Saturday, December 20, 2008

advent conspiracy

Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It's a season of waiting, of pregnant pause, of calm before the storm of Incarnation.

In my house growing up, one of our consistent holiday traditions was arguing over when to put up the tree. It never went up earlier than a couple weeks before Christmas, usually much later--my father insisting that it was not only incorrect to put it up earlier but also crass. These days, I get what he was saying--decorations in the stores in October, commercials telling us to "buy, Buy, BUY", everything pointing us to money spent=happiness--it's horrible. And the "Jesus is the reason for the season" folks aren't any better. What does that even mean? My experience of the phenomenon is that it's just as empty as the consumerism it rejects--often it involves t-shirts and buttons you can buy to make your point.

There's a small movement happening out there called the Advent Conspiracy. The idea is that the point of Christmas, to Christians at least, is relationship and worship. How many sweaters or cheap candles have you bought for friends and family members simply to give them a thing? How do you show your love for those people in real terms? How much time do you spend with them? In the days after Loving Husband's last grandparent died, we're asking ourselves, "What's more valuable than time spent?"

Check out this video from the Advent Conspiracy folk. It's really pretty (well-designed, that is, for the design dorks out there) and quite powerful. How can we make a difference?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

happy note

I should note that I love my daughter Abby more than I thought possible. Her big grey eyes, her perfect ears, the way she curls her toes around my finger when I massage her feet--I am filled with awe that Loving Husband and I made her. She is proof to me of the existence of God.

learning to let go

For a new baby, one is supposed to:
  • feed her every three hours or so
  • give her several minutes of "tummy time" each day
  • read to her whenever possible
  • have as much "skin-to-skin" time as possible (I use a sling)
  • feed breast milk, which requires both actual feeding time and pumping
  • sleep when the baby sleeps
  • give her an hour or so of naked time (to help prevent diaper rash)
It seems there is not time in the day for everything you're supposed to do to help with baby's development. Each night, I look at her sleeping in the crib and think, "I didn't do enough tummy time today" or "There were several minutes today when you were awake and I wasn't reading to you". Each thought is followed inevitably by "I'm a terrible mother."

I am aware of the ridiculousness of this feeling, yet there it is. I'm sure I'm not the first to feel it either. I've got this driving need to do everything right. There's so much pressure--from baby books, from the pediatrician, from the lactation consultant, from my experience of my parents' childrearing--to succeed, not just manage. And, honestly, I am having a hard time managing at times. If I'm really honest, all that pressure is from my own big brain--I haven't figured out how to filter all the information and I'm trying to do everything. I've got to let go.

I love my new daughter, don't get me wrong, but there are moments when I wonder when and if it will be worth it. She herself is the grace of the moment, the free gift from God, and yet the trouble associated with taking care of an infant seems insurmountable.

I do what I can. We all do what we can. When we can do more, we do. When we can only do less, we do that.

It will all be ok in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


One thing I missed while pregnant was tea. Among the many diet restrictions (sushi, lunch meat, alcohol, street drugs) is caffeine. I used to have at least a cup of tea every day and, though it's got far less caffeine than coffee, I cut it out while gestating. Drinking my cup of Lady Grey right now makes me feel at peace with the world.

Tea-drinking is not something to be taken lightly. Making it well is an art. There are ceremonies the world over involving it. And drinking it draws people together. You could make the argument that all beverages, when approached with a spirit of intention draw people together and you would not be wrong. In Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Haji Ali, village chief of Korphe in Pakistan says

Here (in Pakistan and Afganistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything--even die.

Three Cups of Tea is a phenomenal portrait of the varied peoples and complicated relationships of Pakistan and Afganistan. It's tempting in America to lump all the people in that area together--like those awful cubes of sugar. Whether you see all Arabs as terrorists or as radical Islamists or as victims, they're so much more than any label. Perhaps you read this and nod sagely and think, "Of course they are. We're all our own person," or similar. There's a difference between academic recognition and the story Mortenson has to tell. Some folk are indeed terrorists, pure and simple. Some are thugs. Some are protecting the land they've lived on for centuries from all comers--India, Russia, the US, even mild-mannered Mortenson. Some are victims. Some believe powerfully in Islam, but so, too, do many of us believe powerfully in Jesus. Some live and work and try to make do with what they have. And Mortenson met them all. He says

"I don't do what I'm doing to fight terror. I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my list of priorities. But working over there, I've learned a few things. I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afganistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death."

He failed his attempt to climb K2, one of the tallest and most dangerous mountains in the world. He barely made it down the mountain alive and made a wrong turn in his way back to the nearest town. What he found was a tiny village at the edge of the glacier which welcomed him in as a stranger and later as a brother. They fed him tea with rancid yak's butter (their cream and sugar) and nursed him back to health. While there, Mortenson discovered that the village had no school--something like 50 children of all ages met on a wind-swept rock to copy out their lessons on their own with no help from a regular teacher. The cost of a teacher is the equivalent of $1 a week but the Pakistani government refuses to pay it. The children don't even have a building to meet in, yet they meet day after day on the rock. As my friend Bob would tell you, it's the small things that make you feel human, that give you hope. For Bob, it was having his teeth fixed so he was no longer ashamed of his smile. For this village and hundreds like it, it was having the opportunity to learn. The people of Korphe offered Greg Mortenson tea and he offered them hope.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

baby blues

"Baby blues" is an interesting phenomenon. After a woman gives birth, she tends to be tearful and emotional--more so than during the pregnancy. It can go deeper and become postpartum depression or, in rare cases, postpartum psychosis. The stress of giving birth and the accompanying flood of hormones into the system are a shock.

I find myself crying over what my English-teacher husband calls "man's inhumanity to man." We watched Pan's Labyrinth the other night--and, by the way, not a kid's movie or a fun fantasy romp--and I couldn't watch large sections of it. It's violent, sure, but it was the anger and willingness to let another suffer that got to me. How could people act like this? Where is the good in the world? What kind of world have I brought my baby into? Just before I went into labor, we went to see the new James Bond flick Quantum of Solace with some friends. Fantastic movie. And all I could think about the entire time was, "These people are awful. Why are they so awful? I can't stand it." A moment near the end when our "hero" 007 leaves the villain in the desert almost made me sick to my stomach.

And I look at my sleeping baby's face and can't imagine how anyone could neglect or abuse a child. Besides the fact that she's so cute, she's a person with thoughts and feelings. How can folk stand to inflict pain on another?

I wonder if this emotional obsession isn't sublimated in the rest of my life? That normally I (and we) can ignore the details of man's inhumanity to man because we are busy with other things? That we have to ignore it to stay sane? The Good News is that Baby Connor is beautiful, healthy, and sweet. The Good News is that we won't be neglecting or beating her. The Good News is the blues will pass. But what becomes of all the hurt?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

something to remember

Purloined from The Rev. Roger Greene:

Regardless of who wins the presidential election today, in a few months, we will be living under a new administration. As Christians, we have been living under a new administration for 2000 years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

totally new theology?

