Monthly Archives: November 2013

moving mountains

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. -Mark Twain

There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought I’d lost my faith.

At some point, I got the idea that faith was something that you either had enough of or didn’t. That it was something you had to grasp firmly or it might float away. That it could make God do things, that it made unwanted things disappear.

Poof. Problem solved.

Every time I talk about the big shift in my spiritual life, I must offer this: I don’t know exactly why I had all of the ideas that I did. It had something to do with culture and something to do with specific interpretations of Scripture, and something to do with me. All I can do is try to bathe it all in grace as I seek to tell my story of hope, my wilderness treasure. I do believe that I was astounded by the goodness of God at a young age, and that one thing has informed more of my life than anything else.

Part of my story is this: in the wake of a personal tragedy, I seethed and mourned and went to church, because going to church was what I knew how to do. But pain makes you slow down and take notice, and some things that had once been beautiful and life-giving changed for me. I saw ugly things where I once saw beauty. I shriveled in a system where I once thrived. The dissonance of worship lyrics distracted me, drowning out the melodies that used to soothe. I betrayed myself by trying to choke out the words, until I couldn’t anymore.

His love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree

Not bending. Breaking and breaking and breaking again, under this weight that feels nothing like mercy.

you walk with me through fire, and heal all my disease

Such words caused a searing pain in my chest. I thought maybe I could keep up, and the pain would eventually quiet down and I’d feel all of the good feelings again. But years passed, and it didn’t, and I didn’t. That’s when I thought I’d lost my faith. The goodness of God that I glimpsed as a child seemed gone.

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I’d like to pause for a moment and address the complexity of this issue; I hope you can hear my heart. See, we get a lot of mixed messages about God’s character. That He does cruel things but is a loving being, that His grace covers all except when it doesn’t, that he heals people except when He doesn’t.

Once I went to a dear friend’s church that had declared itself a cancer-free zone, and I wondered what they did with people who already had cancer. Or had lost someone to it. Or who were trying to find God again afterward. I imagine they would embrace such a person with love, but that’s not what was communicated. Our messy stories didn’t seem to fit into their vision statement.

When I was in the thick of trying to sort out all of those messages, I mostly tried to make myself invisible, but there were people who saw me. They noticed my absence and silence, and weren’t fooled by my pasted on Sunday smile. (Confession: I’m still trying to figure out how to stop going into pasted-smile mode on Sunday morning. It’s a weird thing with deep roots. If you relate to that, maybe let’s talk?) I’m horrible at asking for help, and I built myself a fortress of I’m fine, but I’m forever grateful for a few who helped anyway, who gave me permission to not be fine. If I can take anything away from that time, let it be that I see people better.

I’ve heard it said that if you’re looking for a Bible verse to prove a point, you will find it. Similarly, I’ve found that if you start to look for love in God, or peace in God, or a posture of service instead of judgment or violence or terrifying displays of power, you will find those things. But it’s a process, learning to accept that God might be better than you thought.

Can I tell you what I’ve learned? It’s been the best of news for me.

Christianity doesn’t offer answers for a lot of things. But it is beautiful, because it offers a God who weeps.

God is not vindictive, but redemptive. God is Jesus is God is Jesus is God. Whatever Jesus is like, God is like. 

Faith is not certainty, and certainty is not faith.

It’s really hard to live in the tension of what you know and what you don’t know, but if you can stay there, good will come of it.

Jesus told his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move a mountain, and nothing would be impossible for them. In my low moments, I’ve felt these words come down like a bludgeon. I have less faith than that tiny amount, I’ve thought. Maybe it’s because I have approached those words from a place of lack. But the point isn’t how much faith you don’t have, it’s how much you do have.

Faith is what made me ask hard questions. It’s what made me shake my head and whisper I don’t think that’s what God is like. That was my starting point.

