Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dispel the Long Night's Lingering Gloom

O come, O Come Thou Day-spring bright
Pour on our souls Thy healing light
Dispel the long night's lingering gloom
And pierce the shadows of the tomb

It just doesn't feel like Christmas.  I have no idea how many times I've said that over the past couple weeks, but it's a lot.  I could try to come up with why -- from the tears that well up in my eyes for the heartache of people I care about, to being so disorganized, to the weather -- but I don't know that it really matters why.  Regardless of why, I can't seem to find the Christmas Spirit and I am not ready for Christmas.  This is not good, since there are only two days between now and Christmas Day and then it will be here whether I am ready for it or not.

I keep trying to listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas movies and wrap Christmas gifts, but if I'm honest, the music is getting on my nerves and I've really only managed to watch two Christmas movies and I didn't get anyone a truly good gift this year.  Don't worry.  I'm not going all Grinch on my kids or anything.  They are getting some great presents and I am able to muster up excitement for them.  But when they aren't around and it's just me, I feel like it is all a ridiculous waste of time and I cannot wait for it to be over.

The things I really want can't be wrapped and put under a tree.  In fact, it's really felt lately like the things I want can't "be" at all.  No amount of asking Santa or wishing on a star or praying or petitioning can bring them about or make them possible, regardless of Christmas magic or anything else.  I want kids -- not just my kids, but all kids -- to be safe and healthy.  I want families to be able to celebrate the holidays together.  I want people to not be lonely or sad or sick. I want everyone everywhere to have what they need.  I want us to be able to resolve conflict without violence, because I don't want my kids to grow up and know all the terrible things humans do to each other when they see each other as enemies instead of brothers and sisters in Creation.  I want peace and I want life.  For everyone.

Yet, we all know the harsh reality.  Things are bad.  Things are messed up.  Certainly, there are moments of hope, those passing seconds where things seem right and hope blossoms despite all odds.  Then we remember how wrong so many things are and it is difficult to keep that hope from fading.  So often, it seems as though hope is something we once knew, but now exists only in our memories.  As Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, "Hope in the past tense, [is] one of the saddest sounds a human being can make."  Sometimes it seems impossible to think of hope as something that still exists, as sad and horrible and pessimistic as that is to admit.

I've stated before that I'm not an optimist, yet, regardless of our beliefs, Christmas seems to call for an attempt at looking on the proverbial bright side.  This year, I can't do that on my own.  Christmas will come. Right here in my home there will be love and laughter.  I will smile and laugh and hug my family and watch gifts exchanged and I will force myself to be in the moment and enjoy it.  I will remember why we celebrate Christmas at all and I will be grateful.  I will cling to the love I have for others and the love I receive. 

But if the lingering gloom is to be dispelled, it will take more than gifts or lights or faith or love: It will take renewed hope.

Time will tell if that remains.  I hope with all my heart it does.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
- I Corinthians 13:13

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Road Home

So, poetry.  I used to write poetry all the time.  The first thing I wrote that I ever shared with anyone outside a writing class was a poem.  Would it be too cliche to spin a woeful tale about how I've somehow lost the poetry in my soul?  Probably.  But it has literally been years since I've written any poems.  I honestly don't know why, but I can feel the genre beginning to rattle around in my skull a bit.  I think I should give it a try, even if I'm so rusty that I'm unsure of where to start.  I miss it.  So here goes.....

Something about
that stretch of road
overwhelms me.
The way the fields
illuminate in the afternoon
sun is so
familiar and also
strikingly glorious.
A feeling
like homesickness
creeps in and
brings to mind carefree
summer joyrides and
treacherous winter commutes.
My mind wanders
to mostly forgotten memories
and the fragility
of life.
can happen.
on that road,
going home.
And everything,
if only for a moment,
is going to be

Friday, December 14, 2012

In Which I Resort to Profanity

(Warning:  If profanity offends you, maybe just skip this post.)

If you've met me in person and we are acquaintances, you have probably never heard me curse.  I don't curse while I'm driving, nor do I curse when I hurt myself or something surprises me.  When I'm speaking out loud, I try to find ways to express what I think without using profanity.  This isn't any kind of judgement on people who curse more than I do, it's just the way I was raised.

If you REALLY know me, however, you know that my upbringing only reaches so far.  If you've been around me when I'm overwhelmed almost to the point of speechlessness or when I'm drinking and passionately discussing an issue that is close to my heart or even when I'm totally sober and extremely worked up about something important, you've probably heard me curse.  It's not like the curse words just slip out and I can't stop them, it's that I begin to feel that no matter how decent my vocabulary, no words truly express the depth of what I'm feeling.  So I curse.  Shit happens.

When I hear about the recent mass shootings and other tragedies that take children away from their parents and siblings, I run out of words.  Words seem so completely pointless and meaningless in the face of shattered lives. With all my heart I wish that there was a way to bend reality, to undo the horrific things that have happened, to mend the families that have been changed forever.  It takes my breath away and my heart weeps and I feel overwhelmed with lament.

And then I get mad.  And I curse.

What the fuck?  Life is not supposed to be like this.  Kids should be able to sit in their classrooms or ride their bikes or commute on a school bus or walk across the street or go Christmas shopping with their mom without the stupidity, carelessness, or murderous intent of some other person snuffing out their precious lives.  For fuck's sake, what the hell?  What is wrong with people?  Yes, I get that people are broken and the world is a messed up place.  But things like this will never be okay and I will never understand.

I keep seeing people write about not blaming or not reacting rashly or not taking away rights or just praying for Jesus to come back, but really?  No amount of prayer, candlelight vigils, dedications, or memorials can ever make right the wrong that is done when the actions of another person -- intentional or otherwise -- take a child's life.  Holy shit.  There is no damn way we should be expected to simply accept that these things happen or to try to make sense of them by focusing on "the good" (as though there could ever be anything good about a child being gone or parents left behind).

Just.... no.  Fuck no.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Love is a Dialogue

I am friends with a couple whom I have known for many years.  They have been together for a long time and are well liked and respected by many people.  Over the years, however, I've noticed something about them that seems to be pretty common.  I am using them as an example in this post, but I'm not meaning to single them out or pick on them.  What I've noticed is most obvious with gift-giving and communication, but really permeates many aspects of their relationship.

For this example I'll use Christmas, since that is a major gift-giving holiday and right around the corner.  Each year, the man tries to come up with a wonderful gift for the woman.  He will sometimes enlist my help or the help of another friend to fulfill his Christmas surprise, but he always comes up with the gift idea himself.  Some years, it is some specific piece of jewelry she has told him she wants.  Other times it is a very specific item she has mentioned, from a top-of-the-line appliance for the kitchen to an instrument she wants to learn to play to some new and expensive tech gadget.  No matter what it is, the idea always originates from something she said she wanted that he paid attention to and filed away for the right time.

Sounds sweet, right?  The problem is, that when the woman says "I'd like a top-of-the-line Cuisinart ice cream maker," what she really means is "You know me well enough to know that I would never, ever use that and that it would sit on our counter collecting dust.  I would really like you to take me on a date every week."  And when she says, "I'd love to have the new iPhone," what she really means is, "I would have no idea what to do with an iPhone, but would you make plans for us to go out of town some weekend and surprise me?"

Sadly, in both cases, the guy thinks "Track down a Cuisinart ice cream machine and give it to her for Christmas." Or, not being a tech-guy, he thinks, "Find someone to help me purchase an iPhone and load it with any apps that might be interesting to her."  So that is what he does.  And when she opens the gift, she always reacts in a way that lets him know he didn't win.  Oh, she may act shocked or even tell him thank you, but then she will make some comment about not knowing how to make ice cream or how expensive it is probably going to be to have an iPhone.  So she will end up disappointed with her gift and he will left be wondering how he got it wrong.  Again.  When he got her exactly what she wanted.  And he will not ask her what is up and why she never loves the gifts he gives her that she'd said she was longing for.  They never talk about it.

And I see this type of thing time and time again.  Maybe it isn't always with gifts, but a similar miscommunication happens in many relationships   Most books and movies and television shows seem to perpetuate this idea that if a person loves you, they will automatically know what you are thinking and what to say to you and what you need. Buying into this keeps us thinking that a person's devotion somehow hinges on their ability to acquire magical, mind-reading abilities to summon up exactly what you want them to say at the exact time you want to hear it or to know exactly what you want even if you've never let on it's what you want.  And if they can't, well, then clearly they just don't really love you. 


