For the Bible Tells Me So?

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The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody…He obeys the attractions of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel a big, warm, interior glow.

—Thomas Merton

I have a harried relationship with the Bible. For years it was my penance, to repair the damage I had done in the name of sin and selfishness. I read and re-read, outlining and highlighting, learning and re-learning the concepts encapsulated across the tissue papery pages. I was an earnest sort, longing to know and experience God through seeking, earning my keep, and serving well. The bibles of my childhood, from the Children’s New International Version (NIV) with depictions of white Jesus, to my current copy of the NIV Study Bible, all hold a history of yearning and reaching, but never arriving.

But to be honest with you, the Bible had less to do with personal freedom and more to do with maintaining my purity and trust, while awaiting some grandiose revelation that would finally release me from the relentless searching and longing. I found scripture dull at best and condemning at worst. The Beatitudes were the most problematic as I crafted ways to exit myself from the privilege of my American life, to fit the desired but narrow definition of #blessed.

In response, I set my Bible aside. I couldn’t read the words anymore while measuring my worth against the assumed and tired prescriptions. I needed to know my relationship with the God of the Universe did not hinge on my interpretation and my effort and my choice of Bible study. I needed a hermeneutic (the lens through which scripture is interpreted) that carried love, grace, mercy, and hope across the pages, with room for doubt, questions, and freedom from fear. A God of Love, Generosity, and Abundance must overarch the words and the multitude of interpretations.

I am no theological scholar but I do listen to my body. When the Bible reading habit took a nosedive, my contemplative practice flourished. Through listening, writing, meditation, I have come to a deep reliance on my body’s knowing. My body tells me. When the divorce happened between our bodies and our brains, logic and reason became the gods. Logic and reason became the guiding forces for how we express our faith, how we understand Scripture, how we move about in the world. Logic and reason are wholly inadequate, taking me down a path of binaries, with no room for the middle spaces. When life is reduced to good or bad, sinful or holy, right or wrong we lose beauty, we lose hope. I may never accomplish a bullet-pointed exegesis of Scripture, but I will be able to tell you if something doesn’t seem right, and I will search until I find the answer that settles my gut.

Regardless of how we determine truth, and it is individual and unique for each of us, we must hold Scripture with kid gloves, exercising our responsibilities with great care, bathed in a deep well of humility. Many (most) people have been irreparably harmed and traumatized by inaccurate and harmful teaching. If our greatest work is to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves we may have to separate ourselves from scripture until we can view it through a lens of love, generosity, and abundance. We need to let go of the fear that our faith, our salvation is somehow in jeopardy if we do release our presumed understanding.

But, if we believe in a God that is a God of grace, we have room, ample amounts of room to seek and consider and re-consider. We have room to reform our assumptions and reframe our previous and unhelpful narratives.

It’s an interesting thing now to be writing and preaching sermons. And when you write and preach sermons in a Christian church context, it’s rather important to use Scripture. Who knew?

As I move into this new task of preaching, I pray I hold the heft of the responsibility with the gravitas it deserves. I know I will make mistakes. I know I will misinterpret. But, if through generous humility I make my aim to relay the abundant Love of Christ, I think I’ll be okay.

May we let go of the things that hinder us in experiencing the weight of God’s incredible Love. None of us can know what there is to know. May we find rest and peace in listening to the still, almost silent voice, inviting us into full and abundant renewal, even if it means releasing our stubbornest assumptions.

Kids These Days

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I know the world is done
But you don’t have to be
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the lights
Hold on

There is a light
We can’t always see
If there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

-“13” U2

Are you tough enough to be kind?

Do you know your heart has its own mind?

Darkness gathers around the lights.

I’m watching the children. The children are leading us these days. My kids are consistently perplexing and impressing me. I will admit things are not always rosy and wonderful in our home, but oftentimes it is a result of me being too set in my own ways, too set to follow their lead and challenge my own motivations and expectations. Sometimes they deserve my correction, but sometimes they don’t and I realize it is my turn to learn, to listen, to follow.

