(Un)Gratitude

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This post is part of the UNCO synchro blog. You can read other posts from the series here.

I talk a lot about gratitude on this blog (see these), and this is the season of gratitude, thanksgiving being a few days a way and all. But we have been given this challenge with UNCO to think about “ungraditude.” I know it’s not a word, but go with it…

I was thinking about all the things I’m ungrateful for and there is a long list this year. But here’s what all the things really come down to… I’m ungrateful for brokenness, for my ability to cause another pain, and for another to cause me pain.

Once upon a time someone hurt someone else, in some way, some how. We call this sin. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on sin, I wrote about it in The Four Letter Word) Like every person I have been hurt, and I have caused hurt. I have bullied and struggled, I have projected and manipulated to get what I wanted, I have been dumped on, projected on to, hurt in countless ways. Some forgivable, some I need God to forgive.

I am ungrateful for all of it.

I love community, I love relationship, I love interaction and people and connection. I hate the way we hurt each other. I hate that I may expect something from you and you from me and we might disappoint. I hate that your shit and my shit might collide and we have to navigate the shit blinded by our own pain. I hate that you might die on me, or quit on me, or worse, leave me just because. I’m afraid of leaving you for no good reason or quitting on you or dying on you. I hate that in my attempt to help I might end up hurting you.

This is the risk we run. This is the risk to being in relationship, the ability to be hurt or cause pain. Because we’re imperfect, sinful, fallen (whatever that means) creatures. Why is not a useful question here, how may be…

Self Awareness is key, sure, absolutely. Knowing my triggers and how I have been hurt, vital. Knowing when I am spoiling for a fight or in need of something and having the ability to ask for what I need. Quite helpful in relationship. However, even when I am able to ask that doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to provide, and I need to be okay with that too.

Because God only knows when I am going to say something mundane that will trigger someone else. Or vice versa. We mean well as people, we really do, but we hurt each other.

A few weeks ago in Youth Group we were discussing things we were ungrateful for. They had great answers: war, pollution, bullying, suicide… but, like most of us, they wanted to fix it fairly quickly. The most echoed thought was “we need to have the bad days so we can appreciate the good.” And this seemed to be an acceptable thought, by the youth and the youth leaders. I pushed a little, but really, this is not just acceptable, this is preferred in our world. It’s how we justify the hurt.

I don’t need the hurt justified. I don’t need bad days to appreciate the good. I hate bad days, they cause me and the people around me pain and I am just ungrateful for them. I’m ungrateful for the brokenness that causes them and the sinful cycles we are all stuck in and project on each other because of them.

This is where I usually fix it and wrap it all in a bow, somehow turn it into being grateful, but not today, not with this post, I will however end with this:

God, I am ungrateful for the bad days, ungrateful for the sin that pulls me from you. Ungrateful for the shit that life creates and my ability to hurt and be hurt. I am ungrateful for it all. Heal our broken hearts, heal my pain. Amen.

Slow Motion

My new favorite band is Phox. I was introduced to them a few months ago, and I’ll admit it, I can’t get enough. Some days, I have days where my eccentricities come out, and the playlist jumps around, other days, I listen to one song over and over until I get sick of it. This is the case today with Phox’s “Slow Motion.” Stop reading and watch the video, then play it again as you come back to the blog and finish reading. Go ahead… I’ll wait.

First, Phox should be your new favorite band too. Second, there’s an amazing clarinet solo and dance party- Who does that?!? Unreal. Third, there isn’t anything about this song that doesn’t fit my mood today and my life right now. There is no doubt that I’m moving in slow motion, and given my personality, it’s my first instinct to see that as a bad thing. But it’s not. I’m slowing down I’m feeling the feels, I’m moving out of survival and into a new normal. I’m not there yet, but it’s a slow movement toward those things. The hard part is that the world seems to be moving around me going at hyper-speed.

The majority of the video is spent with her at a party, and while others seem to be carefree, she carries a weight. That weight is sustained throughout the video. Sometimes she is alone in her melancholy, other times, she seems to be joined by the rest of the band. But even when joined their weight is individual (all facing one direction or away from each other), it is not shared as the joy and laughter seem to be.