I think that rather than helping people foster healthy relationships, all this myth has done is damage people and stunt relationships that might have otherwise turned out to be something beautiful. 

In romantic relationships, open, respectful communication is one of the most important aspects to foster.  If you cannot communicate when you are getting to know each other, you sure as hell are not going to be able to do it when the going gets rough.  Why, oh why do we buy into the idea that in a good relationship there should not be the need to say what we mean and what we need?  In the words of Carly Rae Jepsen, "This is crazy."  Why do we seem to think that someone doing something incredibly sweet or thoughtful or romantic is tainted if we had to tell them it was what we wanted? 

If what you really want is a weekly date night, then say, "What I really want is a weekly date night."  Don't say you want a french horn because you'd like to take lessons at some point and hope the other person knows that what you really mean is you'd like standing reservations for the two of you at the local French restaurant.  Seriously.

And I'm not just talking about romantic relationships either.  The same applies to friendships and family relationships.  Yes, when you've known each other a long time, you will know each others "triggers," that the person who just made a sexist comment made your friend's blood boil or that Aunt So-and-So needs to be distracted if she starts talking to your sister about why she hasn't settled down and started a family.  But there are things we need from our friends and family that may be different from the things they need from us.  It doesn't mean someone loves us less if we have to tell them that we just need them to listen without offering advice or we really need a night to watch funny movies and hang out without really talking.  If we tell them what we need and they show up and deliver, guess what?  That is love.

I know this has turned into a bit of a rant, but I was thinking this morning about yet another Christmas around the corner, after which I will have to listen to this woman complain about what I'm sure is going to be another totally awesome gift, and having to see this man be disappointed yet again that he didn't make her happy and knowing they will not have an honest conversation about it.  And I got really irritated.

Love is not some mind-reading, all-knowing, bag of magic tricks.  Love is a dialogue.  You can't say one thing and hope the other person hears something different.  You can't not say anything and hope the other person figures out what you need from your silence.  Speak the heck up.  Say, "I need" or "I want" or "Please."  That is what will tell you if someone really loves you.  If you say what you want or need and they come through for you, think of how wonderful that is.  If you don't say what you want or need or you say something totally different from what you want or need.... and they don't do what you really want or need, whose fault is that?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Heart

I know it's Thanksgiving weekend and we are all focusing (or trying to focus) on what we are thankful for.  Social media is full of posts and tweets with daily thankful thoughts and reminders to give thanks.  I realize the importance of focusing on what we have in our lives that makes us thankful.  I understand why we should back away from the stress and the noise and remember the good.  I love Thanksgiving and giving thanks and I am so, so grateful for countless people and good things in my life.

Lots of good has happened in the past year or so.  In my circle of family and friends there have been babies and promotions and successes and new homes and new jobs and... good.  So much good.  And my heart is thrilled thinking of all of it.  Sometimes life is amazingly wonderful and I love that there are people in my life that much amazingness has happened to and that even in a small way I have been able to share their joy. 

Yet, in the midst of all the thanks and happy and good, part of my heart is very heavy.  In my circle of family and friends there has also been loss and pain and heartache.  So much heartache.  Some have experienced hideous, catastrophic loss that takes my breath away when I think of it.  Others have endured one shitty thing after another piling up, to the point that they wonder if things will ever turn around.  Sometimes life is horrifically awful and I hate that there is nothing I can do to ease their heartache.  I hate that all I can do is keep a place in my heart where their pain is neither forgotten nor trivialized.

So, while I anticipate this holiday weekend with joy and and thankfulness in my heart, these are tempered with lament for the anguish of others. My heart will give thanks and celebrate the good and my heart will hurt for my friends and family whose thankfulness is eclipsed by pain.  My heart will be filled with thanksgiving, but also with hopes of peace and comfort for those enduring heartache and with prayers for them for better days ahead. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

All That I Still Have to Learn

While on vacation this summer, I read the book “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Near the end of the book, there is a passage where she describes the things she is keeping as she moves on to where life takes her, and the things she is going to pack away.  She writes first of a cross, made out of nails and gifted to her when she first arrived at the parish she is preparing to leave, that it had been lost for years and just then recovered and returned to her.  She continues:
I’m glad to have it back, although I have many more, which I liked to wear back when a cross meant only love to me.  Now I know too many people who regard it as a weapon.  Some have been cut too deeply by it, not once, but over and over again, while those who wield it like a rapier seem to believe that their swordplay pleases God.  Either way, I find myself reaching for symbols with less violence in them.

The one I wear most often now is a silver circle with three waves curling toward each other in the center.  Jesus is one of those waves, but he is not the only one.  When his wave breaks, the Holy Spirit’s wave picks up where his left off, and when the Holy Spirit’s wave breaks, the water spills back toward the Wave Maker.  The clerk who sold me this circle told me that it did not stand for anything, but I knew better.  I knew I needed a symbol for the fullness of God, which cannot be reduced to any one name alone.  While I wear the circle, I will keep the cross, even though I am not sure that the symbol can survive its abuse.

When I read this, I immediately knew that I wanted a tattoo of the three-wave circle.  It’s not a religious symbol, at least not the way a crucifix or a rosary is, but it has deeply significant meaning to how I have come to understand and embrace my faith. The more I turned it over in my mind, the more meaning it took on.

It is difficult to fully explain all that this symbol has become to me and why I wanted it as a tattoo.  I attempted to explain it to Chris, the artist who does my tattoos, and never found the right words.  Of course, I was trying to explain it out loud, which I struggle with.  I’ll make an attempt to do it justice here, in written words, but I some things mean more than words can express. 

This tattoo does symbolize the fullness of God, but that is only the beginning.  It also symbolizes learning to embrace my faith and finally understanding that my faith is made real in the wrestling, the questioning, the re-evaluating, the storms and the peace.  It stands for the vastness of all I still don't know, but the grace to keep growing and changing and letting new revelations wash over me. 

Finally, it signifies that I have made peace with knowing that the way I experience God and understand my faith is not the same way many of the people I love and respect experience God and their faith.  Just as the vastness of the ocean can affect us all differently and evoke different responses from different people, the same is true for how each of us experience God; that is part of the beauty and mystery of both God and the sea. 

When I first started getting tattoos, I thought that they should all have a deep and personal meaning, but I’ve since realized that it’s fine to get a tattoo just because you like it.  My next tattoo may simply be something beautiful that will compliment my magnolia.  But this one is deeply significant to me and will likely take on more meaning as my faith evolves.  The fullness of God, embracing my faith with all that I still have to learn, and being at peace with how I experience God – that's the meaning I explain for now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Trouble With Explaining Things

A while back, someone I knew during childhood posted that her young son had heard something about abortion on the radio and she had explained it to him.  She made a point of stating that it was funny that her 6-year-old could understand how bad abortion is when so many adults can’t seem to.  I wasn’t there so I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing her explanation was along the lines of equating all abortion to killing babies with no discussion of the differing views on when life begins or why there are caring, loving people who may see the issue differently.  Abortion, like many other divisive topics, can be explained in a variety of ways.  I often struggle with how to explain these topics to my kids. 

How things are explained to us and how we hear them discussed in our environment as we’re growing up form the foundation for how we think and what we believe.  As parents, we want to teach our kids to know the difference between right and wrong and how to make good choices and all the basics that will help them turn out to be good people.  Many of us also attempt to impart our religious and political beliefs to our children as part of teaching them what is right.  These last two things are what have concerned me recently.  There is nothing wrong with teaching these views to our children; my concern is more about how we do this and how differences are explained.  

The family I was raised in was very conservative and vocal about sticking with conservative, “biblical” values.  I knew from a young age that Republicans were the “good guys” because they care about things like saving babies and keeping God in America.  I vividly remember overhearing a conversation between my parents when I was about twelve years old, in which my dad revealed to my mother that, although he had been voting Republican for years, he was still a registered Democrat.  He’d simply never gotten around to changing his registration.  I remember getting this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, wanting to say something and yet knowing I couldn’t since I really wasn’t supposed to be listening.  MY DAD?  A Democrat???  How was this possible???  Why on earth would he want to be associated with the very people who killed babies and wanted to take God’s name off our money?  I obviously don’t have to tell you how all these things had been explained to me… either directly to me by my mother or by absorbing it from the Christian publications in our home, hearing people speak about them at church, or overhearing the conversations of concerned adults.

