Lent: Permission to be Human

Lent is my favorite church season, it allows our feelings of the darkness that is happening on this inside to be experienced outwardly. It is the season where we stop pretending that faith is easy and we walk a line of doubt and belief.

From dust we came, to dust we shall return. 40 days where we let our mortality show, and honestly, let God’s mortality show, through Jesus. During Christmas we emphasize how he was born of a woman and came to earth both fully human and fully God. We talk details about how fragile a baby he was, like any other. However, when you mix his birth story with the sensational story of his conception the human part of the story gets overshadowed (see what I did there…).

It’s the same thing with Easter. When we only focus on the sensational story of the resurrection, we miss the humanity of it all.

On the night of his arrest when the meal was over, Jesus walks into the garden, and he asks his companions to stay awake a while and pray with him. He goes a little farther in and prays to God. “Please don’t make me do this. Please.” He wails and gnashes his teeth, and pleads for his life. He does this three times and in between he finds his friends sleeping.

He is not whining, and I abhor the version where the “devil” is tempting him (in John’s gospel). Because it is this moment, here, why I am a follower of Jesus Christ today.

When I was in college I was a religious studies minor. I learned about God in all forms. I loved reading the sacred texts from different world religions and people’s experience of them. I liked to think through the implications of the belief that all things are sacred from different languages and different parts of the world.

After this, I asked myself, “Why do I want to be Christian when I see God in all these religions?”

I thought about where I had come from and what my history was, does it make sense for this Irish-German American to be a Buddhist? Then I didn’t care what it would look like. Then I cared again. Not so much the “look” from other people, but if I found the Sacred in many forms, why not go with the one my heritage taught? But I still needed one to “hook” me, I needed a passion for one religion over another and heritage wasn’t enough.

Finally, I got to the point where I asked, “What do I want most from God? What is the thing God can give me that the world cannot?”

The answer was fairly simple, it was the thing I had sought most in life: To be understood and accepted.

This wasn’t so much about church or community, I was seeking God, something more than humanity. I do not claim the yoke of Calvinism often, but I do when it comes to the sinfulness of humanity. I do believe in the human capacity for greatness, for goodness, but I also believe that it is we who create the bad in the world, not God.

As I sought acceptance and to be understood from humanity I found myself continually let down. Which is not those people’s fault as much as that gift can only come from God. We are all, if we know it or not, walking around trying to cope with being mortal.

In order to receive all my credits for the degree I had to take a class in Christianity. I had already received my call to seminary and was on my way. (I know it feels like I had done this backwards, but faith and life plans don’t always work together.) And so the only class available to me was Introduction to New Testament.

My faith had grown, I knew who I was, I knew who God was, and I was trying to reconcile the two. It was about this time of year when we were making our way through Matthew’s gospel. And there it was…

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46

The world felt like it paused for a moment. I sat in awe. I wept.

Jesus, son of God, Word of God, the voice of God on earth, who came to earth so God may know us better, just did the thing I needed him to do the most. He grieved, he was scared, he was let down, he felt alone.

Now that’s a God I can get behind. That’s a God who gets me. That’s a God who will understand and accept me because in the end these moments are not weakness but strength, and this Christ knows it.

This story is read at the end of every Maundy Thursday service in my church, one of the last days of Lent and I weep every time I hear it.

It makes my experience of life and this world so fully understood and accepted. And I could not ask for more from my Savior.

I do not know what this Lenten season will hold. The world seems so dark. I do know that I will ask questions and explore my mortality through prayer that may include wailing and agitation and gnashing of teeth and that’s okay, after all, if it’s good enough for Jesus…

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Preparing for Lent

So I’ve been working on our Lenten series: The Abundance of Enough. Lent is 12 days away… *breathes into paper bag*). I helped my bestie a few years ago as she was doing a series of the same title. I’m a good “bounce ideas off of” person and I helped with some visuals for the series.

This year our stewardship theme was “More than Enough” and as we thought about bringing stewardship practices into a year round commitment I came back to this theme. In preparation I’ve been reading books like: The Way of Simplicity, Plain Living, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go and An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture.

Yesterday, I read and collected scriptures and prayers for the series. As I did this I was interrupted by staff in the office and emails from people because Thursday was the first day our office was open after the snow storm (and my 8 year old who was on her 5th day off of school). I also juggled personal finances, attempting to scrape up enough money to make it to payday. I was not successful.

SO I focused on something where I could be successful… Whenever I prepare for Lent I begin to think about my lenten practices. Several years ago I started taking lenten practices very seriously. This year, I will be asking our church to do the 40 bags in 40 days challenge, and I will be joining in.

I’m all for the practices where I ask, what can I take on spiritual/give up spiritually. These are important, but I have found the more ancient ways of deprivation to be most helpful for me in my practices.  Especially as a middle class American.

As I was reading about the Cistercian spirituality of buildings I couldn’t help but think of the Reformed tradition and our churches, they are purposefully plain. This has been my inspiration for the last few years where I have worn all black, no makeup, no special hair products, and no jewelry (search the blog, I wrote about it extensively).

