Saturday, August 9, 2014

Amazing Grace

This year, we made the trek back to the Outer Banks. Going "back" is complicated. Vacations on Hatteras Island are, in many ways, part of a past existence, a different life. But there is something that calls me back -- something timeless beyond any moment or series of moments in my own life, a thin slip of land caught between two different kinds of living water, buffeted by wind and rain and tides and tourists who take and take and take -- and still it remains, fragile, changing, alive, stunning.

I knew that on this visit, I wanted to visit Red Drum Pottery, the undertaking of a potter from whom I'd first purchased pottery in the autumn of 1998 -- 16 years ago. In spite of hurricanes and economic downturns, I knew I would find Rhonda and Wes selling pottery near Frisco, with the familiar trademark design -- a red drum (a local fish) in rusts and greens and browns on speckled, putty-colored vessels. I was seeking a chalice to go with a plate I already own. My hope and prayer is that his earthenware chalice and patten become my go-to communion set. The tenacious hospitality and beauty and abundance of Hatteras seem an appropriate service for an open table where we meet Christ in bread and wine and one another.

I pulled off the road at the location that housed Red Drum Pottery when I was last in the area three years ago. To my chagrin, the storefront was occupied now by a different island shop. A quick check on the smart phone confirmed that Red Drum was just a bit down the road on the other side.  

When I was last in their shop, Wes promoted a live music night that they hosted each week. In the back of my mind, I hoped to join the local crowd on this visit, to experience some local, homegrown bluegrass and support the local economy. Sure enough, the new location included a performance venue and signs and posters. Rhonda still had her trademark pottery pattern. She had new shapes and finishes, and had a lot of beautiful fired wall plaques that included clay relief fish and shells and flowers and grasses that captured the local bio-diversity. Beyond all of that, there was new energy in the space.

Checking out with my chosen chalice, a young man handled the transaction while Rhonda talked about about her pottery. Soon talk shifted to music. Lucas and Rhonda were excited that their group, Banjo Island, would perform with Ricky Scaggs in late September at a bluegrass festival in Manteo. This week at their regular Wednesday night show, they were doing a demo recording for Scaggs. Wes showed up, wet from a typical island downpour, and eagerly invited us downstairs to see the theatre he had created in what had been a garage. The walls were lined with Rhonda's art. A soundboard perched at the back of the performance space. Sixty or so chairs waited for an audience.

We bought tickets. As we drove back down the beach Wednesday night, I checked my expectations. I expected good local feel and music. I would be thrilled with that.

I got so much more.

You see, Wes is a really accomplished banjo player who is writing great locally influenced lyrics. Rhonda plays the bass. Lucas appears to be a rambling guitarist seeking to learn and carve out a music career on the island. They had a great set and intermingled good humor and stories. The music was varied, and Wes looked transported while he played. Amazing stuff.

But that was just a piece of what I received.

You see, I have visited Wes and Rhonda in at least three different locations over 16 years. At first, there was a modest home on stilts off of route 12 with a screen porch that served as a storefront.  I remember that I was uncomfortable with the intimacy of being at someone's home, not really sure we were going to buy something. My kids were really small - one a babe in arms and a toddler and preschooler touchy and eager. I had to worry about them breaking things. Rhonda wasn't around, and we struck up a conversation with Wes about the latest hurricane - about the way community works after days of steamy heat with no electricity or clean running water. We talked about who rigged up the generator for a washer and dryer, about who had hot water for much-needed showers, about who had a chainsaw, a wet-vac, a four-wheel drive. 

At a later visit, Wes talked to the kids about clay. They were in a new location, right on 12, the main drag. They had official parking and a storefront. Again, Rhonda wasn't around, but Wes told the kids a bit about the kiln while I shopped. He gave Emma a piece of clay and promised her that if she made something and brought it back, they would fire it and mail it to her. My mommy response was a cringe...I knew the expectation he was creating, and I knew how hard it would be for all adults involved to meet those expectations. Sure enough, she pinched a pot, we took it back and left our address, then returned home and waited for a pot that never came. It is hard to convince a 6 year old not to take such things personally. Thank God for the short memory of the grudges of youth.

At an even later visit, Wes and Rhonda talked about their son who was preparing to join the military. They were worried, and they were proud. And they seemed conflicted. I knew that feeling...my own son was making strides toward his own military career.

There was a phase of life when I was getting to Hatteras at least twice a year. I collected a lot of Red Drum pottery and between visits, I used that pottery -- for coffee, soup, Thanksgiving side-dishes, pasta. Always, I thought of that wisp of land between two bodies of living water.

Then there came for me a difficult season of wilderness -- a time of sorting out rough patches in my life, of surviving. The beach was forgotten for several seasons. But the pottery was there. A touchstone. 

Returning this year, seeking out Rhonda's work and Wes's hospitality seemed like homecoming. A lot of life has settled down. I have called this my jubilee year, where debts are forgotten with a certain sense of hopeful reset.  I was anxious to mark time in my own life on this pilgrimage.