If you know me at all or if you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know that my beliefs have changed quite a bit since I was twelve.  I wouldn’t say that my views are the total opposite of how I was raised, but I am certainly the minority in my family now and I am not teaching all the same things to my kids that I was taught.  So here is what keeps tugging at my heart: Twelve-year-old me would have been horrified by present-day me.  Twelve-year-old me would have thought that someone like present-day me had taken too many steps down the slippery slope and plunged into darkness.  Thinking about this, I realized that when we are teaching kids to hate, fear, disrespect, or disparage the politicians and political parties and points of view we disagree with, we aren’t just teaching them these things in big, nebulous ways.  When we do this, we are teaching our kids to view their neighbor or their teacher or their grandmother or their aunt (or even their future-selves) as a villain, as someone who should be hated or feared or disrespected or disparaged.  It was the aunt thing, especially, that hit home with me this week.

My sister has an almost-three-year-old son and three tiny one-month-old babies.  I love these four kids as much as I love my own kids.  My sister and I had a brief conversation yesterday about something my mom mentioned to her about something I’d said about a certain political viewpoint and was concerned about.  Knowing that my sister and her husband agree with my mom on the matter, I got to thinking later about how much I love my family and how much I love my sister and brother-in-law and how much I love their kids, regardless of any disagreements on certain issues. 

Then I got to thinking that it's possible that the way things are explained to them as they grow could influence my nephews' and niece's opinion of me.  How would I feel if the triplets didn't think of me as the aunt who cried when she held them for the first time and drove to their house in the middle of the night once a week when they were tiny to feed them and cuddle them so their mom could get some sleep?  And it devastates me to think that their big brother could one day not care that I was the aunt who would pick him up and spin around until we both got dizzy and fell on the carpet laughing or the aunt who would sneak him fruit snacks and let him drink chocolate milk straight – not mixed with white milk (at least at my house).  It absolutely breaks my heart to know that although I would give my life for any of them in a second, they may one day think of me as a political enemy, someone to look at with scorn and disdain.  Not because I'd done something terrible, but because they realize that I think about things differently from they way they were taught was "right."  Tears are streaming down my face as writing this, just thinking that it is a possibility.

I am not in any way whatsoever insinuating that my sister and brother-in-law would ever tell their kids to think of me in such a hurtful way, because they would not do that.  I am not saying they would ever even tell their kids to think badly about anyone.  But what I am saying is that this is where what we say about others in generalities goes from a seemingly justified political or spiritual rant to becoming a real, face-to-face, heart-to-heart hurt.

This made me wonder about what I'm teaching my kids with the way I talk about what I believe.  It breaks my heart to think that based on how I explain things to them, my boys might one day look at my sister and brother-in-law as anything other than the people who love them as much as their dad and I do.  I hate to think that anything I would say to my kids about a view my sister and brother-in-law happen to hold might make my boys think badly of them.  Their aunt and uncle are two of the most generous-of-spirit and big-of-heart people I have ever met in this world.  They have stayed in our home with the boys and spent countless hours manufacturing all sorts of fun projects and silly games for them and showered them with love and affection.  I honestly don't care if we disagree about certain issues and I would never want the way I talk about things to cause my kids to care either. 

But since I am raising my kids with a few different views from some my sister's family holds, how am I doing that?  Am I teaching them the same exact thought process I was raised with, but only with different villains?  Or am I teaching them love first and foremost, regardless of political or religious differences? 

Our political or religious beliefs are only part of who we are and as we are searching and questioning and trying to grow, they can change.  That doesn’t mean we become completely different people.  In some cases, like mine, I would say that the evolution of my religious and political beliefs was more a process of bringing them in line with the person I am.  It doesn’t mean I love my loved ones any less because they may not agree with me.

So here is what I think we should do:  The next time we are tempted to act as though what we think or believe is the absolute, 100%, no-questions-asked right thing to believe and that we know the exact right way assert it to "stick it" to dissenters.... before we start to type or say words that demonize or disparage anyone, we should think of the people we love most in this world.  I want us to think of how we SHOULD discuss the matter if those people we love were the ones on the other side.  We should think of all the things we love about them, all the wonderful things they add to our life, all the things that make them individuals instead of the labels we assign to people for their beliefs.  We should think of how we would feel or what it would mean to us if we were speaking those hateful words to those we love -- to their face.  We should think of how we would be destroying something precious by directing those words to them and teaching our kids and those around us to do the same.  If that doesn’t give you pause, well, it should. 

We need to stop.  We need to think.  We need to remember that those groups and parties and politicians and other-side-ers we so love to rant about are representatives of individuals.  They represent individuals we know and love.  We need to teach our kids and the people around us that there is another way, that who we are and how we treat each other is far, far more important than whether or not we agree on things that are decided in the voting booth or can only be believed rather than proven. 

That, my friends, is what I intend to explain to my kids.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Church. For Now.

I have not been to church since sometime mid-summer. That is to say, I have not attended a church service in months. When I think about how long it has been since I was a part of a church, I really can't say. I want to be. I know it is important. And yet, there is this... what I read in the Bible about what The Church is supposed to be like:
Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This description above is almost impossible to reconcile with the churches I have experienced.  To be fair, I have not visited every church, but I simply cannot reconcile the above scripture with what I typically see.

What I typically see is that a church has devoted themselves to a charismatic leader, who sees the church as his family business, getting rich and building enormous buildings as a monument to his leadership er... as a monument to the blessings of God on his people.  Sometimes, lacking such a leader, a church will devote themselves to the few scriptures they have pulled out and made an idol of.   I also see a lot of making sure people don't have everything in common, because women are treated as though they are less and must have the blessing and permission of a man to do any kind of serving or ministry.  The one part I usually do see is church people getting together for fellowship and meals.  With other people.  Who are just like them and who toe the line.  So, basically, many churches I have experienced are nothing like the Acts 2 church.

I am well aware that my above statements show that I have some deep wounds and a train car full of baggage from my time spent attending church.  I am also aware of the need to work through all of that.  But what I have a very difficult time with is how to get past it when every time I turn around I am seeing something similar.  I've tried visiting some churches.  But what I see when I visit or what I hear when I talk to other people about their church, typically reflects at least a few of the things I've called out above.  (Oh, and the last visit ended in total disaster, complete with having to quite disruptively leave an outdoor service in the middle because the gospel quartet singing the special music keep cranking up the speaker volume to the point that it was physically painful and one of my kids was covering his ears and crying at the top of his lungs that his eardrums were damaged.  No lie. These are the kinds of things that happen to me.  At least that one made for a good story.)

I just don't know where to go from here.  Church "shopping" is exhausting and challenging to do with two kids who love routine.  Plus, we live in a rural area and there are only four churches within a fifteen mile radius, two of which have the same pastor because individually they are too small to support a full-time minister.  Once you start attending a church outside of your community, it is extremely difficult to fit in without making a lot of time commitments that require a lot of driving time.  Then there is the whole issue that my husband and I have opposite work schedules and most church activities taking place during our designated family time.

I've given up.  At least at this point.  I don't want my boys growing up with the same baggage I have and I don't know how to find a church that seems to be striving toward what my Bible and my heart tell me a church should be.

If there is one thing I've learned over the past year it is that if you don't learn to own your faith, to truly understand what you believe and why, then you may as well not believe anything.  When your faith is based only on what other people have told you that you should believe, you have to close yourself off from people who think differently from you, lest they ask you questions you can't answer or find gaps in your story.  I don't want that and I don't want it for my kids.

For the past couple months, I've been getting up on Sunday mornings and curling up on my couch with a book of sermons by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Her words cause me to think and they speak right to my heart.  They give me different perspectives on stories I've heard a thousand times.  I feel refreshed and challenged.  I have some ideas churning in my head of what I should do next, but that is for another post.

