Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Looking Back

Back in May, I started telling folks that my firstborn had been gone for "about six months." And though the story felt true at the time, it's only just become true now, in August. (Don't even ask how long it feels, today...)
Which is to say, six months in, I still miss him desperately. I can't step into his echoing room without going all misty-eyed. Keeping up with the laundry (for the first time in 20 years) ought to be cause for celebration, but really, I just stare at the half-empty hamper and feel a knot in my throat. Seriously, friends. There's no one throwing M&Ms around the house, or dropping clothes in the middle of the floor, or playing unspeakably loud music. And that makes me--get this--sad!
And as if that weren't enough, I've been blindsided by all the other goodbyes that I hadn't realized still needed saying. Who knew that saying goodbye to a nearly grown child involved also saying goodbye to each stage of their earlier life?! Just when was it that he quit tearing up the Children's Museum? When did he last catch a frog? When was it that he last asked for a ride to the movie theater? When was our last camping trip? And why didn't I notice the passing of each of these treasured moments of his childhood?
Mercifully, I suppose, we don't usually realize when something in life happens for the last time. The big milestones, sure, but the little things, the daily fabric of our lives - they slip by and are gone, and we don't even realize it. Then sometime later, something momentous jogs our memory, and all of a sudden we discover that goodbyes have been sneaking in all along. We just didn't see them for what they were.
So here I am, not just saying good-bye to a young adult, but to a cheerful wiggly toddler, and a grade-schooler with perpetual holes in his jeans, and an inquisitive, thoughtful adolescent. I'm confronted with the reality that that is all over, and frankly, I can hardly bear it. It's been so rich, so full, so intensely painful and joyful all at once, and letting it go hurts like nothing I've ever felt before.
Holding myself still long enough to face into these goodbyes is no easy thing. I'd much rather spend my time looking through the windshield (so to speak) than at the rear view mirror. As much as it aches to look back, though, it's helping me to discover that I wouldn't want to actually go back. Each of those phases was magnificent, in its place and time. But of course they all belong where they are - beautifully and solidly in the past. And clearly, I belong here.
Which means, I suppose, that all this "looking back" belongs to the odd magnificence of this place and time. The grieving and the tears apparently fit today, in some ridiculously miserable and appropriate way.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On letting go...

Just over a week ago I said goodbye to my firstborn, sending him off into the big wide world to chase his own grand adventure. He's a remarkable human being who long ago earned the nickname "Boy Genius," so I'm confident that he'll give life his best and take the inevitable surprises in stride. I feel fortunate that our farewell wasn't overshadowed by fear or worry (like it might have been) or rushed by frustration on either side. We said goodbye on the best possible terms, in the company of family and friends who love him and are cheering for him (and me) through this big step.

All that to say, it was the best possible goodbye. To be sure, it's been punctuated by moments of regret or fleeting terror (he's moved to Hollywood, for heaven's sake!) But by and large, it has given me the gift of stepping into this next stage of life, to begin the process of grieving and letting go.

There's a moment when you first hold your newborn, and that tiny one opens unfocused little eyes and your entire universe reconfigures. As it turns out, watching that little one grow up and leave brings a parent right back into that place - where the universe twists and contorts and changes before your very eyes. You may have prepared for this goodbye with all the other goodbyes in life (Lord knows I've had my fair share), but saying "goodbye" to your child is different in kind, not just degree. Somehow everything changes, somehow I've changed. Not in a visible way (well, there are the red puffy eyes...) but in an intangible, deep-down, I might even say a metaphysical way. A mother who has let her child go is a different person than the one who still has her child with her.

Some of the people I most love in this world have let their children go under far less ideal circumstances. And one of the many things I've learned from them is that grief is unpredictable, that there's no way to chart a clear path through it and out the other end. Sure enough, I find myself carrying on with life and all its normal demands, then bursting into tears at the most inopportune times. I sold off his "big boy bed" last week and mostly just felt glad to help fund the purchase of furniture for his new home. But then I came across his art school notebook and set it aside with a sob, too forlorn to glance at even a page. I find that I'm sleeping a lot, and relying on those around me (including the one child blessedly still at home!) to cover for me or glance discreetly away or offer a silent hug. I have no idea what tomorrow will look like, or next week, or (Lord, have mercy) next year. I'm very much living life "in the middle of it all," catching the waves as they come, or (sometimes) gasping for air after one of them catches me off-guard.

Part of our "launch sequence"included a drive across Nebraska. As you may know, I-80 doesn't offer much in the way of distraction, so we passed some time reading out loud from Paul Pearsall's book Awe.  The dictionary defines awe as "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful." Pearsall makes the case that awe is what allows for the depth and intensity of human experience. Living in awe involves the capacity to embrace the fullness of human life, with all the good and bad, not shying away from overwhelming feelings but letting the rich force of it all shape and transform us. 

And there's a lot about this letting go that bears the markings of awe. There's overwhelming gratitude for the way it's gone down, and for the love of all the years we've had together. There's hope for whatever new stage we're growing into, and for the ways we can stay in touch and connected. Of course there's also the weight in the pit of my stomach when my footsteps echo back out of his empty room, and the ache when I see his empty chair at dinner time. It feels like there's so little laundry to fold these days, and I have no idea what to do with all these leftovers. I've seldom experienced such a range of emotions, and certainly not with such force. It's almost like all my senses - physical and psychological - are fine-tuned to nearly intolerable levels. And yet. I wouldn't want to miss a shred of this awe-filled experience.

I'm learning that letting go isn't a "one and done" sort of thing; I suspect it's more like a practice or a habit that I may eventually hope to do with more grace and resilience than I can manage today. "Closure" doesn't seem to be on the agenda: maybe this is more about rolling with things, about staying open to the intensity of this all. And discovering that parenting doesn't just change us once, when we first hold our little one. It's more like signing up for a lifetime of seismic shifts, realizing that these miniature "tectonic plates" we've brought into the world will continue to set their own surprising trajectories, and that the best we can hope for is to love them in and for all the upheaval they bring.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Divine/Quantum Uncertainty

In Theology on the Road to Emmaus, theologian Nicholas Lash writes:
As I understand it, the Christian account of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, is a doctrine of the unknown God inasmuch as it is never and nowhere appropriate to ‘stop the dance’, to interrupt the dialectic of experience and to say: this and this alone is what we mean by ‘God’; here and here alone is his presence and activity to be discerned.  (156) 
This sounds uncannily familiar to something else that fits in the category of things I don't understand at all. Quantum mechanics describes the "uncertainty principle" as a precise limitation on our capacity to know - at the same time - both the location and momentum of any particular physical particle. (This is admittedly the very sketchiest of definitions. Read more on wikipedia here.) In essence, we can pin down one or the other but never both. An element of the unknown will necessarily accompany any bit we do come to know.

It seems that Lash is saying something very similar about the nature of God. While we may be able to identify God's action or presence in one place or time, we must know - at the same time - that elements of God's action and present remain completely unknown to us. Not just because of our own finite limitations, but in fact because it is in the nature of God to elude our [tight-fisted?] grasp. This shouldn't frighten us (though it may unsettle our cognitive aspirations!) because it simply reflects the magnificent reality of a God who defies our human urge to reduce mystery to bare facts.