What I found, though, was a comforting pride in what was taking place for Rhonda and Wes. It seems that while I was wandering in wilderness, finding a stable place, getting my feet back under me, these two beautiful, talented people were finding themselves and their gifts and graces too. They were learning to survive on a barrier island, learning to run a small business, learning to diversify their talents, taking new talent under their wings. They were getting ready to play with Ricky Scaggs! 

What I found was an assurance that life keeps happening, that people all around me kept moving through life just like I did. Our struggles weren't the same. Our wilderness was our own. But we were created with gifts and graces that would grow to nurture and sustain us. We were loved in community in ways that would get us through the rough spots. We were finding unconditional love that got us through each and every day. 

Some of the music played by Banjo Island included a swelling, lingering bass and cello strains. They made my heart ache and swell. They were the sounds, to my ears, of amazing grace.

Leaving the beach this year, I thank God for the lives of Wes and Rhonda. They don't know me personally. And I don't really know the details of their lives. But I appreciate their trajectory. I appreciate the gifts I have watched take root and grow in them. I am grateful for amazing grace.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pondering potatoes...

Turns out that gleaning potatoes one day is fun. Two days is beginning to be tough. The third day was exhausting. Not only was it HOT, but we were truly gleaning...going back over fields previously harvested, some with just a small potato gem or two every 10 feet. Still I managed to gather about 50 lbs in three hours.  Yesterday it was more like 50 lbs in an hour.

You have a lot of time to think picking up potatoes.

The farmer allowing us to glean raises potatoes for large chip manufacturers and local grocery chains. His customers have very serious standards and requirements. So potatoes have to be a certain size, and the harvester is set to screen anything that doesn't meet the standard.  So imagine what is left behind...really small potatoes and really large potatoes. You know all of those packages of tiny little high end potatoes sold by Trader Joes?  I picked up a lot of cute little tiny round potatoes today. To go to he food bank. But if we didn't glean, they would go to waste...  Because some other farmer is growing cute little potatoes that will sell for outrageous prices to foodies (like me) shopping at TJs.

It seems inefficient. And for the market in which these farmers participate, it is highly efficient.

So how do people get fed? 


Switching topics a bit, we are fed lunch each day by a different local church. Today it was a beautiful old Presbyterian church that is mostly home to two large extended (and probably related by marriage) farm families. This lovely high school student was taking great pride in the sanctuary as she told people about the windows and the graves outside. She shared a bit of her family tree. 

She said her last name was Long. I told her we had been gleaning on a Long farm. It was her uncle. Her father is also a farmer. I asked if she was interested in farming. She beamed. Yes, she was anxious to learn all she could so that she could go to Washington DC to lobby for farmers.

Her energy was evident. We talked about her 4H and FFA involvement. Her brother wants to do the same. 

As we drove back, I found myself wondering where justice is in the system? Is there a way for farmers to survive in vibrant communities, where people can stay because there is work and good education and fair wages?

I don't know the answer. But I do know that as a consumer, I am participating in a system tooled to benefit stockholders. And that doesn't seem to trickle down to the very people on whose back the profits are built.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Context Unfamiliar

I am out on the Eastern Shore, near Exmore, Virginia, for a week of learning about the problem of hunger -- locally and globally -- with the youth of Silver Spring UMC. The "work" of the week is gleaning in potato fields.  Did you know that at one time, the Eastern Shore was the largest producer of Irish potatoes globally? Neither did I. Today the area also produces chicken, tomatoes, soy beans and corn. Big potato production is put west. It is clear that agriculture here is omnipresent and struggling. There are lots of tumbling down structures, shuttered businesses, weary looking folks sitting on the porch. And on Sunday, there is machinery in the fields and migrants being moved about by the bus load to pick.

I can't quite get it through my head that this narrowing strip of land is dedicated mostly to food production...not tourism. Look at a map and you see expanses of big bays on both sides with the ocean looming near. I have spent the afternoon trying to get to the eastern edge of the peninsula...and it all seems to be preserve OR private farmland.

I am surprised that our vacation-loving, sun-seeking society hasn't built this area up like Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach. And I am grateful too. But painfully aware of the financial hardships here. Across from the closest tomato packing facility, I spotted a row of whitewashed shanties with clothes lines hung between. They were neatly painted and tiny, likely with a central bathhouse. They were camouflaged by a stand of trees...  I assume this is migrant housing, and I assume the buses I have seen in the fields have taken workers into the field for the day (Sunday). 

I don't have judgment. It is just so far from what I know and would expect by looking at the map. Look at me going and applying my assumptions. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Maybe We're Not Able to Church Anymore...

I have been letting my mind wander a lot around issues of why "church" doesn't work the way it used to. Along the way though, I am really hoping to have more insight about how it could and perhaps should work rather than why it isn't.

A couple of things are brewing for me. First, I am aware that as a society, we have broken down all sorts of barriers about what we do and do not discuss in polite company. Gone are genteel social expectations that we do not talk about sex, politics or money with our friends and neighbors.  We wade into difficult subjects at every turn in the coffee house, at dinner parties, on the evening news, in the late night variety show.

