Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Morning dance

Photo by Diana via Flickr
Every morning it's the same dance. Down the steps, turning on the lights, waking sleep-fogged boys. Back up the steps and to the kitchen. Two cereal bowls out, slide to the left, spin the corner cupboard, dip and grab the requested boxes, fill the bowls, tuck the boxes away. A turn and slide to the left, open the refrigerator, out with the milk, pirouette, pour it into bowls and more into a cup for the milk drinker. Cross the kitchen with the bowls, slide them onto the table. Back down the stairs to rouse the younger one yet again.

Back up stairs and an arabesque up for the lunch box on top of the refrigerator. Take out the bagels, spin and pop one in the toaster, spin again and put them away. Slide to the right to grab clean lunch containers, turn and pour milk, pirouette and back to the refrigerator.

Every morning the same steps, the same rhythm, the same dance. The same words to coax them out of bed, through getting dressed and brushing teeth, the same words of love to send them out the door. Socks and shoes, coats and hats, every second a step of careful choreography.

I thrive on my routines and a misplaced step, the fancy footwork of an open schedule, often means looking up from the hard floor and wondering just how I fell. So I don't do it, don't improvise, don't risk, don't try new things. Step by step by step I glide my life across the floor, following the patterns I've worn into the wood.

And sometimes I wonder if there is more. More grand leaps of joy that leave me breathless, more dizzying turns, more ground to tread. Because I can get lost in the ordinary, lost in just following the same steps every day. Breakfast, gym, work, laundry, dinner. Breakfast, gym, work, laundry, dinner. So ordinary that I don't even really see it any more.

I know that I'm not the only one. I see you there with your babies, changing diapers, cleaning spills. I see you in the rush from soccer game to school concert, scrolling on your phone because this, THIS in the between times while you wait for things to start is the only moment you have to breathe, and this is the only way that you know how to catch your breath. I see you with your plans and schedules, trying to Do All The Things and worrying that you might not do them well enough.

This is what I want for you, for me, for us...

I want all of us, all the tired, stressed out, busy, searching lot of us, to open our eyes in every ordinary moment and see the beauty that lives right there, right on the edges of our lives. I want us to see more, to love more, to live in the ordinary moments as if each one were extraordinary, because it is. Every moment a shadow of the kingdom of God yet to come and already every moment ripe with God breathing among us, walking among us, sitting with us.

Do you think that we can learn to slow down, to see the fingerprints of God as he traces them over the world? The softness in our child's hands, the delight of a toddler in a new found skill, the long-legged gawkiness of the growing adolescent, the ability of a teen to coax music out of an instrument, sunrises, sunsets...every single moment that seems so ordinary bumping up against the border of something that is extraordinary, every moment pressing towards the hope of things unseen, an echo of kingdom yet to come.

This is what I want from be open to the possibility of dancing in the most ordinary of moments. Not with careful, measured steps, but with joyful abandon to the God of all things, the God of the ordinary spaces, the God of morning dances.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Love song for the Church

Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr
 I've been writing and praying over this post for weeks. Ever since this year's round of 'why we don't need the church' vs. 'why we DO need the church' hit the internet. And it sat here and sat here, and then last week the church got all ugly and human and messy again with people yelling on all sides of the online world and people with hearts breaking in the flesh and blood world until I want to pull everyone into the room like I do with my boys, sit them down and say "Listen here! You may not agree on everything, and that's part of life. But let me tell you what else is part of life...we are FAMILY, and family does not disrespect each other. Family learns how to get along even when we don't like what the other person is doing, even when it is DRIVING US NUTS!" And then I would bake some cookies and we'd all sit around over cookies and coffee (decaf, because we all need to chill a little) and we'd speak kindly to each other and maybe we'd offer to share our toys, no strings attached.

I did not love the church for a long time. I grew up in it, nurtured on services both Sunday morning and evening, scared into belief and a life-long fear of bear traps at the children's service of a crusade. I lived a small-town life of Vacation Bible School, youth group every Wednesday, Bible quizzing and daily chapel at the Christian school. I ate my fill of church, stuffed and gorged on the Word of God and the fear of the fires of hell if I stepped out of line. Life was black and white, no room for questioning, no room for differing. I was a quiet, introverted misfit with a quietly rebellious heart. I played the good girl well.

