candy or snagging free rides, but the other horses were not occupied, the candy was headed to the trashcan.  Why not?

We’ve been a supposed even-steven society, probably since our inception, a nation presumed best built upon each person pulling their weight and not sucking the system. The problem with this definition of collective equality is the fact that many do not start from the same starting line, and depending upon skin color, gender, sexuality, ability, the starting line looks very different.

The work of grace is nonsensical and unfair. Grace says it’s all good. The first is last and last is first. Grace is about boys who squander wealth and opportunity and in a last-ditch-effort, return home with tail tucked between legs to a father that runs to greet and a fattened calf to boot. Grace, the language of God, is nonsensical to our rational and opportunity-driven selves.

The disparities are legion in this nation – from healthcare to education, immigration to wealth.  We who are in the power position oftentimes believe people with less are lazy or selfish, opportunistic, when in fact, we are each a touch away from being accused of the same thing. My mental health is intact (for now) because of my physiology and financial resources. My physical health is intact (for now) because of insurance and access to nutritious foods and medication and a gym membership and genetics. My relational health is intact because of counseling and the opportunity to have time to work things out. I have so much privilege and so many resources, but this is not true for all.

The candy was gonna get thrown out. The horses were gonna go around with or without Julie and Jenny on them. We do not have to live in the notion of scarcity. If we all can give a little and hold a lot less tight to our stuff and our comfort I bet we would discover something to pass around.

I know it’s hard right now. We are nervous with a kid wanting to go to college, and then another, and another. A third set of braces, house payments, a small business to run and employees to cover. Health insurance payments are high and income doesn’t always cut it, but we are warm and well-fed. We are clothed and housed. We have cars and furniture, a full pantry and pets. There are many without the same amenities and many who need a just a boost.

With the recent spate of hurricanes, fires, floods, I wonder what small sacrifice I can make with my money, my time, or another untapped resource I might have. I wonder if there’s someone that comes to mind, someone in my immediate vicinity that needs me to take a risk – small or large, it doesn’t matter. If we give what is in our hearts to give, the amount that settles into our bones, the thought that presses late at night and early in the morning. Give that, give what the gut says, what the heart reveals. There’s no guilt here, just opportunity. We aren’t in the earning game, we’re in the giving game.

Grace and love and mercy are poured upon us freely – what can we freely give?

I’m Not so Sure

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My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons mixed into my poetry, and it still always tastes funny in my mouth.
Sarah Kay

In what feels like a lifetime ago I completed an Ironman. The accomplishment was great and I relished the day, supported by family and friends, surrounded by well wishers and fellow competitors. I did well by personal standards, ate, drank, managed heart rate, and expectations. All in all I was pleased and grateful.

Afterwards I had many conversations with fellow athletes also in the planning or training phases. It felt good to share my hard earned wisdom that traversed the expanse from parenting young children and staying married while exhausted from training, to nutrition, and equipment, and race day awareness. It felt good to be a bit of an expert on something.

The funny conversations, though, were the ones with men. I never minded them, in fact I found them to be rather enjoyable. One, in particular, stood out. He’s someone from my triathlon world. We would see each another on occasion, at the pool or a race. He was everything Ironman. And he talked everything Ironman. Our note-comparing chats were an affirming way to validate our mutual accomplishments. But I noticed something. He inflated his experience and I deflated mine. Hearing him wax on about his races, I thought for certain he was far speedier than I. Upon stalking checking results, I discovered I had an hour on the guy.

This is deeply concerning. I recognize this tendency to downplay my accomplishments, particularly as I step into the world of pastors, a world occupied in large majority by men. I assume my experiences or gifts or desires are less than, incomplete.

The Atlantic magazine, tackling this concern, ran an article in the May 2014 issue, entitled “The Confidence Gap”, co-authored by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Women tend to underestimate our ability on a consistent basis, including, on average, requesting and receiving less pay than men. Women can tend to believe accomplishments, such as awards and promotions, are attributed to luck. I consider this with somber gravity, for imagine the wisdom and knowledge the world hasn’t received from women that it desperately needs to know.

I am saddened by this and I am saddened by my inability to accept and speak what I know due to a perceived lack of confidence. But there are a few things I believe to be absolutely true, that I can proclaim with sincere certainty.

As a Christian I am sure about few things beyond my job to love others as I love myself, and doing justice and loving kindness and walking in humility with God.

As a parent, I am sure about few things beyond my job to work myself out of a job. Providing the kids with opportunities while also encouraging their own choices to make things happen because it’s who they are, what they want, not what I want. It’s not all about me.

As a friend, I am sure about few things beyond my job to listen, to be present and decent  and mutual. I trust them and they me. I seek to learn and listen and regard our relationship and I believe they will do the same as they are able.

As a partner, committed to a life and marriage, I am sure about few things beyond my job to claim ownership of my issues and poor responses. We mutually consider the other with gratitude and strive to keep disagreements short and contained – sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. I am no expert. I know what I know from mistakes, failures, and wild successes.

