Thursday, January 14, 2016

One Word - 2016

"Over the middle" by Matt   licensed under CC BY/ Cropped from original

On a January day, exactly one day after my thirtieth birthday, I splashed through icy puddles and a cold, relentless rain as I made my way from the campus parking lot to the orientation and registration building. I was thirty years old and I was shaking up my life to go back to school. I already had an English degree in my pocket, but degrees in English are fairly useless when you determine in your final semester that you were never meant to be a teacher. When you're still too unsure of your voice to think of yourself as a writer. For nearly ten years I'd been a clerical worker in a dental office, and the shine was gone. I knew that it was time to look forward at the rest of my life and make some changes.

At first I played with the idea of library science. It seemed a natural fit, was there anything in life I loved more than libraries and books? I researched library science programs, accumulated a folder of college brochures, studied for and took the Graduate Record Exam. There was only one big problem, the limited number of schools offering library science programs would require moving away from everything I held familiar with no guarantee I would return. Texas? Washington D.C.? Philadelphia? Kentucky? Where did I want to land? I looked at apartment costs. I considered city size. I thought about jumping into the unknown and being truly alone. I chickened out just short of actually submitting my application anywhere.

Still, doing nothing was not an option, at least not a viable one, so I looked at computer science programs at the local state university. This was safe. This was reasonable. This was risk with a safety net attached. I started off slowly, a few prerequisites at the community college. Trigonometry scared the hell out of me but somehow I survived it. (OK, I survived it thanks to the two aspiring engineers who formed a study group of sorts with me.)

One application process, one acceptance letter, and one financial aid form later led me to that dismal January day.

I learned a lot in the two and a half years I spent getting that degree. I learned to always, always, always arrive early to give myself enough time to find a parking space. I learned that I was good at accounting (and so I switched my major). I learned that technological advances could make registration a whole lot drier and faster, but possibly more frustrating, as long lines were replaced with phone systems that sometimes crashed. I learned that I was better at writing group papers than anyone else in my group, so I either needed to just write the thing myself or be prepared to edit a LOT. Mostly I learned that I was capable of more than I had imagined. I was, in fact, capable of being braver than I had imagined.

And yet, most of my life has been an exercise in taking the 'safe' route. Because truly, that's what the accounting degree was. Safe. Predictable. Boring. (Sometimes I refer to it as soul-sucking when I'm feeling dramatic.) It was a way for me to move on with my life while not really moving ON with my life, while still clinging to my little safety rafts. Sometimes I've kicked off from the raft, but panic always brings me back around. I'd rather cling to the safety of what is than strike out into the unknown of what could be.

And so we come to my One Word for 2016. Brave. From the moment I picked this word over a week ago I have seen it echoed again and again across the internet. It seems that 2016 really is the year to be brave.

I don't have any specific goals for 2016. (Except for 'drink more water and do more yoga' because I am reasonably certain I can handle that.) What I have, instead, is a desire to look for the areas where I need to be brave.

Sometimes for me that looks like just trying a new class at the gym. Doing something that I'm not good at and not worrying about what people will think. Not worrying that I might not belong.

It might look like calling someone up for a coffee date, or even inviting people over to our house for dinner. (Insert panic attack here.)

It's certain to look like being brave enough to pursue my passions, to risk rejection, to dream of what could be.

I want to live 2016 not clinging to my safety nets, not choosing the predictable, safe, boring route. I want to live it imagining what might happen if I stepped out of 'easy' and into 'brave'.

This morning my journaling prompt asked me to describe a journey and how the first step felt.

I think that the first step is often just giving voice to a thought, Setting it out where the light can shine on it, That first step is equally terrifying and freeing. Both a letting go of our safety rafts and a grabbing on to the hand of God. Trusting that the one who imbued us with our dreams, the very essence of our being, will not let us fall.

Yes, it might rain. There may be puddles to wade through and crazy parking lots to navigate. You may be cold and wet sometimes and wonder what exactly you are doing.

Be brave anyway,

Where do you need to be brave this year? What are the safety rafts that you are holding on to? What does letting go look like for you?

Thursday, December 24, 2015


It's Christmas Eve. The presents are wrapped, the stockings are hung. It's Christmas Eve, and I'm waiting.

I'm waiting for that promised peace in the midst of a darkened world.

I'm waiting for peace for the refugee, peace for the broken, peace for the outcast, peace for the children.

I'm waiting for God to show up.

This is the glory of Christmas...that God shows up and his favor rests on us all. Rich and poor. Jew and Gentile. Wise and foolish. God's favor lands smack dab in the midst of our ordinary lives, and there is peace.

We don't always see it, do we? Sometimes it is small, so very small. As small as one baby in one town on this great big spinning planet.

But that baby changed everything, didn't he? Born in pain and blood, born for pain and blood, love stepped into our world. Love keeps stepping into our world, in the midst of the breaking and the pain, the sorrow and the blood.

Love keeps on being born. When we reach out our hand to the outcast, when we lift the children up, when we sit with the broken, when we welcome the refugee. Love is born anew.

I don't have God all figured out, and most likely never will. But this much I know to the very core of my being...Love walked among us, and Love brought and keeps bringing peace.

I'm waiting for the fulfillment of that peace.