This really struck home to me. It is easy to share in joy, and joy is contagious. I even smiled at the dance party because it looks fun, people are having fun. It even makes me want to hate hipsters less (okay… maybe not). But what about melancholy? It’s lonely. Others can “be there” with you, others can accompany you, but really you are alone with the weight, the hurt, the anxiety. It’s important not to rush the process out, but it’s not like joy.

Last night I spent a few hours in prayer. I allowed myself to feel all the feels, feel the weight that was on me, feel my heart break for those whom I love in similar situations, let my heart break for where I am in life, that I have to integrate the dark and the light of life and understand that this is a continuous challenge, but a necessary and healthy one. I asked myself, as I often do in these kind of prayers where it hurts. I mean physically, where does it hurt?

I’ve been asking myself this question for years. It started with a clergy coach who was teaching me to be a “non-anxious presence” during meetings. She told me to locate in my physical body where the tension was manifesting itself, when I could release that tension physically, then I could also mentally release the tension. It helped.

A few years later I read a poem by Rabia of Basra (c. 717-801) a Sufi poet. She said this:

“Show me where it hurts, God said, and every cell in my body burst into tears before His tender eyes.”

So when I hurt, I now ask myself this from God, “Show me where it hurts.” I just observe, try not to judge. Last night the pain struck directly to my heart and I mean in my heart. Yes, my chest but on the left side of my body, there is actually an ache in my heart, it’s not on the right side. Locating where the pain is physically manifesting itself allows me to feel and experience the sorrow that is beyond tears. For the cells of my body are crying out. The pain doesn’t immediately disappear, but it’s a way to live in the midst of the fog. In the midst of the slow motion that my life is moving in, while everything around me seems to be moving forward.

If you too are moving in slow motion or know someone who is this practice is worth a try. After some time experiencing the pain physically it will be time to release it, but not internalize it. Today, as I went through the rite of the Sacrament of Communion at the local hospital and I read these words from Jesus:

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30

My experience of God is this, when God asks me where it hurts and I can allow the pain to be exchanged between us in prayer, the burden lessens. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but it does. This is my hope and my peace.

Whate’er My God Ordains is Right

umm…. okay! Being an ordained pastor I have always found this hymn humorous. If you don’t know it, you can be subjected to it here. I really, really resisted singing it at my ordination service as a joke. Then, the organist, chose it as a prelude, I cracked up during the majority of it.

Sunday I was sitting in Gates Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. I had the honor and the privilege of preaching at my former intern, Katie Jasa’s ordination (Katie has been a guest blog on PulpitShenanigans, some of your favorite prayer station posts were hers). As the weeks lead up to the day of the service I got more and more nervous. The weight of the responsibility was high. Out of all the people, all the friends, other mentors, other pastors in her life, she asked me. I was feeling the pressure.

The service was beautiful. There was ritual of our tradition, there were the beautiful ordination questions, the sermon wasn’t half bad (if I say so myself), although the pastor got choked up a few times… the music was beautiful, I wept during The Summons, which is not surprising. Katie’s parents gave a beautiful charge to her.

Then, before the end of the service, Katie officiated communion for the first time. She emailed me a week or two ago and asked if I wanted to help with communion, I told her it was up to her. When the bulletin information came through my name was listed. I didn’t think much more of it, I was focused on the sermon. But as we walked to the table I realized that there were not just 3 of us at the table, but 3 women. Three “young” women were standing at the table to officiate, three women sharing in the invitation, the prayer, and the words of institution.