Faith is what made me stare at my own personal mountain for several years, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Faith kept me there. Faith helped me to walk around it, note its structures, crawl into its caves. Eventually, faith became a pickax, quite useful for hacking away at the damn thing. Maybe there are faster ways to move mountains, but that’s not my story right now.

Thankfully, losing sight of God isn’t the same thing as losing faith. It’s faith that propels us to keep looking when we can’t seem to find His goodness in our current place. When we need to go somewhere we can see better, and hear better, and find our first love again.

Faith frees us to keep working on our own mountain, clearing away the boulders and brush, and looking to see what’s beyond that, and beyond that, and beyond that. It’s a good life’s work.

*Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for the Mark Twain quote. I saw it on her Twitter feed and it stuck with me.

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two stories

I wrote this in September of 2012, when our daughter was four months old and in the thick of a difficult, sensitive stage. It was new ground for all of us, and I found myself struggling not only with her specific needs but also with being a parent of three children (two of them eighteen months apart…challenging after a four-year gap between the first two). Since then, the “other story” has continued to manifest itself in beautiful and surprising ways, and I’m so grateful to have recorded some of the hard things so we can remember the journey as it continues. I’m re-posting it here in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month. No two adoption stories are the same, but here is a part of ours.

Open your eyes to the bigger story.

Because there are always two stories. There’s the one that is right in front of your face. The one that seems inevitable. The one you don’t have to try very hard to see.

The other story hides: under a crying, scrunched up face, under your heavy sighs as you bounce and rock, under the way you try to not feel anything because you’re getting bone-tired weary of the rollercoaster. This is never-ending, you think in those moments.

But it’s not. It will pass. See how she smiles when she’s on her tummy, reaches her hands out to bright, colorful objects, stares at the turquoise wall you painted together a few weeks before she came? Things do change, but it’s so slow that you can’t see it until afterward.

So look back, and see. Remember when she slept twenty hours a day, and you had to wake her up to eat? When she was never happy, never calm, unless she was asleep? And now she smiles at people. You play with her, for goodness’ sake! She doesn’t awake with a start, not every time. Remember when Silas was always in her face, and you had to guard her from his curious, not quite gentle ways? Look at him now, how he pats her on the back and brings her bottle.

There is a hole in your heart, and so you feel it. You’re grieving the loss of things that every baby and every mother should experience, in a perfect world. It aches to think about that, but there it is. The stubborn, lingering rescue fantasy is rightly breaking. There is a redemption story here, but it’s mixed in with unfamiliar emotions you’re struggling to name.

It’s not any of the stories that swirled around in your mind before. It’s so real, so right now that you kind of want to sabotage it because it’s scary as hell. Every day you have to lay down that fear, or it will eat you alive. You didn’t know what a mirror this would be, but here it is. 

Right now, this story is mostly about humility, and accepting help, and family. You don’t do this on your own; neither does she. It’s a story about burdens, and dividing the load. It’s a story about a different kind of love, and it will be a story about more than that, too. We have much to learn.

So don’t worry about things like bonding and visits and all the what-ifs. Just do the little things. Maybe she’ll eat some banana again today, perhaps not cry when you do floor play time. Maybe you’ll bite your tongue and count to ten when Silas is head-butting your legs while you make dinner. Maybe you’ll take time to just lay with him while he takes his nap, to kiss his unruly little head. Maybe you’ll listen carefully to Nicky while he talks about school, and maybe you’ll notice again how Ricky’s coming into his own as a father in a whole new way and smile with gratefulness for all of it.

These are the little things that make up a bigger story.

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on saying yes

Two weeks ago I had a particularly rough parenting day. Silas is nearly three, and as anyone who has had a three year old knows, the “terrible twos” are a big fat lie. It’s the threes that threaten everyone’s sanity. So this particular day, he broke a tv antenna, hid my insurance card in the couch (causing an overdramatic reaction on my part), tore pages out of Nicky’s book, dumped out an entire box of flashcards onto the floor, and fought hard against all my efforts to correct him. By fighting hard I mean yelling and yelling and running away and yelling. I had no energy to deal well with it.

