How I’m Flunking Lent

Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for saving my Easter.

Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can reach, reach out your hand…

It’s the story of tonight and the story of practically everyday since November 8th, 2016.  It’s an ache that has ebbed and flowed but could never be fully shaken.  The death of what I once knew as my country and my church has shaken me to the core and forever changed me.  These posts are where I chronicle my Micah 6:8 Journey.  These posts are where I process.  To say that there’s been A LOT of *processing* in the last year-plus would be the understatement of the century.  Writing helps me sort the myriad of thoughts and feelings.

Confession: as cathartic as writing has been, there have been many more moments when I don’t feel strong enough to stand or write or do anything.

I Gave Up Donald Trump

A year ago, I gave up Donald Trump for Lent.  No, it wasn’t a joke.  It was a serious and deliberate effort to manage my election-induced anxiety and create space for God to remind me of the hope and promise of Easter Sunday.  I first got the idea after reading Diana Butler Bass’s article in the Washington Post.  It was an effort to actually understand a well established and Biblically based tradition that I’d somehow ignored during my evangelical years.  This year, though… my spirit is too weary for a program or plan – just sitting with my dog and listening to Found Tonight on repeat.  I need a new practice, a different kind of fasting as I find “myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness,” as Sarah Bessey puts it.

Wrong Test

I can’t blame Donald Trump entirely for the craziness of recent weeks.  Just over a month ago, my husband had a heart attack.  One minute, we’re walking around town while our boys are at karate.  The next minute (okay, 90 minutes), he’s being wheeled into the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.42.08By most measures, he was healthy.  Cholesterol, weight, blood pressure – all within normal limits.  Diet and exercise – decent.  He’d even done a stress test about a year prior and he passed with flying colors.  Every test he and/or the doctors had done pointed to a healthy heart.

But he was wrong. They were wrong. They had the wrong tests and measurements.  And ,that wrongness nearly killed him.  You see, most of us can pass stress tests, even run marathons and live life without much difficulty – until the blockage is more than 70%.

My husband likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Something had to change.  His very survival required it.  For weeks, he poured over stacks of books, reading everything about cardiac health.  One gut-wrenching realization: this *new* information was there ALL ALONG.  Literally.  Two of the most impactful books he read had been sitting on our bookshelves for YEARS – untouched.  I guess they waiting for a time when life slowed down or we made a New Year’s resolution to ‘eat healthier’.  Or, as proved to be the case, we were *truly* motivated to change.

As Oprah likes to say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’  And, we were ready to ‘do better’ by making major changes.  We wanted to not only prevent further heart disease but also reverse it by prioritizing diet, exercise…even mental health.  In a nutshell, we needed to decide this mattered.

 

 

The American Church (especially, white, evangelical) has some serious health issues, including heart ones.  We’ve forgotten to love what He loves or let our heart be broken by what breaks His.  We’re addicted to power clothed pseudo religiosity and we’ve turned faith communities for serving the world into legalistic clans that serve ourselves.  And, we’ve done it without a guilty conscience by Screenshot 2018-03-24 20.14.37using the wrong measurements and taking the wrong tests.

For decades, Americans surveyed have described Christians as ‘judgmental’ or ‘hypocritical’ – a far cry any of the nine ‘fruits of the spirits’ Paul lists in Galatians when saying how we will be known.  Instead, we see “misogynistic,” “colonial,” and “white supremacist” added more recently to the list.   Put simply, we are better at preaching about love than actually doing it – especially when it comes to loving the least.

Newsflash: the world isn’t fooled.

Don’t get me started on continued support for Donald Trump, even as the onslaught of Cabinet resignations, porn-star lawsuits and Mueller indictments continue at an alarming rate.  It shouldn’t be shocking that the latest Pew reports indicate Americans have warmed up to every religious group EXCEPT evangelicals.

Hybels & Zuckerberg

The *usual suspects* on the far right are not the only ones who have made mistakes.  For progressive believers seeking change, our credibility is on the line if we do not advocate for truth and justice – no matter what.  It’s not easy, but it’s essential.