Watching our kids makes my neck hurt. In an instant, their ways can be odd and nonsensical, baffling – yet in the next they assume a level of responsibility entirely unbeknownst to me at their ages. They are brilliant. They are resourced. They are these incredible people that I get to watch become in their own right.

Our children are the lights. These kids from Parkland, FL – the next day after witnessing friends and teachers die – are leading us, calling out the adults, telling us to do something. And if we won’t, they will. Our kids marching and protesting and calling our lawmakers to accountability and action. Our kids want to be in school. Our kids want to learn and hang with their friends and participate in activities.

I thought I would take it on myself, just after Parkland, to organize a march. I soon realized as more stories emerged that the kids had it handled. The kids know best right now. And as a mother, an adult, a pastor I will undergird them. I will offer my encouragement and my awe, for they are to be regarded and heard.

Our lights have attracted the darkness. Hate mongering persists, criticism and threat of our lights because of a presumed loss of freedom due to threat of gun loss. Children are dying. Children are dying in their schools and the adults feel threatened because they might lose some high powered weapons.

I’m baffled.

My work is to elevate the lights for they are the brilliant ones these days. The ones who can still see. The ones who feel. The ones who haven’t been corrupted for comfort and payouts. The ones with the threatened future. I’m living in my future. Theirs is before them. Or, at least it should be.

The darkness is so thick and our only release is the speaking out, the activism, the protest march, the walking out. I understand. I am undergirding and I am encouraging. I am standing by waiting for instruction, following the lights.

My senator received over three-million dollars from the NRA. My representative, nearly a million. I hear that that doesn’t matter. They say it’s a drop in the collective bucket of donations. If so, why don’t they walk away? Why don’t they follow the lights?

Few of us have access to that many bucket drops.

I’ll be marching when it’s appropriate, but until I’m encouraging my kids and I’m listening to them. They don’t say a lot. I don’t have a chatty bunch, particularly the boys, but I know it weighs heavy – the drills, the news reports, the conversations. None of this is lost on them. None of it is lost on me.

Our hearts know the right thing. Our hearts feel the weight, the pressure, the pain. We need release and as my heart pulsates deep in my gut, I will allow the anger to build, to inform, to lead me. And right now this mama and pastor must protect and preserve our lights, our kids, advocating and showing up wherever they insist upon shining.

As they protest in righteous, holy anger, those of us who’ve lost our spark, we can follow their light. We can attach ourselves to their energy, inspired by their life, leveraging our resources, platforms, and solutions to promote and elevate their brilliance. We can stand behind them when they speak, carry their snacks and jackets while they march. We can tell our friends and advocate on their behalf. We can vote and call and show up. We can provide safe spaces for their plans, grief, questions.

May we step aside as our children shine bright and pave the way. May we recognize that we had our chance. Let’s let the kids lead. They seem to know better than the rest of us these days.

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

On Smiling…or not

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Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.
― Greta Garbo

I smile a lot. I was told in high school as a freshman by a junior girl who I admired that she liked my smile. So, I took that as a cue to keep smiling. I don’t smile just for smiling’s sake, nor do I smile at the expense of my authenticity. My face reflects my insides on a consistent basis.

Now that I’ve entered this new world of pastors and churches I often wonder if my smile is a detriment to my professional life. As I enter the world of men I think maybe my smile diminishes my offering, my strength. I wonder if I’m written off as “just a mom” or as friendly, or sweet, or hospitable by the people who don’t know me well.

It’s a concern I have more than I’d like to admit. I wonder if my doctor takes me seriously, or my boys, or fellow pastors. I wonder if my smile reduces me to cute, not worthy of being heard. I wonder how many women believe they must play nice in order to be loved, and smile to be regarded.

I like to work out at our local recreation center. The equipment and facility are fine, not as state-of-the-art as our neighborhood gym, but I like the intersectionality of the place. I like to cross paths with people I would not interact with in my everyday life.

I show up happy most days, depending on how much sleep I had the night before and what is being reported on NPR. One particular day I was excited to be there and saw some of my favorite folks. We bantered and shared a laugh. A man, who I didn’t recognize, walked over, stood before me encroaching my personal space and complimented my smile and said how much he enjoys my laugh.