I barely made it through, Katie was crying through the words, I was crying- the prayer was beautiful, communion is almost always moving, it is even more moving when watching someone you’ve fostered into this moment serve for the first time. I also thought of all the women who fought to serve at the table, all the women who struggled to stand here. But it was also more than that. There were 3 women at the table. 3 women. I heard the Easter Story in my head:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  -Mark 16:1

3 womenThese words were echoing in my mind. Three women went to anoint the the body of Christ. Three women stood at the table to share the body of Christ. I stood in awe. I stood in awe of Katie as she struggled to make it through the words, it was so emotional, it was so beautiful. I stood in awe of the symbolism. I stood in awe of God. I stood astonished of the fact that once again I had found a moment of my life rooted in scripture.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The cup of Christ, the new covenant. And three women stood to honor and preside over the body. I don’t know if Katie did that on purpose or not, I don’t know if these words from Mark rang in her head as she wanted two other women with her. But it doesn’t matter, God was in that moment. God was present in all ways, the Holy Spirit was upon us all. I will forever be grateful for that moment.

For that moment, and all the moments I can actually stop to notice, that indeed God ordained that moment. And Whate’er God ordains is right.

Today

I wish I never had to wish time away. I’ve spent years wishing. 

The sooner today ends the better.

I keep singing “empty chairs at empty tables.” As the last of the stuff is removed from the house.

It is a lonely day, a day of rejection.

The fullness of rejection weighs.

Then I sing again, “when you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected”.

This is my mantra: I am loved, I am lovely, I am lovable.

Today I give myself permission to say it without the expectation of having to believe it.

I will resume the work of belief tomorrow.

Today, I will let you, my beloved community believe it for me.

Today I will hold fast to a God of grace and a God of glory.

I cannot sing praise today, I can only sit in silence and stare out the window of my house.

My house. 

No longer ours, but mine. Mine and the kids. Where we will be happy again. But not until tomorrow.

Because the sooner today ends the better.

 

God is Doing a New Thing

fontThis week I had the privilege of leading chapel with my DMin class, as we planned we chose this text from Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. ~Isaiah 43:18-21

Some of you may already know, although it has not been publicly announced on this blog or social media that my husband and I are separated. It is a fairly new reality, as the official separation started July 2 when I left for this trip. When I return home my home life will be completely different. Monday we will meet with a family therapist and deal with the realty of telling our children. We have yet to tell them given that they were without a parent for almost 2 weeks.

As anyone who has ever gone through separation and divorce knows this is not a simple admission. And for those of you who haven’t, I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is. As a child of divorce I understand all too well that children are resilient, yet I also understand that this will forever change my children and the life I dreamed for them.

I have a great community, friends, and the support of family, both blood relation and not. I have a wonderful therapist and a church who supports and comforts me. However, this is a difficult, vulnerable, and very raw time in my life. Everything has changed, and over the next year of this separation and impending divorce everything will continue to change.

Isaiah’s message is that God is going a new thing. For me, a new thing is definitely happening, I don’t know if God is doing it or not, but it is happening. However, my faith tells me that God is always doing, reforming, “working” on me. But what is provocative about this text is – notice where the new thing is… it’s in the wilderness and the desert. It’s in a difficult place. We like to lift up a “new thing” as if it is the salvation from the old thing, but there’s a part of me that really liked that old thing. I was comfortable there. I liked being married, I liked my family, no it wasn’t perfect, but I was happy and wanted it to work.

Maybe this “new thing” is for the best, although I admit, I can’t quite perceive that yet, or maybe I just need to believe that. But right now I am tired and thirsty in the desert. Right now I am cold and lost in the wilderness.

God will make a path, and God will make the waters come, Isaiah says. Because sin and death does not have the last word, because I will not sit in this darkness forever, because I believe in a God of resurrection, a God of a new thing, even when I cannot yet perceive it.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and guide my way. Amen.

Body Without Spirit

I am sitting in my office on this Saturday morning. I have a wedding in an hour or so, there are men putting in new floors on the other side of the building. I am making lists because I’m about to leave for two and a half weeks, I need to do all the things and then some. On the list I write that I finish a funeral bulletin for a woman who hasn’t yet died. Then I turn to tomorrow’s sermon.