As a local and national citizen I am sure about few things beyond respecting climate and human dignity through challenging unjust systems and hate. I do not consider it my responsibility to tell another who to worship, what to protest, or how to express oneself.

As a pastor, as a leader in the faith community, I am sure about few things beyond providing a place that offers respite and relief, demonstrating the love of Jesus to our greater community, and partnering with others in the good work of love, grace, mercy, compassion, justice. I long to work together to bring goodness and life and light into the darkness of injustice, fear, dehumanization, loneliness, and systemic violence.

And as a human, I am sure about few things beyond gratitude, U2, and IPA’s.

I suspect I will never have the unabashed confidence of my triathlon friend. It would be nice, but I don’t think it would work for me. There’s something to be said for humility, not a false humility, but one that recognizes I don’t have all the answers and I’m not willing to pretend. If I don’t know something with absolute and assured confidence, I will admit it.  If I do know something, I hope I trust my instincts, speak up, and offer my unapologetic knowledge. I think I will. I hope you do too.

For we need our voices to rise up, now more than ever.

The Second Time Around

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Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
– J.K. Rowling

It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I was allowed to get my ears pierced. I was not a rebellious sort, eager to please and keep peace, so this was not something I challenged or fought against. An adult friend with a piercing gun came over one day after school and pierced my sister’s and my ears. Julie went first. She was the most devoted and probably still wears earrings to this day. I have found jewelry to be a nuisance, along with makeup, and wear little of both.

When our friend placed the gun to my first ear, I know I was scared. But the second ear was worse. I lurched. Upon close examination, one will recognize the unevenness of the holes in my empty, pierced earlobes.

I knew too much the second time around.

Childbirth was the same. Once I hit the hard stuff with my second, my daughter, I remembered. I remembered transition and pushing, recalling the desperate sensations from the first time around.

Same with all my marathons.

It’s funny how we forget pain, physical or emotional, it doesn’t matter. We forget the sharpness, the edge. Somehow it gets fuzzy and glossed over in the romantic remembrances, particularly when the pain results in a positive outcome like childbirth or upon completion of a long, trained-for endeavor.

But, I do believe this second-time-around pain is powerful, particularly when we are able to walk with another through their suffering.  Second-time-around pain is our chance to identify, to expand in kindness, to offer another a remarkable sense of presence and compassion, providing respite and relief.

Our ability to love through empathy is perhaps our greatest human calling. The products of connection, compassion, consolation through the work of our imaginative extrapolation is extraordinary. There is no need for us to recreate our own pain, our own exact experience to be able to empathize. We seek to understand, we wonder, we feel. We bear the weight through our proximity and our sought understanding.

Furthermore, I believe empathy is our greatest Christian calling.

I have wrestled to the ground the idea of Christianity. What does it mean to be a Christian beyond religion, beyond the system? What is collective Christianity when it isn’t tied to empire or Republican Party? What is Christianity beyond a practice that gathers people on Sunday mornings?

What is Christianity if we cannot translate our experience into truly loving everyone?

What is the point?

I’m not so sure how I feel about the idea of Jesus dying on the cross just for my sins. I think it’s a fine idea and I’m grateful, but I’m not so sure God needed this to love me. In fact, I hope God didn’t need this gruesome experience to love me, to love the world. I think God loves the world because God loves the world. I think God loves me because God loves me. This is God being God. It’s pretty fantastic in my book.

So, why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus resurrect? I think, it’s because Jesus had to experience that pain, so he could then return and identify with us in ours. Jesus is the ultimate vehicle for connection and compassion and consolation.

Whenever I feel the sting a second time around, it moves me. I cry. I want to make it better. I want to take away my friend’s suffering, too. I remember what my experience was and it hurts me to see them hurt.

This is empathy. This is understanding, a related feeling that I have in my viscera, a sting, a pressure, a pain.

Never can I relate in full, but I can try. Never can I immerse myself in another’s experience, but I can try. This again is our greatest human offering –  empathy through compassion, tenderness, love.

And imagine with me, this Jesus who proclaimed His love for us. God who proclaimed Her love for us. Imagine an identification, imagine not just an empathy, but a felt and whole sensation of our suffering and our unrelenting grief. Imagine this – that the God of the Universe knows all, feels all, holds all. This is made possible because the first time around was complete, terror-laden but complete.

She knows.

He knows.

Christianity, for me, needs to be simplified, bare-bones, relatable. We make it so hard to achieve, attaching rules and performance evaluations and expectations. It’s simple, friends. It’s about love – and it starts and ends with empathy, with compassion, with tenderness, with knowing.

I am a Christian, not because of how I voted, for that indicates nothing. I am a Christian because I am committed to bearing the wounds of another in my body. I am a Christian because I am committed to honoring another’s pain in my body. I am a Christian because I know how remarkably I am loved and I cannot help but love, in kind.

Second-time-around pain is our super power.

Onward.