I ran from the church as soon as I could. Ran from the requirements, ran from the rules, ran from all of the ways I didn't fit in. Because I didn't love it. God wasn't as simple as I'd been led to believe in those early Sunday School years, and no one told me it was ok to have questions and struggle and not always be certain. No one told me it was ok to disagree with the current stance on Halloween or to like music that wasn't Christian or classical. (I have a woefully underdeveloped knowledge of the music of my generation.) No one told me that good people, Christian people, come in all denominations and shapes and colors and attitudes. The spectrum of people who love God, really deeply love him, is broader and deeper than I ever knew.

But God is the shepherd who looks for the sheep, and in those in-between years when I didn't know where I fit, he found me. And he took me on a journey of slowly building something new. We started with Sunday evening worship every week in that little round building on top of the hill where I learned to gather with the body because I wanted to, not because anyone said that I had to. Slowly, over the course of several years, he brought me back to church through the messiest of circumstances. There's something special about a church that holds you in the midst of your mess, lets you cry on their shoulders, takes you in when you are alone.

It's this church that so many are leaving now, the Evangelical church of culture wars, a comingled politics and religion, the assumption of certainty about so many things. And it is true that it's not a church I would choose to attend again. But they loved, and loved well when I needed it most. And yes, it was messy and imperfect and there came a time when we knew that leaving was the best choice. But my faith was nurtured and grown in that place, and when the word 'Evangelical' leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I remember the people who loved me there.

I can't always condone this Evangelical church culture that we've built. There are a great many things I don't love about the machine. But the people...the people are my people, my family even when we disagree. Even when we fling hurtful words at each other and kick and stomp to get our own way. Truth is, if we are doing our best to follow Jesus, even if we disagree on what that looks like, we are family. We don't have to agree with each other, but we ARE called to love each other. It's time for us to learn the language of family.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Passing on

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and then forever more.
 -Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons

It's not a song that's normally sung in our traditional service, but yesterday was Youth Sunday and they were in charge, so the song sets for both services were the same. As I sang the lyrics I looked around at the rest of the congregation. Median age? About 70, give or take a few years. And something about that struck me as a beautiful and profound picture of walking out our lives with faith to the very end. It's a reasonable assumption that most of the congregation I stood with yesterday morning are much closer to finishing the race than I am. They know what it's like to have strength that is failing. They've lost parents, partners, friends and more. They are watching the end draw nearer and they are still singing, still faithful.

I didn't know, in that moment when I looked around and thought about endings and lives well lived, that my own grandmother was passing away that morning.

It's odd, the little things that we remember. For me it's the homemade crackers she sometimes made, all crisp and onion-y. I know she made a lot of wonderful food, but the crackers are what I remember, just like I can remember hoping on the long drive from our home in Ohio to theirs in Indiana that this would be a visit when there would be crackers. The first time I made my own batch of homemade crackers I thought of her. I wish I had asked her for her recipe.

And I remember her sewing room, the place where we usually ended up sleeping on our biannual visits. Not in detail, just vague memories of the scent of cotton and sewing machine oil, the sound of the clock on the wall chiming the hour. My grandmother never pieced her quilts while we were there visiting, but I knew that when we were gone that room was her domain, the place where she spent hours at her machine.

I never realized just what an artist she truly was until several years ago, when a rare trip to Indiana meant a chance to visit her after years of living too far away. Ninety-five years old and she was still piecing together quilt tops and wall hangings. Not just piecing from pattern, but designing. "Oh, I saw that picture on a place-mat at breakfast and brought it back to the room because I liked it so I wanted to see if I could make a wall-hanging from it." And so she did, and it was good. Learn a new fabric folding and applique trick at ninety-five? Yes, please.

Me and the boys with my grandmother in 2007

Most of her quilts and wall-hangings were pieced for charity, 46 years of measuring, snipping and stitching all so that they could be auctioned off to raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development arm of the Mennonite Church. She pieced her last quilt in 2013, at the age of 101.

This is a faithfulness that brings me to tears, a combined passion for creating and for giving that poured itself out through every snip of the scissors, every stitch of the machine. It's a faithfulness and passion that refused to waste one single moment of her life, that took the gifts she had been given poured them out in her own language of praise.