Furthermore, it seems this sort of uncertainty not only reflects something of God, but in fact is woven into the very fabric of our universe. Perhaps even the cosmos is designed to undermine our drive for certainty.

One of the best jokes I've heard offers a different take on the same theme:

A cop pulls an electron over.
Cop: "Do you know that you were going 90 miles per hour?"
Electron: "Oh great, now I'm lost."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


“Pencils down.” Impending deadlines loom, and I fend off terror as I pick up yet another book, seeking “just the right entry point,” the concept that will allow me to pick up and follow a thread long enough to fill 20 pages. I’m in over my head, there’s no doubt about it.

 And here’s the thing: I took that plunge. I could have chosen a topic within my grasp; I could be well into my writing (and pleased with it, too.) Instead, I chose the impossible. I keep coming round to the impossible, really. I can’t let it go.

 I’ve been circling Derrida’s deconstruction for a decade or more – and while it’s impossibly beyond me, I can’t help but keep chasing it. I find something so deeply compelling, so crucial, so essential hinted at in this work. It’s controversial, no doubt – even disdained in many quarters. It’s difficult, much-debated; there’s no limit to the secondary sources that critique, praise, snub. I could spend my lifetime on this (and some have) and still only be at the beginning. 

Which I suppose is why I can’t let it go. In a sense, deconstruction represents the living elements of my faith. They’re both ceaselessly demanding – not in a controlling way, but in more of an inviting sense: “Come! There’s more! Don’t stop now!” They both extend hope: there really is more. And more and more and more. We will never come to an end of it. I think this is true of God’s love, of the mystery of our faith, of the depths of another human being. Deconstruction reminds me that what I see is really just the tip of the iceberg. And that my responsibility – nay, my calling – is to continue to explore. To look beyond the surface, beyond the obvious. To realize the immensity of the gift that remains hidden and go after it with both gratitude and single-minded dedication. 

Which is why I’ll pick up that pencil again. I’ll keep chasing the starting point for an essay that must begin but (alas; there’s hope!) will never fully end.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Landing in London

Two weeks ago just now our family was staggering through Heathrow, sleepy and bleary-eyed, rounding up our 9 pieces of luggage (carry-ons extra) and wondering what lay ahead.  Today, we may still be sleepy and bleary-eyed, but only because we've been making the absolute most of our time in this grand city!

We've settled into our flat - a surprisingly large apartment in International Hall (a University of London dorm).  It still smells a bit funny, and really - don't touch the carpet if you can help it.  True, we might not have chosen oatmeal, lilac, or seafoam for the walls that vanish into the heights of our 12-foot ceilings, and we would definitely have preferred windows that seal out the city noise.  But a run to Ikea and several stops at the "freeware" corner of the dorms, and it's looking like home.  Our kitchen comes complete with washing machine, fridge, and freezer (all approximately the same size) and, of course, electric kettle.  We're eating well (at last count, we've had Indian 6 times...) and even beginning to fill the freezer!

Our neighborhood is absolutely a prime location.  We're more or less in the middle of the city, and with London transport we can get just about anywhere - two blocks to the nearest tube stop; three to a busy bus route.  An easy mile's walk away is the Thames; nearer by is my campus (King's @ the Strand) and Kurt's UofL library.  Fabulous grocery store with two (count them:  two!) cheese sections is only a block away.  I'm loving the "walkability" of our new home.

We've spent more time than expected "setting up" - stumbling our way into more hassles than we might have expected, which just goes to show we're helplessly, naively optimistic.  So, for instance, to set up a cell phone account:  we can select the more pricey pay-as-you-go, or the value "pay-monthly."  In order to do this, however, we need a local billing account.  Which means we'll need a UK bank account.  No big deal, right?  Well, in order to open said bank account, we need proof of residency - in my case, a letter from King's confirming I'm a student.  Not having a printer, I spend an hour trying to get a copy of my email from KCL, and carry it in to the bank branch with great confidence.  Not so fast.  A print-off won't do - it has to be the original letter from the school, on letterhead, with signature and watermark intact.  So I contact the school, and learn that they can't write the letter until I've officially registered, which can't be before the 19th of September.  Pay-as-you-go it is.  (There are several more layers to this story - as yet unresolved - but I'll spare you.  I think you get the idea.)

On the other hand, we couldn't have landed here at a better time.  As London wraps up the summer, (and especially this summer!) there's more to do than we can keep up with.  During the first week, we kept finding our walks interrupted by things like, oh, the Paralympics marathon.  Or the closing Olympic parade.  Last weekend was "The Mayor's Thames Festival" - think Grand Rapids' "Festival on the Grand" on a London scale.  This week kicks off the London Design Festival:  so many things to see and do, so little time!  In fact, there seem to be so many "one-off" type events going on, we've not even hardly gotten started on the "standard London" activities.  I'm not complaining!

Of course, amidst it all, there's also the stuff we're really here for.  This week I met my tutor ("Academic Advisor" in US lingo) and I've begun my preliminary readings for class.  Next up on my calendar:  a tour of King's Maughan Library (here's the front gate).  I may not sleep the night before.  Kurt's already dug in to some of his consulting projects, and is starting to sketch out his thesis.  Pierce has signed up for a graphic design portfolio class at Central St. Martins, and is applying for apprenticeships with local firms.  Tomorrow morning we have an interview for Miriam at a nearby secondary school.  

All that to say, it's been a remarkable two weeks, and we're all looking forward to the next 50!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ahhhh..... Sabbath

Some years ago, our family decided that, at a very minimum, it makes sense to take a shot at following all Ten Commandments.  We had a running start on most of them, but there's that one pesky one about setting a day aside...  It just runs contrary to about everything your average American protestant is brought up to believe is right and good.

Predictably, I started reading about Sabbath traditions and theologies; even more predictably, my husband sat down, laid out a working definition of "rest," and decided there's no better time than the present to start implementing.  Simply put, for our purposes, our goal is to do nothing on a Sabbath that we might have put on a to-do list.  Productivity, for a day, is off the table.

The practice hasn't come easily.  It took several months before we succeeded in setting aside one full day. After years of repetition, the habit is sinking in.  On a really good day, we'll even wake up rested.  More frequently, it takes much of the day to wind down and let the rest sink deep.  One way or the other, our entire family looks forward to the day with unmitigated expectation.  It's undoubtedly one of the most creative gifts we could receive, and we welcome it with deep, deep gratitude.

In addition to rest (plain and simple), one of the gifts of this day is its nearly magical ability to peel away layers and reveal us to ourselves.  Today, for instance, as I tucked in for a Sabbath nap, I found myself distracted by all the other things I could be doing with my afternoon of rest.  There's that great book I've been reading, and of course I'm halfway through re-watching "Contact"and I can't quite remember what comes next.  The kids are beginning to stir, and it's always great fun to hang with them.  And there's that new recipe I've been wanting to experiment with...  wouldn't it be a fun Sabbath treat to enjoy a new dessert together?!  I actually heard myself think the phrase "weighing the opportunity cost of a nap."

