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.