My Loving Husband suggests this: God did Moses a favor by denying him access to the Promised Land.

His thinking is that anticipation is the best part of any situation--the moments before you eat a piece of pie when your mouth waters and you remember all the delicious pie that has gone before, the weeks leading up to a reunion/party/holiday/conversation in which you consider what will happen and how great it will all be, the increasingly pleasurable and painful heart palpitations as you look forward to something. The reality almost always disappoints--the pie isn't as tasty as you remember, the reunion/party/holiday/conversation doesn't go as expected, the thing you anticipated simply doesn't live up to expectations.

Thus, Moses had 40 years of anticipation (also 40 years of complaints from the Israelites, but that's another story) and, though he'd succeeded in getting the team to the Promised Land, it would inevitably disappoint. Instead of committing themselves whole-heartedly to God and resisting falling into old habits, the people would continue to live their flawed, human lives in the Promised Land, they'd pillage and murder, resent and frustrate. Moses gets to live up to the edge of his anticipation, not being let-down by reality.

Friday, October 31, 2008

sunday's sermon

Moses was kind of a big deal. He was discovered in the river by Pharoah’s daughter, talked to the burning bush, got Pharoah to “let my people go,” parted the Red Sea, brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain, and got water from a rock. He was bigger than big--a superstar among mortals--so great in fact that he spoke with God face to face. He must have had the patience of Job...if he had lived after Job...

Moses led the Israelites for 40 years through the desert. He put up with their constant whining... “It’s hot,” “I’m thirsty,” “He touched me,” “She was coveting my oxen and my male and female slaves,” “His 401K’s bigger than mine,” “Are we there yet?” ...for 40 years. That’s enough for an entire generation to die and a new one to take their place, yet he never gave up. He spent years telling everyone to chill and that everything would be okay in the end.

Forty years after they left Egypt, having eaten quail and manna every day of it, they finally made it to the edge of the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey--Gilead, The Promised Land. This was the end of the journey and everything was finally okay in the end. And, says the book of Deuteronomy, Moses went up the mountain and saw the Promised Land for the first time--its rivers and pomegranate trees and cedar forests, its abundant possibilities, its farmlands which sang of freedom, and its cities which smelled of triumph. He saw it all and, indeed, it was very good. And God said, “Here is the Promised Land--this is it–you’ve made it! Wilkommen! Oh, but you, Moses, superstar of the can’t come in.

Wait, hang on...what?! Why can’t Moses cross over to the Promised Land? He’ you know who this man is? He’s Moses... the Moses.
Yeah, about that...
Remember a few weeks ago in church we heard about Moses getting water from a rock? The Israelites were complaining about how thirsty they were, having not brought their water bottles, and Moses went to God and said, “This is ridiculous, what do we do?” And God said, “Go hit that rock with your staff and you’ll get water.” Well, that story’s in here twice–Exodus and Numbers–and the second time, Moses doesn’t fare so well. It’s almost the same story only the second time it says Moses didn’t think the hitting-a-rock-with-your-staff gambit would work and therefore he could never enter the Promised Land. Which is weird–Moses acts pretty much the same both times: he doesn’t say anything about how well it will work and he does exactly what God says. Plus, what about Aaron making that golden calf for the people to worship the other week, huh? He didn’t even pause–how come he’s okay? This is why Moses is denied entry? Everything is not ending ok.

We can easily read ourselves into the story here–Moses was left behind and we fear we might be, too. We live in uncertain times, this week, perhaps more than others. Bruce, news junkie that he is, tells me that the next few days could go down in history. We await the next blow in the global financial crisis; we wonder not just how we’ll survive but if. The Commerce Department will release this week the 3rd quarter gross domestic product--one of the many numbers we let tell us who and where we are–and it’s not expected to be good. Our investments, our jobs, our retirement all seem to be in flux. We are afraid this is the end–we’re left on the outside looking in. And we see folk much worse off than ourselves losing their homes, swamped by debt, laid off, unable to buy groceries. We fear for them–will they be left behind? And to add to all that, Leighton and I are expecting our first child any week now--it’s terrifying. Not just the labor and delivery part, though that’s scary enough, but the taking care of a new life, not screwing her up, offering her a world that is uncertain and dangerous. What if we can’t provide for her? What if she finds herself in an abusive relationship? What if we use the wrong kind of pacifier or diaper cream?

The Apostle Paul says all of creation is groaning with labor pains, birthing a new world. Sometimes it seems like all we can feel are the labor pains--Moses’ rejection, looming parenthood, possible financial doom, worry over the state of our souls–it’s all one and the same. We fear it’s the end

Here’s the thing–you knew there was a thing, right? It’s not a false promise or a fake smile but our deepest hope in Jesus Christ. Everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Labor is not the end of parenthood. A recession is not the end of the world death, even, is not the end of the story. Our Christian hope is that there’s more to the story. Everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Our daughter will have a great life and will be well-loved. The scrapes she gets into will be difficult but they’re plot complications, not the end of her story. Our investments could lose staggering amounts, yet our families and relationships will continue–it’s not the end. Moses was mourned by the people for a whole month and he’s remembered through history as unequaled, mighty, and wise. His greatest project–leading the Israelites to the Promised Land–worked. And that’s not the end either--his death marks the end of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures) but the story goes on. There are kings and prophets and psalms and epics yet to come. Some think the Bible and the world end with the fear and destruction of Revelation, yet even that ends with a new creation.

Our fear is not the end. Our Christian hope is everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. This is not the end.
God is good–all the time. All the time–God is good.
God is good–all the time! All the time–God is good!
God is good–all the time!! All the time–God is good!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

found theology

everything will be okay in the end.

if it's not okay, it's not the end.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the myth of multitasking

National Public Radio has recently had several articles about multitasking. Essentially, it's a myth.

We can't actually do two things at once but switch very quickly from one task to another. You may say this amounts to the same thing, but I don't think it does. The researchers who were interviewed noted that neither of the tasks being worked on in a multitasking situation are done very well. That is, if you can't be entirely present to a thing--driving, a conversation, eating, reading a book--neither you nor the task will benefit. More to the point, in the above-referenced story, it was found that drivers who were talking on the phone (hands-free or not!) had the same affect as drivers just over the legal limit of alcohol. You simply cannot concentrate on both things at once but switch your attention between the two. If you're talking on the phone, you're not paying attention to the road. And let's not even get into texting while driving--no one I know does that...especially not myself...

That multitasking is a myth is both obvious and epiphanic. Of course we can't really do more than one thing at a time, but we've been getting away with it for so long, calling it better productivity or higher efficiency, that it feels like we can. Yet when I heard the story, it cut right into my marrow. I know full well that my attention is not on the road when I'm texting...that is to say, when I'm talking on the phone. I know full well that typing an email while talking to my Loving Husband on the phone means the email takes twice as long and probably has to be rewritten and Loving Husband gets the benefit of long, awkward pauses. I know full well that attention is what God calls us to.