Really?!  Over a decade of practicing Sabbath and I'm still so painfully distracted and utilitarian! This is how I treat time most of the week, so often scattered because I'm thinking of everything else I should (or could) be doing.  But to drag that into the day of rest?!  In the light of this day of gift, my compulsions are revealed for what they are.  I can't hide behind all my "good reasons" for this behavior, because today they don't hold true.  As a matter of fact, they probably don't hold true the rest of the week either.  It just takes this day to show me that.

I'm growing ever deeper into gratitude for this gift - recognizing it as a gift without which I would most likely drown in my own humanness.  I'm given the space, the energy, and the strength to face my own frail follies.  And as I face them down, I find myself ever more grateful for the rest I find beyond myself.   Brilliant idea of God's, this one.

"All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience; our awareness of God’s presence in the world."  
- Abraham Heschel

Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Tiptoes & Truth

His little fingers just curled over the edge of the altar table, grasping for a hold by which to hoist himself.  Even on the very tip of his toes, he couldn't quite see over the edge.  His blond hair even with the surface, those little blue eyes peered longingly up, as though the force of his desire might lift him bodily off the floor.
What held this little one's attention so powerfully?  It wasn't a cookie jar or a dvd player.  It was the weekly Eucharist, celebrated in our parish informally on Wednesdays during Lent.  Our congregation joins the priest inside the altar rail, and the little ones invariably edge away from their parents, inch by inch closer to the altar and the priest. This ritual is not new to them, but the vantage point is.  They are closer than ever to this mysterious event - and yet they pour all their intensity into getting closer still!
This is a picture of human longing at its best. I wrote last week about truth (here), about how it invites us ever deeper.  We have an intimation, a basic level of familiarity, an experience that captures our attention.  But just like the little one at the altar, that initial degree of knowledge isn't enough.  Instead, we strain, we reach, we grasp for more.  We "know" something, but even deeper, we know that there's more.  We aren't content to stand still and wait.  We realize that what we have known just scratches the surface.  It's beautiful and grand enough to captivate us - and it's worth everything to know it better.
Here's to life on our tiptoes!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Seeking Truth

"Keep the company of those who seek the truth - run from those who have found it."  - Vaclav Havel

As a person of faith, I hear the word "truth" kicked about not infrequently.  Depending on the context, it bears a range of meanings, which in turn carry their own baggage and freight the conversation to varying degrees.  Two perspectives on truth, in particular, have challenged me to think through my own understanding.  "Truth," as many postmoderns have it, is an archaic and manipulative power construct.  Truth, in the language of many Christians, is the foundational expression of reality, the absolute "what is."  Small wonder, then, that so many postmoderns abhor religion.  Or that Christians respond to postmodern claims of subjectivity with anger and fear.

Havel suggests, however, that truth is something much more grand than these [admittedly abbreviated and caricatured] polar perspectives.  To those who claim there is no such thing as truth, Havel issues an invitation:  "Seek truth!"  "Join up with others who seek it!"  To those who claim "There is truth, and this is it!" Havel cautions that truth is not something to be found.  It is not a solid construct, not a destination, not an endpoint.

Rather, truth becomes something vibrant and living.  It is something more elegant and intricate than we might imagine.  It is infinitely profound, inviting us to go ever deeper.  It is dark and painful, and never allows us to settle for long.  It calls us to know ourselves when we'd rather avert our eyes.  It summons us to know others when we'd prefer to dismiss them.  Truth sometimes screams to us in pain; in our confusion, truth might show itself elusive.  Yet Truth is also often revealed as hope; truth is found in beauty and friendship, in abundance and in love.  

Truth is simply not static - nor does it allow us the luxury of a passive response.  Truth strengthens but does not indulge.  Truth demands our attention, but never fully satisfies.  Truth will likely never make us comfortable.  Truth will challenge us and perhaps evade us and, when all is said and done, capture our hearts.  Hearts cannot deny or dominate, but they can follow. Relentlessly.

At this point, I believe, the dissonant perspectives on truth come as a gift.  A Christian perspective assures us that there is, in fact, "something big" out there.  Beyond us, beyond what we can see, there is something that calls us outside and beyond ourselves.  A postmodern view beckons us past any temptation to settle with an easy answer about that "something."  It reminds us that beyond any answer or meaning we might find, lies yet another.  And another.  

This, I think, is the quest to which Havel invites us:  the quest to live in constant pursuit of the truth, a truth we can know only in active response, truth revealed in the act of seeking.     

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Awaiting Joy

"The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light:
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined."

These words, penned by an ancient Hebrew prophet, set to music over 300 years ago by a German composer, still hold tremendous power.  What a magnificent promise - offering a vision for which I am not only willing to wait, but to work.  

As we begin the period of waiting and preparation that is Advent, these words articulate the hope that awaits us - that invites us into active expectation.  We learn in these days to wait for the coming of the Christ, and of His Kingdom.  And as we wait, we also prepare - hoping to become the kind of people who will recognize and welcome Christ upon his arrival, and who will work with him to see this promise come to pass.

Wishing you the peace of Advent - the peace of resting in the assurance of this promise.  And as you rest, may you also find ways to work and prepare for the earth-shattering arrival of the Prince of Peace.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hope and Newness

Kester Brewin and Peter Rollins have been blogging this week about radicals and conservatives. Kester briefly lays out the terms:
"Perhaps a radical is someone who does believe that newness, genuine newness, is possible. Whereas a conservative is perhaps someone who believes that new expressions are possible, but these are only reformulations of old things – and thus the old is preserved, even if it is reformed."
The world in which I live believes newness is impossible: I am surrounded by fans of Solomon, continually quoting "There is nothing new under the sun" in response to my wistful pleas. The upside of this perspective is [perhaps forced] contentment with things as they are, and commitment to working within what is known and accepted. It's a safer and more grounded perspective, anchored in what is known and proven - and, quite frankly, (from a theological perspective, at least) it's more easily and convincingly defended.

On the other hand, this perspective absolutely quenches my hope. If I look around me and assume that anything good I might hope for will have to come from what already is, the flatness of potentiality is devastating. I want desperately to believe the words of the prophet: "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev. 21:5) And I want to believe that newness isn't just a characteristic of the afterlife. I want to also believe the Gospel writers who wrote about "new wine", and the writers of the epistles who spoke of "new creation." Not to mention Jesus, who ushered in both a "new commandment" and a "new covenant."

I understand that roots are important, and that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. I don't question my indebtedness to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, or to the medieval mystics John and Theresa. I wouldn't be the person I am without the influence of my Mennonite ancestors, or of my faithful parents. But just as undeniable are the few remarkable occasions in my life when something completely broke and then was transformed. Out of emptiness, out of the rupture of all that had been, was born something radically new. You could argue (and many do) that the "new" thing was in fact linked to something very old, and on some levels you would be right. On the other hand, I inhabited both the former and the latter - and I can tell you, categorically, that the new truly is new. I couldn't have gotten here from there without a radical change, without the gift of something breaking in and utterly transforming that which had been into that which now is.

Pete writes,
"Thus both the radical and the conservative are interested in the past, but in different ways. One thinks that the past must continue to be brought into the present while the other thinks the past is a womb from which an utterly new event can arise..."
My hope is with the radicals.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On my way to work

On my drive in this morning, I left the radio off (though it was top-of-the-hour and I could have listened to debt-ceiling news to my heart's content). I didn't even turn on my iPod. Mostly because I was too sleepy to care, but probably also because it's a beautiful summer morning out there and I wanted to soak in every detail.