But I wonder, as our guard has dropped, have we built the necessary skills to have those conversations? It would seem that our polarized legislature is evidence that we do not. We certainly haven't learned to have those conversations in church. Meanwhile, churches, once vibrant community anchors, are bleeding membership. Some toss around the term "irrelevant." 

At the same time, there are folks gathering small groups for other kinds of community beyond the traditional framework of "church" as we have understood it. Perhaps they are sharing scripture and prayer and conversation. They don't have to align with rules and doctrine. No higher authority I. A structure holds them accountable. They can invite people that they determine are compatible. While theses groups go deep, they are not necessarily wide. Many of these groups do 'to advertise there existence or put out a sign with designated gathering times. 

During the World Cup, I found myself thinking about the indwelling of the Spirit in Acts 2. Gathered from the far reaches, people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover. They were from many tribes and nations. Some knew Jesus, some didn't. In the rushing of the wind, all were able to understand one another in spite of differences in language and heritage. All experienced the revelation of the Spirit. 

I think in some ways, the World Cup is a more likely venue for a monumental Spirit moment in the modern era. Millions of people speaking hundreds of languages focused on shared experience. Descended upon, focused upon one place and one purpose, the gathered (live and virtual) are waiting to see what shows up. Imagine that the Spirit descends into that moment and place. Like those in Jerusalem, I suspect there would be skeptical onlookers, disbelieving witnesses and some moved to a life change that sent them back into the rest of the world to name their experience.

What are the skills -- hard skills beyond the developmental faith milestones that we actually seem pretty good at -- that we could be building within the traditional church that enable people to engage I real, thoughtful dialogue with people with (sometimes radically different) understanding and belief. What dialogue skills move us past a human desire to dominate and be right so that we hear and empathize and share understanding? Because thos are skills we need to be God's real presence in the world. And with that skill, how can we gather together FOR the world and the greater Kingdom?

More questions than answers today. But now they are out of my head.  For now.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Looking for the Living Among the Dead: Seeking the Acts 2 Community InAll the Wrong Places

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn't here, but has been raised.
(From Luke 24:5)

A sense of awe came over everyone. God had performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything.
(From Acts 2: 43-44)

Will we go down in history as a nation with no room for its King?
(From While You Were Sleeping by Casting Crowns)

Bear with me. I am synthesizing from a lot of directions.

In a conversation with a colleague and mentor yesterday, some ideas I have been wrestling with came colliding into one another in one of those moments that reduces me to grateful and passionate tears about God's wisdom, power and movement in the world.

Living near the nation's capital, in a diverse suburb with immigrant families from every corner of creation makes the World Cup a delightful community event. Walking through the grocery store, you see jerseys from everywhere. Bright blocks of  colors and nations names are juxtaposed against varying skin tones, accents, languages. Living in one place, we identify with our nation of origin, our lineage, our heritage, our pride. 

Like many an American, I am guilty of thinking deeply from my own national perspective. Our government, economy, social service systems, military, roadways… surely we are a shining example in so many ways. But recently, I had a revelation about this. I watched kids from a charter school in inner-city Baltimore perform with passion works that they had created while learning about malaria. Drama and dancing and drumming and costuming combined and left me speechless and emotional. These kids are predominantly African-American inner-city kids. These are kids that our traditional public school systems, with their testable curricula, built on a centuries old European sourced ethos, are failing. 

It left me thinking. So many of our neighborhood churches are operating in an outdated model. They live into an expectation that they know just how to take good out into the world to give it away. In the process, we fail to recognize that the other across from us, to whom we think we are giving great love, is also the hands and feet of Christ to us. And they are capable and often willing and often just doing it. They are giving us love right back, and I wonder how often we understand that? And take time to learn from it?

How can we refrain from a designing ways to help people, and instead engage in conversation inviting them to share with us who they are, and how we might work together? How can we refrain from imposing ourselves, our mission, our beliefs, our goodness on people without receiving and learning and changing and growing ourselves?

And all of that thinking made me wonder if perhaps we have been looking for far too long for a Pentecost movement to emerge out of our churches. And in the process, we have missed the places where Pentecost moments are really happening, in places where community exists, a mix of languages and cultures and smells and tastes and colors and flesh that is whirling and spinning and combining and doing good. All while we scratch our heads, and worry about budgets, and the ways we should do things better, the ways we could "help."

It seems we might be blind. We might desperately need to remove the log from our own eye. We might be sleeping through Christ's presence with us.

Lord open her eyes, and take us out of our comfort zones, and open our ears and helpless receive. Help us learn to be in community with others. But the synergy and energy that emerges from loving one another help us turn toward even more people and gain more strength while we receive more grace.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sabbath Rest

I have been grappling recently with a call to whatever is next. Except the next hasn't shown up. So I guess it feels more like a call to be ready for what's next -- a challenge really about whether I will faithfully respond.

Um...that is kind of exhausting for someone who has worked pretty hard for a lifetime to be in control.

This week was full. Emma's graduation, house guests, a nasty bout of a stomach bug. Annual conference that in some moments felt like home left me a little empty and scared. Then there is the lingering sense that I am called to be faithful without really knowing the shape of that call. I keep thinking that if I find the right process, the right new discipline, the right attitude that the disquiet that has settled in will go away. 