Anthony de Mello was Jesuit priest who wrote many books about the spiritual life. One of my favorites is Awareness, his lectures about paying attention to the world, to our souls, to our justifications for what we want to do rather than what God is pushing us towards. In the very first chapter, he writes:

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep. They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.

It's brilliant and abrasive and eye-opening. Every time he says "Wake up!" I physically start. Our lives are so fast-paced, so unfocused, so overwhelming. We don't help things by trying to be more efficient--all we're doing is sinking deeper into sleep.

I have stopped talking on my phone in the car. Texting, too. I am trying to focus on one task at a time, doing it well, and moving on to the next thing. It's hard to retrain myself, but so far it's been worth it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

gospel pie

Last year, the movie Waitress came out to positive critical review but almost no one saw it. Which is too bad because it's excellent. Jenna Hunterson is a waitress in a small town, married to an absolute lout. She rarely smiles. Her life is not what she wanted it to be. But she makes the most glorious pies—Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Bad Baby Pie, Lonely Chicago Pie, and Naughty Pumpkin Pie, just to name a few. People who eat her pies can't help but love them. She pours her heart and life into the crusts with the fillings. Jenna gets pregnant, meets a wonderful stranger, meets a crochety old man, and the rest I'll let you discover when you rent it. It's the pies I want to talk about.

You might say I'm nesting right now. With a little more than a month to go in my pregnancy, I'm cleaning and cooking like crazy. I've made pot roasts and meat loafs and quiches—things we rarely have at home. And I've made pies. My plan is to bake my way through the Pie and Pastry Bible, stopping only when I run out of butter or time. Today's pie is traditional Granny Smith Apple, though I may add some cranberries.

Pies are a conundrum. They're hugely tasty and comforting to the eater—the flaky, tender crust; the rich filling, sometimes fruit, sometimes savory; the warmth that comes from a fresh-baked pie that fills more than your belly. Yet pies are a challenge. I once preached about Lemon Meringue Pie a while back—the meringue is a monumental challenge if you make it by hand. But meringue is only an accessory, if you will, a garnish. If you want to make a truly marvelous pie, you've got to start with the crust. Four ingredients, usually—flour, salt, butter, and water—in the right proportion, at the right temperatures, combined in the right order. And it's not something you can rush—no-bake or store-bought crusts just aren't satisfying. You can't take too long, either. If you overwork the dough, you'll get a tough, unappetizing crust. It's a delicate balance. A good pie crust is flavorful, flaky, tender, and lightly browned. And it is a labor of love, sacrifice, and vulnerability.

Do you already see where I’m going with this? It's the time of year when we talk about financial contributions to the church—stewardship—and is traditionally the subject of much groaning. But think of your pledge as an ingredient in that pie crust. Making that transcendental pie requires sacrifice—of time, of money, of energy—yet it's a joyful sacrifice. Seeing the ingredients come together properly, adjusting as needed, looking forward with hope to the end product are all joyful things. That same pie requires vulnerability—at some point, we offer it to others, waiting to hear their comments. Will they like it? Will they come back for more? Will they pick up on the nuances of the crust and fillings?

We Christians put ourselves out there in the hopes that our lives may be seen as testaments to the Gospel. We give of ourselves, not because we ought to but because we want to. We share our stories with one another and with our friends and neighbors, not because we are commanded to but because we can't help but tell people the Good News we've experienced. And, brothers and sisters, nothing spreads the gospel like giving away a fresh-baked, homemade pie.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

food for thought

Just finished Jeffrey Steingarten's It Must Have Been Something I Ate and, aside from giving me a powerful desire to make fruit tarts, it's got me thinking.

Steingarten loves food. In all its forms. Fancy, greasy, insectoid, raw, and haute. He is singularly open-minded about what he eats and will spend vast sums of money and time to find the perfect version of something. He spent something like $4,000 on caviar within a few months to determine which kind was the best. In his previous book he determined "scientifically" that Heinz 57 is indeed the world's most perfect catsup (by trying upwards of 40 brands with fresh McDonald's fries).

What concerns me is the implication that there can be only one ideal of any given food. Or object or person or trait, for that matter. Take pizza: there's New York style and Chicago style, just to name two. New York style is thin and crispy on the bottom, most sellers crisping it up in their ovens just before you eat it. It's huge and greasy and satisfying. Chicago style is deep-dish, sometimes with more than one crust. It's rich and overwhelming and satisfying. They're both fantastic, they're both pizza and, as my Loving Husband would say, why choose between the two? Why does one have to be better than the other? The same could be said for BBQ. I know, it's an age-old controversy--dry vs. wet, tomato vs. vinegar vs. mustard vs. something else, beef vs. pork vs. mutton vs. poultry. Loving Husband and I have eaten a lot of BBQ. We have taken at least one vacation with the destination chosen solely because of the BBQ establishments. Certainly there have been times we didn't like the food offered, but not because of a particular style but because that style wasn't done well. Why does one style have to be the best BBQ ever? And again, Steingarten writes about the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe (Toll House, of course), that it must be yielding but not cake-like, crisp but not crumbly, etc. In theory I agree. And most folk of any discernment would say that store-bought chocolate chip cookies are kind of crap. But one, be-all and end-all, perfect, ultimate recipe? I think not.

Perhaps this is why I'm an Episcopalian--we are, at least on paper, interested in the best of all sides, willing to have space at the table for vinegar BBQ sauce lovers and tomato-based sauce lovers, crisp and cake-y cookie lovers alike. There is such joy in being open to a multitude of tastes and people. Why restrict a church and even the Kingdom of heaven to only those people and theologies that we ourselves espouse? Why not see the beauty in each person, in each image of God, in each pot-luck dish and celebrate it as a gift from God?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

sabbath musings

I can't help but feel guilty on my day off. This morning, I got up around 6:30am, ate breakfast and...wait for it...went back to bed for 2 1/2 hours. Then read things on the internets, read some comics, did a few dishes, made a dinner reservation, ate lunch, read Loving Husband's Harper's magazine. It's been a good, quiet morning, precisely what a day off should be. And yet I feel guilty.

I should be ironing LH's work shirts for next week or spending quality time with the sewing machine and worship banners or cleaning the bathrooms or burying the compost or subjecting the basement to CleanFest 08. And here I sit updating the blog I have ignored for weeks.

At the end of the day, I'll no doubt cry, "I haven't done enough" and shake my fist dramatically at the ceiling. But I'm trying to let that go. Our culture is so fast-paced and pushy, we can't help but feel guilty or twitchy when not accomplishing something. Qoheleth would remind us that fast or slow, there is nothing new under the sun and everything we do is like chasing after the wind. Some might find that depressing, but I find it calming. Things fall apart, it says. Some things remain. You have no control and, far from filling me with fear, that thought gives me permission to let go.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

be the change you want to see

EDIT: Photo taken at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2007.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


“School’s out for summer!”

Yeah, except that it’s started already for Walnut Hills and everyone else’s going back any day now. And I’m freaking out about curriculum and planning for being gone with the baby. What happened to the summer?