I read somewhere that there are only two choices: selfish or generous. I like the sentiment, but as a parent of young children the lines between the two can get blurry.

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Rob Bell was on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday recently (full episode here). She asked him to define prayer, and he said that prayer is Yes. That it’s a spiritual openness. It’s looking at your life and talking with God about it, and simply saying Yes to it.

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It wasn’t only a rough day for parenting. Ricky and I are doing some pre-holiday Paleo, which means no sugar, and this was Day Two. Day One was all newness and excitement, but here on Day Two, things were not so pleasant. I had a throbbing tension headache and a foul attitude. Powerful drug, that sugar, and I was in withdrawal. Aimee was playing contentedly, but even the fact that she needed a few meals and diaper changes felt like too much to me. If I was alone, and were it an option, I probably would have spent the day in bed.

Spent.

It wasn’t until the afternoon, as I took a shower while they napped, that I thought to say the Yes prayer.

What is it about showers and spiritual awakening? The stillness, maybe, or the way the water drowns out ambient noise, or the physical warmth running down sore shoulders. You can let loose if you need to, and cry out your frustrations, in the safety of the steam. Pain in my body. Disappointment in myself as a parent, again. A sense of hopelessness about how to make things better, again. Swirling down and around, mixing with warm cleansing water, gone.

Then, a nudge. You can say yes to all of this. I’ll help you. So I said yes, apprehensively, cried out some more toxic things, and then said yes again. It wasn’t easy, and I certainly didn’t want to, but here’s something I’ve learned: when the Divine nudges you to ask for help, you even get help with the asking. It’s that good.

I realize this may sound silly. No matter what, I was going to have to get out of that shower and carry on with my day. But I’ve found that there’s a difference between just getting by and stepping into an available fullness. It’s the difference between carrying an enormous burden on my own shoulders or allowing the Divine, who loves me, to take some of the weight off.

It takes bravery to ask for that kind of help. In my mind, and maybe in yours too, there’s always the terrifying possibility that nothing will happen.

I stepped out of the shower to realize that Silas wasn’t asleep, but downstairs gleefully pulling out paper and crayons. Yes. I brought the little stinker back to bed. My headache wasn’t gone. I took some ibuprofen, brewed some coffee, found a good podcast to listen to while it all kicked in. Yes. He came into the office, obviously not going to nap, not that day, no sir. But he wanted “upsies”, so we sat together there in the office chair, him all sweaty hair and milky skin and deep brown eyes. Almost three, battles of the will to come, but also just this moment. Yes. Peace threw her soft cloak over the room, and we rested. Yes.

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rooted

We make our way down the hill from the cul-de-sac to the footpath, me pushing the stroller, their little faces growing rosy in the cold air. Still growing accustomed to all of these trees, we look up, quiet, crunching the diminishing leaf piles underneath. As we walk toward the water, the remaining leaved branches shimmer and sway in the slight breeze, but my gaze goes to line of thinning, nearly bare trees in the distance. They don’t seem to move at all. It’s as if they’ve shifted their weight a little lower into the earth and now they stand with perfect posture, rooted, stoic.

There’s a different sort of chill in the air today; autumn is giving way, slowly. I’m thinking of the winter to come, of more time indoors.

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In the early hours before sunlight, I fold myself out of the warm bed, first creaking down the stairs for coffee, to listen and write in the still, taking joy from all the feathers lining my nest lately. I’ve known bare, too.

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The man who helped to bring me up in this world would have been 65 last Friday. I’ve never observed All Saint’s Day before, and so I haven’t noticed its proximity to his birthday. It comes around this time of year when we’re adjusting to less light, reading more, wrapping up in warmth, re-calibrating to a slower rhythm.