I keep finding myself facing people who, in love, are reflecting my gifts and graces back to me, encouraging me to be faithful, to let go, to be ready.

Gah...

Today, I am trying to live into this day fully, a day of sabbath rest. I am resting in the mantra that I am enough. I am beloved. I can and will be faithful. These things I know in the clearness of the day:
Community matters.
Loving people matters.
Opening our hearts and ears to one another matters.
The church should matter...as a vehicle for all of this.

So here are the words that came to me today...in rest:

You are, beloved child,
  created in My wondrous image
Complete with all you need
To serve this world.

Rest in my arms and know
  that you lack not one thing,
One gift of grace
For the work I call you to.

Drink in mystery around you.
  Don't worry about process, timelines.
Be all mine, faithfully knowing
Your every need is met.

By my hand -- generous and strong,
  confident and sure in you, your purpose,
The one you know deep down in your flesh,
Your heart, your soul -- walk forward.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Betrayer?

This reflection was shared with the Kittamaqundi Community Church, Palm and Passion Sunday, year A.

Hosanna!

Hosanna!

Hosanna!

An Aramaic word that loosely translates “Save, I pray.”

The crowd that stood by the roadside that day had seen Jesus do many amazing things.  Many had been with him on the hillsides outside of Jerusalem where he had healed the lame, restored sight to the blind, reframed the Law and taught them all to pray for their daily bread and for forgiveness. They had puzzled at his parables and they imagined the Kingdom of God.

I have to imagine that others showed up that had not seen with their own eyes but had heard that Jesus had done many amazing things.  Good news travels fast and has special allure when life is difficult and hope scarce.  People were talking about this guy. He had a following.  Why not follow along?

Each person had their own hopes…and collectively their hopes merged into a frenzy of hope for a new day, a new reign, a Messiah, anointed by God, descended from David.  

This man was so amazing that surely…
surely all would be well.  
Surely this man is a mighty prophet
Surely this is the one spoken of by Isaiah and Zechariah
The Messiah.
One chosen by God to has come to liberate the oppressed, the outcast...


Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

After years of oppression, after having the hope squeezed out of them by an occupying force, here comes a man who seems to have the power and ability to get things done…not just politically, but in real ways.  Ways that changed people’s lives.  Sight, wholeness, forgiveness.

Imagine what this man Jesus might be able to do inside the walls of the city...
where the Temple is corrupted by greed, 
where the economy is thwarted by Roman taxes, 
where heritage and tradition are being buried by 
Roman innovation and indoctrination….
where Caesar was Lord -- not Yahweh.

All of their collective hopes and imaginings, swelling and buoying them up. Like a brushfire that quickly grows to something uncontainable, the streets hummed. WHAt must Jesus have been thinking? In Luke's account, the Pharisees ask him to calm the crowd. His response is that even if the crowd was quiet, the very stones would sing.  It is as if all of Jerusalem was quaking in anticipation of his arrival.

I wonder if you have ever been swept up in hopeful frenzy? Been in a crowd of people, many of them strangers to you, just knowing that what was coming next would surely rock your world? Crowds are empowering, physically strong, loud. No one stands alone.  Have you felt Hope spreading and growing in a gathering? Felt like the energy all around you cannot be snuffed out or overcome? A gathering like his is surely too big and strong to be ignored?!

Hosanna! Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord.
Hosanna!  Hosanna!   Save, I pray…



How quickly it unravels…

The crowd that heralded Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was, in many ways, blissfully unaware.

That crowd had been with Jesus on the hillsides outside of Jerusalem.  They had seen thousands fed with just a few loaves of bread and some fish.

But the crowd had missed Jesus’ earlier conversations with his much smaller group of disciples.in Matthew, we read:

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves and said to them on the way, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified....and in the third day he will be raised.

Those who heard his mysterious warnings about how this would end must have been experiencing some dread, some insecurity, questioning the fervor all around them...doubt creeping in despite their experiences of Jesus. They were entering Jerusalem with that conversation not far behind them.

I mean, what Jesus described to his inner circle was NOT the glorious turnaround promised by the Messiah figure of their heritage and tradition. But here are all these expectant folks.

Could Jesus fulfill their hopes? Fix their lives?

Can you hear their doubt?

…surely this cannot continue? The crowds have become too large and too loud and expect so much.  
…surely we cannot solve the problems of this world?
...surely we can't change the priests?
… we cannot overturn Rome?
What CAN we do?  

Can you hear the growing fear?
When faced with fear, don't you imagine they pondered their own fate?
Am I at risk?
Can i protect myself?
What if all of this expectation comes to nothing? Will I be a laughingstock? 
I have so much to lose....

And then there were Jesus’ “opponents,” the priests and scribes who possibly really BELIEVED they were seeking the well-being of the society around them in a better, more responsible and safe way. No riots please if it can be helped.  Perhaps they saw the hand-writing on the wall differently – this man was going to come to blows with the Romans eventually... right?  How might they save the crowd from becoming victims of Jesus' inevitable downfall?