I thought about what it would mean to remove decoration from my home and my office. It was an interesting thought, but as I looked around my house I kept going back to the word “abundance”.

I live in a suburban home with an abundance of space. Don’t get me wrong it’s not huge, but it is a good size, more than we need. I have a closet full of clothes that I walk into and “search” for something to wear. I have 2 refrigerators, a deep freezer, and a pantry full of food and still “need to run to the store.” I have shelves of movies, netflix, amazon prime, and cable, yet still complain, “there’s nothing on tv.”

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I’m a slave to abundance, a slave to options. Why do I need all this? Will there ever be enough?!? We live in a constant state of the food of Thanksgiving and the gifts of Christmas on a daily basis.

It’s time to simplify. I canot serve 2 masters.

Even though Lent is less than 2 weeks away (where’s that paper bag), I’m going to start today, because eating out should be a special event with my economic state, not a habit. Because I don’t need any more clothes, or whatever crap it is I want to buy. And honestly, I could feed our family on whatever is in our house for more than a month, so I will.

I will not buy groceries until we’ve eaten what we have (exception: fresh produce that I eat and NOT throw away, dairy products, or eggs). I might have to get creative, but I will do it. We will eat leftovers and not throw them out. I will use things until they are gone and not for one meal until I forget about them. Also, the paper plates are going away and the laundry will be put away. It may not seem connected but part of the issue is things are bought (socks) because I haven’t folded laundry and paper plates are used because we haven’t washed the dishes.

Abundance is a luxury I don’t want to afford. I want to do better. We already recycle and compost in our house, we grow our own food in the summer and herbs all year round, now this Lent, I’ll take another step to a more simplistic way of life.

I’m also playing around with fasting and silence one day each week, I’ll keep you posted on that…

 

 

Lenten Devotional 2015

IT’S FINALLY DONE!!!! And today I got an email from a group asking me to write one for them. I almost said no, but I’ll do it. Of course I will, because, you know, as hard as it was, it was fun too… So, if you so chose, here is my Lenten devotional on Wonder in the Wilderness. Enjoy.

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The Joy of Snark

So there we were, Katie and I, trying to decide what to “give up” for lent. Lots of discussion was happening. “Well,” I said, “if I really wanted to do something challenging I would give up snark”. She looked at me, I looked at her, and we laughed. Nope. Not going to happen.

Then the other day another friend was saying that her therapist suggested she give up snark for Eastertide. There was a silence on the phone. We laughed. Nope. Not going to happen.

Then today I saw this going around facebook.

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This was followed by comments on people’s posts like “SO True!” and “Always stay positive” and “It’s the only way to go!”

My snark kicked into high gear.

I am a queen of snark, my friends are kings and queen of snark. For those of you confused by this term it is a combination of “snide” and “remark”, it is, a sarcastic comment. And I love them.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to (and sometimes still do) get in trouble a lot for this beautiful, God-given gift. I am a smartass, a smartalec, a sass. I have a sassy mouth, I speak before thinking. I want to sit in the back of the room with my friends and make fun of other people. I want to pay attention by making snide comments, that’s what I do. AND I think I’m hilarious.

Not the most “Christian” trait out there, yet probably just as Biblical as “keep on the sunny side of life” “God smiles on those who smile” and “A negative mind will never give you a positive life”. I mean the Bible is full of comments like “my father’s member shall be smaller than my little finger!” (1 Kings 12:10-11) and “if you want all Christians to be circumcised as adults I dare you to cut your own top off” (Galatians 5:12). I mean… hilarious.

A negative mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Much like a dirty mind it can be used for evil, but snark used properly can lead to great friendships, hours and hours of laughter, and a bond closer than “random acts of kindness.” No, we should not hurt people’s feelings. I have done PLENTY of apologizing for this. But used properly, i.e. making fun of those whom we love (and they know it) or ourselves (when we have the confidence to do so) or harmless choices (like gigantic mullets), snark can bring joy to the world.

So instead of giving up snark for lent or Eastertide, I say embrace it! Turn your false positivity upside-down and embrace the great art of sassy snarkiness. Greatness will abound!

 

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

 

2014 Lenten Installation

I walked into a meeting last fall and we discussed our Lenten theme “Dynamics of Faith” loosely based on the Paul Tillich book of the same title.  There sermons are here. But what sort of symbol could we use for faith? Last year our theme was atonement and the sanctuary was filled with crosses.  Then we realized that the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, especially the front ones, displayed symbols of faith:

photoThen, somewhere in throwing out ideas we were talking about the outline of the series. What Faith Is, What Faith is Not, Faith and Doubt, Faith in Action, and Faith in Community.