I am writing a sermon based on James 2:14-26. I open the text and read it through again. And I get to the last verse.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead… I begin to cry. I want to throw things. There are many complicated reasons, but I am also enraged by this line. I have sat at many a bedside, and currently one in particular, where the spirit is gone, the person is ready to go but the body keeps pumping blood through their veins and air keeps entering their lungs.  The other day I sat at a bedside and wept. She is a shell of her former self, although always petite no grown woman should weigh 80 pounds.

This is not the first time I have sat at a bedside and they look at me and ask, beg to die.

“Why does God hate me” one woman asked me, she stared into my eyes. She had not eaten or drank in two weeks. She was not in pain but she was suffering. I will never forget the look on her face. Ever.

I actually blame Jesus. I really do, or at least the gospel writers.

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46

I am not Jesus. Yes, this is actually a lesson I have to learn over and over again in my life. We are not Jesus, and death does not work this way. But Jesus did it and we think we will too. That the moment we are ready to die we will be able to give up our spirit and breathe our last.

It’s complicated, right? It’s messy. Because it is possible to live with no spirit. It should be hard to die, we should not be allowed to control when our last breath is taken because if we died every time we commended our spirit we would all die “before our time”. But it is also cruel.

It is a strange thing to pray for death, but it is not strange to pray for a peaceful end. So today I will weep, I will cry and weep and beg God for a peaceful end.

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Lord I want to be a Christian

There is a famous prayer (paraphrasing here) from St. Augustine saying “Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet…”

Apparently Augustine had a lover and a kid with her. He wanted to be a Christian and a priest, but he would have to give up his mistress and his child. So he went to a garden and prayed. “I want to be a Christ, but not yet.”

These next three days I will journey through the stories of Jesus’ last supper, the prayer in the garden, the excruciating trial and crucifixion. And eventually, death not having the last word.

I cannot pick a favorite story of the bible, or a favorite scripture, or even a favorite book. I can tell you why I would choose Mark or John’s feeding of the 5000 story over Matthew or Luke. Why the prayer of the shema is so important to me. Why the Old Testament stories add such a complexity to my understanding of family and human life.

I can also tell you I am a Christian today because of the prayer Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am the daughter of a catholic and a mainline protestant [and the step-child of two southern baptists(ish)]. Although church was on and off, my family is Christian, I was raised with church on Christmas and Easter and some times in-between. I was also raised with the concept that these were the things we did before the family gathered for the holiday meal.

Despite being “raised” Christian, there is no question when I “became” Christian. I know when I accepted that God was working in my life, I can look up the dates I was baptized and joined the church, I can tell you the story of my first communion and I can also tell you the moment I became a Christian.

An aside: saying “the moment I became a Christian” is really creepy to me. Having been raised for a time in the southern Baptist tradition I have to say this is a little too close to “when were you saved” but there really was a definitive moment I decided to be Christian.

Life wasn’t good and I struggled. I received my call to seminary when I was 18, but life happened, or continued to happen I should say. I ran from God for 2 years after this call. I know, not that long, but I ran hard, my life crumbled. I moved to Memphis running away from my hometown, I moved to Louisville, running away from Memphis.

I ran from Christianity most of all, not from God, but from religion. I could not give up on God… ever. But I wasn’t so sure about Jesus and the church.

My junior year of college I transitioned from a Music Education degree to a BA of Arts in music with a religious study minor. I studied world religions and I loved it. I was not “seeking” for a specific religion but wanted to learn and study all the different ways people knew and experienced God.

To fulfill the requirements for the degree I had to take a course in Christianity, admittedly I was not as happy about this. Yet, Introduction to New Testament I went… The class was taught by an ordained southern Baptist and was full of bible-thumping born-again engineers fulfilling their humanities requirement. I hated every moment of it.

Except, I had to read the New Testament. And I got to the moment of the Garden of Gethsemane (I like Matthew’s version the best). And I was transformed.

I read this prayer, and I had prayed this prayer:

“Now that’s a guy I can follow.” I even said out loud in my apartment. This guy gets it. This God gets it. I can follow him. I can teach his teachings, I can pray to a God who gets it. This Jesus gets me, he understand what it is to live this life. That life is hard and complicated, that there are impossible choices to make.