After my own reading time, the boys and I talk about some questions we have about God or stories we've heard, then we find a scripture on that topic to discuss and memorize.  Luke and I write the verse in our notebooks and Owen draws a picture of what he learned from it in his.  We talk about what the verse has taught us about God or how we can apply it to our lives.  They sometimes ask questions I don't have answers for and I tell them I don't know.  I want them to own their faith, not memorize canned answers.  There are a lot of things we just don't know.  There's no sense in pretending otherwise.

I know all the stuff about the fellowship of believers and not giving up on meeting together, but this is working for us.  For now.  And didn't He say He would show up wherever two or three are gathered?  There are three of us.  I think that is enough.  For now.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What I Promote

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

I've been reminded of this sentence time and time again lately.  I'm going to go ahead and assume that you know there is a presidential election coming up since you are reading this and therefore have access to a computer and information.  Every day, when I get on Facebook  it seems like there is yet another one of my Facebook friends who I have to add to my list that is excluded from my news feed.  So many posts basically calling me all sorts of terrible things, degrading my character and questioning my love of country, my integrity, and my humanity.  Of course, these people are not targeting these attacks directly at me, but they are posting  those things about people who hold the same political views I hold and those who would vote for the people I intend to vote for.  (An absolutely wonderful post expanding on that topic can be found at this link.  I highly suggest you read it, but not before you read the rest of this post.)

I know that I am guilty of this too, at least to some extent.  I hear or read something that boils my blood and my first impulse is to rant about how terrible it is and how I can't believe anyone would do/say/think/promote such a thing.  However, I keep coming back to this "instead of bashing what I hate" idea and what that should look like.

I hate bigotry, racism, sexism, violence, war, and discrimination. I love when people, words, and images promote tolerance, understanding, community, equality, non-violence, peace, and love. Sometimes promoting what we love does mean identifying what it is we hate, but it should stop there. When we become preoccupied by how much we hate an idea or a politician or certain belief that differs from our own, that begins to dictate how we treat others. When our treatment of others is dictated by what we hate, we lose.

And we all hate losing.

So here is what I'm am not going to do:  I am not going to stop sharing what I think or begin to keep my opinions to myself.  I know people who have chosen to do that and it may be what is best for some people.  But I learn so much from engaging with others over ideas and topics, that I don't think giving it up entirely is constructive for me.

Here is what I am going to do instead: Before I click "like" or "share" or "post," I am going to ask myself if what I am about to show to others is promoting what I love.  If it isn't, I'm going to step away from the mouse.  Before I respond to another person's comments -- online or in person -- I am going to think about what it is I care about and respond from the perspective of advocating for something I think is extremely important. I am going to do everything in my power to promote what I love and leave behind the discussions about what I hate.

I know that I am not going to change another person's ideas by pointing out where I think they are wrong or why I hate what they have said or posted.  And, in case you are thinking that this is some kind of positivity exercise I'm undertaking, that's not it at all.  I am still a realist through and through and I know it is also highly unlikely that I will change their views by promoting what I love.  This is about realizing that I only have so much time and, rather than wasting it by giving attention to the things I hate, I'm going to make the most of it by focusing my fight against those things on promoting the things I want to see take their place.

Tolerance, understanding, community, equality, non-violence, peace, and love -- That is what promoting what I love should look like.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No More Wading

One thing that I find interesting about writing a blog is being able to look back at my posts from a few years ago and see where I was then.  In some ways it is depressing, because I feel like I used  to be a pretty decent writer and that somewhere along the way I lost my muse or my voice.  (Or maybe I just thought I was better back then?)  Yet, in other ways, it is a good reminder that I'm not floundering and I haven't gotten stuck in one place. 

I happened on this post from June 2009, and I'm reposting it below as a reminder to myself.  This song came to mind a couple weeks ago.  I remembered that I had posted some of the lyrics here way back so I went looking for that post.   When I read what I wrote in the last paragraph, I was overwhelmed.  I certainly haven't mastered swimming, but.... yeah.  I sure have come a long way.  I barely remember what wading feels like.

(Caedmon's Call, on their 1997 self-titled release.)

When I'm cold and alone
All I want is my freedom
and a sudden gust of gravity.

I stop wailing and kicking
Just to let this water cover me, cover me.

Only if I rest my arms, rest my mind,
You'll overcome me
and swell up around me.

With my fighting so vain,
With my vanity so fought,
I'm rolling over....

All the time I'm thinking,
Wondering how it would be
to breathe in deep.

I guess I need to be careful
when I ask for a drink
(Just might get what I ask for).

And I know just what
You'd say to me,
That's why I don't ask You.

What would I ask You?

An awful lot of talking,
I don't leave You much to say;

You didn't ever leave me-
And my greatest fear was
You'd leave me here.

A long time back
my feet could touch the bottom.

It probably makes more sense if you listen to the song, but I think it has some really great lines. I especially love the last line.

This song, and especially that last line, describes how I feel right now. Just a few months ago, my feet touched the bottom, but now I mostly forget what that feels like. I don't think that, had someone asked me back then, I would have said that I had everything figured out. I'm smart enough to know I never have. But I think that looking back, I felt I had enough figured out. That I knew what was going on and that I knew what I thought about most things. Now I'm exploring and thinking and mulling over and trying to swim. Despite that it is unfamiliar, it's much better than just wading in.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


There is something about this time of year that makes me acutely aware of the passage of time and leaves me feeling unsettled.  Perhaps it is because my birthday is in October or perhaps it is because it feels like once November is so close on the horizon the remainder of the year zooms by in a holiday-fueled rush.  Whatever it is, I find this the most agitating time of year.

Southwestern Ohio weather has a tendency to be completely crazy in any season, but something about the utter fickleness of Autumn here makes me feel off-balance.  The leaves begin to turn and the wind kicks up and I start to feel like something I can't put my finger on has disconcerted my soul and an unprovoked unease has crept into my heart.  I can't stop myself from continually taking stock of everything in my life and wondering what I should be doing differently.

I am not one of those women you read about who are caught up in the having-it-all trap.  I do not think I have to have it all, do it all, or be it all.  I actually spend a lot of time doing nothing at all worth mentioning.  This isn't to say I've reached some praise-worthy level of enlightenment, it simply speaks more to the fact that I've accepted the way my brain is wired and I feel completely fine leaving "it all" to others. I'm an introvert and I spend a lot of time at home.  My natural state is not one of worrying if I'm getting ahead in life.

But when Autumn blows in, I can feel myself withdrawing from people even more than usual.  I get mentally exhausted from my efforts to inventory what I do and why I do it and where I need to focus efforts to improve.  I find myself feeling like I'm constantly being interrupted, only to realize all I was doing was thinking and no actual interruption occurred other than normal life happening around me.  It seems like I'm running out of time, like I should have more figured out, like I would give anything for life to have a pause button to allow me to get my shit together before proceeding.

But there is no such luxury and not much else I can do but plod on and wait to regain my balance.  Lately I have been trying to focus more on the people around me and do my best to quiet my mind and give them my full attention throughout the day.  It's not much, but it is something to pull me back to reality when my mind is racing and my heart is overwhelmed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sink or Swim

In her sermon titled “The Shepherd’s Flute,” Barbara Brown Taylor begins by telling the story of when her husband and a friend were going duck hunting in the friend‘s boat. When they arrived at the boat dock, they discovered that the boat had come untied and was floating away. As much as they tried to reach if from the riverbank, the current carried it away and the friend eventually had to shed his hunting gear, jump in the frigid water, and swim out to get the boat. They both agreed it should be the friend to take the plunge because it was the friend’s boat.

The second story is about two friends who parked in a parking garage and the driver accidentally bumped the car next to him as he was exiting his car. The driver of the other car jumped out and began yelling, despite that there was no damage. The first driver’s friend got out of the car to diffuse the situation, but the irate car owner told him to stay out of it as the dispute didn't involve him.  To which the friend replied, “When you’re talking to my friend, you’re talking to me.”