Then came the conversation about stumbling blocks, or barriers, or boxes…

We left it at that.  Something with boxes…

Rob Kelly, the amazingly talented Director of Contemporary Music and Creative Arts that I work with found this as an inspiration. The idea went from there.  I got a package that was the exact size, math was done (badly mind you) and 350 boxes were ordered, painted for dimension, and installed over the last 6 weeks. Here are the results:

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Today as we prepare for the final Sunday before Easter we have blocked out the symbols, we have darkened the curtains, we have turned inward during this season. The walls are closing in, and the tomb is closing, on Easter morning the curtain will be torn and dazzling white will spread throughout the sanctuary.  Until then, we wait.

 

 

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.

Back in Black, Baby!

So here’s how it goes. Last year my Director of Christian Education (the fabulous, amazing, all powerful and hilarious), Katie Cashin (find her blog at The Very Hungry) and I went on a Lenten Journey together.  We stripped color from our wardrobes, makeup from our faces, and product from our hair. And we’re doing it again.

If Katie blogs about her experience I will post it here, but here are my musings from last year: Moving into DarknessYou Are EnoughBlack Shows Everything and True Colors

It was a profoundly moving experience.  

ImageHere are the rules and a few exceptions for myself: Funerals (makeup) and when I am in Cuba (because I don’t have black summer clothes), and pajamas. Because of these exceptions I will NOT be taking Sundays off.  I will wear all black, navy blue, or dark grey (all with little to no pattern) for 40 days.  I will not wear makeup. I will not straighten my hair. I will limit my jewelry to my wedding band and silver studs. Only Black shoes will be permitted. I am not allowed to buy any clothes or shoes as I have to use what I already have. I have set everything I own for this journey aside in my closet and all the other clothes get “put away”.  

But why again?

Well, again, see the blogs above. But last year was a profoundly moving experience. I had to be as “close to as God intended” I had to “make due with what I was given” and because I didn’t have to think about what I was wearing or who I was going to impress with the way I looked, I only had myself to rely on. So much in our society tells us that we need to dress to impress and always look my best.  My funky jewelry tells people I’m eccentric and my shoes show people I’m not afraid to mix styles. I admit, by the end of the 40 days last year I was SICK of the black, but the real practice is: How much time do I put into these expectations of the world, “prettying” myself up, when all the while ignoring my Creator? Even the 5 minutes it takes to pick out an outfit. The 10 minutes to dry my hair and put on makeup, and the hour it takes to pick the right earrings to go with this ring (okay, a little exaggeration, but really jewelry takes the longest for me…).

I will be doing other lenten practices too. ReThinkChurch’s Lenten Photo-A-Day (follow this blog or on Instagram) and Fat Pastor’s Thank You Notes (not like Jimmy Fallon, but maybe…). These lists are both from last year, but I will be following them anyway.  

Wish me luck! 

True Colors

Sometimes when my kids are really tired I can sneak in a song that I like to sing while putting them to bed.  We do the basics, the nursery rhymes and whatnot, but sometimes I will throw in a little something for myself.  One of my go-to songs is Cindi Lauper’s “True Colors” (yes, I know Rod Stewart sang it also, but I choose to ignore his version). 

Over this Lenten season I gave up color in my wardrobe and wore all black, and yes, on Easter morning when I stopped the practice I felt like this…

ImageYes, it felt like I was seeing color for the first time.  I was at least seeing myself in color for the first time. Those six weeks felt very long, and I was fine, absolutely no complaints the first three weeks, and then I admit it was tough.  

But in the last 4 or so days here’s what I have learned/discovered.

1) hair dryers make a lot of noise. Seriously, I kind of liked getting up and out of the shower and what my hair did, it did. Now I dry my bangs and the top/front of my hair- no I do not dry the bottom or the back (seriously, who has time for that?).  And the hair dryer is REALLY loud! So loud I think I might cut all my hair off…

2) I don’t actually like make-up. I wear makeup on Sundays and it never quite looks right.  Maybe I don’t know how to properly put it on or something, but the line between plain Jane and Vegas showgirl is finer than people realize, at least it is for me. The exception to this is tinted moisturizer, I like the redness out of my skin.

3) I like my jewelry. I really do. I particularly missed my wedding ring (I wore a simple band). But I really missed my earrings, however every time I look at myself I feel like ALL I can see is the jewelery.

4) My clothes are pretty plain. Ask me to give up patterns for Lent and it would not have been a chore. Seriously, I have greys and browns and creams, all solids.  But that is actually kind of okay. 

So what did I learn? Well I’m still learning. 

This was an experiment in creativity, where would my creative outlet go to if I didn’t have it through clothing, etc. But as usual, it was about so much more, it was really a quest in self-worth.  It was a time of self discovery and I admit, I miss it a little.  I liked the simplicity.

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV) says “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

This is a constant struggle in our culture, in my life of career and self importance, and ego. (BTW- don’t read too much farther in this passage, it leads to arguable places, but this part is good). I am enough as I have learned through this process, but living into that will be a lifelong journey.  But my worth will not come from clothes, hair, jewelery, or make-up. Ever.