“Please don’t make me do this” Jesus prays. “I beg you.”

Yet at the end of the day, I believe in the gracious mercy of God and I am at God’s will to be used in the way God would have me be used – for love and compassion even if that means pain and heartache at times.

This is why Augustine left his mistress and child. This why I not only went to seminary but why I am in church on Sunday morning. Even more than that – it is why I don’t actually care if anyone shows up for service tonight, or tomorrow, or on Sunday. Their loss if they don’t.

Because I am a Christian who believes that God knows me through and through, because God – present on earth, fully human, in the form of Jesus – was alone in a sea of followers who worshiped him. Abandoned, he begged and pleaded, for life to be different – for this life he was living to be different. He begged to not have to make an impossible choice. He begged that someone else would take the burden away – make the decision for him. But God doesn’t work that way…

And Jesus knew it. And so do I.

God doesn’t stop the human feelings of burden, of wishing it wasn’t so. I know what I must do, ultimately what I will do, but until then, I beg you, don’t make me do this.

So I will be in worship tonight, I will serve communion, and I will read Matthew’s version of the garden of Gethsemane. I think it would be great if you were there.

Will you stay awake and pray with me a while?

Christ-Gethsemane

 

Who You Want Me to Be

It would be a lot easier, God, if you just told me-

Who you want me to be.

Or is that what this is? This wrestling.

I want to be the one who gets acclamation and praise,

You call me to be the person those people rely on.

I want to write the book that revolutionizes the way we think and feel about you,

You call me to be the one who wrestles with them through the theories behind the publication.

I want to be the one who writes and sings the songs on stage,

you call me to sit with the one in the depth of their experience.

I want a lot of things.

You call me by name.

I wrestle.

You comfort.

“I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, I’ll sit with you in it.”*

Sit with me, God.

Sit with me and hold me in the midst of all my wanting.

 

 

* Quote from Brene Brown

 

I Cheated, I’m a Cheater

I’m so sorry God, I am a cheater.

I committed myself to 40 days. 40 days of all black, no makeup and curly hair.

But then I had an event…

ImageAt first it was a simple thing, a navy dress.

Then brown boots, all within the realm of reason, right?

I pulled my hair back, but it didn’t quite look right.

I put on tinted moisturizer… (and it felt good)

Then came the lipstick and mascara. (and it felt really good)

The smell of makeup, the feel of the brushes, next came blush.

I tried to stop myself, I really did.

But then the hairdryer got pulled out. “Just to smooth it a little” I rationalized…

But it just felt so good to “fit in” again. To play the game of beauty and what is attractive to the world. I know you could care less, that Lent is not about my stupid practice, that you really don’t need to hear my confession, that I’m only trying to make myself feel better. But it matters to me, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and for 40 days set aside the world that tells me otherwise and live into that promise. So I’m sorry God, today I am back in black, no makeup, curly hair and all. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am. Thanks be to God.

So… How you going to do all this?

That’s an excellent question and one worth exploring.

How am I going to do all this?

I will make lists and charts, and talk things over exhaustively.

I will make a plan and not stick to it in any way and procrastinate and change my mind 50 times and then wish I had stuck with my plan all along.

I will carefully and methodically lay out my paperwork and then promptly spill coffee all over it.

I will get food on my keyboard and complain and clean my desk to make room. I will lay in bed and wonder why I cannot be more focused or sit at my desk and wish I were in bed.

I will choose music with the precision of a madwoman and then get lost for hours in new artists.

I will laugh

I WILL cry

I will try to remember why I’m doing it all. and spend an hour daydreaming about what I would do differently. I will come up with 20 plans that are better than this one.

Then somewhere deep inside a voice will whisper, “I believe in you, you can do this, do not forget I am here for you.” and I will start writing and editing, reading and talking, thinking and scheming about a better world and how my speck of dust, my little Whoville can be changed for the better.

And after all that, if I’m lucky, I’ll remember to pray and praise my maker for the life, the depth, and the choice to do or not do all this.