Later she goes on to explain the following, which I have been thinking about all weekend:

All in all, we are warned away from getting involved in other people’s problems. Parents teach us to mind our own business and let other people mind theirs. Therapists call it “trespassing boundaries,” or “ co-dependence,” and they have a point. Sometimes our ownership of others’ problems ends up crippling both them and us, by eroding our responsibility for our own lives.  When we make a habit of rescuing other people, we prevent them from learning about the consequences of their actions. We help them keep illusions about themselves, and we get to be heroes in the bargain, but it is not good for them or for us. Everybody deserves a chance to fail.  It is how we learn to be human.
But we also deserve to have someone in our lives who will say, “When you’re talking to him, you’re talking to me,” someone who will tear her clothes off and dive into the water when what is disappearing down the river happens to be us. That is not “ co-dependence.”  That is agape, self-giving love, the kind of love the good shepherd practices and the kind he teaches.
In reading this, I began to think of how much I appreciate the people in my life who have been there for me, to swim after me and keep me from disappearing down the river. But I also realized how ill-equipped many of us are, myself included, to be that person who is diving in, reaching out, standing in, or pulling someone back to shore. We don’t know what to do, aren't sure of our ability to swim, aren't sure exactly of how to help. We stand by either hoping (or praying) for them to save themselves or we end up offering assistance that doesn't really meet their need.

I know it’s not really fair and I know it feels like other people should know what we need, but if we’re being berated by life or struggling to stay afloat, we need to say something to the panicked onlookers. Tell them that we need them to yell back, to pull us in, or to just tread water with us while we get our bearings. If they are trying to put together a rowing team to come out and get us, but what we need is for them to remind us that we are an excellent swimmer and to simply cheer us on, we should try to tell them that. If someone wants to take revenge and shout back at the bully but we just need them to stand quietly by our side, say that. It is easy to think that the people who care about us should instinctively know how to support us. But people process and approach situations differently. What they are offering may seem like the best idea to them, but may be hurting us.

Again, it isn't fair and I know sometimes we may not have the strength to fully explain what we need, but, if at all possible, I really think we need to try. I’m speaking just as much to myself here as I am to anyone else.  It may make all the difference between sinking or making it back to shore.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Christians Should be More Like Atheists (or How an Atheist Helped Save My Faith)

Once upon a time, I was a good Christian girl.  Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that a lot of what I'd been told about God and Christianity and how I was supposed to "live out my faith" was complete bullshit.  It pisses me off to realize that a lot of what I’d been told was actually made up as a way to control others or make money.

I know I've written about my struggle with this process previously; yet what I haven't written about till now is the eclectic mix of people who threw me life preservers and kept me company while I was floundering, struggling to keep my head above water – trying to figure out not only how to swim, but if I really wanted to be in the water in the first place.  I was fortunate enough to find several beautiful souls in some seemingly unlikely places.  Someday, I may write about the others if I feel they might not mind it, but today I'm going to write about my friend Kara.

Late one night as I was randomly looking at blogs, I stumbled on one that was decently interesting and read a few posts.  When I looked at the blog roll and spotted "Answering the Apocalypse” listed there, I clicked over to it.  What I found was some of the most honest, witty, sarcastic, entertaining, and heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.  I have to share her "About Me" description here so you can see why her blog caught my eye:
I am a currently underemployed writer/graduate school dropout who has no idea how to pave a path for herself in life. In addition, I am an "out" atheist, I don't want children, and I am nowhere near as financially independent as I would like to be. And, no, I don't think that my lack of direction, my dislike of children, or the absence of money in my life will be improved by accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, although I guess it would take care of the atheism.
I literally laughed out loud.  This chick is seriously funny and seriously self-effacing in the most endearing way.  She is sharper than most other people I've met, yet she realizes that her flaws make her just as human as anyone else.  I spent my free time over the next few days reading all of her old posts.  I tried several times to leave a comment, but something about my browser settings wouldn't let me.  I finally gave up trying and sent her an email.  We struck up an email friendship, which quickly became chatting and commiserating almost daily.

I genuinely appreciate Kara and her friendship is invaluable to me.   For over three years now, she has been one of those people in my life to whom I could honestly say ANYTHING and know she was not going to judge me or hold it against me or be offended.  She was there for me -- with just the right mix of support, questions, rants, dialogue, and silence -- while I struggled with the incongruity between what I'd been told I should believe and what I saw with my own eyes, felt in my own experience, and read for myself in the Bible.  She would encourage me to see things from other perspectives without ever once pressuring me to change my beliefs to match hers.

While I don't like to tell people what to do or how they should act, after thinking about this for quite a while, I am going to share a few of the things I've learned from my atheist friend that I honestly believe Christians should take to heart.

1. Accept that it is okay for people to be different from you.  Christians seem to talk a lot about loving everyone and "meeting people where they are."  Sadly, we are often so preoccupied with our small groups, purity programs, and hating the sin but loving the sinner, that we fail to realize that none of those things show we can handle it if another person’s life experience does not allow them to see things the way we do.  Kara and I have very different backgrounds, but she never made a big deal of our differences or acted like I needed to be more like her to be worthy of her friendship. That attitude is much more like the attitude of Christ than what I typically see from a lot of Christians.

2. Stop being scared of questions.  Jesus almost always answered questions with questions or with stories that led to more questions.  I know from experience how the certainty that we have the right answers makes us seem haughty and arrogant, because I have been treated that way many times.  Life is messy and full of questions.  We don’t have all the answers and pretending that we do is living a lie.  I don’t know how many times I've started a conversation with Kara with “I don’t understand…” but those conversation almost always lead me to a place of meaning.  I may still have the same questions, but discussing them with someone who never made me feel like I should have it all figured out opened my eyes to the vastness of God’s love and the realization that he doesn't expect me to know it all either.

3. Stop acting like you have it all together.  You don’t.  None of us do.  Be a real person.  People can spot an agenda from a mile away.  No one wants to be your project.  In I Samuel 16, we are told, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Look at the heart of others and wear your own heart on your sleeve a little.  One of the most refreshing things about talking to Kara is that I knew she would tell me what she was really thinking and respectfully admit if she disagreed with me.  We need to accept who we are, regardless of who others think we should be, but we also need to allow those we come in contact with to be who they are.

4. Never tell someone they shouldn't feel how they feel.  Open your eyes and look at the reality of the world around you.  There is real pain.  There is real suffering.  Abandon your slogans, church-sign zingers, and clichés.  Those things not only trivialize real heartache, but they also make you seem like an ass. You do not know exactly what it is like to live someone else's life.  From your perspective, the other person may not actually have it so bad, but how is that helpful to someone who is having a really difficult time?  Proverbs 14 tells us "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy."  I cannot tell you how much it helped knowing that if I told Kara how much trouble I was having with something, she would agree that it sucked instead of telling me what a terrible person I was for thinking I had it bad when there were women being persecuted in Iran.

5. Show up.  Be there.  Don’t shy away from the things that challenge you and your world view.  My friend Kara has been hurt by Christians in the past.  "Christians" used their "biblical world view" to verbally attack her, to judge her, and belittle her.  Yet she never asked me to stop talking to her about my own beliefs and where I was in my journey.  I’m sure there were times it would have been easier for her to tell me she couldn't handle my baggage, that she’d had more than her fair share of Christian rhetoric, and to please talk about something else.  But she didn't   She kept telling me that I’m smart, that I will figure it out, that I will be okay.  It’s easier to back away when we don’t want to get our hands dirty with someone else’s issues, but that isn't what we are supposed to do.  Roll up your sleeves.  Offer a your hands to help, your ears to listen, and your shoulder to cry on.

These are just a few of the things, but I am sure I could go on and on.  My main point here is that when I was standing on the edge of losing not only my faith in God, but also my faith in myself, there was someone there for me who doesn't even believe God is real.  She loved me for who I was, for where I was, and helped me pick up the pieces.  She stood by patiently while I put them back together in a way that allowed me the beginning of an understanding I'd never imagined possible.  Regardless of your beliefs (or non-belief), I think there is something there we can all learn from.  With her unconditional acceptance and constant encouragement, an Atheist helped me salvage my faith.  Imagine how different things would be if more Christians treated other people with the same warmth, respect, consideration, and love.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Small Choices

I've always thought that if I had lived in another time in history, I would have been an abolitionist, a Suffragette, a civil rights supporter, or whatever other label would be applied to someone who, at their time, was standing up against injustice.  Oppression and discrimination have always made my heart heavy.  I feel the need to do something.  To not, through my silence, grant approval.  I can't disguise my frustration and disgust in the face of inequality. 

