Fear. Life is nothing without it. The anxiety. The drama. The perspiration. These bring meaning to existence. Nothing else. There’s no success without risk. No joy without pain. No light without shadow.
Fear. Stepping over the threshold. Out of the known. Into the unknown. Out of your own head. Into another’s shoes you go. With anxiety and drama. And the perspiration.
Fear. The Essence of love. Choosing connection with the body. The companion. The world. Clutching doubts as security blankets. Thus cloaked for the outdoors. Without the layers, totally naked. And that just wouldn’t do.
Grace. The acceptance of fear. Affection for self. The whole self, even doubts. Even failure to step out. Also, laughter at the drama. And the perspiration. With care for the anxiety. Assurance for more thresholds tomorrow.
An exercise from a writing workshop. Can you guess the assignment? All sentences must be five words or less. Not my best, but a good brain workout.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table, scrolling through some of my class notes, trying to envision this paper I’m supposed to write, and this is what I find:
Heuristic. A net that captures a large amount of data—a useful netting, but always incomplete in what it can hold. People who operate with heuristics are wiser. Does a specific tool for praying capture all that prayer ever was or could be? Of course not, but it’s a helpful tool.
One heuristic I use. The super food diet. They’re not the only healthy foods to eat, but it’s a helpful framework to track how I’m doing—did I eat more kale than cake today? OK, I’m on the right track. Is kale the only good thing for me to eat? No, I would die. Literally.
YIKES. When did I get so weird? Wait. Don’t answer that.
Bonus! Found this later on, in reference to the book of Job:
It’s not Satan. What would he be doing in heaven, and why would God listen to him? That would be crazy. He’s a son of God and reports to God. He’s “the Accuser,” reporting on people to God at the annual meeting. Annual meeting? I guess it’s safe to assume he was Presbyterian.
No idea. Not a damn clue.
As if practicing Sabbath wasn’t hard enough, I recently decided to bake challah from scratch as a creative representation of the gift of Sabbath for God’s people.
Having to slow down and allow the bread process the time it required was just the challenge I needed/dreaded. The idea that bread takes just precisely as long to make as it takes became a kind of mantra for me over the days leading to the execution of this project and I started to apply it to other things. I sat down in a coffee shop with a stack of books, determined to finish this section in an hour, that section in the next thirty minutes, and also dive into a third book and then get on to the rest of my day. The fact is, sometimes it’s two hours worth of reading, not one or half of one. It takes as long as it takes. So I take a deep breath, take off my watch, grab another cup of tea, and settle into my reading. (Which sometimes lasts upwards of 20 minutes before I give up and go into the office.)
It has been suggested that the Sabbath means spending time and resources in ways that don’t make economic sense. Raise chickens oneself, make furniture by hand, or not utilize available technology. I would have accomplished a greater number of tasks had I purchased a couple loaves of bread instead. But as I began the baking ritual, taking one step at a time, intentionally slowing down and taking a methodical approach, I found myself becoming more spiritually, mentally, and emotionally calm. I experienced a real freedom from anxiety that I did not expect. A freedom that (probably) can’t be purchased at the grocery store.
Last week, I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time. I can’t figure out why no one ever talks about it. It’s enormous. And actually very cool.
As we drove into the park, my sister pointed out that if you didn’t know what was coming, you could easy go right by it and never know it was there. Her comment reminded me of a post I wrote about color last year. There’s just a lot out there that we don’t know about, and it’s a little exciting to think of what else there is to discover along the way. If only we would choose to look for it.
While it’s unlikely that someone will discover the next, grander, canyon while walking in the woods near their suburban home, like color, there’s a lot of minutiae left to explore. Thank God we live in the age of TED talks so I can learn about it all on road trips instead of having to do the scientific research myself (after all, who has the time?).
It’s been about a week since this visit to the GC, but I keep thinking about the wooded paths that parallel the canyon rim. They are safe and well established. Hundreds of people would have walked along them to carve them into the ground and create that defined way for me to follow. They’ve given it their stamp of approval, so I know it’s safe and will get me to where I need to go. Likewise, if I went through life unable to recognize blue as a distinct color from green, it would be OK. I would still get to where I needed to go. But neither way provides the complete picture.
I decided to start seminary the hard way and am taking a class on Sabbath during this first term. I’m having to face the reality that I can’t do everything and practice Sabbath. (Some would even say I can’t do everything, period.) Some things must be left unfinished in order to pause for a day. The good news is I’m learning that my ability to complete a to-do list is not what makes God love me. God loves me because God created me and I’m enveloped in that totally irrational parental love for one’s child.
