Asgard

Summer at the Movies

Screenshot 2018-08-20 14.07.34My kids start school this week.  It’s been a great summer.  They’re finally old enough to enjoy a good book for a few hours or to get themselves a bowl of cereal (Ask any mom…this is LIFE CHANGING!).  Like so many others, summer movies were also on our activity list during the long break.  My kids are into the Marvel movies, so we had to see ALL of them… Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.  Thor: Ragnarok actually came out last year, but they’ve watched it OnDemand at home over and over again….enough times, that even I have started learning some of the lines.  There’s a scene in Thor:Ragnarok where Odin says to Thor:

Asgard is not a place.  It’s a people. 

The Wilderness

When I wasn’t shuttling my kids to a camp or movie, one of my favorite pastimes this summer was listening to podcasts and reading.  Books always have been and are my safe space – even when they are pushing me into new ways of thinking or understanding.  One of the first books I cracked open this summer was Brene Brown’s latest, Braving the Wilderness.  And, ‘wilderness’ is certainly an apt term to describe the state of my spiritual life.

Willow Creek.

The Catholic Church.

The unholy matrimony of Trump + Evangelicals

Scandals coupled with the ongoing evangelical allegiance to The President plus the Screenshot 2018-08-20 14.37.52deafening silence of so many (notice, I said many – not all!) faith communities has rocked my confidence in the church….an institution that has been a lifelong pillar in my life.  This summer, I couldn’t go to church on Sundays (partly because of lingering PTSD after my church did a summer at the movies series last year, which included a whole sermon on Beauty and the Beast the same weekend as Charlottesville).   But, more than a particular series – it was a particular feeling that the excercise, even if it just going through the motions, had become too painful.

 

 

Filling that void and bringing much peace and insight have been a new genre of Christian authors that I’d never known till now, namely Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr – two figures from more liturgical traditions.  I won’t even try to summarize the countless ways in which they’ve expanded my understanding faith.  In her book, An Altar in the World, there’s a line in the chapter about the Practice of Encountering Others  where she says:

The church was not a place but a people.

Sound familiar?

For generations, God balked at the idea of a temple or a king.  And, yet today it seems we’ve forgotten why.  Instead, we build-up modern cathedrals and celebrity pastors.  All the while, we do give lip service to loving the poor and helping the oppressed, but we dare not utter a word against the systems and structures that perpetuate injustice.

Thankfully, while my faith in organized religion has been at rock-bottom, my confidence in the good work of community organizations partnering with school districts or local leaders is actually growing everyday.  That’s not to say I’m not daily dismayed by national or even state politicians or corporate leaders, but I am really happy to report that impactful work is happening at the local, grassroots level.  For me, in this season of spiritual wandering and wilderness, my work with Community Equity Collaborative has taken on new significance, as we are in both word and deed, helping the oppressed and feeding the poor.  It is faith in action.  It is Micah 6:8 lived.

Goodbye

Brene says this in Braving the Wilderness:

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching.  It is a place as dangerous it is breathtaking, a place a sought as it is feared.  The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not.  But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred space you will ever stand.

I haven’t written many blog posts lately.   There are no words yet for my wandering.  Between the magnitude of what I am sorting in my soul and the pure insanity of what’s happening in the world – I just cannot distill it all into a post.  But, there are others who can and do.  There are my new BFF’s – the great thinkers of the liturgical world, like Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr, that I’d highly recommend to anyone.  There are my longtime favorites, like Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans.  And, there’s a fantastic and spirit-filled community of writers and leaders of color who are speaking so powerfully into this moment in history.  Check out Austin Channing Brown or Soong-Chan Rah or Michael Eric Dyson or Bryan Stevenson or Eugene Cho or Lisa Sharon Harper.

Go read these people.  Wrestle with your faith.  And then….

Meet me in the margins.  We are a people, much more than we are a place.  And, if there is any prevailing theme to the Bible, it is that God’s heart is with the hurting and oppressed.  The evidence of our faith, of who we are as God’s people is in the fruits, pure and simple.  It is bringing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to the world, especially those who need it most.  This is not only the message of the gospel but the place where God is showing up most visibly in my life.  And, so, I’m going to officially push the pause button on my blogging.