I’ve come to believe that the struggle for the equal rights of those in the LGBT community is something I need to support.  When I really step back and envision myself in their shoes, I feel like I have a rock in my stomach and can't take a deep breath.  I may not be out there on the front lines with a sign and chanting for the news cameras, but I often feel that tug on my heart and cannot stand how my fellow citizens are too often treated horribly because of who they are, especially when hateful words and actions are cloaked in some kind of religious argument.

Recently my oldest son came home from school with a print-out about Boy Scouts.  Another boy in his class participates and he really, really wanted to join.  I told him we would think about it.  The more I thought about it though, the more I was bothered by the BSA exclusion of LGBT persons and began to doubt if participating in the organization was a good idea for us. 

I will pause here to make two points:  First, I recognize that as a private organization, it is the right of the BSA to make determinations about who is eligible for participation;  Even if I do not agree with their determination, I affirm their right to make it.  Second, I do not have a bad view of people who have participated in or currently participate in BSA activities.  This is not a judgment on those people, just a personal choice about the organization and its leadership for my family and me.

I know it might seem like this should have been a simple decision, but it was not.  If you knew my very reserved and introverted son, you would know what a huge deal it was for him to take such an interest in something and how very difficult it was to tell him no on this. 

I also wondered if my not letting him participate due to my beliefs on the matter was not the appropriate response.  As much as I truly believe in equality in this matter and that what I believe about it is "right," I still struggle with how that works when making choices for my kids.  I remember when I was 12 or 13 and my mom took my sisters and me to a Democratic political rally to hold up "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart" signs across the street in protest.  I contemplated if my not letting Luke do Boy Scouts because of my beliefs was somehow similar to my mom using her kids to help with an abortion protest.  I certainly hope that my kids grow up to be adults who take a stand for equality, but is denying them something they really want because of my stand on the matter the best way to teach them that?  In the end, I decided that if it were the way my child is or my relationship with my child’s other parent that were keeping him out of an organization, I would think that others keeping their kids from participating was an appropriate show of their disagreement with the way I was being treated.

It may be just a tiny thing, not something that anyone would think makes any difference.  I didn’t march down to the school, waving a banner, and give all the people signing up a piece of my mind.  I didn’t loudly protest to everyone within earshot the injustice I see in this type of discrimination.  But in the end, I decided I had to go with my belief that the commands that I follow to love my neighbor and treat others as I would want to be treated means taking a stand against discrimination.  I had to say no.  I truly believe that there will come a day when good will win out and discrimination against the LGBT community will not be tolerated.  Yes, it will come partly through protests and rallies and lobbying congress, but it will also be ushered in through the small choices we all make – in the voting booth, in the support we give to organizations that promote equality and withhold from those who don’t – in the choices we make for ourselves and our families. 

As Dr. Richard Beck so eloquently put it, “Goodness is, perhaps, more banal than heroic. Goodness is achieved through a million small acts of kindness, goodness, and generosity. Goodness is achieved through a million small acts of subversion, resistance, and protest. Millions of small Yes's and millions of small No's.”

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Thing About Prayer

"I just wish there was something I could do."
"You can pray, Honey."
"That isn't doing anything.  That is doing something that is exactly like doing nothing."

Yes, I actually had that conversation with my mother tonight.  I'm exhausted and feeling particularly candid at the moment.  I'm waiting for news about one of the most important people in my life.  She is there and everything is going on there and in everyone else's hands and I am here.  I am sitting on my couch, drinking a glass of wine, with Gilmore Girls playing in the background (the one with the B&B), my laptop on my lap, boys sleeping in their room (as they should be since it is after midnight), all alone since Ryan is at work, and I am here.  She is there.  My heart is there.

Of course I am praying.  There is a continuous thread of prayers running through my head.  I am pretty sure that even if for some reason I decided there was no God to believe in, I would still pray in my head in times of stress or crisis, simply because I never remember a time when my inner voice didn't talk to God.

However, I realize that there are a lot of time that people pray for things that don't happen.  And that kills me.  And makes me feel totally helpless.

Like how I feel now.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


For anyone who either grew up in the church or is familiar with the more often-told Bible stories, you probably know the story of the woman caught in adultery.  If you are not familiar, here is an excerpt from John 8:  
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her....” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I've seen this story come up multiple times in discussions over certain social issues around which there is much debate and disagreement.  When I read this story, two things stand out to me.  The first is, where the hell is the man?  Unless I'm misunderstanding something, it takes two people to commit an act of adultery.  Was he in the crowd with a rock in his hand?  What injustice that only this woman is facing death for a crime committed by two equal participants!

The second thing I see is how Jesus stands up for her, this scorned woman who is facing the judgment of the religious leaders of the day.  He not only saves her from a brutal death, but treats her with dignity.  What a scene that must have been and what confusion she must have experienced at this shocking change in her fate.  When I read this, I see a story of mercy, grace, and love, but also of justice -- the woman is treated equally with the man and does not receive solo punishment for the sin of two. Those are the things that stand out to me in this story

I've noticed, however, that what some people focus on in this story is that last line, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  In the KJV translation, it reads, "Go, and sin no more."  To some, it seems, the main point of this story is that Jesus tells her to stop sinning.  Sure, the rest of the story is nice, but look!  Jesus made it clear that she had to lead a blameless life for the rest of her days!

It has always troubled me, this split in how the story is explained and how some seem to use it like a weapon against those they believe are sinning in a way that is less acceptable than their own sin.  I would always be baffled that the proverbial "moral of the story" could be so completely different to people who all seem to agree on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. 

I just finished reading a book by Richard Beck titled Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality that shed light for me on why there is such a difference in approach when this type of story is discussed.  I wish I had read this years ago.  I have re-read this section of the book (below) numerous times, and now that I've had time to consider it, it makes perfect sense.  For anyone who has spent a lot of time studying psychology, this may be old news.  For me, well, mind = blown.
Given that the experience of the divine is often regulated by disgust psychology, conversations about God, sin and holiness are often being torpedoed at some deep level. A dumbfounding is occurring. These dynamics make conversations about God inherently difficult because our experience of the divine is being regulated by emotion rather than logic, affect rather than theology. I think people in churches have always known this, and felt that people in conflict within the church were generally talking past each other....
Conservatives make appeals to the Purity/Sanctity foundation while liberals restrict their moral judgments to the foundations of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity. This is simply another way of saying that liberals, weakly or strongly, reject appeals to a vertical, transcendent dimension... in favor of the horizontal dimension of human affairs.
Conservatives will contend that there are times when the sacred...should be privileged over the... call for justice or equity.... For liberals, the metaphysical (“the sacred”) isn’t a category worthy of consideration if real world harm and injustice are at stake.... (emphasis mine)
 I highly recommend reading Dr. Beck's book, as this excerpt really doesn't do justice to his thorough examination of the analysis he offers, but I hope you can see what he is getting at here and what his words illuminated for me.  When I read it, I immediately thought of the different responses to the adulterous woman story. Due to our life experiences and the way our minds work, some of us are thinking more of what is fair, caring, and just when we consider what is "right" and what is "wrong" or what we focus on in certain issues.  Due to the same factors, others are thinking more of what is righteous, pure, or acceptable when considering what is "right" or what is "wrong."

I know this insight doesn't actually change anything.  It doesn't make me more likely to think about the story of the adulterous woman in a different way or change my mind about other frequently debated issues.  I will still disagree with people over where I stand.  However, it does help me see that there will be times when I need to step back and appreciate that I'm arguing in a completely different right vs. wrong "language" than another person.  It doesn't make either of us bad people, it just means that our brains work so differently that we may never be able to agree on that subject.