So maybe it’s a gift that the community church we visited on Sunday celebrated All Saint’s Day a week late. They placed remembrances on an altar, lit candles, wiped their eyes, and later we passed bread and sipped wine from that same altar. When we sang a song honoring the ordinary saints that we love and miss, I heard my Dad in the words.

It was a gift to pause and feel the sadness tug at me, but meet quickly with joy as it does now. It took years for that to happen, for time to weave its silky cocoon around all those sharp edges that would pierce with every turn. I’m blessed to remember someone so fondly. Blessed for these roots from which to draw water.

And today, blessed to walk through our little neighborhood forest as it shakes its leaves down and reminds me: I’m rooted, I’m known, and all shall be well.

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November 15, 2013 · 5:00 am

on roles, adventure, and what feminism means to me

“I want a wife who will stay home and take care of the kids,” he said, earnestly. He was breaking up with me, even though we’d never defined ourselves as a couple. We’d been getting to know each other for a few months. Hanging out with mutual friends, watching movies, studying. I liked him, and he liked me, that much was obvious.

We’d had a few conversations about the future. All of nineteen years old at the time, I had some thoughts of going to medical school, some dreams about medical missionary work. I might have said I was interested in botany, or ballet, or becoming a spy; what he heard was not a housewife. This was a problem, because it was his belief that as a Christian woman, a Biblical woman, my role was to raise children and care for my home, and apparently nothing beyond that.

Once, at a party, he introduced me to a girl who was planning to go to Russia that summer. She gushed about how she was so excited to have an adventure now, because later she planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but later it struck me as an odd thing to say. Adventure now, mom later?

Looking back, I wonder. Was the girl at the party supposed to sway my opinion?

I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet there. I’m nothing but grateful that he broke things off; most likely one of us would have eventually. But I do find it incredibly odd that he, or anyone else, would judge a woman not by her personality, interests, intellect, even her appearance, but by her role. I didn’t think much about privilege or subculture then. All I really heard was that my dreams were less worthy of consideration.

I think about that moment in contrast to many others. All the times I’ve dreamed out loud with my now husband, all the times he’s affirmed me, and I him. How we take turns pursuing our dreams. I am so incredibly grateful to have married someone who didn’t look at me and see a role. He saw Emily, a person who will change with the seasons. At times, like today, home with yoga pants on, bathrooms to clean, and two babies to snuggle and direct. At times, leaving the house for a night shift at the hospital, assisting women through labor, wrapping up newborns, teaching new mothers, working toward a professional goal. At times, writingwritingwriting because I need to. We are a great many things. 

Three cheers for my feminist husband, full of dreams himself. We’ve evolved, we’ll keep evolving, we’ll make a way for each other. And here’s something important: this doesn’t conflict with our Christianity. No, it’s informed by it. At our wedding, we took communion while our dear friends sang these words:

Jesus, You are
Jesus, You were
Jesus, You will always be
a perfect servant to us
a perfect servant to death
even death on a cross.

Give us the picture of Your face
show us the measure of Your grace
reveal the love of the Father
put within us tenderness
release from us all selfishness
we’ll consider them better
we’re Yours
give us hearts of servants.

I didn’t know those were prophetic words. I just thought they were beautiful, and we wanted to honor and include Jesus in our ceremony. We’re eight years in, and we haven’t always been Jesus-y in our treatment of each other. Sometimes not even close. We’ve fought about all the usual things. Through it all, the goal remains, and while I’m open to people interpreting these things differently, it’s my personal conviction that the best way to be Christlike to our spouse or anyone else for that matter is to see them as a whole, varied, evolving person. No one person nurtures, no one person provides; it’s all mixed together and messy and beautiful.