Next we have this beautiful act of hospitality by the woman in Bethany. In what we must assume was a moment of inspiration, she pours a generous amount of valuable ointment on Jesus' head. Some in the room might have recognized the potential symbolism of the act...a descendent of David anointed after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt. Further evidence of prophesy fulfilled.  But doubt had already crept in and was messing with the ability to see.

The disciples are only be offended and angry about the extravagant use of exotic ointment in this way. Practically speaking, that luxury item could have been sold to feed the poor.  What is this disturbing nonsense Jesus speaks about the poor always being with them???

If you buy the construction of Judas in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, it is easy to imagine that Judas is trying to save the movement from what might be a fame-seduced, starry-eyed Jesus.  He isn't so interested in his own gain. Or is he? And surely it would be nice to survive the chaos he sees building around the movement.

In the text, we don't see the disciples talk together much. I wonder if they shared their doubts with those closest to them? Would it have made a difference?

When his inner circle begins to doubt, it’s hard to imagine how they will stand up to the resistance of the crowd around them, as chaos sets in, threatening, jeering, calling for blood.

My Lenten journey has been spent pondering a question God placed on my heart for this season. A question I see in the way this story unfolds in Holy Week.

How am I part of the world’s violence? 
What makes me betray God's command to love God and others with all that I am?
How does my heart need to be transformed to new life?

I like to think that I have been claimed by Christ, and that I have dedicated my life to high ideals – to understanding that the Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blind will walk, the deaf will hear and the meek will inherit the earth.

Literally.

I am a beloved child of God, right? Forgiven and gifted as unique creation to make the world a better place. Just like every one of you. Every other human on the planet.

But every day I am faced by a thousand choices that threaten my resolve.

I have my own insecurities too. There are things the world tells me about who I am, sometimes out of the messengers own self-doubt: I am selfish, manipulative, greedy, wasteful, power hungry, controlling....

Life circumstances have put people on my path who are mouthpieces for this kinds of messages. They are violent toward me, and when I am scared or threatened or hemmed in, it is easy to turn around and lash out at others in my own violent response.

The messages I receive from the world around me make my tongue sharp and my heart hard.

The messages I receive feed my own doubts and make me wonder if the Kingdom of God is a real possibility? So much hurt, so much suffering. It is hard not to play into the systems all around us that create that suffering.

Commanded to love God and my neighbor…I struggle moment by moment to do either, let alone both.

Even my prayers fail…It is much easier to pray to be forgiven than it is to pray to be changed. 

This week, I take my place at the table with the disciples knowing that I will fall away because I am afraid and threatened and I cannot see another way

 …scattering with the flock when the shepherd is struck.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Be Who You Are

I think this relates to my last post about the violence we commit against ourselves.

I have a very important meeting this week. At this very important meeting, people will ask me deep and probing questions, and based on their assessment of my answers, they will make decisions about my future.

I am trying to rest in the awareness that I am a beloved child of God, that I will be at my very best when I am centered in the authentic self I am created and called to be.

But self-doubt creeps in. 

So I was pondering this while puttering around the kitchen tonight.

And the questions that surfaced for me were:
Is God in the process?  Yes.
Do you trust Me? (Yup...having a conversation with God alright.) Yes.
Do you trust the process? (Without skipping a beat....) Yes, I do.

Now this last answer surprises me.  Because the process has been a bit of a scapegoat on this journey.

And what rushed in from that point were all of the affirmations I have encountered in the process of being called to ministry. There have been highs and lows, trials and rough patches, places that felt like setbacks.

But truly, God has been present and faithful through all of it. In the moments that felt initially like failure, there was a revealed truth, a season of rest and synthesis, refining fire, repentance and restoration.

And so, tonight, right now, although I hesitate to shape the words, I am sure that God goes with me into this called space. I am sure that I am being as God called me to be...sometimes fumbling and faltering, but growing in grace along the way.

Thanks be to God.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

When the Enemy is Us

I confess that I have been way too swept up in busy-ness this past week to give myself permission and time to be reflective. 

Wait. Let me restate that. I confess that I have been way too swept up in busy-ness in human things to make time for God this week as I had hoped and expected.

Now I am buried under a head cold, frustrated by my inability to breathe or think straight. See where busy-ness gets me? I got a lot of great things "accomplished" this week -- kept a lot of plates spinning, met a lot of expectations, checked a lot of boxes. But it was costly.

I have been trying to turn my mind back toward this quest to be aware of my own violent nature. And what bubbled up for me is how I can be violent with myself, and how that lack of self-care or tendancy to deride myself actually causes me to act against others.

For example, I have been a cranky soul on the road this week. I confess to swearing at people under my breath more than a couple of times. But if I look behind the outward symptom of road rage, I know I was upset with myself for running late, or for a bad interaction with a family member or co-worker.  Where is the grace for myself, the grace I try to be aware of needing to have for others?

Take that deep breath. I am a beloved child of God. That's not some miraculous shield that surrounds me and protects me from others. Because they are also beloved. Hopefully it equips me to love them...and myself, to treat everyone a bit more gently.