This knowledge reminds me that there will be times when I need to determine if my relationship with a person is more important than trying to get them to see where I am coming from.  I may never truly grasp the point of view of someone whose mind works differently, but there may be ways to compensate for this difference.  We may never gain full comprehension, but maybe we can get to understanding in the sense of "a state of cooperative or mutually tolerant relations between people."  If we can find a way to relate to those on the other side of this divide, cooperation may be possible.  I have to believe that even if we never get there, it is a goal worth pursuing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Repent or Perish.... But the Greatest of These is Love

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." - Luke 13:1-5
I hadn’t really noticed this passage before, but I happened to re-read it a few weeks ago and it caught my attention.  In my Bible, it has a heading prefacing it that reads "Repent or Perish," so I guess I previously skipped over it as some kind of revival fodder.  I’m not pretending to be a Biblical scholar here, nor am I trying to come off as some sort of theological expert, but I’ve been mulling this passage over and over for weeks now and it is the rest of what Jesus said in it that stands out to me.  What if, Jesus wasn’t meaning this as some sort of off-the-cuff altar call, but as a call for us to examine our hearts and repent of when we blame other people for their circumstances?

What if Jesus was saying that the world just sucks sometimes and that the bad things that happen to people aren’t to punish them or teach them a lesson?  It seems to me that he was telling us to stop using our our words, our actions, or our thoughts to judge people who suffer.  There are so many things outside of each individual’s control – from where they are born to if they are stricken with a terminal illness to if some unforeseen tragedy befalls them - and these things are not the result of their sin.  The sin actually happens in the thoughts and actions of those of us who act like we have it all figured out whenever we know or hear of someone who is hurting.  When we judge those people or try to “fix” them by telling them what to do or how to feel or where they went wrong, we are the ones who need to repent.   Not looking after the sick, not visiting those in prison, not helping those in need of food or clothes or drink, feeling superior to someone who is different (aka a stranger) – aren’t those things that Jesus told us in Matthew 25 would separate us from God?  Didn't Jesus tell us in Luke 10 to love others as we love ourselves?

I think we need to take a step back here.  We are so conditioned with canned responses and clichés that we respond to heartache without thinking of how we would feel in the same circumstance. I’m speaking to myself as much as to anyone else.  I know there have been times when I feel that someone is in a bad spot because of what I consider to be bad choices and I've reacted terribly.  I’ve actually thought, “Well, that is sad, but if they wouldn’t have chosen to [fill in the blank with a "bad" choice], then maybe it wouldn’t have turned out this way.”  I realize this may be a defense mechanism that helps me pretend that I would be immune to that circumstance because I wouldn’t make that choice, but what I'm really saying there is that I am better than that person and wouldn't "deserve" for that to happen to me.  How terrible.

The other myth this passage in Luke blows out of the water is the whole everything-happens-for-a-reason bit.  When something bad happens to someone that isn’t directly a result of their own choices, so many attribute it to some higher purpose or lesson to be learned.  Why do we do this?  My guess is that trying to assign a lesson to something that could easily happen to any of us lulls us into thinking we should or could be exempt from the same thing.  In the words of Jesus, "I tell you, no!"  I am no better than anyone else.  Life is horrifying sometimes and none of us have some special exemption, as much as we wish we did.

Going back to Luke 13, I really do think that Jesus was trying to tell us that it is wrong to react to heartache in any way other than to offer compassion, and to repent if we don't realize that any of us could easily be in the same situation. The humility we gain from that will allow us to reach out with kindness and understanding and love.... that last thing, most importantly.  As I mentioned before, Jesus is also known for telling us that loving others as we love ourselves is one of the most vital things in life.  Regardless of how we may want to rationalize the circumstances,  we must not give in to that.... lest our hearts harden, our souls perish, and we forget that love is one the most important things of all.  

Postscript:  I really did just happen upon the scripture in Luke, but I felt even more compelled to write about it because of two things -- 

The first was how there are always those persons who speak out whenever a natural disaster occurs, to blame the victims for somehow incurring the wrath of God with their horrible lives.  This has always bothered me, as the victims who typically get the brunt of such disasters are those who are economically disadvantaged, not those who are "morally deficient."

The second was watching from a distance as a family I care deeply about has had to endure the most idiotic "justifications" for why their beautiful and vibrant Zeke was so horrifically and tragically wrenched from their earthly lives and arms.

Please.  PLEASE.  I beg of you.  If you hear of someone enduring heartache, be it in your community or on the other side of the world, think these two things before responding:
1.  That could happen to me.  Perhaps not the exact same thing, down to the exact same detail (for example, in Ohio, there are no hurricanes... or perhaps some people are childless/have no young children), but something frighteningly similar could happen to me or to someone I love very much.  
2. How would I feel if that same thing happened to me and how would I want people to respond to me if it did?
Once you have truly considered these two things and really taken them to heart, then you should be better prepared to respond.  If you find either of these things too difficult for you to wrap your mind around, it is probably better to be silent and send up some prayers or positive thoughts for those affected and leave the comments or displays of sympathy to others.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I owe a great debt to Barbara Brown Taylor. I've never met her, but I have been irrevocably changed by her words.  I'm working my way through her books, experiencing a sort of rebirth as they pierce my heart.  When I read her thoughts, I feel something I haven't felt in a long time.... a stirring in my spirit.  It's something that, if I'm honest, I had thought I may never feel again.

I know I've written before about my conservative upbringing and how, over the past few years, I've diverged from that upbringing quite a bit.  I would imagine that at least part of my experience is similar to anyone who has been raised in a certain tradition, become disillusioned with that tradition, and then found themselves feeling lost and unsure of how the frame their life from there. The process has been extremely awkward, like some kind of spiritual adolescence.

At the beginning of this experience, I was focused on shedding the old beliefs, walking away from where I was before.  It was painful and difficult, as I was not sure how much of the old had to be stripped away. I doubted everything.  I was worried that clinging to too much would feel like being weighed down with baggage.  I think once I'd made up my mind that I no longer believed so much of what I'd grown up thinking, the old way seemed bad.  I was so frustrated with my "before" that I began to see most of it as wrong.

Some of those "before" things had to do with how easy it is to have the appearance of certain aspects of faith, without really "meaning" any of it.  It is ridiculously simple to go through the motions of many faith traditions because you know people are watching you and expecting you to behave a specific way, yet without any of it changing your life.

Once I realized that I did not "mean" some of these things, I didn't know how my faith experience should look.  At the risk of being associated with some of my old ways of thinking, I restricted any faith experience to philosophical discussions with people I deemed safe and I kept everything else to myself.  When I did try to open up to people outside my safe little circle about what I was going through, I can see now that it had to seem like I was lashing out -- not from my own struggles (as was the reality), but at those people for not being in the same place as me.

I've only recently begun to feel that I'm moving away from that into a new realization of my faith.  This involves the awareness that I must have grace for the faith process of others which may or may not lead them down the same path I've traveled.  It also includes having grace for my own process.  This has been a long time coming, but I feel like I'm right there, on the cusp of freedom.  I can think and believe what my own journey has taught me while accepting others right where they are.  I can understand and appreciate that the minds of others work differently, based on their personalities and life experiences and environment.

Thanks to my introduction to Barbara Brown Taylor (as well as to several other authors and bloggers), I'm realizing that I am not alone and that growing to a new place doesn't have to mean abandoning my faith out of distaste for some of the ways I had framed it in the past.  Neither does it mean rejecting others who may still be where I was before and may never be where I am now. I can be cognizant  that the right place for me is not necessarily the right place for everyone else, and vice-versa. 

In her book, "Leaving Church" Ms. Taylor discusses that when your journey takes you to a place away from your roots, it can be difficult, but freeing.  It also allows you to connect with people you otherwise would have been completely isolated from. Life on the fringe of your tradition can be scary and lonely, or it can be rich and affirming.  We don't have to rely on clichés and dogma; we can be at peace with uncertainty.  She explains:
I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.  We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities.... This wilderness experience sets up a real dilemma for some of us, since we know how much we owe to the traditions that shaped us.  We would not be who we are without them, and we continue to draw real sustenance from them...
I will keep faith - in God and in God's faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help me see the world as God sees it.... We may be in for a long wait before the Holy Spirit shows us a new way to be the church together, but in the meantime there is nothing to prevent us from enjoying the breeze of those bright wings.
 All this is to say that I feel like my spirit is emerging from the dark place where it has languished for so long.  This isn't any sort of Now-I've-Arrived statement, but more an attempt to convey the hope I feel that I'm catching glimpses of a way forward. Connecting with the stories of others has contributed to this hope and given me a sense of belonging.  I find myself reaching for my Bible and feeling my spirit stir as I find new meaning in passages that had seemed flat and confusing before.  I know I have a long, long way to go.  I know this journey will likely take me to places I would never expect, and that a year from now (or even tomorrow) I could look back on these words and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

I'm still questioning and learning and growing and emerging and changing.  I don't know where I will end up or if I will at some point feel like I'm back where I started.  But, for now, I feel like the pieces of my tradition are coming back together in a way that awakens my spirit.