I drove under a windowed walkway that spans the highway, and noticed a floor polisher at work. It was probably a college student, riding one of those huge indoor tractors that shines the tiles while you ride along... the poor driver was leaning forward, elbow resting on the steering wheel, clearly bored out of his mind. Made me wonder - how often do we automate ourselves into boredom? Mind you, I'm grateful to drive to work rather than walk, but how much of my daily routine would be at least more interesting if I didn't have a gadget to do it for me?

This scene was followed closely by one of automated disaster - the smell of burning toast filled my car as I drove past a series of coffeeshops and restaurants. The conflagration must have been a significant one, spreading as it did across the four lanes of traffic. The smell brought back memories of a fireworks shop in eastern Kansas. We walked into a warehouse bursting at the seams with explosives, and were overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke! With a wry grin, my husband asked the saleswoman about it - after some verbal fumbling, she explained that she had just burned her toast. Right.

About the time the smell worked its way out of my car, I passed my favorite part of the drive - a spectacularly landscaped lawn. Fountains, waterfalls, beautiful plants - every bit as beautiful as our local botanic gardens. And it's simply the entrance to an office building. These folks take corporate responsibility to a whole new level... not only are they caring for their land, they're making it beautiful for all who pass by. I, for one, am grateful to them every morning.

And now I've made it to work, so glad I left the radio off.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


No sooner have I boarded the plane, than the intense experiences of my African visit begin to fade into a surreal blur. Did I truly watch wildebeest and zebra leaping over each other to cross the Talik River? Was that me smiling over a cup of tea on the front porch of my “tent”? Did our family really meet and share chai with our dear friends in Karai?

Africa can be an overwhelming place, at best. Beginning our stay in Rwanda was undoubtedly a good way to ease into it – the country has been affectionately referred to as “Africa light.” Long chats with Mom & Dad, home-cooked meals, new friends, watching sunsets from the veranda with gin & tonics in hand… Mosquito nets, ostensibly to ward off malaria-ridden insects, in actuality added a romantic flair to a very comfortable landing on the “Dark Continent.” I rested well, and enjoyed forays to local markets, walks in the neighborhood, and an afternoon on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Having gotten our “Africa legs,” and largely recovered from jetlag, our family ventured on to Kenya. Nairobi was all I’d expected it to be—and while traffic jams may have been a nuisance, even an hour parked in the middle of a Nairobi street has its charm. Rush hour in the city, however, doesn’t hold a candle to rush hour in Masai Mara. We flew into our camp in time for a casual lunch, followed by the game drive of a lifetime. Elephants, giraffes, water bucks and buffalo, leopards, cheetahs, and a pride of lions feasting on their prey—all in the course of three hours! It was nearly more than a mind could hold. The remarkable thing was that we had two more days to soak it all in. We criss-crossed the plains, traversed muddy streams, and waited patiently to watch the Great Migration actually begin to migrate. The kids and I found ourselves snatching naps between ostrich viewings and rhino hunts… was it the African sun, or perhaps the sheer excitement of the time, that made us so sleepy?

Our guides were delighted that Mom spoke Swahili, and made it a point to teach all of us as much as they could. At the end of each full day of exploring and soaking in the beauty, perhaps our favorite phrase was, “Lala salama.” (Sleep well) And sleep well we did. Our “tents” were more like luxurious canvas-roofed apartments, the meals were fantastic; waterbottles at night and hot tea with our wake-up call topped off a spectacular stay.

And then again, we shifted gears. In a small town on the floor of the Rift Valley, we at last met the friends who have so enriched our lives over the last several years. We shared meals and chai with the administrators of the CRCA (the African partners of Kenya Matters), took walks and played games with the children who live there. We were profoundly encouraged by the great work going on in Karai, and by the godly enthusiasm of those who’ve given their lives to care for orphans (and by extension, many widows as well.) We were simply delighted by our time with the children, who welcomed us and shared their joy lavishly. Their dancing and singing are perhaps some of the most beautiful sights and sounds I’ve ever enjoyed.

This time, too, however, came to an end, and we headed back to Kigali for one last day, and our farewells to family, friends, and then, the continent. One final breakfast on the veranda, animated conversations with friends new and old, one last gin & tonic as the sun set over one of Rwanda’s 1000 hills.

Perhaps it’s no wonder this all blurs in my consciousness. The variety, the beauty, the intensity likely overwhelm my ability to sort it all. At one point in the trip, Kurt and I laughed at Africa’s defiance of any attempt at a “unified theory.” Instead of trying to sort it all as it happened, I simply tried to absorb it. I watched the lightning flicker across the Rwandan sky and wondered at the beauty of the spectacle. I stood in the back of the Land Rover as the Kenyan sun beat down and the breeze blew in my face, and drank in the immensity of the landscape. I laughed with my family and friends, treasuring each moment in their midst. I walked with orphans, listened to the birds with them, warmed my hands on a cup of chai they selflessly shared with me.

I know this all happened, I am sure I was there—but not by the clarity of my memories. Instead, I know it because I am changed. Not perhaps in a way I can clearly articulate, but more by a general sense of expansion – as if the vastness of the landscape and the warm hearts of the people have somehow left their mark.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pardon me while I beat my head on this wall...

As some of you may know, I have found my spiritual home in a highly liturgical, hierarchical church. It's a bit of an odd fit for an out-of-the-box, flat-leadership sort of person, but there are a number of reasons that this is "just right" for me - some of which I understand, some of which as yet remain mysteries to even me. I have grown to love the liturgy, to look forward to singing the Psalms, to anticipate standing for the Gospel reading... I'm being formed by the rhythm of this life, and for this I am truly grateful.

But then there was yesterday. For the second time in as many years, an unprecedented series of events left our congregation without a minister on a Sunday morning. And for a host of reasons, in this case none of which I understand, the entire service had to be changed. Rather than the Sunday morning liturgy, we substituted a service of Morning Prayers. The Gospel was read from the pulpit rather than in our midst, and we sat for its reading. Eucharist was out of the question.

I'll be the first one to acknowledge that Morning Prayers were beautiful. The range of Scriptures read was profound, and, this week in particular, meaningful to me. A service that centered around Psalm 23 was touching, comforting, and a challenge to bring my personal sorrow into God's presence. The music, abbreviated as it was, was beautifully done and deeply moving.

But I was hungry, so hungry, for God's presence in the Eucharist. My entire body screamed to stand and acknowledge the wonder of Christ among us. I ached to hear of God's incarnation, and God's suffering. But because the right person, with the right credentials and right standing, was unavailable to our congregation at that precise time, I was turned away still hungry. Compliance with a set of rules, and observance of a hierarchical set of values, swept aside the beautiful rituals that have drawn me to this community. The grief and hunger of this community had to be set aside for tradition and "Order;" "playing it by the book" held precedence.