It’s late and I’m here at Redeemer typing away to the low hum and vibration of the industrial air conditioning. It may just be my imagination, but I think I can see the fluorescent lights flickering. I am surrounded by bits of paper—Time and Talent printouts, Youth Council agendas with movie lists on the back, magazines I meant to read a month ago which are still open to the fascinating article I bookmarked, Banquet bulletins to correct. I’ve had four back-to-back meetings today and still didn’t get everything done that I should have.

Seems like summer vacation wasn’t very vacation-y. You ever have that feeling? I was sick over my Spring Break, too, if you can believe it. But if I think about it clearly, there were moments—even whole series of moments—when I felt at peace this summer. Days when I didn’t have anything or anyone pressing on my time and I could sit around or work on a project and feel content. Like I could breathe or like a light breeze blew in to cool my skin.

It’s easy to forget those moments—and I know you had them, too—it’s easy to forget that we had some time off, some peace, some chillaxin’, some vacation. It’s easy to forget that in the sudden running around of school starting.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

the road taken

Navajo roads are something else. For one thing, "road" isn't entirely accurate. "Dirt track" or "suggested pathway" might serve better. We're used to paved roads wherever we go, roads which sometimes develop potholes or cracks but which, sooner or later, are repaired and we go on our merry way, rarely thinking about the ground beneath our feet.

On the reservation of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and Utah, most roads are unpaved. There are a few major highways which the state keeps up, but if you spend any time on the reservation, most will be on dirt roads. You drive on hot, orange sand tracks, some as wide as 3 lanes of traffic, some narrow enough for a single vehicle, some merely hints of a direction leading away from where you are. Either side of the road is banked and covered with desert flora—tumbleweed, etc. You can look across the desert towards a distant mesa and think that it's quite close, perhaps a mile or two, and know that it's at least 3-6 miles away.

One of the first things you might notice when driving from point A to point B on the reservation is that there is no straight line connecting the two. Even the main road meanders around the bases of mesas, connecting homes to one another rather than creating an efficient route and expecting homeowners to make their own ways. You drive in large arcs, sweeping around a valley in a way that suggests the road's architects knew what they were doing—each turn shows you a new side of the mesa you're approaching. There might be a quicker way to get across Chee Valley, but the Navajo seem uninterested in it.

The next thing you might notice is that there are no street signs. There is no direction whatsoever to reassure you that you're on the right road nor to suggest where you might turn. Driving on the reservation is intuitive. I asked our brother Tono Haycock once how they give one another directions and he said, "We don't." They just know where they're going and where everyone lives. For us white folks, we have to navigate from memory, learning where the bumps and dips are, physically remembering which turn to take and which mesa is home.

And once you reach your destination, you'll find an entirely different network of roads—almost every home on the reservation is surrounded by several interconnected paths which lead you to the different living spaces they've created. One goes semi-directly to the main house. A couple branch off towards livestock areas which in turn have roads back to the main house and each other. There might be another home on the property or garage or shed which has its own set of roads leading back. And there are usually at least two ways to leave from the compound. The options are almost endless.

You might say my point here is obvious—we are all following some sort of road in our lives. Your path is much different than mine, but they all seem to sway back and forth without signs to show us the correct way. Because there is no correct way. You are moving towards a destination (eternal life in community with God) yet how you get there is unclear. If you take this turn or that, it may seem that you are in fact moving away from your goal, but another turn brings you leaps and bounds closer. You can get mired down in the short, interconnected roads near home and never realize there's a glorious panorama outside your comfort zone. And so on.

Yet this journey image of life is not at all obvious. How often do you find yourself so focused on a task that you've lost the big picture? How often do you find yourself arguing for a single, exclusive understanding of a situation at work or at church and unable to acknowledge that others might also have the truth? How often do you find yourself wishing things were simpler, clearer, more obvious to you and those around you? As bumpy as they can be, driving the reservation roads each year refocuses my mind and heart—let it go, they seem to say. Just follow the path, take things as they come, pay attention to the other people you're with on the path, let it go.

Friday, July 04, 2008

we are all fish

I am in the middle of reading a book called Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan. It's very weird in an 18th-century meets Fight Club meets Griffin and Sabine sort of way. At the moment, it feels very physical, very dense, very difficult but true. Here's a taste from the narrator and fish-painter:

They diminish me with their definitions, but I am William Buelow Gould, not a small or mean man. I am not contained between my toes & my turf but am infinite as sand.

Come closer, listen: I will tell you why I crawl close to the ground: because I choose to. Because I care not to live above it like they may fancy is the way to live, the place to be, so that they in their eyries & guard towers might look down on the earth & us & judge it all as wanting.

I care not to paint pretend pictures of long views which blur the particular & insult the living, those landscapes so beloved of the Pobjoys, those landscapes that trash the truth as they reach ever upwards into the sky, as though we only know somewhere or somebody from a distance--that's the lie of the land while the truth is never far away but up close in the dirt, in the vile details of slime & scale & filth along with the Devil, along with the angels, & all snared within the earth & us, all embodied in a single pulse of a heart--mine, yours, ours--& all my subject as I take aim & make of the fish flesh incarnate.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

truth vs. falsehood

Some people say that religion is just a collective delusion—that it’s all false and the hope we find isn’t real. Karl Marx is famously quoted as saying “Religion is the drug of the masses”—that is, religion lulls us into a false sense of security and joy. I suppose they could be right. I mean, we’re surrounded by false images. Ads for anything from make-up to beer are touched up to the point that they barely resemble their original subjects. And they tell us we can be prettier, smarter, and better-liked if we just buy a certain product.

But who tells us the truth? How do we know when something is really truly true?

I just watched Lars and the Real Girl [PG13]. It’s about this painfully introverted guy Lars who buys a life-sized doll and falls in love with her. Sounds weird, huh? Well, it is a bit, but it’s also really beautiful. It’s not really the story of his love for “Bianca” but about his small town’s love for him. He’s obviously delusional (thinking that “Bianca” talks to him and has a whole other life) but they go along with it. It’s very funny at times—the moment he introduces her to his family is priceless, mostly because you’re cringing the whole time. It’s dark humor about how even a lie can bring joy.

And that’s what I want to say to people who doubt what I put my faith in. Greater minds than mine have tried to prove the existence of God so I won’t try here. But I do want to say that the joy that “Bianca” brings to this small town and the community Lars experiences are so very real. Who’s to say that “Bianca” isn’t real, too?
Maybe truth comes in different and surprising packages. My experience of the world tells me that God is not a lie, that the comfort and challenge I find at church are not false but deeply true. Others may look into my life and say it’s all a delusion, but to me, the beauty and ugliness of the entire story are Truth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

lord, I believe. help thou my unbelief

warning: slight grossness

A friend of mine once commented, "If you want to understand me, start with Emilio Sandoz." That's a horrifying comment since, in the novel The Sparrow Emilio has the flesh forcibly removed from his hands, sees all his friends die horrifically, and then is raped by an alien race.