Rereading today's gospel lesson about the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus, I feel her guilt and self-loathing, her sense of unworthiness that is deeply personal laid beside a societal us vs. them that was embedded in the culture. How hard it would be to even speak to the "other" that Jesus was to her -- a combination of guilt, shame, prejudice and pride all balled up inside.

When there is that much venom in our systems, our only responses are fight or flight.

And so this week, I feel like I am taking a step backward on my Lenten journey, making time to be beloved and live into that call, that warmth, that light SO THAT I can be loving.

Lord, in your mercy, receive my prayer.




Saturday, March 15, 2014

Juxtaposition: The Irony of Parenting, Vocation and Musical Theatre

This winter Emma was cast in her first on stage roll after working tech for two years. She's a senior, and it's sort of a culminating experience for her - four years of show choir, a couple years of track and cross country, and she's found her people with the thespians. This is high school life 101.

Her role? Ah, yes that's funny. We will get there.

The show is Working, based on a book by Studs Terkel. It is a series of really compelling vignettes about the identity (or mis-identity) of our work.  I am not sure that these kids could be fully aware of the tensions they were portraying, of the nerves they were touching.

Emma was cast as Roberta Victor, a prostitute who turned her first trick with a politician at age 15. She's hard, proud, defensive, feisty, vulnerable.

Ok, it's strange to see your own daughter cast as a prostitute. Done up in barely any clothes and stiletto high boots with red laces.  

But the irony?

The role of prostitute is carefully juxtaposed against...   (Wait for it...)

...a fundraiser.

Ha!

"Where else can you make $500 in just 20 minutes.

I fundraise for a religious organization - a seminary. I consider the work of connecting lives, encouraging generosity, learning about people's passion while securing dollars to do good work to be my MINISTRY.

And the irony doesn't quite stop there.

Our high school is deeply connected to our church, where I served as a pastoral intern and local pastor for a while. Emma is surrounded in this show by her youth group. It is a setting in which she is nearly a PK (preacher's kid).

Life is funny and messy and complicated and sometimes just a little sad and frightening. We share so much with people we cannot imagine being. If we can remember that, I think we have a shot at being more gentle, more compassionate, more real with those around us. 

I am breathless tonight. And I think still processing the cool way God shows us things, makes us real...breaks our hearts.




Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Community

My beloved Kittamaqundi Church in Columbia, MD asks members to commit to a month of participatory worship planning annually. For my church-geeky self, that is a great joy. Tonight I met with two others to dive into and wrestle with the lectionary texts for the fifth week of lent.

It was not lost on me that these were the last texts I did a "sharing" about in that same community three years ago. That all by itself is just crazy cool. And you know how I feel about coincidences and things that just keep showing up.  But really, this post is not about that.

This post is about what great joy it brought me to read scripture, meditate on it and engage in exciting exploration - conversation, debate, contextualization, etc. - with wonderful people committed to sharing the scripture with others in ways that are life changing.

We come to the life-changing heart of these passages sometimes after a full hour or more of just grappling with the surface issues. Then there is an alchemy...gold emerges from straw or something fantastic like that. We tap into a deep resonance...the chord we all feel in our bones and flesh as we sit around the table. This! This! 

It is in our varied life experiences that each of us can reveal just a piece of the truth. Yes, we need to read scripture as a personal discipline, examine our own hearts and responses. But we also really must do this in community, bouncing off of one another, speaking our own truth out loud to another while deeply listening to another...holding those truths and experiences side by side in tension, respecting the God in all of those gathered around the text.

This, to me, is such a critical piece of being the body of Christ, sharing the word SO THAT we might uncover deeper, richer things, SO THAT we are able to bring those truths to others as we gather to worship.

Community, at its finest, is about knowing we all have gifts, we all have sins, we all see glimpses of another that they may not see themselves. We are richer expressions of who God created us to be when we are open to those around us.

Today, this embrace was exactly what I needed to be reminded that I am beloved and called to love.

Namaste.




Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Violence that Comes Our Way

Maybe I am just in a heightened state of awareness, trying to be conscious of how I am behaving, reacting, being...how that impacts others.  It seems today's lesson in being attentive is more about how I encounter violence.

People have bad days. People get busy. I get that. I am pretty sure they don't intend to use me as a punching bag or a doormat, right? So why does it feel that way? 

And what skills do I need to sidestep their reactions to the world, to encounter them, observe them, and NOT absorb them?

When I close my eyes, and take a deep breath and think about the hurtful moments of the day, Jesus' words about the lilies neither toiling nor weeping come to mind.  And I irreverently roll my eyes. It isn't quite that easy, is it?

Breathe in. Breathe out. A minute, an hour, a day at a time, right? 

It might be time to retreat from the world, something Jesus was quite good at. Time to close the door, or my eyes, or my mind. To pray for a little peace, a little respite, a little patience to endure the brunt of someone else's pain and frustration misfired at me.

And I hope, too, to find grace in those moments for the "other" on the edge. Grace for them and for myself so that I don't sink into self-doubt. 

I grew up singing a song by Glen Campbell in the youth choir:
Let me be a little kinder, 
Let me be a little blinder,
To the faults of those around me
Let me praise a little more.

And God, I pray those words are also on the hearts of those around me.