This is my experience with what Sarah Bessey calls Jesus Feminism. It’s a term that she made up when concerned people asked her wanted to know what kind of feminist she was. She writes:

Throughout the records of the Gospels, I saw how Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than men, and I liked that. We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china. We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute or work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative or prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend. (Kindle loc 17)

Sarah herself is a stay at home mom (or mum, as she would say) to three children, by choice. She enjoys and honors this work while recognizing that it’s not everyone’s calling, nor is it even an option for everyone. “If the title can’t be enjoyed by a woman in Haiti, or even by the women hailed in Scripture, the same way it can by a middle-class woman in Canada,” she writes, “then biblical womanhood must be more than this.” (Kindle loc 100)

If I could have a cup of coffee with the girl from the party, I’d want to know if motherhood has turned out to be one of her greatest adventures, if she’s now a mother. It certainly has for me. I’d want to know if she defines herself singularly, or if her husband does, if she’s now married. I’d want to ask her a lot of things. I hope she’s happy. I hope she knows now that to be a woman is a gift; not something to be martyred, but lived out fully.

This is my contribution to Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog, in celebration of her new book Jesus Feminist.

The song I mentioned above is Hearts of Servants by Shane & Shane.

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November 12, 2013 · 10:39 am

a season of looking

On our first expedition, we drive twenty minutes to charismatic Episcopalian church in a nearby town. A friend back home went there for a few years and liked it, and so it seems a good place to start. They are in the thick of a church split, we discover quickly, and most of the congregation is working toward full fellowship with the Catholic Church. So, we find ourselves in Mass, with three young children and creaky wood pews, unprepared. There are no crayons or books or Goldfish in my bag. Still, there’s a young family just ahead of us with a toddler who’s creaking the pews and floor quite a lot himself, so we don’t feel so bad. No one seems to pay too much mind to our noisy little ones, and there’s a lovely message there: kids are welcome, distracting noise and all. We don’t exactly relax, but we’re not on edge either, and we follow along as best we can with the service. I sneak in a few moments to take in the words and surroundings. As time passes though, Aimee and Silas only get louder, and I can’t hear a single thought in my head, much less outside. Ricky and I give each other the look and slip out.

We find a fairly new church plant whose website and Facebook page look promising. They meet in an old building close to downtown, and again we find ourselves creaking on wood floors as we climb a curving flight of stairs to the small meeting room. They are already singing, and we file into the only empty seats we see after pausing in the doorway. The space takes me back to Chi Alpha, a ministry that Ricky and I were part of in college. The pastor plays an acoustic guitar and sings familiar worship songs, and we sing along easily. After the singing, we greet each other and the pastor’s wife offers to take the kids to another room, where they’re going to have a snack and Bible lesson. There are a few other kids there, and Nicky’s eyes light up. He misses kids’ church. We listen to the message, and I realize I’m leaning forward. Hungry. Lonely for the familiarity of it, but not completely sure if it’s what I want anymore.

I find a Lutheran congregation online, and their welcome statement draws me in. We again enter a building feeling a little unsure, looking for clues as to where the kids should go and where we should sit. We find a place in the back, sing some unfamiliar songs and feel a bit awkward. I realize, in this moment, that worship songs have a certain predictability to them and these songs don’t. We listen to a young woman read from Scripture, and murmur thanks be to God after the reader says the Word of the Lord. Our kids go forward for a very enthusiastic children’s message, then out for Sunday School. We listen to the Homily, and it’s not so much this is what God thinks as a more modest this is what I think this might mean.  Then, we sing some more, shuffling pages, trying to keep up. We pass Peace around like an invisible orb between the flesh of our hands, and that’s when things start to slow down. Next, the Table: the center of it all. The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. We make our way to the front to receive the bread and wine. The atmosphere is reverent, soft, earthy. Our children come back in for a blessing; the pastor kneels in front of each one, speaks a blessing over them, makes a cross on each forehead. Tears spring into my eyes; I feel a certain heaviness lift. It feels mystical but not complicatedThe elements, I remember hearing them called in church when I was growing up. Please prepare your hearts as the ushers pass the elements. Yes, exactly, it feels elemental. Afterward, our kids swing and play outside and we make easy conversation with the pastor and his wife. We’re not Lutheran, is that okay? Ricky asks with a wink, and his question is met with similar humor. This place is so different from what we know, but it could be home. It could be, but we’re not ready to choose just yet.