My husband and I have both been honored to have grandmothers like this. His own grandmother, who passed away in December, pieced over 5,000 comforters in her retirement that have been sent all over the world as part of MCC's relief efforts. Where my grandmother was art and design his grandmother was practicality and 'these scraps are still good, someone should use them.' But it was still snip of the scissors and hum of the machine.

Mike's grandmother and the boys - 2012 (?)

People are warm today because of his grandmother. People have drinkable water and medical care and access to sustainable farming education because of my grandmother. They took their ordinary lives and the resources they had around them and they gave themselves.

I think we sometimes don't hear the songs of the quieter saints. We listen to the young and the loud, the hip and the relevant. There's just not much relevant about piecing a comforter or a quilt. We talk about being radical but sometimes I wonder if we will still be singing our songs with the same fervency when our strength is failing, when our own end is drawing near. I want to have the passion of our grandmothers, to take this beautiful, ordinary life and not waste one second, one word, one drop of the gifts that I've been given.

About two weeks after Mike's grandmother passed away our boys spent a few days down on the farm with his parents. And my nine-year-old decided that he wanted to piece a comforter, so with a little guidance from Mike's mother, he did. Snip of the scissors. Stitch of the machine. Piece by piece. It's finished and waiting to be tied, waiting to be sent on its own journey of relief, to be warmth to someone who needs it.

Kyle's comforter
 There's a legacy that's been passed on, a song of faithfulness that's been sung down through the generations, praise rising up from ordinary lives. Oh, how I want to still be singing it when my day is done.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Me, the Pharisees and Common Core

Photo by Mikeyp2000 via Flickr
It's a scene that's been playing out all year in our house and in other houses scattered all over the nation. Child comes home with math homework. Child gets stuck on math homework. Parent who considers herself reasonably competent at math because the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants declared her to be competent at math-y things sits down to help child. Parent looks at paper, turns pale and begins to mumble "What? What? I don't understand! What are they supposed to be doing? Agh! Just get the answer already!" Parent tries to 'help' child by showing them how we did it in the good old days. Child looks at parent and says "OK, go away, just let me do this by myself."

It turns out that I really don't know math anymore. At least not this math. Everything that I thought I knew is all turned around upside down and backwards and I just want it to be the way that we USED to do it because then it would make sense. I could follow the rules that I know, get the answer and we'd all be happy. A pox on Common Core, I say! (Or at least I'd say if I were in Shakespearean times, I guess.)

In one of those tangents that we sometimes take in our small group Bible Study a member who is a professor of education started talking about Common Core, and how people miss the point of what it's about. When we learned math we learned rules. We learned one way to solve a certain type of problem and we will use that forever and ever amen. But the point of Common Core is to teach the 'why' behind all of that solving, to create people who can think and solve and apply concepts already learned to new concepts so that they actually understand what they're doing instead of just parroting the rules the teacher laid out.

And here's where the Pharisees come in (and why we were talking about Common Core in a Bible Study). Because the Pharisees were kind of like all of us. We've got our rules, our rubrics, our long divisions and our stacked multiplications and they suit us just fine. So did the Pharisees. They had everything down to an exact equation. If we do these things in this order we will achieve righteousness. And they'd gotten really, really good at doing all the things in all the right ways. They had the official stamp of 'People Who Know and Apply All the Rules.'

Then along comes this Jesus guy and he starts saying that the point isn't to follow all the rules right...the point is to understand WHY. He's trying to tell them to go deeper, to solve the problem by understanding how things relate to each other, how God could become flesh and become their redemption and their righteousness. And they're not having it. New-fangled stuff and nonsense. The rules were good enough for our father's fathers, they're good enough for us. We know how to get the answer, get that new way of thinking out of here.

This isn't about Common Core, not really. I'll adjust to it somehow, although it may be by begging my children's teachers to please, please, PLEASE let me sit in the classroom too.

But I'm kind of a Pharisee about a lot of things when it comes to faith. I learned the way to do things from my parents who learned from their parents and so on and so forth and that ought to be good enough. I go to church and I read my Bible and I say my prayers because that's what a good Christian does and I try to fit everything into an equation that equals righteousness. And Jesus is standing to the side trying and trying to tell me that it isn't about following the rules, that the answers come from knowing and understanding who HE is.

It's going to take a lot of work to learn to live faith from understanding, not from rules. I suppose I'll learn it best from sitting at Jesus' feet.