And for that, I am grateful.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Cosmic Lottery

One of my favorite writers, Rachel Held Evans, writes about what some might call predestination, but what she terms "the cosmic lottery."  She named this concept when she started thinking of how people in other countries came to be of their religion, and in her book Evolving in Monkeytown she explains:
I call it “the cosmic lottery.” It doesn’t take an expert in anthropology to figure out that the most important factor in determining the nature of one’s existence, including one’s religion, is the place and time in which one is born, a factor completely out of one’s control.
 I wholeheartedly agree with her on this.  Yet what I'm contemplating now isn't so much about religion, but about the broader, "nature of one's existence" implications of this lottery.

I admit that I don't know a lot about state or multi-state lotteries.  I never play.  I am whatever is the opposite of a risk-taker.  I would rather have twenty dollars in my hand than a minuscule chance of winning a million.  From what I do know about the lottery, even if you don't win 'the big one' there are some smaller prizes that are still quite substantial if you match most of the numbers or something.  So, you have the one (or few) people who win the mega-big-bucks jackpot and get a ridiculous amount of money, then you have the however-many-others that still wind up with a decent amount.  Of course, there are also all the losers (not a character judgement) who have nothing but a slip of paper to show they played.

What I've been thinking about is that when it comes to the cosmic lottery, if you boil it down, my kids won a share of the jackpot.  They are both white males, born in America, to middle-class parents.  Sure, there are plenty of  über-wealthy people who are above them in the "winnings," but really, on paper, they have it made.  I am NOT trying to say their life is awesome and wow look at these amazing kids.  I am also NOT saying this has anything to do Ryan and me or our parenting or how we raise them.  I am only referring to the fact that they, just by being born the type of humans they are, in the circumstances they were, are in the middle-ranks of some of the most privileged people in the world.

Think of it.  If you are a white, middle-class, American male, you are in the group of people on this planet who are probably the least likely to face serious discrimination, oppression, or harassment in the course of your everyday life.  Certainly, no one is immune to tragedy or hardship, but it's really not that likely that they are going to encounter many (if any) people who make life hard for them because of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other factor for which some people experience discrimination on a regular basis.  I am not saying this is good or okay or acceptable or that I endorse it or think it is right.  I am only stating my observations, based on living the life I live and all the reading and living and knowing people I've managed to fit in to it thus far.

So, my dilemma here is this: How do I teach my boys the correct way to live with their so-called cosmic lottery winnings?  I really feel like if you win the cosmic lottery, it is wrong to act like all success you achieve in life is purely the result of your own effort.   You did NOTHING to win!  You didn't even pay for your ticket or choose your numbers.  None of us get to chose our parents or country of origin or gender or any of those things.  How, if you end up born with a lot of advantages, can you honestly believe that you did everything on your own and that being born who you were and where you were had nothing to do with how your life turns out?

Please hear me; There is nothing wrong with success.  Success is great.  I hope my kids find something they enjoy and are able to do to make a good living.  I hope that they become honorable, lovely people and that they work hard and are able to enjoy the results of their hard work.  But I also want to help them see how lucky they are and that a big part of who they get to turn out to be was handed to them.  I want them to understand that when others are struggling to better their own circumstances, the response of those doing well should never be to sit back and bask in their own less-difficult existence. 

I want my boys to learn that any good things they may have in their lives don't make them better than anyone else.  I want them to see others as their brothers and sisters in this world, regardless of how different or the same the "lottery" turned out for anyone else.  I think this dovetails with my previous ramblings about empathy.  I am trying to figure out how to teach my boys to be able to step back from their own experience, to listen, to connect, to care, and to think.  And, when appropriate, I want them to help, to stand up, and to speak out.

Sometimes I feel like my heart will break with the weight of thinking about these things.  I wonder if there will ever come a day when there aren't so many people looking at others who are different from them and trying to find ways to deny them dignity.  I wonder if pondering these issues will make a difference.  I wonder if trying to instill a sense of humility and responsibility in my two little boys will ever matter at all.

I guess I won't know if I don't try.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is God a Christian? Am I?

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”
- Bishop John Shelby Spong

I hate that in my past I've limited God by acting as though he can only be experienced by everyone else in the world in the same way that I experience him.  In a way, it seems utterly absurd that anyone would think that, but when you believe for so long that the way you believe is the only way, it takes some doing to shift your paradigms.  The past several years have been quite a spiritual journey for me.  

Granted, it has been a long time since I have acted like I thought that my way was the only way, and even longer since I actually thought it.  The thing about being immersed in a culture from a young age (in my case, the conservative evangelical faith) is that when you start to doubt some of the fundamentals of it, it is difficult to simply make a clean break.  You know you don't believe what everyone around you believes, yet you aren't nearly as sure of what you believe INSTEAD as the others are of what you SHOULD believe.  Blurting out "I think that's poppycock!" in response to an assertion, when you have not yet built the framework for your new beliefs, will alienate you more than it will do anything else.

When you finally do get confident enough to make the break from your old beliefs, it can be difficult to do it gracefully.  When I finally did it, my transition was anything but graceful.  I posted my new thoughts and opinions daily on Facebook.  I got into discussions (read: arguments) with old friends.  I could barely hide my disdain for some of the old ideas and I'm sure that came across to my friends and family (who still held those ideas) as disdain for them. I offended people.  I think that because I felt my new point of view was so right for me, I wanted to help other people see that my old way wasn't the only way. 

I can understand why I felt that way, but I now realize that just as my beliefs are personal and stem from my experience, it is the same way for others.  I learned a lot about how scary it can be when someone starts questioning shared beliefs, because it is comfortable to be surrounded by like-minded people.  But no matter what our beliefs, we should not be scared of questions; We should be scared when everyone pretends they don't or shouldn't exist.  Through my questions I've determined there are so many things I don't know at all.

Here is a passage from a book I just finished reading.  This is where I am right now:
There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know where evil came from or why God allows so much suffering in the world. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “just war.” I don’t know how God will ultimately judge between good and evil. I don’t know which church tradition best represents truth. I don’t know the degree to which God is present in religious systems, or who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. I don’t know if hell is an eternal state or a temporary one or what it will be like.... I don’t know which Bible stories ought to be treated as historically accurate, scientifically provable accounts of facts and which stories are meant to be metaphorical. I don’t know if it really matters so long as those stories transform my life. I don’t know how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s free will. I don’t know what to do with those Bible verses that seem to condone genocide and the oppression of women. I don’t know why I have so many questions, while other Christians don’t seem to have any....
I am learning to live the questions, to follow the teachings of a radical rabbi, to live in an upside-down kingdom in which kings are humbled and servants exalted, to look for God in the eyes of the orphan and the widow, the homeless and the imprisoned, the poor and the sick. My hope is that if I am patient, the questions themselves will dissolve into meaning, the answers won’t matter so much anymore, and perhaps it will all make sense to me on some distant, ordinary day.

(From:  Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions By Rachel Held Evans.  Buy it.  Read it.  Seriously.  Although it tells her own journey, she does a much better job of explaining the process than I am doing here on this blog.) 

What I'm learning is that, regardless of what some others may think, I haven't lost my faith.  I do experience God through faith in Christ -- not just because that is how I was raised, but because that is what I choose and what speaks to me.  Christianity is my "tradition," as the bishop said, but it is not my dogma.  I can see some of my ideas of God in other religious traditions.  I can see God in people who have no religion.  The way I experience God through Christianity may be very different from the way others do, and that is okay.  There are so many things about God that I freely admit I don't know or understand, and that is okay too.  We all make choices about what we believe, what pieces we have to keep in order to become better people and what we have to discard because it is an albatross to our faith.

Of all the ideas we can discard, I think the belief that we all have to experience God the same way should be the first to go.  God is a mystery and we do not own God.