A few weeks pass and we decide to visit a church that another friend recommends. We find ourselves on a long driveway in a line of cars entering a parking lot. The building is massive. We find the kids’ wing, where we’re given a quick orientation by a very friendly woman. She assures us that the church is very diverse and that they only sing contemporary music, and maybe in a different situation I’d roll my eyes but her sincerity preemptively convicts me. We register as visitors and take multiple badges and beepers and numbers, then drop the kids off in their respective rooms and find our way to the main auditorium, just in time for the transition from worship time to announcement time. A group of young adults has just returned from a retreat. There’s a support group for the grieving. The men are having a special breakfast next weekend. It seems easy enough to get plugged in, to find a small planet within this enormous universe. The sermon is interesting, challenging, and organized. I can’t find fault with any of it, really, but I wonder if we would ever actually meet the pastor, if we went there. I already know of my tendency to shut down when I go to church, perhaps the potential for anonymity would only encourage more of the same. Perhaps I’m not really giving this megachurch a chance, because my heart went cold toward such things a few years ago. It’s not their fault.

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Maybe I want more than can be given. I’d like some years back. I’d like to somehow disassociate Sunday mornings from sorrow, and suppression, and survival. I’d like to heal in public as well as in private. Me, always smiling on Sunday mornings, never quite able to show myself. Driving home, relieved. Driving home, sad. I used to belong. I want to belong.

I feel like such a cliché sometimes. Flirting with liturgy, criticizing my evangelical experience, cringing at my indecision.

Informing my thoughts are two selves: one who learned early to shrug off preferences and personal opinions, and one who is slowly learning to pay attention to them. There’s a whole generation of us, echoing each other, helping each other define what went wrong, looking for a way forward. There’s a reason for it.

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I want small, because small challenges me in important ways. Community, noisy children, thoughtful conversation. I want bread, wine and blessing, candles and Words. Oh, the words. I think it’s my mother’s doing, teaching us so many hymns when we were growing up. I can’t stay away from the words. Stirring words for the easy times,  soothing words for the rough.

A while back, I tucked away these words from pastor Brian Zahnd:

Orthodox beauty. Catholic mystery. Anglican liturgy. Protestant theology. Evangelical energy. I need it all.

Most likely, I won’t find all of these things in one building, but I have access to them. We won’t find a perfect community, but I’d like to find something that honors the way we believers all need each other. Because we do.

I do.

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all are fed

Recently I read a book called Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint  by Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She’s intrigued me ever since I saw this video of her speaking at a youth conference last year, and actually Ricky and I visited her church in Denver when we were there earlier this year . She wasn’t there that particular Sunday, but that wasn’t really the point I suppose. I count it as a healing experience, something I tucked away in my memory for safekeeping. Church can be like this. Remember.

Nadia’s a good public figure to pay attention to if, like me,  you’re fascinated by what church has the potential to be. Her willingness to simply be herself is refreshing, when it’s felt to me for so long that in order to really belong within the Christian subculture I’ve known, a certain pretense is required.

See, I grew up thinking that I would gradually gain more and more control over my bad habits, not-so-lovely personality traits, and temper. That, through the process of sanctification, I would someday “look” like I should as a Christian. Because Christians are salt and light, right? So aren’t we supposed to stand out and be “better” in some ways? I don’t know how much of that to attribute to teaching I received, and how much to attribute to my interpretation of it, but it’s what I believed for a long time.