In the past I would’ve made a silly, offhanded comment, but instead I offered a terse Thank you and carried on with my scheduled workout. I had no desire to cater to him or try to make him feel better. I just wanted him gone.

I’ve been working on listening to my gut. And in this space, as much as I love the people, there are a few I find suspect, who raise some intuitive red flags. Since the election, I find great difficulty in trusting older, white men until I get to know them. I wonder, with this particular man if my smile makes him feel better, if it makes him less uncomfortable around me.

I work hard when I exercise. I push heavy weights and oftentimes scowl into the mirror. A time or two I’ve been told to smile by other dudes, but I’m not sure how to repeatedly lift a 25 pound dumbbell into an overhead press without a scowl. I will not smile at the expense of my muscle mass.

There’s an odd dance I think women have to engage within to be heard and to function in our spaces. I’m recognizing how hard it is, deciphering on the fly what is needed in the moment. And my heart breaks realizing the number of years I spent trying to impress and placate men, while attempting to be liked, seen, and heard. I felt I needed to be small and cute so as not to be a threat, or to be named a bitch.

I like to write and preach from my scars not my wounds, as Nadia Bolz-Weber recommends. But sometimes things remain an open wound and they need to be discussed. I suspect the longer I operate in this world I will gain traction and learn and associate with men who are good and generous, but how many women have to compromise themselves to placate the males? And on this International Women’s Day I feel grief. This shouldn’t even be a thing.

I just want to be myself. I want all women to be themselves. I don’t want our size, shape, intelligence, talent, monetary worth, fashion selections, hair color, facial lines to be a liability. I want to smile and frown because it’s reflective of how I feel in the moment. I want to be me without catering to the people that feel uncomfortable. I want to show up as myself – sometimes happy, sometimes not. I want to demonstrate my ferocity as a woman, a mother, a pastor, as an advocate for people who need advocates. I want to be known as I am.

It might be a lot to ask. I don’t know. It’s still a wound, but I am committed to figuring it out – for our girls, our daughters, our sisters, and mothers.

So, on this International Women’s Day, smile if you want or don’t. It really shouldn’t matter.

Rivers of Joy

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“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

The three of us sat equidistant across the table from one another. It was our staff meeting – the last before we go full-time church. We stared back at each other over our meals, eyes wide, one of us dared to state the obvious: We are starting a church.

To anyone who has been reading this blog you know this is nothing new. This is not a current revelation. This church has been in the works for three years and we’ve had two “preview” services. This is real and it is happening and none of us are sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

But I can say with certainty, in the midst of our national pain and difficulty. In the midst of our desperation for what is true and right and good. In the midst of our search for hope, this church plant is the one thing that brings me life. Sure, I have kids and a good partner and friends. But the holy and hard-won work of getting this body born, as gut- wrenching and confusing as it has been, this good work is what brings relief.

After each of our two services thus far, both friends and new acquaintances alike stopped me with eyes wide: Church can be like this? I didn’t think I could go to church again.

This dearth of churches offering just and generous expressions of the gospel is a serious problem. When church is full of shame and shoulds, aligned with empire and politics, while failing to be a safe and welcome and inclusive place for anyone who walks through the doors, we have a serious problem.

I grew up attending Billy Graham’s Crusades. The first was in Spokane, WA when I was 10. My parents were involved, singing in the collective choir. I remember the endless on and on of “Just as I Am” as folks seeking salvation filed forward in droves. I found the spectacle fascinating and a true testament to the love and invitation of Jesus.

But I’m unsure how to feel about Graham now in light of his recent passing. I am not that same person. And I shouldn’t be. I’m a grown woman with a grown up faith. But I believe the evangelicalism of Billy Graham left us with a navel-gazing theology that tempts us to call our own salvation, our own cleanliness and holiness the pinnacle of our faith journey, inviting others to do the same. And while I know it is important to take inventory, to recognize where we are inconsistent and where our shortcomings harm those we love the most, I don’t believe this is the end of the road. I don’t believe we can hang our hats on some spiritual arrival. I am concerned we’ve reduced God to someone we must appease, striving for perfection. I’m concerned our Christianity has been reduced to a scarce either/or rather than an abundant both/and.