This might be the last post.  Ever.  Or not.

Who knows where the wilderness will lead you or the spirit will act?

I started this blog because I wanted to chronicle my journey to live out the Micah 6:8 command to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  I opted for a blog instead of a diary because I wanted the kind of accountability that comes from making a public promise or statement of intention.  No slight intended towards those who write or blog, speak or publish via podcast – but the world has enough people talking about these issues and not enough actually DOING something about it.  For the foreseeable future, I know God wants me to focus on:

a) being still, listening for His voice as I walk through the wilderness

b) walking through the doors God has opened for Community Equity Collaborative, where we work to dismantle unjust systems and promote greater opportunity and equity through community partnerships.

A Toast + A Prayer

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Wildfire Photos by Wired Magazine

Wine Country has been ravaged by a brutal fire season.  My family decided to drive a couple of hours north for a week in Napa this summer.  We love that region and wanted to support the areas that have been devastated – both by the physical destruction as well as the financial losses.  I brought along a big stack of books on racism, social justice, faith….the usual!  Sitting by the pool, it hit me: I have a social justice blog called, Over Coffee and Wine.  I mean, seriously!!!!  The irony of my *privilege pastimes* as an umbrella for *social justice conversations* hit me like a ton of bricks.  God opened my eyes to the gulf between IMG_3045where I am and where His heart is when I lay claim to His gospel or the Micah 6:8 words.  Not that God isn’t in wineries and cafes!  But, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and actually step into the margins….that’s where His people are and His heart’s always been.  Time to light these words on fire and live them out.

 

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let HIM shine…let HIM shine, let HIM shine.

P.S.

Here are my favorite books & Podcasts of the summer

Books

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, Everybody Always by Bob Goff, Grateful by Diana Butler Bass, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, Leaving Church and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, Finding God in the Margins by Carolyn Curtis James, I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown and The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright.

Podcasts

Truths Table, For the Love, Freedom Road and Deconstructionists.

 

 

Take Time to Smell the Shit

Take Time to Smell the Shit

img_1699It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting!  In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch.  She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys.  It’s been a pretty smooth transition.  That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.

Case in point: dogs sniffing poop.  Now, really….WHY?  It’s gross!  I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts.  Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it.  Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?

Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them.  Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”

Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs!  (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me.  With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out.  I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.

How does ANY of this relate to theology?  So glad you asked!

Suffering Sucks 

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The BEST chocolate croissants

Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend.  We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.

It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come.  In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more.   Our suffering matters….it is not easy.  But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.

David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does.  He wrote:

When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too.  This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church.  I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves.  The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.

img_1775For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable.  I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees.  Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering.  This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL.  As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams.  It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.”  That’s the call.

Too Political??

fullsizerender-29Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids?  ME, ME, ME!!!!!

Hands down!  Those were the days!  Right!?!?   fullsizerender-30I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands.  We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.

But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads.  Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  IT IS.  In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:

I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

fullsizerender-28Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance.  And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil.  The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us.  Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”  Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’.  Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit.  It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!

Forget Franklin and Focus

fullsizerender-31I joined twitter a few days ago.  That’s been interesting.  One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”  Say, WHAAAAT????

Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No.  It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”  Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.

Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women.  Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country.  As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.”  Ummm….NOT OKAY.

THIS IS A TIPPING POINT.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about theology.  It’s about unapologetically loving the least.  This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words.  This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.  

Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette.  Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account.  We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice?  The short answer: NO.  We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th.  It is time to get down in the trenches.  To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  #WhyIResist.”  It is time for the church to resist.  We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at! 

So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s.  Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family.  #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD  Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers.  The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest.  The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’.  And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY.  This is our template.  This is how we can love the least.  To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.

So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?

fullsizerender-27In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy.  When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’.  When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.

 

When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.  Jesus got into the whole with us.  But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further.  He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’  Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’.  Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’  He took our place.

Want to know what Jesus would do?  At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place.  I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date.  And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.

Shit Happens

Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world.  And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing.  All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid.  We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.

fullsizerender-32As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.”  Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering.  So, wake up, church.  Shit happens.  Suffering happens.  Our avoidance won’t make it go away.  But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed.  If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven?  (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  #StillShePersisted.