Life has only shown me that this isn’t the case. Every single day I disappoint myself in some way, and to be honest, it’s exhausting. Even when I respond to frustration in a way I’m pleased with, I still feel burdened by the frustration itself. That pretense I spoke of earlier–this is where it comes from. If people really know me, then I can’t lead the small group/sing on the worship team/teach the kids/mentor the youth. Those jobs are for people who have it together. What ministry can I have if I can’t even get a hold on my own issues? It’s no wonder that we’re really, really good at pretending. 

I used to respond to my own behavior vs. ideal conflicts by making spiritual to-do lists for myself. Pray more. Spend more time reading Scripture. Meditate on the fruits of the Spirit. None of these things are bad–in fact they can be quite helpful. But all of my efforts to be better have never yet changed my tendencies. And that has created a nasty cycle of self-loathing that I continue to fall into.

There must be a better way.

Nadia writes:

Yet despite my experiences of rejection and my years of theological education, countless prayers, an ordination, and a life centered on serving the church, I still have the same personality I was born with. I am often impatient and cranky. And my first response to almost everything is “f__ you.” I don’t often stay there, but I almost always start there. I’m still me. Yet the fact that I manage to now move from “f__ you” to something less hostile, and the fact that I am often able to make that move quickly, well, once again, all of it makes me believe in God. And every time, it feels like repentance. (kindle loc 192)

I almost always start there. Sure, some days are better than others, but we bump up against our true nature repeatedly. Maybe that’s what keeps us needing grace. Maybe the more we need grace, the more we extend it. Nadia tells the story of one of her parishioners, a man named Rick. He’s a con artist who has gone by many names and lied to a lot of people, and eventually shows up at Nadia’s church. She’s not happy to have him there, but she considers how Jesus would respond to someone like Rick. She goes on to talk about human nature and our struggle against it, and this is the part the really resonates with me.

Rick…is trying to be a real person for the first time in his life and he doesn’t really know who that person is anymore. But he sees a glimpse of it at the communion table. He sees it in the eyes of the person serving him the wine and bread, saying, “Child of God, the body of Christ, given for you.” That’s his repentance. (loc 192)

I love that she places repentance in an act. A movement away from hostility, away from falseness, toward the gift of bread and wine. Here, repentance is simply a movement toward grace. God takes it from there.

My ingrained, childish way of thinking demands a resolution to all of this. Before, after. Good, bad. Black, white. In need of grace, and then what? What is the antithesis of needing grace? Perfection, which is an impossible, exhausting, graceless destination.

“It hurts a little, being loved for who I really am,” he told me recently. Rick has been sober now for six months, he is getting help for his manic depression, and recently moved indoors. He is also one of the loudest people I’ve ever met and is so spastically hyperactive that I often wonder if he’s lying about taking his medication. He could be lying about everything, but that’s true of everybody. All I know for sure is that he’s still unbelievably helpful at every church function and that he is loved and wanted at House for All.

In the fall of 2011, during the Occupy Denver actions, he organized and oversaw all of the food distribution at the hub of the local protests. “Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!” Rick chirped to me over the phone. “Everyone is fed. It doesn’t matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn’t even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break.” He pauses. “The only place I’ve ever really seen that is at communion.” (loc 194)

May my repentance be to move toward grace today, rather than run from it. May the love I feel there enable me to love better, and may I move toward grace again tomorrow. I will need it.

Ricky and I went to see Nadia speak on Tuesday night in Washington D.C. as part of her book tour. There was also a lively conversation with Amy Butler, a pastor in D.C., about the future of church. The perfect church nerd date night, we called it. She read several passages from the book, including one about Rick, and commented that his is maybe not the sort of success stories that one typically hears from a pulpit: he was this way, now he’s that way. Rather, he’s still a mess, but he’s their mess now.

I’d like to be salt and light, really I would.  But what is it that gives flavor and warmth? I think it’s honesty. Vulnerability. And perhaps most importantly, kindness to others who are brave enough to embrace those things, and also to those who are still working up the courage.

I’m finding out that church can be as simple, and as miraculous, as approaching the table. All are fed there.

 

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