And now we are experiencing the ramifications of Billy Graham’s evangelicalism. We may have clean and forgiven souls while our society suffers. What about the pain in the world? What about the power differentials, the oppression, the systems of superiority? Is the church complicit because it’s been so engrossed in the confidence of personal piety?

As of last count, I asked God to save me eleven times. Contemplating a life of fiery torment due to normal bouts of greed, selfishness, gossip. I trembled in my bed imagining a world where demons lied in wait for my soul. I believed my good was never good enough. It was all about me. My efforts. My sin. My perfection. My holiness.

With our national climate of partisanship and tribalism, I wonder if focusing on our personal sin isn’t helping. What about the collective sin of our whiteness? Of our collective sins of heterosexism, patriarchy, and income inequality? Any time one group is oppressed at the benefit of another, pressed further into the muck of poverty and prejudice we must confess, repent, and seek a better way. A way of Love. A way of faithful generosity. A way of justice.

And this is why I believe in the church. I long to experience community so I can learn, grow, and participate in a life that works out of love. A life that seeks to find and dismantle the structures that oppress, the systems that prioritize superiority. I want a community that roots out systemic sin and calls it out, participating in the wonder of grace, generosity, justice.

And this is where the joy lies. This is where the joy flourishes – in the working together that results in equality, equity, and justice for all. May the Church lead in this.

I have no doubt Billy Graham was a good man. I think he did the best he could with what he knew and what he believed – what we all believed. I wonder what awareness came to him later in his life. I wonder what he knows now.

I am grateful, thrilled, in wonder at this new body we have in Left Hand Church. There are good things happening in Boulder County. And the greatest byproduct, the greatest gift is joy. True, untarnished joy.

Gentle Reminders

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With bread and wine you can walk your road.
Spanish Proverb

I’ve been experiencing many firsts. As my oldest gets ready to fly the coop and leave for college, I’m understanding how little influence I hold. And in my marriage as I assume greater responsibility outside the home, my role as homemaker and mother is ever-changing. And as I step into the role of pastor, the weightiness of the title and the gravity of the work humble me. Firsts of preaching and meetings and weddings send me to profuse sweating and nervous laughter, while filling me up in ways I could never have imagined.

And one of my greatest firsts happened this past weekend during our second “preview” service of this new Left Hand Church. I was the pastor to administer the sacrament of Communion.

At our church, just as in our sister, Highlands Church in Denver, our worship experience points to and culminates in the partaking together of bread and juice as the Body of Jesus. Growing up in the church, taking Communion was just what I did, it was expected and I did my best to partake with reverence and gratitude. Whether reverence and gratitude are required or not, it’s what I did. And while I have swallowed the elements hundreds of times, I have never offered them as a pastor.

In front of our new community, as I tore the soft, pungent Italian loaf into jagged halves, I broke.  I choked on the prepared words, moved deep by the symbolic act of breaking the body of Jesus. I was overwhelmed. And with the backdrop of a frigid winter evening, ice coating the sidewalks, eager faces across the pews, I broke. I broke with the weight of the joy and the weight of the gratitude and the weight of the hope found in this person, this remarkable human embodiment of God.

This broken body as bread, smelling delicious of comfort and wholeness and abundance. It was a holy and altogether too big moment.

For the past few months I’ve been co-leading a conversation group with mostly white people about race and privilege at The Refuge in Broomfield, CO. This past Sunday as we collectively lamented the enormity of the task of getting our people to notice the vicious systems of racism and patriarchy, our conversation was heavy and loaded, verging on despair.  The work is unrelenting, and once eyes are opened to the injustices and oppression many experience because of gender, sexuality, color, religion, documentation, ability – getting through some days without heavy burden is tricky.

Our group is comprised of local churchgoers and pastors, except for one, Sarah. As the churchgoers and pastors spiraled downward, Sarah punctuated the conversation with a definitive, “Hey, seems to me you all worship a guy named Jesus who was all about hope and disruption.”