Case in point: Bill Hybels and Mark Zuckerberg.  In just the last two days, these two leaders, have both come under intense scrutiny in the face of serious accusations of gross misjudgments.

Facebook is facing tough questions related to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.  While I never thought Facebook was perfect, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some pride living in Silicon Valley, residing in the very town where Facebook has its headquarters.  This is undoubtably the biggest ‘hit’ that Facebook (and its founder!) has taken since its founding.

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.00.10.pngIn the same way that Facebook revolutionized social media, so did Willow Creek blaze a trail for churches around the globe.  I spent my young adult years at Willow, discovering a faith that put faith into action.  I mention or quote Bill Hybels in at least four of my blog posts.  He was a pastor that I respected and saw as an example for leaders around the globe.  I was shocked when I read that for many years, he’d been the subject of investigations into sexual abuse/harassment.

I was even more heartbroken when I read an email from Willow to friends/members (I’m still on their distribution list).  Its content and tone denigrated those who had brought the accusations and/or had pushed for more thorough inquiries (which included, my current pastor, John Ortberg).  In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my stomach turned as I saw pastor protection elevated above pursuing truth and affirming victims.  I thought of the sexual assault and abuse victims I know and love.

There can be no sacred cows (or golden calf’s).  No exceptions if we are serious about the Micah 6:8 life; truth and humility are essential to justice.

 

How Are YOU?

400dpiLogo (1)Equity and justice have become central themes over the last year plus, with my holy discontent manifesting as work with  Community Equity Collaborative.  (Interesting things happen when you study white privilege and racism….).  Our three focus areas are:

  • Encouraging equity in education by promoting greater early childhood/preschool access
  • Creating career pathways for early childhood educators
  • Increasing family engagement at K-12 schools through PTO/PTA Roundtables, along with other resources that facilitate greater diversity and inclusion.

At our latest Roundtable, PTO reps sat around tables, brainstorming ways to recruit more leaders through a more inclusive process.  We talked about the steady decline in volunteerism and the challenge in recruiting new leaders.  Maybe folks are overwhelmed and tired.  Maybe some moms have gone back to work.  Maybe volunteers who helped in the past are now burnt out.  Then, a leader from a predominantly Hispanic school spoke up.

At my school, we make a point of asking parents, ‘How are you?’.  We want them to know we care more about how they’re *actually doing* than trying to sign them up for our project or ask them to do something.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.49.04We all just sat there.  It was as if she’d simultaneously revealed the most profound yet blatantly obvious mindset flaw….  We’re all just marching towards glorious goals without pausing to reflect on the gap between our best intentions versus our actual impact.

In a room where most of the representatives came from wealthy and/or white communities, I was reminded of how much we gain when we are intentional about building a bigger table where people/relationships prevail above programs or privilege.

So, church – do you ask?  Are you opening your eyes to our *actual impact* as opposed to our pretty programs and best intentions? Do you connect with marginalized people or communities and ask them how they are?  I didn’t ask whether a black person sings in your choir or you’ve created a special Spanish-language advertisement to your Easter Sunday service or collected an offering last month for your favorite Christian charity.  I asked if you’re getting out of the pews and to the people, with an authentic interest in finding out when you get there – how are they doing?

March for our lives

IMG_1791My little boy marched.

I hadn’t made a big deal about the #NationalWalkout.  He’s ten.  He loves Legos and Star Wars.  But, on the morning of the Walkout, I made a last-minute decision to mention the walkout to him, in case it became the topic of conversation or even action at school.  Our drive to school is short, but it only took him a few seconds to decide how he felt – he wanted to join.  I was honestly surprised, so I hastily said I’d let his teacher know.  As soon as I got back home, I sent her a note and she replied back to me that if he wanted to participate in the Walkout, he’d need to go to the middle school.  I quickly changed out of the plaid pajamas I’d driven him to school in (Lord, may I never need to get out of the car during school commutes!) and into my yoga gear (standard issue mom uniform).  I printed a picture of my grandmother, with the words #NeverForget, then ran out the door.