If I stay on the safe, well-established path for the rest of my life, God will still love me like crazy. But if I veer off the path, it opens up the possibility of discovering something very different. I would have new eyes for the world, and a bigger understanding of who this God is that created both the forest and the canyon.
My sister imagined pioneers making their way west and stopping to camp for the night. One person wanders off to scout the area and comes running back, shouting: “GUYS. Come and see! You’re never going to believe this.”
It’s true, the lessons we learn from TV are seemingly endless. How else would I know how to dress myself or how other families operate in their households? I don’t have the resources (time, financial, or energy-wise) to go to New York for a consultation with Stacy and Clinton every time I put on clothes. And aside from the weird Three’s-Company lifestyle I live with my roommates, I know of no sister wives within reasonable driving distance of my home.
On Friday evening as I prepared for the Sabbath, I was pleased to discover that my old friends the Fab 5 are on Netflix. While “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” might seem like an unusual choice for Sabbath practice (and no, I did not spend all day watching it, so you can just wipe that judgy look off your face, thank you) its spiritual insight can be neatly summed up in this quote from Carson: “Spa treatments can be expensive. But you know what’s more expensive? Divorce.”
The same is true for Sabbath. As of today, I have practiced Sabbath for reals(-ish) exactly one time and that was two days ago. I did a practice run last week; add to that a long lunch on Thursday and we can round it up to two Sabbaths (again, -ish). All that to say, I am not a big proponent of not working. I am, however, a huge proponent of wasting time, so I’m starting to wonder if maybe I could combine the two and effectively transform my love of procrastination to something spiritually productive.
As Carson said, there’s a cost to taking care of yourself, but it must be weighed against the cost of not taking care of yourself. We all run the risk of becoming awful, hairy, and unloveable when we don’t.
I also know–at least on an intellectual level that I’ve yet to translate into any kind of practical knowledge–that my inability to calm down, not worry, and not feel like I have to be productive all the time comes from a need to prove myself. To who? I have no idea. I guess myself and probably God. But I’m starting to wonder if it’s not a good idea to watch more TV, at least in the short run. Because the thing is, nothing bad ever happens when I do.
So, if I’m going to take time to re-watch all the “The West Wing” (it is that time of year, after all!) and I can see that it doesn’t make me worse at my job, it doesn’t make my family love me any less, and it doesn’t probably have any impact on my eternal salvation, why don’t I take even a fraction of that amount of time to, I don’t know, go for a walk at the beach and just enjoy the sunset for the sake of its beauty?
So far I’m just testing the waters, teaching myself that work is for work time, study is for study time. While I do genuinely enjoy those things, I need to learn to relax and enjoy the rest of life too. As much as energy as I put toward proving myself, it’s not working. No one is convinced, least of all God. I might as well take a break. And shouldn’t I know I’m not kidding anyone? Honestly, if I can spend an entire weekend watching “Six Feet Under,” clearly my to-do list isn’t really as important to me as I pretend it is.
Of course God only knows what insecurities will emerge if I slow down and turn off screens and noise, so I only do it in small doses right now. A few episodes of Queer Eye, some journaling about deep-seated anxieties over a late lunch, read a book for a bit, watch the sunset, and drive through the country singing along to the radio. Everything in moderation.
I hear there was a time after TV was invented but before the Internet was around (you may have learned about this in school: it was called The Dark Ages?) and if you wanted to watch something like “The West Wing” you had to get home in time and actually turn on something called a television (I know, I don’t get it either, just bear with me). The point is that you had to interrupt what you were doing and set aside time. I want to apply this idea to the Sabbath. That’s my next step. I’d like to stop whatever seems so important that I couldn’t possibly not do it right now (suddenly I have to clean out the trunk of my car? Girl, please). Whatever the cost, I want to pause and create a specific, set-aside time for Sabbath rest. I’m starting to get the idea that in the long run the cost of not doing it is going to be greater.
I just don’t want to get to a point in my life where five gay men hold an intervention and wax my obscenely back on TV. Or more realistically, miss out on the beauty of life because I’m too busy putting off going to the spa.
Better late than never! (I hope.)
Cities I slept in: 2013
Camano Island, WA*
Rialto Beach, WA
Prague, Czech Republic
Orcas Island, WA
And one night on a plane.
Airports I visited: 2013
Dallas Fort Worth
*Indicates non-consecutive nights spent or visits to an airport
A New Years letter from me to you.
I’m pleased to share that I experienced a moment of pure enlightenment earlier this year. I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about reconciliation with a lot of different people and after one intense series of conversations I went to eat some crepes. And then it hit me: if we all made a conscious decision to eat more crepes more often, would we even need so much reconciliation in the first place? I haven’t had enough crepes yet to solve any of my own problems—let alone the world’s—but I am continuing to pursue the idea with great passion and resolve and will let you know how things unfold.