She stopped me in my tracks. It took a moment but I eventually responded with an exhale of relief:

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

Her statement shook me, as I recalled what I once knew, but forgot.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we are reminded of the impermanence of our bodies, the shortness of our lives, the vastness of a God who loves us enough to embody our fallible humanity in the perfect Christ. May we stop firm in our tracks and surrender our despair. May we stop and surrender our self importance. May we stop and firmly place our questions, doubts, and certainty at the feet of the One who broke for us, who died for us, who rose for us.

We are not alone. Our suffering is never wasted. Our despair is never overlooked. And the gift of hope is held in Christ – in the delicious sustenance of a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet store-bought grape juice. Our ingestion of Jesus is the perfect and complete reminder that He dwells deep within, and we are recipients of grace and mercy, no matter what we do or don’t do.

As I travel down this path of firsts, with profuse sweat and nervous laughter, I pray to invite my own breaking – over and over. For in our breaking we can receive and we can know to the core of who we are that God Incarnate dwells within and among. Within our bodies, hearts, souls, and minds and, among our homes, relationships, communities, and systems.

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he sat in a room among his disciples to celebrate the annual Passover feast. He took bread, and after he gave thanks for it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat, and remember me.”

Later that same evening, he took the cup of wine. He held it up saying, “This wine is the blood of a new covenant — a promise for the redemption of all people. Take and drink, and remember me.”

Those Pesky Expectations

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My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.

[The Science of Second-Guessing (New York Times Magazine Interview, December 12, 2004)] ― Stephen Hawking

We find ourselves with a new puppy, a Goldendoodle we call Wilson. He’s the kind that pees on all the things and upends a home life in the way where everyone silently wonders if it was worth it (and by everyone, I mean the adults). We didn’t need a dog, I already had one, a perfect doodle named Clementine whose worst habit, aside from a stinky snout, is lying in the middle of the bedroom floor, tripping us up during the inconvenient middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. But the Clemmy girl is a mama’s dog, a diligent companion who has eyes just for me. No-one else in the house has a chance.

We hoped a puppy would bring some solace and distraction to the jaunty work of adolescence, forging a special bond with the children. And in perfect Jepsen fashion, one day we wondered about a puppy and the next we owned one. So far so good, but time will tell if Eric and I have inherited ourselves a young four-legged Wilson as our own.

Dreams are funny things. That wild notion that creeps in, and then before you know it you’re researching pups on the internet. It’s not that we forgot how bananas puppy hood can be, we just glossed over the difficulty. This is the same reason why I birthed three kids and ran 9 marathons. Thankfully, we forget. We minimize the severity of the pain, while holding the beautiful and sepia-toned memories. I’ve had enough puppies in my lifetime to know the risks and pitfalls. And Eric and I painted a dismal portrait to our teens of disrupted screen time and losses of freedom, but we said yes anyways, because we know that joy is forged in the fires of discomfort, in the overcoming and in the difficulty. And somehow, as the happy memories harden, the middle of the night potty breaks and carpet stains won’t seem like a huge deal.

I have a problem with expectations. While I believe dreaming is important, the management of expectations is a real thing. Before becoming a parent my expectations were off the charts, perfection the acceptable ideal. We all know that is an unsustainable reality, so with the arrival of the babies my expectations had to pendulum swing in the equal and opposite direction, rendering all things horrible until proven otherwise.

I recognize now the importance of a middle ground – that, amidst the dreaming and romanticizing, there are expectations to be considered and heeded. And oftentimes I am surprised by my newfound reality whether it’s in parenting, puppy raising, or church planting. The reality is either harder or easier than I presumed. A reason to hold expectations with a loosened grip, carrying generosity and grace toward oneself in the process.

As a One on the Enneagram, the expectation of perfection tends to be my default. We all know the problems here.

And so my work is to learn from others, to observe how they navigate the world, to observe their strategies and skills as metrics for setting my own personal expectations in this nebulous learning curve, while also recognizing I cannot measure others with the standards I measure myself.