This, I beg, is a far cry from the freedom we've been granted in Christ, from the call to each of us as Christians to serve as Priests, from the promise (read in unison during yesterday's service) that wherever two or more are gathered, Christ is there with us.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Facebook : on the de/fence

I recently found myself surrounded by the last remaining trio of human beings who has not joined facebook. They're smart folks (brilliant, in fact) and more relational than your average group. But they had nothing good to say about social media - they decried it all (and fb in particular) as nurturing a false sense of connection and contributing to an overall shallow approach to relationship.
Now, I don't doubt their insights. We didn't engage the topic for long, and I'm sure their list of reasons for shunning this realm is well-reasoned and incontrovertibly defended. On the other hand, they don't stand a chance of convincing me. Why not? Well, for starters:

1) Social media developed organically out of our culture, for a reason. We westerners live fractured, distracted, commuter lives. This isn't the ideal for human flourishing, to be sure, and I certainly believe we should be active participants in subverting these dynamics. On the other hand, this is the reality we face. And social media allows us to continue to interact in spite of significant challenges to relationship. It streamlines planning for actual face-to-face contact, it allows virtual connection when physical meetings are impossible, and it reminds us that our lives are inevitably intertwined with a broad community.

2) In an era of high mobility (both chosen and forced) social media can help us maintain a level of connection to our roots. Unlike letters every other month (the story of my childhood) we enjoy up-to-the moment engagement with people we love but who live far away. For a TCK, (ThirdCultureKid) this is invaluable.

3) Social media serves as a tool for not just relational networking, but for intentional & expanded learning. I could sit here and keep writing, or I could learn from my friends and connections. I could keep arguing my point, but I'd much rather hear yours. Why do you think social media is a good thing? Post your thoughts here, argue with me (or each other). Help me think this through!

Friday, March 11, 2011

glimmers of ashes and dust

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Our priest's voice echoed around the hushed nave as we quietly filed forward and knelt before the altar. With eyes downcast, we each awaited that gritty reminder that we are here today, gone tomorrow. That life is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes intoned in a foreshadowing of this liturgy, meaningless.
Somber silence, however, did not get the last word this time. In response to the words of Jesus, "Let the little ones come to me," entire families accepted the invitation to participate in this sacramental moment. Toddlers slid sneakily back and forth along the smooth wooden pews; infants cooed and cried and shook noisy toys. When the ushers brought the offerings forward, one carried his small daughter; the other was trailed by his toddler, clinging to the back hem of his coat. At the altar, a big sister watched with wide eyes as her little brother received his first ashes. Another little one, accustomed to the gift of bread and wine, held our hands out anxiously to the priest. When he reached to mark her forehead, she pulled back in surprise - he gently blessed her, and she watched with curious fascination as he moved on to bless her parents.
It is a sobering, and even grievous thing, to remember that I come from - and return to - dust. But I must also say that these years in between, these moments of "dust-life" - are magnificent ones. God breathed life into this dust that is me, that is you. God gifted each of us - boisterous little ones included - with God's own image. God took this form - the form of dust - to love us. What more could we possibly ask?! In the light of God, even the dust shimmers!

Friday, February 18, 2011

TSA Rituals

We Americans like to think of ourselves as pragmatic, rational, and free of superstitions. But after my recent trips through TSA checkpoints, I've come to believe otherwise. Seldom have I seen such ample evidence of superstitious behavior, rituals fueled by fear. Think of it like this:

How many of us arrive at the airport early? Anxious about travel, we appear to believe that extra time in an uncomfortable gate waiting area might somehow pay a cosmic debt that could otherwise result in flight delays or missed connections. We stand in line, sometimes for quite a long while, to ensure our safe admission to the desired and much-protected inner sanctum. We carry in our hands a small white slip of endorsement as evidence of our merit, and surrender it when requested by the gatekeepers of security. We remove our shoes in hopes of being deemed worthy of entry. We offer up our possessions on the conveyor belt of inquisition, and place all our valuables in gray tubs of scrutiny. We disrobe to the bare essentials before passing through the gate of surveillance, and submit ourselves to rituals of probing and scanning. We share in the communal retrieval of goods, and together bow in gratitude for the privilege of passing through (and to tie our shoes).

All of this, while most of us realize that new & improved "safety measures" have in fact not added any measurable security to our air travel. It would appear that instead, we find comfort in the ritualized appearance of safety, and are willing to pay our dues for the emotional comfort we find in these rites.

Friday, January 28, 2011

God's Image

During last fall's EV Theological Conversation, Colin Greene told a story that has stuck with me ever since. It's not just that I've remembered it, but that it keeps confronting me. I'm challenged over and over, in myriad contexts, to face that story, to measure myself against it. It's an unavoidably convicting story. It's also a beautiful one. And I'm never convicted without simultaneously feeling inspired, encouraged, and even--oddly enough, affirmed. The story is a simple one:

Colin once visited a Greek Orthodox church with a friend. After a ceremony of chanting and incense burning, the priest turned and bowed to the congregation. The people then bowed in return. Colin leaned over to his friend and asked what all the bowing was about, and his friend responded, "He is bowing to the image of God in us."

Struck by the beauty of that sacramental practice, I've been challenged over and over to put its truth into action. Less than 24 hours later, I was shuttling through the Atlanta airport behind a gray-haired army commander. Political inclinations aside, I was unspeakably grieved by this reminder that in our world, there are people who make a living from the business of killing. My visceral response to this reality is typically a show-stopping one, but here, on an airport escalator, I could not escape Colin's story. With face burning and tears in my eyes, I ever-so-subtly bowed to this man's camo-clad back.

Only yesterday this story took on new meaning for me as I read the closing chapter of "An Interrupted Life" by Etty Hillesum. Etty was a Dutch Jew, chronicling her way through the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam and her own parallel spiritual awakening. In this final letter, she describes a round-up of 1000 Jews for a transport to a camp in Poland.
‎"When I think of the faces of that squad of armed, green-uniformed guards--my God, those faces! I looked at them, each in turn, from behind the safety of a window, and I have never been so frightened of anything in my life as I was of those faces. I sank to my knees with the words that preside over human life: And God made man after His likeness. That passage spent a difficult morning with me."
Finding God in the image of the other, I think, can sometimes be an impossible task. Its impossibility, however, doesn't get us off the hook. We are called, repeatedly and continually, to look for God's image in the other - and whether we find it or not - to honor its presence.

(*Note: as I wrote this on Friday morning, halfway around the world an Egyptian woman was putting these same thoughts into action. During a protest for change and freedom for her people, she chose love - over anger - as her means of challenge to power. I've added her picture, widely circulated by the news media, above.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Causality of Negative Space