 

This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today.  We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them.  But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME.  And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

In this, we persist.

 

Brave Girl

Brave_silver
The Giving Keys

My first-born is headed off to middle school.  Yesterday, it got real, when she picked up her 6th grade class schedule and school gear.  Last night, we gathered one last time with mothers and daughters who have walked through a Jen Hatmaker study with us, called Brave Girl.  I’d like to think that it’s been formative for the girls, reinforcing what matters as they head into this new frontier.  At the end of our evening, we gave them ‘BRAVE’necklaces from The Giving Keys.  The control-freak in me has done everything I can to prepare her well.

Today, I looked up the definition of brave: ready to face danger and/or pain.

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What the hell was I thinking?  I’m not sure I want her to be brave!  I think what I really want is for her to be SAFE.  Sure, courage and bravery sound lovely – but, am I really ready for this?  You can read all the books, do all the studies and try your best to control outcomes.  But, eventually, we all face the reality that we can’t.

This morning, I sat with a bunch of moms, who together make up the leadership team for Mothers Together at Menlo Church.  We talked about the year ahead, and also reflected on past teaching moments that have stuck with us through the years.  Hands-down, we agreed that the women who said, ‘here’s what I’ve told nobody till now’ or ‘here’s a part of my story that often sends me to the bathroom in tears’ ..when someone is willing to be vulnerable and show you their true-self, the lessons and comfort that come from that are second-to-none.  We remember the ones who were brave.

We all want to be brave.  Yet, none of us want to face danger or pain.  That’s the quandary.  Whether you’re headed into your teenage years or you already carry an AARP card – none of us seek suffering.  There’s that great passage in Romans that says, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  This truth runs through many faiths.  Still, as much as we understand this process in our minds, our hearts hate the shitty reality of pain.  We will do just about anything to avoid it, even as we glorify the byproducts of the process.  Speaking to this process in his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks says, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.” Wow.  Along the same lines, I read a blog post by Sarah Bessey this morning, where she writes: “I always thought I would be one sort of person, but now I’m someone else.”  We want to be brave, but we don’t want the suffering….we don’t want to change.  If we applaud a growth mindset for our head, shouldn’t the same be true of our hearts?

One of the gals who spoke this morning said, “sometimes, I think my job is to lower the broken-n-cracked-ice-heartsbar.”  We all laughed.  Why?  Because, a) we walk around thinking that if the world knew all of the skeletons in our closets, we would be instantly declared Limbo Champions (cuz, we’re all constantly lowering the bar).  And, b) we laugh out of the sheer relief that we’re not the only ones with broken pieces.  Wouldn’t it be grand, if we could all lower the bar…in real life?  Amazingly, in lowering the bar, we might actually grow taller and stronger.

The advice that Jen Hatmaker gave the girls is pretty good advice for women of all ages:

  • Be kind.
  • Be you.
  • Love Jesus.

FullSizeRender1For young and old, this is it!  So, can we make a pact?  No charades, please.  If we’re gonna encourage our kids in this and do our best to model this, it would help if we stayed true to ourselves and our stories.  I love what Brene Brown says about our stories.  She writes:

Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.

I am always grateful to the women who, in private or public, are willing to share their brokenness.  But, as Brene cautions, we have to use some discretion in picking the people and places where we choose pull back the curtains on some portion of our story.  That said, discretion is different from fabrication.  Maybe we don’t have to tell our deepest darkest secrets to the world, but is it too much to ask we stop pretending like we always have our shit together?  I say this, partly as a plea and partly as a confession.

il_340x270.496791283_ipt0We all want the bravery placard.  Yet, we all pray we can bypass the process.  You can’t.  Life just doesn’t work that way.  What you CAN do, is find people.  The good ones actually draw near when life sucks.  They’ll be honest about their pain, and will keep your own story safe.  The real KEY, I will tell my daughter as she heads off to middle school….is that it’s scary and hard, but it is good to strive for bravery, even though there are not shortcuts….even though there will be moments she may cry (when means I will probably cry too)…still, it is good to pursue perseverance and character.  Eventually, you will get to hope….especially, if you have people who will walk with you along the way.  #timetolaunchmybaby  #bebrave #bekind #beyou #lovejesus #bettertogether