This epiphany came to me in July after I’d attended a conference in Croatia. And honestly, crepes aside, if there was one turning point for me this year, my time in Croatia was it.
Increasingly engaged in conversations in the church about if/why Jesus loves all people (I mean, he says he does, but he couldn’t really. . . or could he?), I finagled an invitation to travel to the Renewing Our Minds gathering in Croatia to see how people from the Balkans are intentionally practicing reconciliation.
I’m so thankful they let me encroach on their time together as Croats, Bosniacs, Serbs, Kosovars, and many others grappled with their identities and their responses to others’ identities. I found what I was looking for: practical tools to engage very difficult conversations that are both broadly social and deeply personal. But as an added bonus, my time away provided an opportunity for much needed reflection. I was incredibly fortunate to have some time at the tail end of the conference to go to Prague, eat nothing but crepes, and sleep for several days. (If you ever have the opportunity, it’s a very refreshing practice. Actually, I bet you wouldn’t even have to go as far as Prague.)
During this time away, two things became very clear to me: a) I was ready to leave my job and b) it’s time to go back to school. How those two things would happen was entirely unclear, but at least it got the ball rolling.
When I arrived back in Seattle the process moved more quickly than I had anticipated. As I recently told a friend, it felt like God just picked me up and plunked me down somewhere new saying, “Oh for Christ’s sake just stop it. We’re all so sick of your attitude.” Message received; attitude reevaluated.
And that somewhere God plunked me is New Horizons: a fabulous nonprofit that partners with homeless youth along their life journeys. At the end of August, I was invited to NH to help out with some event coordination and communications strategizing. I. Was. Thrilled. I’ve been working with them since September, and they recently very graciously offered me a permanent position managing their communications, marketing, and events. I’ve gladly accepted.
I guess they haven’t heard yet that I happen to have the same personality profile as Voldemort, because they really seem to like me. They want me on their team! And I really like them. The job change is really a big enough deal in itself, but it’s not the only development. I’ve found even more people who I also really like just down the street from New Horizons at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.
The Seattle School’s approach to theology is to acknowledge that we all have a story and that God is present in it. I think that God is present in my story. I think God is present in all our stories. This is what drives me to keep having those same hard conversations about faith and life that led me to Croatia in the first place.
And so it made a lot of sense to me to enroll in The Seattle School’s Master of Divinity program, focusing on cross-cultural reconciliation. I mean, let’s just say that God loves everyone. (No, I know, but let’s just say that God does.) What would that mean for the way we live our lives and how we treat each other? I’m excited to explore this and much, much more in the coming 3-4 years.
Many of you reading this right now have had a direct impact on my journey over the last several years. So thank you! Thanks for keeping up, for putting up with the drama (real and imagined) and for your enthusiasm for where this road is leading. I’m very, very thankful for where I’ve been and where I’m headed and it wouldn’t be possible without the unfailing friendship and grace of my community.
I start school in a week! I will absolutely let you know how it goes. Check back here to keep up with all the excitement along the way.
Many blessings to you and yours in the New Year!
As I sat in a conference room of about 50 people last summer, it slowly dawned on me: I am a sociopath. Incredibly well adapted, but definitely a sociopath. I cautiously glanced around at everyone else in the room as they diligently filled in the answer bubbles on their DISC assessment forms and read through their identified personality types. Did they have any idea about me? Thankfully, no one seemed to have caught on.
The more personality type indicators, assessments, and evaluations I take, the clearer the picture of my inner self becomes. In the DISC materials there are some very kind suggestions for how one might overcome some common weaknesses and capitalize on one’s strengths. It seems that just about everyone else’s problems can be overcome if they weren’t quite so selfless all the time. If they would take a break from listening empathetically to others and pay attention to their own thoughts and feelings a little more, they would finally find some balance in their troubled lives. On the contrary, the evaluation for my personality type can only be summed up with, “Um, stop being such a robot? At least pretend to be a human being? Please. For all our sakes.”
To paint you a picture of who I really am, some popular fictional characters with the same robotic (sociopathic) tendencies would be The Hunger Game’s President Snow, Star Wars’ emperor, The Lord of the Rings’ Sauron, and Downton’s O’brien–who we can all agree is the worst. I won’t even go into the real-life personas here because the holidays are no time to bring up Hitler in polite conversation. It just isn’t done.