Soon, my son and I were joining hundreds of middle schoolers, marching around the school campus.  He didn’t need instructions.  There are moments when opportunity and purpose converge in such a way that instinct naturally takes over.  And, this was one of those moments for him.  He held up high the picture of his great-grandmother.  He was evidence of pain and horror that had rippled through the generations, from the Easter Sunday when she was murdered over 60 years ago – to this moment, as he marched in the rain.    At the end of the march, students read prepared speeches and poems.  They said the names of Parkland students killed, followed by a moment of silence.  I could see it in his eyes; a fire was lit.

These kids….they ARE making a difference.  They ARE changing the world.  #NeverAgain #Enough 

Vegan Easter

So, my bacon loving, steak eating husband made a bold decision to become a vegan.  The evidence for improving his cardiac wellness and overall health with better nutrition was undeniable.  It’s not a miracle cure or a guarantee – but it’s the right choice, in light of all he now knows.  The rest of us joined him.  It wasn’t just an act of solidarity but rather of sanity.  How could we not?  Now we knew!  We not only realized that the old tests and measurements had been wrong but also that there was a better way.

Lenten sacrifices are intended to grow compassion, not simply be a reluctant exercise in giving up chocolate or swearing.  The fact that I didn’t have a program did not mean that He did not have a plan.  Last year, He met me in the spaces I carved out for Him, by eschewing my daily doses of political satire and news.  This year, He’s showing up EVEN in the midst of the madness, teaching me that Jesus is more interested in changing my spiritual diet (and measurements!) 365 days a year than He is a token gesture for forty.  He’s reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I ace my own test but fail in every aspect by which He measures faith.

I can almost picture God up in heaven, chuckling at my misguided attempts to jump through so many hoops, check so many boxes.  Easter is the ultimate new covenant.  It’s not the day for ham dinners or egg hunts or fancy dresses.  And so, our family is remaking Easter, not just with vegan recipes but with new practices and different measurements.

Maybe we need a redefinition of ‘right’

Bill Hybels always said that there’s nothing like the local church when the local church it works right.  I agree.  (Still!)

But….

Screenshot 2018-03-24 15.35.14Maybe ‘right’ looks less like mega churches with celebrity pastors and more like my friend who worked quietly behind the limelight to bring kids affected by gun violence in Chicago together with the Parkland kids so that together they could march this weekend in DC.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like the fancy programs we do on Sunday morning and more like the people we serve in our communities Monday through Friday.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less ‘blessing the blessed’ and more like advocating for the poor or marginalized.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like sleek videos and hip worship leaders and more like true allyship with POC or LGBTQ communities.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like upgrades to our own infrastructure (whether a new sanctuary building or fancy remodel) and more like support for more just systems in our communities, whether that’s clean water in Flint or early childhood education for kids across America.   Maybe ‘right’ looks less like building shoebox campaigns and more like campaigning for investments in education and livable wages for teachers across America.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like vinyl wall decals in our Pinterest worthy-kitchen and more like teaching our kids about white privilege and systemic racism.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a pro-life platform that is obsessed with my uterus and more like a people who are willing to stand with the thousands of kids marching through the streets today, begging that they not be slaughtered with military assault weapons.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like fancy Easter outfits and more likeScreenshot 2018-03-23 14.26.50 books that teach us about love in all its forms (thank you, Marlon Bundo and John Oliver).  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a Tesla and more like a donkey.

My boys want a Tesla.  The Tesla Roadster, to be precise.  (Unless we win the lottery, we’re not getting it!)  But, you can’t fault my boys for wanting one.  Tesla’s abound in Menlo Park.  And, they’re pretty cool.  I’ll admit.  But, the biggest problem with the church right now is that we have become vehicles for power and privilege and we think that by slapping a ‘blessed’ or ‘grateful’ decal on the back, the world will recognize our good intentions and forget our impact.  The world’s not stupid.

The world sees the true fruits of our efforts, the impact of our power and privilege.  And, while they might be okay with our Jesus, they’re less impressed with us.