May the peace of Love made one of us rest upon you all this Christmas, and may you love with all of your heart, and all of your mind, and all of your soul, and all of your strength.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pictures of God

I used to think that God had certainly made it difficult for ordinary people to understand him. Countless sermons, books, and articles had impressed on me the certainty that only someone with a master’s in Theology, a doctoral Thesis under their belts, and the time to study Greek conjugations and ancient Rabbinical teachings at their leisure would truly be able to properly interpret God’s Story for us. I used to think that the slide into heresy was lurking just one verse misinterpretation away, and if I disagreed with, or if I questioned, a pastor or teacher on a particular interpretation I was surely destined to tumble off of the balancing act of Biblical interpretation into either the pit of Legalism or Liberalism. 

I often approached God feeling pretty dumb. “Hey God? I know I don’t have a theology degree or anything, and what Paul was writing here is Greek to me, but…I don’t get it. Why would you say that or act like this?” “Hey God? The preacher said that CLEARLY this verse is saying one thing, but it just doesn’t seem that clear to me. I’ve heard good arguments for other points of view. Am I going to hell now because I’m not sure? Oh yeah, and…IS there a hell? That kind of seems like a big issue that I’d like to not be wrong about, but I don’t want to go all Pascal’s wager on you and just opt for the belief that maximizes the expected utility.” “Hey God?  Do we have free will or not? What does that really mean?”

I don’t like to feel dumb. It’s one of my biggest insecurities. Logic tells me that I am smart, or at least, that I have some type of intelligence that seems to mesh well with the ways the world works and allows me to present a moderately successful fa├žade, answer basic questions without stammering, and perform well on nearly every standardized test. I can tell you that earthworms have five hearts, that both cattle and deer are ruminants, and the difference between when to use lay versus lie. (Most of these facts are of little use to me in daily life or standard conversation. Discussing digestive systems of land mammals is kind of frowned upon at dinner parties.) 

I can attain practical, factual knowledge when I lack it, but the mysteries of the study of the Divine seem beyond my grasp. And that doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s what I know. Jesus showed up to some pretty ordinary people. He didn’t emerge on the scene, hand people the 30 volume set to understanding the Son of God and expect them to read up for the coming quiz. He did stuff. He spoke through stories they already knew, and he told them parables and then didn’t always tell them what they meant. He knew perfectly well that we were always going to be a little confused and muddled about him because the people with whom he hung out were sometimes confused and muddled about him. Sometimes they were REALLY confused about him. 

I’m beginning to think that if God is as smart and as omniscient as we give him credit for being, he has not been shocked by our difficulty in the twenty-first century to interpret and understand a Bible written through the eyes of a people who lived centuries ago. He knows that we’re going to get confused about him, and he isn’t out there rolling his eyes at our wrestling and saying “You idiot! I made that so clear!” I think that he gives us space to wrestle and engage with him. I think that he’s not a theology professor bent on giving us a failing grade if we fail to subscribe to the correct view of the atonement. He’ll work with us where we are at as long as we want to know him more.

That’s pretty much what God has done all throughout history. He’s related to people through their culture in ways that they could understand him. He’s the God of four thousand years ago, the God of two thousand years ago, and the God of today. He is more ancient than we could imagine, and more present in the NOW than we could possibly hope for. He’s the God of Moses, the God of Esther, the God of Israel in exile, the God of Peter, the God of Mary Magdalene, the God of Martin Luther, the God of Pope Francis, and the God of that middle-aged woman living just down the street who isn’t quite sure what she’s making for supper. 

He’s a God who isn’t afraid of a mess. He’ll let us paint our portraits of him, and I think he looks with delight on each one, whether they are finely honed photorealism, impressionism, or finger-painted abstract portraits that put an eyeball where a chin should be and use purple when he really should have been green. I used to think that God wanted me to paint the perfect portrait of him, but now I think that just maybe the point of it all isn’t who paints the best portrait, but who’s willing to sit with the subject long enough to try.

Sometimes an author comes around who just so completely captures the struggles and joys of living out our faith that I want to drink in and linger on every word. Sarah Bessey is one of those authors. She loves Jesus with a passion that makes me want to know him more. I planned my entire Tuesday around a trip to the bookstore to pick up her new book on its release date. Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith is a book where Jesus sings off of every page, even in the midst of questions. Sometimes I want to read it quickly in big gulps, like water when I'm parched. Other times I want to sit and sip the words slowly, letting them warm me and chase away the chill. I'm linking up this post today to her synchroblog celebrating the release of her book, and prompting us to consider the statement "I used to think _________ but now I think _______."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Work of art

Your hands,
I don’t think that I can get them right;
The carpentry worn creases and callouses,
The way they mold mud, restore sight.
These hands touch untouchables
Raise up the lowest,
Lift children,
Wash dust and dung from disciples’ feet.
Pigment and canvas don’t capture
The way they speak
When you talk,
Shaping stories
Scratching dirt.
These hands resurrected
They are contradiction,
Breaking bread and braiding whip,
Messiah pierced,
Divine and human,
Reaching low and raising dead.
Your hands,
They are a bent that draws me ever closer
Beckoning to paint your story,
A tale of royal line still best avowed
Through servant hands and bended knee.

Photo by Smoochi via Flickr Creative Commons License