Sitting around the dining room table with friends, a bottle of wine, a communal plate of brownies, and Settlers of Catan spread before us. A lot of really great news has been shared at that table: Getting into graduate school. Deciding not to move to Minnesota. Putting an offer on a house for the first time.
If I do my best to look at this objectively, most of this news probably doesn’t sound all that great to most people: Literally billions of people decide every day not to move to Minnesota. It’s not even news. But for someone who would be heartsick to lose two dear friends to the Great White North, I was ecstatic. It’s good because it’s personal.
OK so personal news is good, and it’s easy to share exciting life developments with people I like. What about the Good News? I mean, that’s tricky, right? Really, who am I to say my news is better than yours? Probably safer not to say anything at all. George Hunter, however, in his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, paints a different picture—one of a ministry of hospitality that makes the notion take on a more palatable flavor. Evangelism? No, thanks. Friendship? Yeah, probably.
If I imagine my home as the monastery Hunter describes and guests as people who just need a break from the daily grind—much like I myself need—it actually seems quite natural. Greeting people warmly on their way into my home (or into my life) simply requires a different level of intentionality. It’s actually just bringing to the surface what I already believe: that Jesus is in them and they are worth my full attention. Hunter even says that if the abbot of a monastery is fasting, he will stop to enjoy a meal with a guest.That’s the kind of relational priority that I’d like to achieve one day.
I imagine I have a plate of brownies. The moment when I realize I want each of my companions to have a brownie as much as I want one for myself is when I know I’ve come to recognize God in each of the faces around the table. It’s a bigger-picture view that goes beyond myself. A little different from my natural inclination, but very, very good when I’m there.
That said, I have zero percent success rate as an evangelist—at least as an evangelist for Jesus; I’m pretty sure I’ve sold at least a couple people on vacationing in Iceland. I love the people at my table. I want to be a good friend to them. I doubt I’ll panic if they never become part of a church or pray a prayer asking Jesus to reside in their heart for always. In short, I don’t feel a sense of urgency with regard to the state of their souls.
While there was one specific time when I first prayed that special prayer with my Sunday school teacher in the early ‘90s, I’ve prayed it a million times since, a thousand different ways. The grappling with what I actually believe started long after that date and there is no end in sight. In fact, my best grappling occurs around tables with friends who grapple too. The gathering and grappling feels like it most resembles what Jesus spent his time doing anyway (as long as there’s food—that guy was always eating).
I pray that my friends experience the grace, hope, love, and peace that I find in God. For me, this prayer is a natural expression of my love for them. If they ever pray, I hope they pray for me too. Either way, I’m blessed by their presence in my life; for welcoming me to their table and allowing me to welcome them at mine. Whatever comes of that—for any one of us—is in God’s hands.
Well, if you really want me to choose just one—oh, OK you do—well then I’d have to say scuba diving because of the sharks and also the lack of oxygen and also the fact that my other biggest fear is the dark because you just don’t know what’s out there, and not only what’s out there but what’s right next to you when you think you’re sleeping next to someone you know in a tent on a safari but then you roll over in the middle of the night and put your arm around a lion, or worse, a hippo, which is actually the most dangerous animal in the world, given its amphibious nature and also because of its sheer size, which I’d compare to a steam roller, not unlike the one that nearly ran me right into traffic when I was biking here this morning which obviously I wouldn’t normally do on such a hot day, ever since reading about the speed at which hyperthermia can creep up on you, but like I was saying, you can’t let fear rule your life, because if I spent my life worrying about the fact that more Americans are killed each year by their water heater spontaneously exploding than by the demonic spirits living in their garage, you’d probably find me living in a shack without running water, and that will never happen because I live in a city on account of the deranged psychopaths roaming the woods at night—and no, I have no intention of being chain-sawed into bite-sized pieces while I sleep, thank you very much—so as I was saying, if I had to choose, I’d probably say, yeah, that’s my biggest fear.
Written as an exercise at a workshop I attended last week. The assignment? Write anything, as long as it’s all one sentence.
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?