Also, I must discern and dismiss many of the internal voices of condemnation and criticism, as well as voices of fear and protection. I cannot tell you where these come from, but certainly no one has spoken to me with the level of condescension that I can speak to myself.

As I come to trust my own voice – the quieter, curious, knowing voice – I recognize the essential value and worth in the work I do, believing in my calling as a pastor, as a parent, as a puppy owner, trusting I am the right one, the best one for these tasks. And in this trusting and believing, the passion is reignited which re-illuminates the dream, rendering me capable and ready for the work of being who I am in the world. Just as I am.

And so the sepia-toned dream will take hits and it will become marred and mired in the oftentimes grisly work of ushering new life into the world. But I have good instincts. I have lived life and I have learned through misplaced expectations, feeble attempts, wild success, through ill-informed decisions and wild-haired spontaneity.

Just because it’s uncomfortable,

just because it’s messy,

just because it’s not perfect,

absolutely does not mean it’s wrong.

So puppies or parenting, church planting or everyday living – expect to be surprised and expect to be disappointed – holding all of it together, with a loosened grip.

Too Much and Not Enough

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When I try to write in English, I feel like a bird without wings still trying to fly.
Debasish Mridha

I used to ski a lot. As a late arrival to the sport I never developed a fearlessness or confidence that comes from adopting a skill  as a youngster. And one could argue that fearlessness, particularly when it comes to athletic pursuits has never been part of my genetic code. I am built to make and house new life, so any threat rings harsh and true within every cell of my being. Slow down! You could die!  I jump straight to death. I sense there is little room for improvement when one is preoccupied with actual death. So, I shame myself for not overcoming and I keep trying while also being absolutely miserable.

Now that I’m a presumed grown up, I try to choose and embrace sports that require my feet on the ground, in actual shoes. I prefer to travel in straight lines, connected to the earth.

But it was always my dream to ski. I grew up with visions of me coasting down mountains making the swishes of soft, smooth “S” turns. The skiers I knew were cool, athletic, and lovely.   But when I started learning to ski at twenty-one under the tutelage of my dear fiance who had me on black diamonds my first day (not happily, I might add), it was nothing near soft and smooth. My snowplow was an act of desperation, a wedge of terror. I, more than once, threw my poles, exited the boots, and sobbed in the snow. How could this be, this is what I always dreamed of? This is everything I thought I wanted! And now I’m a disaster with an exhausted body and a tested future marriage.

Once I got the hang of skiing I had some good days where everything clicked and I felt like the skier I thought I was always supposed to be. And other days were miserable and wretched. But I noticed something. The miserable and wretched days were the days I learned a new technique or cemented a new skill. While I wasn’t always conscious of this, I did begin to discover a pattern. The subsequent ski day was easier, more fun. The difficult days were work days, cementing days, cycled with carefree, lighthearted days.

Last week, after a wonderful first service of our new Left Hand Church community I jumped right into intensive meetings, culminating with the Q Christian Fellowship conference (formerly GCN) in Denver.

I’m not always crazy about meetings. I feel the need to prove myself somehow, like I have to measure up to everyone else around the table. And while some aspects were amazing, enjoyable, and rewarding, other parts were difficult, a test of my mettle and worth.  It felt a lot like skiing.

This new world I’ve entered is filled with tenacious, generous, talented people. But if I’m not careful, I can feel like an impostor, like if they could see me, if they pulled back the curtain of my soul there would be nothing but a bunch of disparate parts and pieces that don’t make much sense when pooled together.

And yet, I know, this is not true. This is what happens when we expand and grow and become, when we gain skills and knowledge and influence. Sometimes we hurt. We worry we are somehow too much and not enough at the same time. We feel like we have to craft our thoughts into a concise, bullet-pointed list, when all we need to do is process out loud  in our – what feels like too much – messy vulnerability.

Part of me wonders if much of this is a result of my conditioning as a woman. For years I subjected myself to the belief that as a good Christian it was my duty to keep quiet and let the men lead. That didn’t work out too well, resulting in a hefty dose of shame. I know better now.