This Sunday, we remember the day that Jesus, Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only days later to wash the feet of His disciples before carrying a cross to Calvary.  We wear the cross, but do we carry it?  Do we wash the feet?  Instead of just waving palm branches for a moment this Sunday, would we take the time to also remember what Jesus did so long ago AFTER he rode that donkey?  He cleared the temple courts.  It’s telling that the bookends of His ministry have Jesus teaching us that His house is not a place for power and privilege or profit but a place for prayer and for His purposes.

As we begin Holy Week, it is clear I am flunking lent.  By conventional standards, I’ve failed the test.  All my good intentions for reading a Lenten devotional or joining #40 acts or picking something to ‘give up’ have fallen by the wayside.  And, then I remember….”for all have sinned and fallen short…”  No amount of good works or best efforts could ever help us ‘pass the test’ or bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God…for 40 days or 365, let alone a lifetime….which is why He so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

Jesus held the first March For Our Lives; one man carried a cross up a hill to save all our lives, and in so doing, bridged that gap.

Maybe *this* IS Lent.

To nobler heights

My grandmother was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class.  Her laura2commencement speech was titled, To Nobler Heights.

Tonight as we pause at this worthy goal, our hearts are gladdened for we feel we have accomplished something worth while on our march thus far…Our hopes like towering falcons aim at objects in airy heights, for we realize that upon, the youth of today, rests that great responsibility as citizens of tomorrow.  As we look forward into the future we see great and noble heights that we may attain if we but climb steadfastly onward.  We know not how much time we are given and must constantly move onward if we would not fall back.  To those who are older and perhaps great than we, it may possibly seem that our progress is slow and our achievement nothing.  But we are not discouraged, for we desire above everything else to climb upward; to give our lives in service to humanity, and thus in a measure repay the world and our Master for what has been done for us. 

 

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.18.09As Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt’s song Found Tonight begins…

We may not yet have reached our glory, but I will gladly join the fight….and when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

 

To nobler heights!  Let’s be broken, together.  Let’s be stronger, together.  Let’s be better, together.

This is the march for our lives.

This is the march for her life.

For God so loved the world that He marched first, so that you could be found.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Screenshot 2017-10-11 15.37.47
Sandi Patty and Wayne Watson

Sandi Patty.  Larnelle Harris.  Gaither Vocal Band.  These were the household names for me growing up.  I was raised on a music diet that consisted primarily of Christian music with a bit of classical thrown in on the side.  Sandi Patty was my favorite.  I knew every word to every song.  To this day, I still believe she has the voice of an angel.  Duets, like those with Wayne Watson, sounded like music from heaven.  Truly.

Though it has been YEARS, I can still hear one of their most famous songs, Another Time Another Place, play in my head.  The main refrain begins, So, I’m waiting for another time and another placeWhere all my hopes and dreams will be captured.  These lyrics remind me of the verse in Revelation, where it says that He will wipe away every tear, that there will be no more sorrow, no more pain.  I love that verse because it speaks to the brokenness that we all carry plus God’s redemption promise.

At my church, we’re doing this series called, Upside Down, looking at the most famous sermon ever given – the Sermon on the Mount.  Embedded in that sermon is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus commands us to pray that Up There Come Down Here.  It turns out, the work of the cross continues, in and through broken people like you and me.  Till we get to that other time and place, there is work to do.

 

So what is that work?

In August, I wrote about what I’d learned in my year-long journey of trying to *actually* live out the Micah 6:8 verse.  Option B was more about the process than the outcomes.  So, here I want to expand on the WHAT….what do justice, mercy and love look like?  I am still learning, myself!  But, these are the doors God has opened.

Community Equity Collaborative

In May, a few of us met over a cup of coffee to talk about what we could do to promote social justice in our community.  At a Starbucks in Menlo Park, Community Equity Collaborative was born.

400dpiLogo (1)Who are we?

  • We launch, support and connect initiatives across the San Francisco Peninsula that promote educational equity, especially in the area of early learning.
  • While we believe that charity is a cheap substitute for justice, an opportunity to distribute 7,000 pairs of toddler shoes kinda fell into our lap, providing a great platform for connecting with the early childhood education community in our area.