I came downstairs the other day to find my dh reading a book with the title: "Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use" and - I am not making this up - grinning from ear to ear. He paused long enough to furiously scribble a note in the margin and then went back to the book, loving every minute of his "just-for-fun" reading. Now, I'm hardly one to cast stones - after all, I read philosophy and theology, neuroscience and even occasionally quantum physics thrown in for good measure. But I must admit, watching my husband go back to school and find his passion has been a kick.
We've both been surprised to discover the number of ideas his studies have stirred up with significant parallel applications in our respective fields of geek-dom. What he gets all excited about exploring in the context of evaluation often has fascinating relevance for my theological investigations. His note in the margin on Sunday was one of those ideas: "the causality of negative space." I'm sure he'll take that and run with it in a paper for grad school or a journal article, but I've been brewing over what that looks like in my own context.
We Americans focus a lot of energy on cause-and-effect, generally assuming that the greater force we exert on the cause end of the equation, the greater effect we'll achieve. We're proactive doers, and intimately familiar with the causal nature of activity.
But what about "negative space?" Silence, stillness, inactivity - do these yield results as well? Looking back over my life, I think many of the very best things were actually brought about by an active participation in, or at least embracing of, "negative space." My attempts to meditate, for instance. Miserable a failure as I may be, the regular practice of stillness has softened and slowed me down. Or having learned to [very occasionally] be silent in conversation. What a gift, to sit and simply enjoy the presence of one I care for. And what remarkable connections have been forged in silence, rather than in frantic conversation. My husband's extended unemployment years ago - negative space in so many ways cleared the way for a fullness we could never have dreamed up. In the arena of faith - the empty place of darkness and doubt yielded fruit that could have grown in no other way. In parenting, sometimes making myself "absent" is precisely the motivator my children need to step up and fill the space with their own efforts and achievements.
I think we busy doers have much to learn from this notion. The goals we so often "tackle head-on" and strive after are perhaps best pursued in a radically different way. The inverse of our instinct, in fact, may often be the most effective means of reaching our objectives. We would do well to look for this "negative space" - to see where in our life it has been formative, to consider where in our lives it might be put to constructive use.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Heaps of Rubble

I've been thinking lately about faith, and about what life looks like after faith has fallen apart. So many of us, particularly in my generation, have reached a point in life where circumstances, or education, or our own questioning, brought us to a point of doubt--and then beyond.
Like many of my peers, I grew up with a strong sense of commitment to God, faithfulness to my local Christian church, and a passion to make that God known. My faith in God was a strong wall - a place of protection and comfort, of direction and purpose. It guided my decisions and gave my life meaning.
Then the hard times came. A [liberal arts] education started running cracks through the mortar of my assumptions. Suffering--my own, and that of the world at large--tore at the bricks so carefully laid. A deep spiritual and emotional darkness descended over my life, and crumbled the few remaining bits of wall. When light at last began to dawn, I found myself disoriented, standing in a heap of rubble, with dust and smoke drifting past me into the obscure distance.
Out of the haze, I eventually began to discern other figures. They stood amidst their own heaps of rubble, shaking their heads and sorting the confusion of their own crumbled faith. Many of them dusted themselves off and began to walk away. Some chose to walk in the direction of the receding darkness, while others followed the rays of light that cut through the swirling dust. Still others slowly began rebuilding, right where they stood. They lifted each brick, brushed it off, and put it back in place.
As for myself, I spent quite a while in that rubble. I was angry about it, I grieved the loss of my wall, and I watched closely what others were doing. Then, almost without knowing it, I picked up one of my bricks and laid it on the ground in front of me. I laid another after that, and then another. Over time, I found I was laying a path. Not a path with a definite destination, to be clear, but one that circled and wove its way through (and perhaps beyond) the debris. I'm still laying that path, dusting off the old bricks, mixing in a few new ones, even occasionally stepping off the pavers into the mud. It has turned out to be a confusing, hopeful, sometimes painful, joyful adventure - finding my way forward on this path of faith.
One of the greatest surprises of this stage of my faith has been the communion that has grown with other rubble-dwellers. Regardless of what we've chosen to do with our heaps of debris, we have in common this experience - our once trusted walls have crumbled, we have breathed the dust of their extinction. Our eyes have burned with the fine grit of crushed faith, and we have grieved the loss of what we once held dear. Our conversations grow out of deep empathy and shared questions. We have suffered, perhaps not together, or identically, but still alongside one another; we have learned of darkness and doubt and shock. As we chart our courses in the wake of this disaster, our parallel experiences draw us together.
Some of us will walk away, some of us will rebuild, some of us will survey the confusion indefinitely. So far, there seems to be no one "right way" to sort out this loss. While our future paths might lead in varied directions, we are comforted, and yes--blessed--by the privilege of this shared memory. What we may or may not do in the days to come remains to be seen, but this we do know: we are held together in the solidarity of the rubble.

(Photo used with permission, www.freefoto.com)

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 EVTC - Of Meaning & Bones

"Liminal experiences drive meaning into the bones." - Colin Greene, at the 2010 Emergent Village Theological Conversation.

I may have mentioned this a time or two before, but I'm a huge fan of transformative learning. While I love a good intellectual challenge or a spirited debate, what really gets my attention is new information and/or experience that shapes who I am and how I engage my world. Meaning driven into my bones, therefore, is a poetic way of summing up one of my highest values. And a beautiful way of expressing my experience of the 2010 EVTC.

Of course, this also influences my ability to process the experience on an intentional, deeply aware sort of level. I've spent the last ten days or so working to identify just what meaning it was that was "driven into my bones." And as I've tried to bring more of that learning to the conscious surface, I've been challenged to explore more of the process itself.

I think in some ways transformation always happens just below the radar, somehow sneaking around our constructs and defenses and wreaking holy havoc while we naively proceed with our lives. Hence the reference to "liminal experiences" - those times and places where we find ourselves outside our normal, comfortable places and consequently tend to have thinner barriers and a greater susceptibility to the invasion of change agents. The EVTC was just such a space - we came together away from the demands of our daily lives, with an altered schedule and atypical freedom, sharing time and space, food and drink with new faces and different voices. We were presented with new ideas - or perhaps familiar ideas, with altered accents, or colorfully diverse stories. The influence of this open, challenging space and its rich variety virtually snuck up on many of us, driving its beauty deep before we necessarily even realized what was going on.

In upcoming days, I'll spend more time exploring specifics of the Conversation. In the meantime, however, I'm trying to absorb the significance of deep meaning, of creating and enjoying the spaces in our lives that make room for profound transformation.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life begins at 40

I've heard it said that life begins at 40. In some ways, that's entirely inaccurate...the fullness of the past 40 years is impossible to ignore, nor would I want to. On the other hand, a rekindled passion for life and its potentialities seems to be astir in this watershed year. I can find no better way to express what's brewing than this poem, recently e-mailed from a friend:

"Go to the Limits of Your Longing"

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Book of Hours, I 59

Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Theological Conversation: Creating Liberated Spaces in a Postcolonial World

Four weeks and counting till this year's Emergent Village Theological Conversation. As an MK, I find this year's topic particularly compelling; I've spent quite a bit of time thinking & reading about missions and postcolonialism. Here's a link to a post I wrote recently on the topic: "Postcolonialism Comes Home."
You can read additional posts on this theme by Julie Clawson and Brian McLaren; check back for more in the coming weeks.
We'd love to have you join us in Atlanta for what's sure to be an engaging, challenging conversation!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Musings on Magic