Meanwhile, I pray to sidestep punches thrown. They aren't mine to receive.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Connection

I have said, ever since reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, that my call in life is to shorten the degrees of separation between people. Mavens, connectors, whatever... Some of us are built to be in relationships that foster connection and more relationship. 

We are as humans so interwoven, and whether we care to admit it or not, we need one another. Thinking through this newfound lens of recognizing my own violence, by contrast (mostly...I confess to one egregious act of violence that I am still figuring out how to repair) today was a day of connecting and nurturing and adding value by plugging one relationship into another.

One of the unique marks of my United Methodist denomination is our connection. No one stands alone. And that requires a willingness to name our needs and our gifts, to be willing to share burden and blessing, sometimes in the same moment. It isn't always way to engage or involve another new have so much more control when we just rely on our own gifts and graces. It requires us to enter into holy dialogues when we don't see eye to eye, to find a third way when an impasse seems inevitable. And it is hard. And we don't do it very well most of the time.

Abraham's descendants outnumber the stars and we are, all of us, created from common cloth.

Isn't that amazing?

God, help me share my needs and my gifts; remind me that I am just one part of the whole...one very small and yet vital part.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Staring at Violence

So I have been trying to be present to God, to recognize the nudges, to stay awake to how God wants to shape me. I am working on my judging ways, the ways I need to be right, and how I also then need someone else to be wrong, the ways I hear others through the muffling layers of righteousness I carry around.

This is the work of Lent for me this year. In a way, it is an extension of my goal on the yoga mat this year - to increase the distance between my ear lobes and my shoulders - an opening that leaves me more exposed and vulnerable, more open and light, too.

Not sackcloth and ashes, but an awareness I carry in this season of examination and penance.

So this weekend, while sitting around a cafe table, discussing Rene Girard, violence and theories of atonement. I was wrapping my head around the omnipresence of all kinds violence, wondering why in 2000 years, we still haven't gotten it figured out.

And there it was. In my drive to be right, in my attempts to know truth at the expense of hearing another, I commit violent acts of suppression, of shunning, of failure to hear and respect. And those acts turn my attention toward my own needs for power and superiority and away from the truth I want to uphold. 

And I am aware that this violence is all around me every day. Not in dribs and drabs, but by the bucketful. In nearly every person I encounter.

And it is likely that this is who we have learned to be as humans. 

So now...how to unlearn? How to find ways of being with another without suppression and without submission?

This Lent thing is hard.

Lord, help me be present to those around me and aware of the things that make me tick. Help me find a third, fifth, seventh way that honors truth. Help me see the potential for violence and stop me in my tracks so that I do no harm.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 3: Breathe

As a long, cold, snowy winter begins to show signs of winding down (look at how noncommittal that is), this day has been blissfully warm and sunny. I have spent my time cleaning, playing mom taxi, getting a haircut, gassing up the car. Tonight we will make oven fried chicken and mashed potatoes, drink a little wine, maybe watch a movie. While not quite sabbath, it has been bliss.

The best investment of time? A 3.5 mile walk/jog in a local park, surrounded by other sun revellers, dogs on leashes, kids in strollers or with kites. 

There is something so basic about getting outside after a season of settling for the treadmill. I breathed deeply over and over again. What a precious thing, fresh air. What a precious ability, moving. At leisure.  This is, in some ways, my playtime with God. I am grateful for each and every moment. I am reminded that play is part of who I am, that I am created to move and breathe, and sweat and laugh, and love good music that makes my soul soar.

And I breathe in and out, sharing life with the trees, and the winter-worn grass, the people that I pass.

And it is good.


Friday, March 7, 2014

This Moment is NOT the Day

Today's mission: remember that from moment to moment, grace seeps in. 

Have I mentioned that I am the mom of three teenagers, two of which are girls, 15 and 17, still at home?

Yes. Days are infused with the winsome, willful wildness of teenage girl life, emotions swinging in a range of highs and lows.

Today began with something akin to caterwauling. The reason really matters not. 

Sometimes I face the range with a levelness beyond reason.  

Today...not so much.

But as I faced Matt, who was saddened that this was my day, God entered in to remind me that this is just one moment; the next would be different - better or worse in turns.  This moment doesn't define the day.

So I chuckled driving past Liberty Grove's sign which read: 
Take a deep breath. 
This is just a bad day.
It isn't a bad life.

(Didn't I mention coincidence yesterday? Burma shave signs on the side of the road?)

Right. But how easy would it be - no, how easy is it - to swirl. To drown in waves of bad moment after bad moment.

How easy, too, it would be to apply any one temper tantrum, any one dramatic scene to the whole of a life. I am also not any one of my actions or dismal moments.

Right?

The moment does not define the day.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 1 - Coincidence? Alignment?

I am admittedly drifting into Lent without a map or a net. Committed to being present and awake, I am hoping and praying that each day, I find the real work God has set me to.  And deep down, I know that God will deliver. That's who God is.  I'm letting me be me, and God be God.

And today, that seems to be true.  In my drive time with God, today's theme showed up. 

Pray for those you find it hardest to pray for. 