What do we do?

  • Some examples of the work we’re doing now:
    • Assist faith-based organizations in assessing their site for preschool and connect these organizations with early learning operators.
    • Create career pathways into early learning, collaborating with Able Works and Canada College with integrated teacher/student mentoring and individualized coaching.
    • Support local school districts that have or are building early learning programs.

I intended all summer to write about Community Equity Collaborative.  I’m just now doing it because we have been busy, which is a good thing – God is actually using us!  Who knew!?!  And, it is confirming for me that the Micah 6:8 work precedes the writing, not vice versa.  It is as if God keep telling me, “just do the work, I’ll give you the story.”  And, stories He is providing!!!!

Domestic Worker Oral History Project

Very little research or reporting is done on domestic workers.  They are this essential ingredient, helping us take care of our little ones and keep our homes in order (especially in the high-paced, over-achieving region of Silicon Valley).  Yet, we know so little about their *actual* lives.  Simone Weil, says, “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity.”  We have decided it was time to shine a light on these women….to stop and just listen to their stories.

So, what exactly are we doing?

  • I, along with a partner from Community Equity Collaborative, decided to personally organize and fund the gathering of stories from Bay Area women.
  • We partnered with Able Works, as many of their clients are formerly or presently in the domestic worker field.

How are we doing it?

  • We identified someone who these woman would trust and are having her interview the women, using a set of questions we designed, the answers to which are recorded, transcribed and then translated (if needed).
  • In total, she will have sat down with ten women, and from what we’ve already seen – the stories are amazing, as they paint pictures of both great tragedy and triumph.

Why are we doing this?  

  • Well, for starters, we believe in a God who always seeks out the marginalized and disadvantaged.
  • Second, we believe in the power of story.  It is easy to be indifferent when you don’t know.
  • Our hope and prayer is that these stories will create a foundation for greater understanding and compassion for domestic workers.

What will we do with these stories?

  • There will definitely be a blog post!!!!
  • We will also work with partners, like Able Works, to share these stories though local news outlets and organizations, so that others can learn from these women.

Life Moves

This week, I was back at Life Moves in Palo Alto, serving lunch.  Those two hours, serving the homeless, never cease to soften my heart.  Here are two stories from Monday that have stuck with me.

  • PB Guy: We always try to smile and engage in friendly banter as clients move through the food line.  One elderly gentleman began trying to tell us something, in Spanish.  A handful of us were trying to translate what he was saying.  We finally figured out he was telling us that when he eats peanut butter, it gets stuck in his intestines.  (Okay….thanks for sharing.) We naturally jumped into problem solving mode….now that we understood, how could we help….what should we do….what did he want?  Turns out, nothing.  He didn’t want anything, other than for us to know.  Later, as we were cleaning up, this same guy starts coming to us with paper-towels, pointing at the towel.  Again, it took us a moment to figure out what he wanted.  Finally, we figured it out – he wanted us to put some of our cleaning spray on the towels so he could help.  I drove home, thinking about the PB Guy – he just wanted to be known.  He wanted to help.
  • Late Girl: Around the same time that the PB Guy was helping us clean-up and stack the chairs, a young lady came running in, asking if it was too late to eat.  She explained that the buses were late today and she was really hungry.  Quickly, we began gathering bits and pieces…..an apple here, a handful of crackers there.  We began stacking it all on a plate.  She looked over at a huge tray of pasta.  “Can I have some of that?”  Those of us serving looked at one another, our hearts breaking.  We explained that this tray had not been opened.  If we did open it and serve her, we would have to throw out the rest of the entire tray.  In the end, we were able to give her a plate that was stacked pretty high with different items we could take from the refrigerator or pantry. I will remember the Late Girl, her eyes filled with longing.

I return to Life Moves, not just because my faith requires that I am loving the least, but because my heart is the life that needs to move – more than any other.  If those of us with power and privilege learn how to see PB Guy and Late Girl with the eyes of Jesus, we will see Up There come Down Here.