I just learned that our local art museum will be hosting an exhibition showcasing the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. I can hardly wait to attend, and I anticipate I'll visit more than once.
I enthused over this remarkable opportunity to a couple of friends, and, much to my surprise, they didn't take me seriously! They were convinced I was poking fun, putting on a show of sarcastic excitement.
But no, I really am excited!
So why, I wondered, would my anticipation seem so out-of-character? What do I portray that would belie this long-held fascination? Then I was reminded of the responses of friends when I expressed excitement over a visit to Disney's Magic Kingdom. Identical. Surprise, disbelief, raised eyebrows.
Well, here it is. (I think) Both of these experiences instilled in me, at a very malleable age, a sense of magic. Dreams come true, romance on a magnificent scale, adrenaline and fireworks and sentiment writ large.
Now, I know all too well that life, and our world, specialize in broken dreams. Most magic gets steam-rollered in its earliest stages--and in fact, the longer it survives intact, the more deeply the pain of its rupture. This is probably my predominant perspective on the matter, and it would explain the skepticism of my friends in the face of an almost naive embrace of sentiment and fairy dust.
But I believe, also, that life holds for each of us a measure of magic. A moment at sunset, the gleam of a full moon, a flash of deep connection with another human being. And this sense of magic is one we can foster or crush. For some unexplainable reason, the chaos of Diana's marriage and early death, and the capitalist dreams-for-sale force of Disney's empire have failed to steal from me the sense of magic that each still conjures. Rationally, I can observe and detail these great failings. Experientially, I love the rush I feel when either one comes to mind. And I do believe that I'm a better person for it. I recognize (all too often) the harsh realities of our world, but I want to be open to the beauty and joy of it, too.
I want to be the sort of person who can fall under a spell, if just for a moment, and be immersed in the wonder of it all.

(Image borrowed from the internet - it's so widely posted I can't seem to find its original source! Perhaps it appeared out of thin air?)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Discovering the God Imagination"

I just finished working my way through Jonathan Brink's new book, Discovering the God Imagination. I heard Jonathan speak at TransFORM, and was intrigued by his ideas, so I jumped at the opportunity to help provide some finishing-touch editing--and in the process, gain early access to the book.

Those of us who find our spiritual home in "Emergence Christianity" have been known for our penchant for deconstructing the faith--and for an unfortunate tendency to offer no viable alternatives. This book caught my attention, therefore, because it's a robust attempt at creating a new theological understanding. Jonathan does his best to step back from various inherited interpretations, and then step forward into creative and life-giving possible alternatives.

Though the author doesn't frame it in this way, I think I understood the book best by taking it to be a comprehensive exploration of what it means that we--humans--were created in the image of God, and that God's first judgment of us was that we were "very good." The question then becomes: have either of these two qualities changed? Do we still reflect the image of God? Are we still "very good?"

Historically and theologically, there's been an understanding that "The Fall," described early in Genesis, marked the turning point for humanity. At that point, sin entered the human race and made us, in effect, "very bad." The remainder of Scriptures, and especially the Gospels, address this badness, and our consequent need for restoration. Jonathan challenges this understanding by exploring the early story of the Garden, and concludes that in fact, there is not sufficient evidence to support it.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil has typically been viewed as a test. But rather than a test of obedience, perhaps it was a test of our understanding, of our acceptance of our God-given identity. The Serpent told Eve that if she ate the fruit of this tree, she would "become like God." Oddly enough, if we believe the account of Eve's creation, she already was like God! Eating the fruit could not make her like God, because she had already been created in God's image. Her decision to eat the fruit, therefore, highlighted a troubling reality--deep down, she had not accepted her god-likeness. That first bite not only defied God's judgment of her, but it reflected (and reinforced) in her the suspicion that she was not, in fact, "very good." Whereas previously she had "been naked, and [known] no shame," she now hid (along with Adam) in painful realization of her nakedness. In essence, taking the fruit was accepting the lie that she must "do something" in order to become like God.

Interestingly, when God showed up after the Tree & the fruit incident, there were no big explosions, no condemnations, not even the word "sin!" Instead, God clothed the two poor souls and layed out for them the consequences of their decision. Jonathan interprets the "curses" as more expository than deprecatory--"These are, plain and simple, the logical consequences of the choices you've made." God then ushered them out of the Garden--a protective measure, lest they eat from the other Tree that would bind them to eternal life, in these lie-bound bodies.

As you can see, such a reading of the early Garden story has significant implications for our conception of the rest of the story. The nature of redemption, for instance, is no longer about ransom, or propitiation. Instead, it is about God's continual reaching out, in love, to restore us to that earliest of judgments: "very good." Sin (a term first introduced in the story of Adam & Eve's children) is understood as the continued choice to reject God's judgment and instead find our own way into acceptance. The Cross becomes crucial because it is God's ultimate evidence that we are, in fact, unyieldingly valued and loved. In a sense, the cross is God's payment to us, incontrovertible evidence that God thinks we're worth dying for. In light of this God-given identity--as deeply loved and judged to be good--we are called into a life that follows this love. We are called to combat the lie that we must earn our own acceptance, and instead live in the freedom that comes from God's perspective. And, we are called to view others in this same light, honoring the image of God reflected in their inherent goodness.

Throughout the reading and editing process, I found myself deeply challenged. How differently might I view the world (not to mention myself) if always, at the forefront of my mind, was the remembrance that God calls it (and me) "very good?!" If this became the dominant paradigm of my life, how radically would I be changed! This book isn't perfect (I'm used to cumbersome footnotes and extensive citations, none of which are to be found here) and some of the arguments didn't entirely win me over. But I think it's an excellent first step, opening up a critical conversation.

In Discovering the God Imagination, Jonathan coins the term "intrinsic mobilizing story," which I think helps explain exactly what this book is about. It takes a fresh look at an old story, and stirs things up in a way that can't be ignored. It challenges the reader to move beyond reading--to wrestle, internalize, and ultimately take action--inspired by God's vision for (and of) us.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

transFORM mash-up, Round Two

Still thinking, still living a full life, still slow to blog. Nevertheless, anxious to keep at it.

I'm not much of a sermon-listener...there are worse ways to spend a morning, but I can't think of too many. However, Anthony Smith made me reconsider my categorical opposition to the practice. The wisdom & hope he presented, coupled with an impassioned and artistic delivery, held my attention for...well, for the whole time. (I actually have no idea how long he spoke!) He described the Kingdom of God as "not something we build or create, but something we enter." In the process, we are fundamentally transformed: "to see and enter the Kingdom of God is to become genetically predisposed to lovingkindness." He spoke about the early American slaves, and their hope for the future of God's Kingdom. Their longing for freedom, expressed in song and prayer and action, was a very real participation in God's future. Anthony invited us, as well, to look for the future of God in the world (and in the Church) around us, to participate in it--and to "look for hope to the slaves, who ultimately saw God's future come to pass."

In "Stories that Compost", Melvin Bray & Russell Rathbun encouraged us to read Scriptures with an eye to stories that bring life. Stories that might be re-told with a new twist, so they might bring new life in their re-telling. Our group together read the opening verses of Exodus 1, noting elements we'd missed before, or questions that grew out of our reading. We then spent 6 minutes - yes, just six - writing stories inspired by these observations. The breadth of perspectives was remarkable, and I came home telling the stories to anyone that would listen. A guiding question to continue this practice might be: "How can I tell stories so that others don't have to re-traverse the territory I've already covered?"

Mark Scandrette talked about starting a Jesus Dojo. Dojo means simply "place where you learn the way", so he's talking about learning the way of Jesus. For him, it's a deeply communal process, ongoing and practice-oriented. The question that guides is "What is my next step [or my next risk] into the ways of Jesus?"