I’m still on the learning curve. I’m still figuring out who I am and how I operate in this new world. After years of being home raising kids I am now amongst remarkable faith leaders who are leading churches and initiatives that are changing the world. We are on the same trajectory, aiming for what is right and true and best, in this essential work of reconciling creation to the Creator. This is my calling and my greatest dream and I’m thrilled, but still terrified. Somehow I think it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be – doing what I do, being who I am, humbled, grateful, awed.

May all of us speak as we are led, celebrating the diversity of our voices.

May all of us join where we are called, even when quaking in our boots.

May all of us remember we are loved, as we are, as we become.

While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.
Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

Our Left Handed Baby

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When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

Rumi

The three year long gestation finally resulted in a birth – Left Hand Community Church – the life I’ve been coddling and ogling over for these long months. Saturday night we experienced our first service. As we witnessed the equally feared and anticipated moment, the Spirit was palpable. No words can describe the unfurled hope and generosity enveloping us each in the moment. We did it.

I am overcome with gratitude at our first showing. With a full sanctuary we celebrated the reality of an inclusive, affirming congregation in Boulder County. CENTRAL Longmont, a Presbyterian congregation, has welcomed us into their arms, into the fold of their space and their hearts. We have been honored to occupy their building and to offer our shared community a heartfelt expression of abundant acceptance.

I gave my first full length sermon. It felt as natural as anything else I’ve done in my life – a little bit nerve-wracking – but I was filled with anticipation and joy to share a message of generous love to my friends, family, and all those in between. I was honored to speak my story, to identify the breadcrumbs that lined my oft-assumed nonsensical path.

Never have I been called to anything of this magnitude before. The metaphor of birth is apt and complete, for this is the most akin thing to birth I’ve done since delivering my three babies into the world. And this past Saturday all we had to do was examine and count fingers and toes, we didn’t have to run diagnostic tests or fear for the viability of this Left-Handed life. We were carried, which is the only way I can describe it. All the things fell into place with a few minor, inconsequential details to work out.

I am hopeful for the life of church in America. I am excited for the new iteration of progressive Christian churches that seek to create space for the Spirit to breathe new life. I am thrilled to be on the front lines of this movement, to witness a small but mighty group of pastors and congregants who know that love is our primary task and witness to the presence of God. I am honored to be serving my community where all manner of persons may lead and teach, where we discuss matters that matter.

I dreamed of this three years ago and I will continue to dream of who we will be.  But today I want to celebrate, I want to own and recognize the remarkable beauty of this life. I want to recognize our becoming, knowing there will be bumps down the road – it’s the church for goodness sake – but today I am resting and inhaling the gratitude and exhaling the hope.

After this past year of defeat upon defeat, of witnessing the underbelly of this nation and experiencing grave disappointment in our churches and leaders, I believe I can safely say a new day is on the horizon. A new hope is being birthed. We get to witness new life.  We get to watch a new movement sweep this country and I am thrilled to be part of it.

A message of hope and inclusion, of welcome and renewal. We are not in this work to fix anyone. We are in this to love everyone, to remember our job is to bring relief to one another, and God’s job is to transform lives.

But, as I shared in my sermon, we must remain humble. We must remember to attribute credit where credit is due. We must remember from where we came. What often starts as a beautiful expression, a life-giving expression, can quickly be used to oppress some and empower others. I wonder if it is our human condition. I don’t know, but I do know I’d rather continue to ask questions than assume answers. While this tends to be an uncomfortable space, dwelling in tension, I think this is where we are to remain. When we are satisfied for too long, we stagnate. It is important to find rest, to renew, to celebrate success, and relish good work, but it is more important to grow and stretch and build and resist.

I am grateful for this new baby church body. I can’t wait to watch us grow up, to see what we will do, and I am resting from the three years of labor as I relish in this birth.

Soon we will be running to keep up with our ambling toddler, trying to anticipate the needs of each new stage. But until then, I am amazed and honored and deeply, deeply humbled.

Check us out at www.lefthandchurch.org

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