So the next time you’re pretty sure that the person standing behind you in line for coffee is the Augustus Ceasar of our generation or you think your mail carrier is plotting to kill you, just wave and say hey. I mean, keep your distance, but just embrace that it’s how God made us. We’re all a little different in our own way, right? What’s the world without a few unfeeling psychopaths here and there? Right?
Yesterday was the first day of Advent and during her sermon my pastor looked over at the Advent wreath with its single flame and commented on the hope of knowing that similar candles are lit all over the world. She reminded the congregation that these candles we light—in addition to being festive—symbolize Christ’s presence in our midst; and there’s this great promise in scripture that the darkness cannot overcome this light.
For some reason, it’s easy for me to forget that this promise isn’t about good one day overcoming evil. It’s actually an invitation for me to step into the light. It’s probably just my terribly unbiblical Protestant work ethic getting in the way (as usual), but I really over-identify with the struggle in this picture. I experience so much brokenness—most recently in being hurt by the church—and my overwhelming desire is to hit back, to argue (futilely) that I am right and they are wrong. If I just worked a little harder, got a little angrier, I could finally fix the damn thing once and for all. It’s exhausting, not to mention incredibly unrealistic. (But seriously, for the record, I’m totally right. Not that it matters. But I am.)
I could, in my gleefully/sickeningly self-righteous anger, continue to live in the darkness. Or I can make a conscious decision to step away. In an effort to go with the latter, I’m making a commitment for the remaining 23 days of Advent: I will intentionally seek rest in the light. I’m a broken person in a broken world, but I am (we are all) invited to drag myself out of the darkness and collapse in this safe, bright space that is filled with Christ’s presence. I am invited to surrender this angry struggle and find grace instead. The Light can’t be overcome with darkness, so he will always be there. And it’s a standing invitation to healing. Which is a good thing, because I can tell you already I’m going to need to renew this commitment over and over again. Nonetheless, it’s worth a try (or several), because alternative is just far, far too dark.
Originally posted on Reconciling Ministries Network Blog on Monday, August 5, 2013.
“You know, what? I love you.” Only the Reverend Allen Belton seems to be able to get
away with saying this upon meeting someone for the first time. Coming from any of the rest of us, it’s just weird and unconventional. And yet, as he arrived at this year’s Renewing Our Minds gathering for leadership and reconciliation in Fužine, Croatia, he just kept saying to everyone. People he’d never even met before.
“And you know how I can know that?” he asks next. “Because you are a designer original—made right in the image of God.”
It takes a very special, rather uninhibited person to light up a room with such wildly nonsensical declarations of love. That’s my excuse for not adopting this practice myself. But in reality, the more I consider Jesus the more I think it’s pretty much precisely what he expects of us. Whether in our speaking or our doing, this is exactly the message that should be coming across:
“You are a designer original. Made in the image of God. You are lovable. Loved. Lovely.”
Aside from the rare occasions when I see Allen, the only other time I really witness Christ-following folks allowing themselves to be unabashedly affectionate like this is when we baptize people. The vast majority of the baptisms I’ve experienced in my own faith community have been of babies and very young children. We acknowledge that baptism is a visible sign of the invisible reality that we belong to God. We affirm that these kiddos were intentionally formed by a loving, creative God and we promise to walk with them throughout their journey.
The only problem is that we stop saying (and maybe believing) it somewhere along the way. From my experience, it seems to go down hill when we start to get to know people. It’s one thing to love someone when you don’t have all the details. Jesus loves you—but WOW are you annoying at dinner parties. Jesus loves you—but you need to kick that addiction. Jesus loves you—but you’re sleeping with your boy/girlfriend and you’re not even sorry. Jesus loves you—but oh, you’re gay? (Wait. Really? I thought you just liked scarves.)
How can it be that in so many Jesus-loving communities, kids grow up and no longer fit in? We told them when they were babies that they were perfect, just the way they are. That they were created on purpose by a God who loves them. Does that change when they get older and grow into their identity? Or when they make unpopular decisions? Or encounter difficult circumstances?
I recently heard “mission” defined as our community’s purpose in the larger world around us. The person who said this—Carlton Deal of Brussels—suggests that this purpose is to be a reflection of God’s beauty and glory and to help others understand that they too are part of God’s grand design. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? So why is it so hard for us to put it into practice?
Life is messy, and it makes it difficult for us to love each other, or even pass along the message that Jesus loves each of us. It’s heartbreaking, but truthfully, I think we forget to say it to each other because we forget it’s true for ourselves. So let me tell you again, for real: You were created on purpose. Yes, the world can be a soul-sucking place and people may treat each other horribly, but that is not a reflection of you and it is not a reflection of how God feels about you.
Now go and spread the good news. Take a buddy with you.