Yet, in thinking about it, Emilio is something of a kindred spirit. He is a Jesuit priest and has been for most of his life. He is a brilliant linguist and a devoted priest, yet he admits that he has never really had the feeling of the presence of God. He knows in an intellectual way that God is present and watching and participating, but has never felt God's action or love. It's all theoretical until he journeys to the planet Rakhat where the divine lamp is turned on and he is suffused with joy and peace. I have had moments in my life where the presence of God was evident, where I felt warm and full and right, but they are few and far between. It sometimes feels like I'm forcing something to be a God-moment because I want it to be.

And lately, I have noticed a great fear of being useless, of not being able to work, to do, to earn my way. Emilio's useless hands struck me powerfully throughout the book as I wondered what that might be like practically and spiritually. One day, I will grow old and be "useless" in the conventional sense. Right now, I have absorbed the world's ideas of success and beat myself up when I don't achieve them. I, alone, am responsible for the spiritual growth of the youth in my care, I think. I, alone, can change their lives concretely. And when something comes by (illness, normal human imperfection, whatever) that challenges those assumptions, I am crushed. My ego is so firm that I don't really know what to do with failure.

Failure is not only normal but expected. And we don't really believe it. The prophet Isaiah was called to a failing ministry, all the prophets lived in disgrace, Jesus died. Living with faithfulness and righteousness means suffering and failure. I want to be okay with "enough" and with imperfection but it is really difficult to let go of a culture's assumptions.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters would say that perfection is not about being right but being righteous. Christian mystics have said that our journeys are not about success but about being faithful. I believe that. I really do. Lord, help my unbelief.

Monday, June 23, 2008

how have you been changed?

There is a moment when things change. A moment that makes all the difference between one thing and another. Back in the day, when I was little, they sold these postage stamps that had been in space. NASA sent stamps up in the shuttle for a mission and then sold them as mementos. The stamp itself was no different than any other stamp you could buy around the corner—BUT IT HAD BEEN IN SPACE—it was the moment that gave it significance. Something happened to change them.

Our lives are like this: we are constantly on the move, constantly changing, constantly jumping from moment to moment. God, too, is not static—God creates but then strolls in the garden at the time of the evening breeze; God wanders with the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years; God incarnates—God becomes human and grows and learns and travels. God, in Jesus, does a surprising amount of wandering. He’s always on the road to somewhere or meeting people as they’re on the way. He couldn’t even stay put in death but left an empty tomb and questions behind him, only to meet a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this traveling God in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You remember, the characters saying that Aslan—the lion who was king and also God—“Aslan is on the move.” God is on the move. This is not a God who is content in one place. This life is not going to stay put and neither is our relationship with God. We are complicated people, you and I. We love God one minute, but the next are so angry we could spit. We worship in ecstasy and doubt with passion. We are apathetic. We sin, we repent, we give up on the whole business. And that’s ok. Hear, O Israel—where you are on your Exodus road, where you are on your road to Emmaus, where you are on your spiritual journey is ok. Notice it. Embrace it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

i'm just saying...

There is a place in heaven for every single person regardless of what we've made of our lives. That said, to club a baby seal, you really have to hate all that is good and true and beautiful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

mind over matter

I heard on one of the news programs on NPR the other day that economists say the economy is doing fine and that consumers say it's not. Maybe this is nothing new but it got me thinking about perception. I remember talking in my high school economics class about why things happen the way they do; the consensus among the old white guys we read was that the perception of the people is the primary factor. That is, if people in general thing things are going well, they'll spend and invest more and thus things will be going well. And if they start to panic and think things are going sour, they'll spend and invest less and thus things will indeed go sour. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, there are outside factors including wars and natural disasters, but the state of the economy seems to be largely based on how we feel about it. Makes one wonder if the Depression could have been avoided if folk either hadn't known about the Stock Market numbers or hadn't assumed the worst and taken all their money out of the banks. It also makes one wonder how much we buy into the collective consciousness--just because we hear things aren't good doesn't mean we should panic. Unless of course you're one of the unlucky who are let go from a job because your employers have gotten concerned about the downturn.

Because in that moment, the theoretical, collective consciousness, vague theory of economics becomes hard and sharp and real. What do you say to someone who's lost their job or had hours cut in the face of rising gas and medical costs? Just think happy thoughts?

Friday, May 30, 2008

something new

Today we heard little Potatoes Wilson's heartbeat for the first time. I was completely unprepared. I had no idea what the doctor was doing and then I heard it--the very loud, very fast heartbeat that wasn't mine.

My first thought is, "Thank God it's still alive" because apparently I have a powerful fear that something I do or eat will hurt it. My second is, "Wow, that's loud." Loving Husband just had a look of shock on his face.

I think it's slowly dawning on us how real this whole thing is. Don't get me wrong, we are thrilled and can't wait to meet Potatoes. However, we don't really believe there is a Potatoes to meet, if you catch my drift.

doughnuts and jesus

Have you ever had a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut fresh off the conveyer belt at 6 in the morning? No? Go ahead and set your alarm now so you can drive to the closest Krispy Kreme—in Columbus—and try it. I'll wait.

How was it? No, I don't expect you to have actually driven to Columbus, but I do expect you to try it next time you're in a city with a Krispy Kreme bakery. You won't regret it. Let me paint the picture for you. When you walk in, your nose fills with the scent of baking dough and hot glaze. You can see through several large glass windows the machinery which makes the doughnuts: mixers, shapers, some sort of tall, rise-inducing rack, the oven or vat or whatever it is that cooks them (it's been a while for me), and the conveyor they arrive on, doughnuts freshly drenched in sweet glaze. At this point, you may think, "So what? It's a commercial baking enterprise." If you were there, you would only be thinking that until you ordered your doughnut, had it handed to you, still hot, from the conveyor, and taken your first bite.

My friends, this is what heaven tastes like. It's hot but not uncomfortably so, sweet but with a strong undertone of yeast, and literally melts in your mouth. It is not, though I may try, a taste that can really be described. And it is, much to my disappointment, almost completely unlike the taste of the same doughnut several minutes later. Once it cools, the glaze hardens, the dough firms up, and the taste of heaven dissipates like smoke on the breeze. The doughnut we buy at the store bears no relation to this newly-minted, fresh, passionate doughnut.

That's right, passionate. Because I'm not just waxing lyrical about breakfast foods in my second-trimester state, I'm talking about the Gospel, too. How often have we heard the Gospel preached and it sounds nothing like what Jesus actually said? Or it has no taste, no yeast, no passion? Or it's gone stale? And how often do we ourselves feel that way about it, ignoring the scandalous implications of Jesus' words and the drastic measures he wants us to take to change the world? Jesus offers us the Gospel—the fresh-off-the-conveyor, melt-in-your-mouth, taste of heaven doughnut—and we receive or offer the world the day-old, store-bought version.