I was listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter, swimming around in "He Thinks He'll Keep Her." I was weighed down by kid stuff...hurt feelings, vague commitments.  Thinking about the hurt and pain of the church right now. Wondering whether there would be downtime in the weekend. Paying attention to chords and strumming patterns and accompaniment. Coveting talent. Fuming about some headline about how far McLaren, Bell and Miller have strayed from their righteous evangelical roots.

How do I love the people in my life that I would prefer to strangle? At the very least, those I'd prefer to shun...the people it would be easier to avoid, disrespect, abandon?

Then I arrived at the office and spent a little time casting about, looking for a devotional read. Facebook produced a link to 40 ideas for keeping Lent holy from House for all Sinners and Saints. 

Day 1: pray for your enemies.

God is funny that way.

Lining up the breadcrumbs.

Leaving Burma Shave signs along the side of my daily road.

Reminding me that I am not alone. Not a passing thought goes unheard.

And so today, I keep bringing to mind those I desperately don't want to count among my neighbors; people who have hurt me, people I have hurt, difficult people, people that I disagree with, people that challenge me, people who just don't get it. I pray for them..for their wholeness. And I pray for my own heart of stone.

Lord, in your mercy, receive my prayers.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It begins with...

...commitment.



58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah)

Later today, I will get to swim around in scripture with a curious and lively group of high school students. I will listen to Joel or Isaiah. I will recite Psalm 51 (Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.). I will have ashes smeared on my forehead -- remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

I sense this Lenten season begins for me with commitment. These days, I find it hard to be lukewarm, hard to be unsalty salt, hard to keep my light hidden. When I visited the lectionary readings that launch this journey, I was captured by the words from Isaiah -- less about a fast of meekness, mourning and repentance, more a fast of committing to justice, mercy, service, love. 

And so I take the first step on a path with a trajectory both familiar and new, toward a destination both known and mysterious.

And while I live and breathe, I commit to be available, present, awake, alive.

58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

When I in Awesome Wonder....

This week, sitting on the back pew of a packed black-clad church, mid-day on a Friday as the organ played the first measures of How Great thou Art, a friend turned to me and said something like, "I cannot see what good comes of this. I have tried. I can't imagine what good God can make of this."

Right. A fifty-one year old father of young twins has died suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. A wife is abruptly a widow. Two sweet boys are left to interpret the world without their father. Normalcy, stability, joy are at least temporarily interrupted and they are unarguably forever changed.

For some, the first reaction is to seek answers, to make it all part of some cosmic plan, to rush to comfort and concrete understanding.

We forget...or perhaps have never encountered the reality that God is so much bigger than we can possibly fathom. We don't grasp our free will and ultimately the free nature of all created "order" to be and do and say, and therefore sometimes we can't imagine a God that is as heartbroken as we are at sudden tragedy and trauma. We seek to blame, to find meaning, to turn events into some formula that eventually has an equal sign and a solution,

God's math is so much more complicated than that.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Too often we buy into an easier understanding of God. We hear it's about relationship and assume that means that right relationship means right outcome. Somehow that formula assumes that we know something about the definition of "right." We preach overly simplistic math from the pulpit - God answers prayer IF you confess your sins, God shows up with opportunity IF you are obedient. God will heal you IF only you believe enough.

Then you turn to Ecclesiastes. Or Pete Seeger (God rest his soul).

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Jesus knew this God well. Jesus was of this same God, a God who was present, turning again and again back to those who sought simpler math with an unexpected, unexplainable love and grace.

Jesus walked among the living who knew all too well that life was hard. He shared knowledge and relationship with a God who sought out the least and the lost, whose grace extended those who toiled for a full day and for those who toiled but a few hours, who was less concerned with form and ritual than with relationship and faith. Jesus provided no easy answers. He talked about faith and sacrifice and loving your enemy and forgiving one another. Jesus went to an unexplainable, horrible, unjust death. And we still sin, and turn away, and seek an easy "whole number" solution for an equation.

My own encounter with the living God involves finding arms to fall into when tragedy strikes, to find bread and company for the journey that is seemingly impossible to find breath when I simply cannot breathe under the weight of loss or sin or frustration or need. 

Good things happen and bad things happen and God goes on and on. That is the nature of the living God I know. That is the model for Christ's body, the church. That is the model for family and for marriage. It isn't always good or right or just. And we are called to hang in there, to love harder, deeper, with more forgiveness and grace.

I am not good at that faithfulness. I have failed to stay in relationships in the hard, unpleasant, dissatisfying times. The relationships seem off-balance, unsatisfactory, displeasing. God keeps showing up to me though. And I think I am learning that it is about something so much bigger than me, so much bigger than I can fully comprehend. But I am a part of it...a necessary set of hands and feet with a heart, who, in moments of clarity proclaims, "How great thou art..."

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

For any loss or hardship, I am reminded that God didn't "do" this for any reason. God doesn't expect us to find the silver lining of this dark cloud. God is with us as we weep, as we rant and lament. God receives our anger and our accusation, and our fear, and our self-centeredness, and our simplistic question, "Why?" And God asks us to do the same with one another and the whole creation.