Mike Stavlund bravely facilitated a discussion about failure, one which I'll remember each time I do yardwork. He described a job that included the [potentially intimidating] task of maintaining a garden, to which he was introduced with this invitation: "This place is what's left after 20 years of my mistakes. Pure trial and error. So you won't be able to mess this up. We can always dig stuff up if we need to, and if you prune anything back too far, it'll grow up again." Anything that survives in my garden is bound to be resilient and fairly self-sufficient -- and I'm delighted in a surprised sort of way each spring when I see plants growing back. Our conversation created the occasion to think about more of life from this sort of paradigm, in which I patiently trust and wait and accept that I can't make everything flourish.

Given the fact that this is a mash-up, I get to stop writing now, without any sort of neat wrap-up or parting wisdom. But with much gratitude, and inspiration.

Friday, May 7, 2010

transFORM mash-up

Still getting my feet on the ground after last week's conference in DC. I've been itching to blog, knowing that much of my processing (and remembering) happens only in the context of writing. So I've finally managed to catch up on (read: delay) the urgent things, brew a cuppa, and sit down with my [unusually extensive] notes.

First, let me just say what a privilege it was to meet so many folks who are intensely committed to action. We were all at transFORM to learn and think and discuss, but I don't think I've ever spent time with a more implementation-oriented crowd. Everyone seemed almost impatient to get home & roll their sleeves up. Second, Steve Knight pulled together a remarkable crew of insightful folks. Every workshop I attended was outstanding, and I heard the same from others. Not one "dud". How often can you say that after a conference?!

So, down to brass tacks. Turns out there wasn't any one specific take-away. The weekend got my mind going in so many different directions that I've decided to take a different tack w/ my next few blog entries. I'll just go through my notes, highlight some of the ideas that stuck, and post them here, with or without context or commentary. If you're curious, let me know - I can always add (or invent) more detail. So, without further ado:

Jonathan Brink, "Constructing an Emerging Theology":
intrinsic mobilizing story: how do we understand and tell our stories in such a way that they get us off our pews and into active, transformative engagement? (for more on this, I'm reading Made to Stick. Also, see upcoming post on Stories that Compost)
Pride: can be understood as the human attempt at self-validation, trying to validate something that's already been validated.

Samir Selmanovic, "Learning to Love the Other in God, Self, and Society":
Holy Awkwardness - the discomfort we feel when we stand before someone entirely alien to us, while recognizing in them the image of God. A discipline crucial to truly loving humanity is to "practice my ability to not understand the Other." And finally, to those who have influenced our lives--in any way at all--"we owe a tribute--we owe our selves to them."

Peter Rollins invited us all to accept and even internalize our doubt with this: "To believe is human; to doubt is divine." Do we use our faith as something to hide behind, something to shield us from suffering? Or do we stare into the hard questions, and cling to God and God's body anyhow? "We find God in our midst. God is among us. As we doubt God up there, we pray, we weep, we long for God in our midst, in our actions." And then he stepped aside and let the the music of the prophet Jeremiah speak. (around 1:20:20, warning: strong language) We ended the evening in heavy, hope-filled silence.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What's emerging in (& from) the church

As I've thought about participating in today's synchroblog, I've riffled through a variety of ideas--and I've finally landed on a devastatingly stereotypical theme. I'm a woman, a full-time mom, and I'm going to write about what's emerging in the younger generations, and especially among children. I landed on this [potentially cliche] theme with a tentative boldness for two reasons: 1) I'm thrilled at the hope and beauty I find in the lives of our young ones, and 2) Within what's emerging, I've found my voice welcome in broad variety of contexts. Ironically, not being strictly confined to the role of motherhood has freed me to embrace it with deep joy and confidence.

In the past few years, I've been intrigued to watch children learning to take church "out" of church. Not that they're staying away (for the most part), but that they're discovering the reach of God's Kingdom. They understand that God isn't confined geographically (to a building) or temporally (to Sunday morning) but almost intuitively grasp that the presence of God permeates our world -- and, in fact, longs to spread ever more broadly and pervasively throughout Creation. A few examples, I think, will be the best way to make my point.

  • A thirteen-year-old girl who says, "No Christmas presents, please. Just help me save up to visit the African orphans our family has been supporting."
  • A five-year-old boy who stops the family car to buy -- and hand-deliver -- burgers to the folks living under the bridge.
  • A teen-age boy who happily spends hours designing a creative, hands-on worship experience for a small faith community.
  • An eight-year-old girl who holds her family to a strict regimen of recycling, expressing a deep commitment to God's creation.
  • A home-schooled teen-age girl who is inspired by parents to reflect the image of God through her relationality and vibrant creativity.
  • A ten-year-old girl, who observes in the middle of an amusement park, "You know, we don't have to be at home to offer hospitality. We can be hospitable anywhere!"

Each of these young persons represents to me a whole-hearted, whole-life commitment to the ways of Jesus. They remind me that God's Kingdom is vast--as are the demands on a citizen of that Kingdom. They remind me that the Kingdom of God is a place of hope, and that pursuing that hope is an all-encompassing, lifelong quest.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rituals, liturgically speaking

Still thinking about ritualizing the dark side. Having come to terms with the notion of ritualizing, I’ve been thinking about the various contexts of my life in which I can develop this practice.
Perhaps the most obvious context, in light of the word “ritual”, is that of the institutional church. That’s certainly where I most frequently engage rituals, particularly as I attend a highly liturgically-oriented church. A pre-determined liturgy has several advantages when it comes to ritualizing just about anything, and I appreciate the more-than-cursory nods to the darker side of life. A weekly prayer of confession, for instance, reminds me each week of the power of darkness over my own spirit and behavior. On a yearly basis we observe the season of lent, which certainly makes real the darkest time in the history of our faith.
Of all the liturgical practices to ritualize darkness, I think my favorite is the Eucharist. One lesson that was taught over and over in my low-church childhood was that I should never take the Lord's supper "unworthily." This directive was no doubt a healthy one (not to mention directly lifted from Scripture!) and it helped me develop an understanding of self-examen and repentance. As I bring that understanding to what I now call Eucharist, however, I've internalized something new: how can I ever approach this table other than unworthily?! There is nothing I can do - ever - that will make me deserving of such a gift. Period. For me, each Sunday morning when I step up to the brass railing, I participate in a ritual of lament. For those brief moments I am deeply in touch with the darkness and need within my own soul. Most of all, I’m reminded of –and paradoxically relieved of—my doubts. My ever-spinning, questioning mind is momentarily brought to a standstill. In the practice of receiving the bread and wine, I recognize the frailty of my belief, and set it aside ever so briefly to join in the disciplines of this community.
Interestingly, as I write this, I discover that this ritual of repentance and sorrow and doubt is a tremendous gift. I’m so grateful for a place to acknowledge all this “stuff”. Whatever else is theologically intended by this practice, it creates a sort of freedom to stare unflinchingly into the haunting eyes of failure and even despair.
Perhaps you’ll argue that this doesn’t ritualize only darkness, that the Eucharist (and other practices as well) reflect to us also the hope of our faith. And, of course, you’d be right. But I find it helpful to consider that these rituals remind us of both. Darkness and light. Despair and hope. And I think it’s Great News that the practice of our faith makes room for both.