To be fair, we've always quite liked the day-old, store-bought version—it's sweet and a little salty and satisfies what we think we want. But there's more out there—there's challenge to live better, there's powerful comfort in grief, there's unnamable joy when you search for it and get up early and wait for a glimpse of the kingdom. But the kingdom isn't really like a doughnut, friends. There is a cost to discipleship. We are charged to sacrifice our sleep and our wealth and our comfort for the sake of others and for the sake of God. It is not easy to follow in Jesus' footsteps and we all too often decide to sleep in and go to the convenience store instead. But the reward for following is passionate life and a taste of heaven.

What is your passion at Redeemer? How is your faith evident in what you do in the world? What are you sacrificing for the sake of heaven? And what have you tasted as a reward?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


There was once a part of me which loved mowing the lawn. It was such a zen kind of moment. The action of cutting the grass shorter proved my existence and that my presence had made a difference in the world, yet it was short-lived: within days the grass grew back and there was no way to tell I'd been there.

The same is true for house-cleaning, only the "re-growing" is our clutter which is proof positive that we exist. Cleaning the house, de-cluttering, sweeping, dusting, laundry--it all gives a powerful sense of satisfaction when it's done. "I was here and I made a difference. I have triumphed over the forces of chaos and filth." But of course it doesn't last. The house, like the universe, gradually succumbs to entropy.

I suppose this might be depressing to some--that no real change can be made--that the grass and the clutter continue to grow despite our best efforts. I am oddly comforted by the encroaching chaos--the world continues without me, the community I live in will exist after we leave, the faith community perseveres through clergy and lay changeover, the earth remakes itself with each passing moment. What we do is not permanent, and we'd do well to remember it. Our towers and committees will all eventually fall apart yet the spirit that animated them will not.

The prophet Qoheleth wrote "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." Again, some read this as depressing, but it rings so truly and beautifully in my ears. Only the moment is truly available to us--the past cannot be undone and the future is only a theory--it is only the olam, the eternal now, the depth of a single moment, that is where we live.

When I took ceramics in college, our professor--a gruff, hippie sort--spent a lot of time on "non-attachment." When you make a pot, he said, you pour your heart into it. You shape it with your hands, it's messy, it's beautiful, and you love it. And then you surrender it to the processes of drying, bisque firing, glazing, and re-firing and at any point along the way it could break. Your beautiful pot containing your heart could break and be worthless. So don't get too attached. Create with your hands and heart, invest fully in the moment of creation, then let it go.

Monday, May 12, 2008

repenting and big business

Saw Iron Man last night--beautiful, exciting, and surprisingly funny. The bits when Tony Stark converses with his AI lab equipment are priceless.

It got me thinking, though, about a certain genre of movies lately. Iron Man and Batman Begins both focus on men whose lives and livelihoods have been shaped by their parents and other powerful adults into something monstrous. Tony Stark has embraced it by helping his company become the foremost manufacturer of weaponry--and he is filthy rich. Bruce Wayne, too, is filthy rich, but more from his parents' idealistic projects in Gotham. Until the company is overtaken by his "mentor" and it, too, turns to weapons manufacture. Both men at some point in their lives have an epiphany and turn away from the violence and greed of their big businesses. Or at least the greed--they are, after all, superheroes and a certain amount of violence is part of the genre.

It is interesting to me that we go in droves to the movie theatre to see these stories enacted and yet don't really expect CEOs in the real world to follow suit. There is so much talk about corporate culture and consumerism as a necessary evil, yet we cheer on heroes who forsake the path laid out for them and try to save the world. This is, at its base, what repentance is. It means "to turn" or "to turn away." Jesus and others call us out of what we think we have to do, out of the monstrous molds we've grown into, and give us another path. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne turn away from the corporate sin they've participated in, however unwittingly, and commit themselves to helping the helpless.

What would the world look like if we all did the same?

Monday, May 05, 2008

a forked tongue

How often do you lie?

Seriously, though, how often? I was kind of a goody-two-shoes in high school, so I never lied about staying out or who I was with. Well, except that once when my grandmother was in town and I convinced her that my folks were okay with my going on a 5-hour picnic date with my new boyfriend that they had never met. Yeah. But I’m not a big liar—I can’t. I get guilty when I tell big lies and it’s obvious to everyone. Little ones, though… “I really can’t make it.” “You look great in that dress.” “I’m actually helping the sweat-shop worker by purchasing her product.” Those I tell all the time. It’s easy. I know what I want, and I go after it. Even with a little falsehood.

I just read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible—at one point, he get’s caught in his truth. His toddler son wants English muffin for breakfast. They’re out. Mom says, “tell him the bagel’s an English muffin—it worked yesterday.” Dad says, “I can’t tell a lie. Little buddy, it’s a bagel and it’s delicious.” Toddler son wants none of it and throws a tantrum. So should he lie to his son? I don’t know. It’s a sticky area, but I do know that lies can destroy relationships. There is no trust. There is no connection. There is no love. And when I get away with a lie, I frequently feel crappy about myself, like there’s a stain in me.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

let it go

Wednesday's healing service celebrated the lives of John and Charles Wesley. Made famous, of course, for being the unintentional founders of Methodism and for writing piles of great hymns. The gospel lesson for the day was Jesus' sending out the Apostles to preach the good news and to heal.

Key to the passage is his admonition to "shake the dust off your feet" if they are not welcomed. It suggests that not even the dust of a town that is ambivalent will stay with the Apostles and with the message. They wash their hands of it. They dismiss them with a gesture. On the one hand, you could say it is harsh and contrary to Jesus' radical inclusiveness. On the other, it's a bit of practical psychological advice to Christians wandering through life--do what you can, offer what you have, be open to the lives and experiences of others, but don't sweat it when they don't do the same. Recognize, as Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer" says, the difference between the things you can change and the things you can't, and be at peace.

Monday, March 03, 2008

internal monologue upon waking up


[suddenly panicks]

what have i forgotten? did i miss a meeting? no, that was yesterday and the other isn't until tomorrow. ok. breathe.

[breathes slowly]

the bed is so comfy. i don't need to get up for hours. laundry can wait. 's not so important to get thank you cards/spray paint/unripe fruit this morning. five more minutes.

[gets into more comfortable snoozing position]

wait. don't i have to...nah. that can wait. or can it. what time is it? what day is it?

[looks at phone]

plenty of time if i don't make art or meditate this morning.

[feels stab of guilt]

if i feel this tired, i must need to sleep more. i only got, what, 10 hours? sure, another few minutes won't hurt...

[realizes is already truly awake and kidding self]


[gets up]

youth ministry update

Friday night was the first Guys' Night In, an all-boy lock-in at Redeemer. Think about that for a moment--all teenage boys all the time. And guess who wasn't there? If you guessed PastorAlice, you win. Masterful Mike and his Marvelous Minions led the event to a spectacular finish. Oh, who am I kidding, I really was there, albeit behind the scenes. I just can't let go.

Confirmation is nearing the close of business. We have Michael Battle next week and then our final class on Palm Sunday. Times like this, I'm glad for it to be over but also worried that we didn't teach enough or encourage the class' participation more. I am so passionate about the message of the Gospels and such a church nerd. And I want our teenagers to feel it, too. Sometimes I feel like there should be a magic word or phrase that would grab their attentions and surprise them into deep faith. Of course, I know it doesn't work that way, but like a lot of parents, I want to spare them the aching doubt and the rough path ahead. Mostly, I just want them to react to something.

Sunday night was Girls' Night In--not another lock-in, cause I'm not insane--hang out with just the girls, watch Mean Girls, chat about self-image, etc. Hillie, one of my new lieutenants, is fantastic--she brought a clip from Pretty Woman and a kids' book called The Paper Bag Princess and her own growing up experience to the table. We had a good time, though only two teens showed up. Disappointing, but not surprising.

So, youth ministry scores:
guys playing laser tag and talking about God=5
PastorAlice's quest to have less stress about events=1
Girls' Night=2
confirmation and passion for faith=enh...
misery and woe=0

Friday, February 29, 2008


I have never thought Garfield was funny. Even when I was a small child, ostensibly delighted by a mouthy orange cat obsessed with lasagna, the back of my brain said, "Why are you reading this? It's not funny. It doesn't even make sense."

Enter "Garfield minus Garfield". This blogger has removed Garfield completely from the strip. It's reminiscent of another internet phenomenon wherein folk remove Garfield's thought balloons; Jon becomes a sad, single guy who talks to his cat. "Garfield minus Garfield," however, introduces an entirely new level of misery. Jon wanders around his empty house being alternately wacky, explosively angry, or quietly despairing. It is oddly beautiful.

Monday, February 25, 2008

book thoughts

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster

A careful and heartfelt exploration of the spiritual life, it covers the disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. We cannot expect to recognize our experiences of God, much less understand them, without effort and sacrifice on our parts. God certainly acts in our lives and we, from time to time, see it happening, but we don't know what to do with it. Foster suggests that to deepen our relationships with our brothers and sisters and with God we must be intentional in our practice, both sacred and quotidian. This is the discipline of the title.

I have said for years that I don't fast well--my body doesn't accept the lack of food and I feel ill and miserable. I thought this was a legitimate thesis. And I suppose it can be in some cases. The natural result of fasting, however, is feeling ill, hungry, and kind of empty. The whole point is the discipline of it--getting through the misery of the early stages (and sometimes the middle ones as well) can lead to significant insights into what we hunger and whose we are. Having the discipline to continue in the face of difficulty is what sets the mature apart from the immature. An acquaintance of mine simply doesn't get this in even the simplest of terms. His attitude is that if something is hard or painful, it must therefore be bad and not worth doing. So he doesn't.

Many of you may remember Dumbledore's words to Harry: "The time is coming when we will all have to choose between what is right and what is easy." The Christian life to which we are called is not easy and is not something we can take for granted. To truly change the world and to be transformed ourselves, we must take intentional action. We must discipline ourselves like soldiers or professional artists to do what needs to be done. And there is joy beyond our expectations in that discipline.

Friday, February 15, 2008

v-day post

So, what does the deliriously happy yet appropriately cynical and modern couple do for Valentine's day? I don't know about them, but we drove to the north end of town ("God's country") to the Brazenhead for burgers and scotch, then to Target to buy a new printer, yet another set of plastic bins for comics, cheapo but cute sneakers, and fair-trade chocolate.

Flowers and romance? Pshaw. Nothing says love like a new USB cable.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

why i love julie taymor

She thinks this is beautiful. She also thinks abandoned, broken-down docks in New York are beautiful. She thinks the mostly-blank brick wall Jude and Max can see from their apartment in Across the Universe is beautiful. She sees the elegance and the pain in everyday things and elevates them--they're not pretty in a conventional sense, but they're beautiful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

snow day

I don't so much get snow days. Loving Husband does as he's a school teacher. Here's a little secret: teachers are just as excited about snow days as the kids. I'm home this morning in the warmth, spending time with LH, eating a late breakfast, watching special features on Across the Universe, battling gnats--you know, the usual.

Will brave the elements (which aren't so bad as everyone says) in an hour or so. Makes me more concerned for those who have no shelter--how do they deal with the cold? with the wet?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

book thoughts

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

BBT is one of the most gifted preachers of the 21st century--I heard her preach in Washington, DC once and her words both convicted and raised me up. She writes about her journey as a woman and as a priest towards/with Jesus without hiding the blemishes and without glorifying her own triumphs. It's humanity longing for God at its best. Ultimately (and given the title, I don't think this is a spoiler), she leaves the church she had been pastoring, her patience with human structures fractured but her love of God undimmed. She writes, "After twenty years of serving Mother Church at the altar, I have pitched my tent in the yard, using much of what she taught me to make a way in the world" (222).

We can't give up on the things we struggle with. Sometimes we're on the margins, feeling rejected and unwanted. Sometimes we're in the center, wondering what all the fuss is about. We can never be content with where we are but listen to where God is moving. "Much that is certain at the center," says Taylor, "is up for grabs in the wilderness, while much that is real in the wilderness turns out to be far too feral for the center" (172). It's about balance, about knowing what's enough right now, about feeling the moment when change is necessary.

Taylor asks in her final chapter, "What is saving your life now?" (225) What gives you strength and hope? Who is the presence of God in your life?

Friday, February 08, 2008

how life is like a hangnail

As Charlie was preaching on Ash Wednesday, I realized I was worrying a hangnail on my thumb--rubbing it back and forth, every now and again picking at it half-heartedly. It was nervous energy focused on a tiny thing that, if I could smooth it out, fix it, all would be right with the world. It was the same with the Shrove Tuesday Auction. I was very ready this year--all ducks in a regimented row--and Monday night I lay awake, my thoughts racing over miniscule details. I created short To Do lists so I wouldn't forget in the morning, going over and over them, trying to smooth out things out so all would be well.

And of course all was well--the event was wonderful. But that's the point, isn't it? Worrying something means going over and over it with your hand or in your mind, memorizing the flaws until all you can see is the flaw. How could it possibly go well with so much wrong with it--O God, how did it come to this?

The worrying of a sore doesn't help. It fills my desire to do something but that's it. More often than not my worrying a hangnail leads to blood and pain. But how to get away from the need to worry? "You cannot by worrying add to your life a single day" says Joshuah bar-Joseph. But how to stop?

In worrying a hangnail, my finger is the sole focus of my mind. I am in the midst of a crisis--there is imperfection, there is roughness, there is challenge--which must be met. The world narrows to this one thing. It's no different with a work challenge or a personal worry--the thing which gives us pain or frustration becomes the locus of everything we do. There is no distance, no space to gain perspective--the worry is all. Centuries of Christian writers have said the answer is Sabbath. We need a moment separate from our daily worry to see things as they are. Easier said than done. We are commanded several times to take a day off yet, as Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline we cannot convince ourselves that it's important enough to find the time. Sabbath seems like slacking off because we don't have anything to worry, because we don't have anything to keep us busy.

The thing that worries me is not all-consuming. The thing that worries me is not all-important. The thing that worries me is not an idol. The thing that worries me will pass.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

photographic brilliance

This guy is a photographer with no legs. He travels around the world taking photos of people as they stare at him and he talks about the reactions he gets. Fascinating stuff. After you read his statement, check out the gallery. I believe he's got the Holy Spirit just like my friend Jake has the Spirit when he plays drums.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they say. It’s usually one of those “mom sayings” that you think just means to clean behind your ears and put on deodorant every now and again. Or maybe you think about all those rules in the Hebrew Scriptures called the Holiness Code about what animals are clean and how unclean we all are if we touch a woman or wear mixed fibers. The weird thing is, it’s begun to make a lot of sense to me.

When I celebrate the Eucharist, I make a point to wash my hands before the service. The most effective way to prevent spreading disease is to wash your hands; at the same time, it cleans my soul, too. I feel lighter, more focused, cleaner, like I’ve just washed my mind and body. Standing in the Sacristy, listening to the choir, running hot water and soap over my hands is so ordinary yet so sacred—it’s like a deep breath. It also feels like a gesture of respect—I’m coming to the Table clean, not covered in dirt or in all the stresses of the week. There’s a reason that our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters take ceremonial baths before worship.

God has high expectations of us—we’re to be loving and accepting but also not take oppression or self-righteousness lightly. We’re to be holy, clean. I don’t think God expects us to be squeaky clean—we screw up and roll about in the dirt all the time—but trying to see our uncleanness is a good first step. Maybe if you spend some time cleaning up you’ll see God in the midst of that ordinary moment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

calling to mind

In the Eucharistic prayer, there is a section called the anamnesis which means "remembering" or "calling to mind." You could take it to meant that the Meal is a memorial where we remember Jesus and what he said and did. You could also dig deeper and think of it as re-enacting his sacrifice (which would be mimesis or mimicry). Or, you could think of it as sense memory--a kind of combination of rational remembering and physical action. Anamnesis is a kind of metaphysical participation in the events of long ago in the here and now. It's not just something we do but something that forms us, makes us into new people.

I have to be constantly reminded of who I am. Not my name or my address but whose I am and what I'm called to do. It is so easy to forget, to justify my selfishness, to ignore the push at my back to live into the good news. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "I pecked God on the cheek the same way I did Ed, drying up inside for want of making love." What we do as Christians is make love with God--interpret that any way you wish. It is not about drying up inside. It is not about simply mimicry, though that can lead you to a deeper relationship eventually. It is not about becoming Jesus either, no matter how much we want to. We are called to a dance of love in which we spin faster and faster, catching sight of the other dancers and not knowing where we end and they begin. We are called to anamnesis not just on Sunday mornings but in every moment of our lives--to remember in a visceral way, in our guts, that we are loved and that we are called to love. It will be messy and uncomfortable and it will be elegant and comforting. Embrace it, embrace God, embrace your neighbor and call to mind.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

the saga of the sink, abbreviated for your convenience

I just spent two days putting a new sink into my bathroom. That's right, two days. It was an odyssey of self-discovery and cathartic frustration. My father and I took four trips to the hardware store, one of which was easily 45 minutes long. We struggled like Titans and swore like sailors. Yesterday afternoon, we declared it finished and turned on the water for the moment of truth. It leaked. All over the place. I called the plumber.

Then my friend Mark came over. Mark, arriving with tool box in hand and a glow about his head and shoulders nigh unto a halo. He came, he saw, we conquered. We took the whole thing apart and put it back together. And, lo, the water runneth and doth not overflow.

book thoughts

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I love the women in my life. I value their wisdom and their experiences, even when I disagree with them. I wish I had more close female friends. I feel the power of the feminine in my gut. I wish I had a sister. And all of this is increased exponentially while reading The Red Tent.

It's about Dinah who, the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, was so beautiful that a young man fell in love with her, raped her, then asked for her in marriage. Her 12 brothers (Joseph and that lot) were enraged and agreed to the marriage only if the man and his entire city would get circumcised. Then, on the third day and while the men were still in pain from the minor surgery, the brothers snuck in and killed them all. Dinah is property, is raped, and has nothing to say for herself. She disappears between the lines, dying the death of countless women through the ages.

Diamant brings her back to life. We hear her mothers' stories and learn about life in the red tent, the women's shelter for menstruation and childbirth. We hear about their rituals and their unflinchingly difficult lives. We hear about the power of shared female history, about the beauty of menstruation.

I don't know about you, but I feel like I've made apologies for being a woman for much of my life. Certainly things are different and better in 2007CE than 2007BCE, yet I grew up hating that time of the month, feeling embarrassed about what my body was doing, disgusted, mortified that someone would find out about it. For these women, the blood signifies not shame or the end of something but life. Beginning a new cycle of the moon means new life can come. Blood is so primal, so earthy; it connects these women to the soil they till by day and to the God who created it. They say men have feared a woman's menstruation, that she bleeds but does not die, and that is why women used to be isolated from the group. But these women voluntarily and joyfully go to the red tent to sing, to celebrate their lives, to take a couple days off. Later in her life, Dina says, "What can a woman tell a man about babies and blood?" It is so personal to us and yet so universal. Why are we ashamed?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

surprised by joy

I got my first cat-related puncture wound today. I know what you're thinking: "You have a cat? You hate cats!" That I do. Or rather I had convinced myself I hated cats. See, I'm very allergic to their dander--so allergic that I've been known to walk into a cat-infested home and immediately begin sneezing.

Let's be clear: it's an outside cat. Period. No matter how soft-hearted I am and no matter how cold it gets, it will not enter the allergy-free zone of our home. And by "allergy-free" I mean cat-allergy-free zone--we've got piles of dust that have formed interest groups and theological debating clubs. It sleeps on the porch in a make-shift recycling bin bed and I took it to the vet for the first time today. Her name should have been something like Mahitabell or Patricia or St. Swithen but she's ended up as Kit-Kat. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. Kit-Kat experienced some trepidation when the crate came out. After a few minutes of the nice method, i.e. my putting delicious food in the crate and waiting for her to go inside so I could close the cage, I gave up and just crammed her in there, legs akimbo and protesting loudly. I got scratched on my stomach for my troubles and then later at the vet she swiped with her savage claws and I began bleeding profusely from three punctures in my fingers. All the while she was either crying piteously or making a small, domesticated cat version of a roar. Very disconcerting. But, she's home, she's had shots and topical applications and has been cleared for spaying sometime in the near future.

And before you ask, I will absolutely NOT be one of those people with "My cat is smarter than your honor student" bumper stickers or cute kitten Christmas cards or any other cat-themed merchandise. Be warned--if it is given, even in jest, it will end up in the dumpster. All that said, I love Kit-Kat. She's surprisingly affectionate. She's beautiful. And I've never had a pet all my own (read: that I have to feed and pay for all it's vet bills).