Better Together

These ladies are my soul sisters.  We read.  We cry.  We organize.  We pray.  We celebrate. We talk….a lot.  They are my people.  I am reading Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Anan.  He writes about how Micah 6:8 kingdom work is a long run – there are no easy solutions or short-cuts.  I’m in this for the long haul, but in the same way that Aaron helped Moses hold his arms heavenward during the battle against the Amalekites, so we all need folks who come alongside us.  I need these ladies to hold my heart and lift my hands, as we put our heads together for how we can do the same for others.  WE are better together and we know the same is true for the rest of the world.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

There are my *real* girlfriends and then there are my fantasy BFF’s…..the gutsy, progressive female Christian writers I do not know for real but they mean the world to me and they keep me sane during this not-so-sane season.  Sarah Bessey recently tweeted, “I’m fired up and burned out at the same time.”

THAT.

That is where I am right now.  Part of me is so weary but the other part of me remains mobilized and ready to fight.  As Cory Booker just recently said, “The opposite of justice isn’t injustice, it’s indifference, it’s inaction.”  So I’ll be damned if I go back.  This past year or so has been my Damascus Road.  Now that the scales are gone, there’s no retreating or surrendering to the numbness, even as the onslaught is unending.

DACA.  Charlottesville.  North Korea.  Puerto Rico.  Las Vegas.  Weinstein.  Earthquakes.  Floods.  Fire.

Disaster, both natural and manmade, have become a daily reality.

Screenshot 2017-10-12 11.55.36
Wine Country Devastation

Today, it isn’t just my heart but my literal home that is being burned out.  For the fourth day, Northern California, where I live, is on fire.  Thousands of acres have been burned.  Nearly thirty lives have been lost (that’s surely going to go up).  Again, our schools are forced to shelter-in-place.  Wineries, like Stag Leap, where I have wandered through the vineyards and tasted Cabernet’s with my husband, are completely destroyed.  While we are about 100 miles from the front lines, the smoke is heavy across the Peninsula.  You see the ash in the sky and your lungs instinctively tighten.  The feeling that it’s hard to breath….It seems oddly familiar.

 

Church, the world is going up in flames and it’s waiting to see whether or not we give a damn.  Too many of us have allowed religion to morph into sanctified indifference enabled by privilege.  But, once you take the mask off.  Once you open your eyes to the Syrian refugee and the young black man and the Latina domestic worker and Puerto Rican still without power….even if you’re not in the midst of the fire, you still see and smell the smoke.  You still can’t breath.

Screenshot 2017-10-12 12.16.06“I can’t breathe.”

Eric Garner’s last words have become the mantra for many protesting injustice.  There’s a line in the oldie, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, “When your heart’s on fire, you must realize smoke gets in your eyes.”  If you go anywhere near the fire, if you take a stand against power and privilege, if you intend to actually get into the trenches and love the least, smoke will get in your eyes.  That is just a fact.  What’s also true, is that anyone seeking God will find Him in the margins.  He is in the middle of the fire, and he calls us to join Him there.

 

Screenshot 2017-10-12 13.47.54In a couple of weeks, I’m crossing another item off my Forty-for-Forty list, attending a Lecrae concert in San Francisco.  Since November, I just can’t turn on Christian radio.  Happy worship songs play and chipper DJ’s banter with nary a mention of those desperate for a gospel that is good news.  They sing of love and grace, but where is the fruit?  Their silence reminds me of a people who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, take offense at athletes taking a knee but not at police brutality, value life in the womb but not enough to support commonsense gun control, pray for Texas but say nothing of Puerto Rico and I could go on and on.  On days when my chest feels tight and I can’t breathe, I crank up Lecrae.  One song called, Fuego, includes these lines:

I know this life it comes with pain
But it’s through our pain we win though
Could be made like Him so treat these streets like flint bro
Cause our God can spark up the dark
In the hearts of the hardest departed let’s go

Treat every night like it’s the last night
Like it’s the last time you get no other chances
Get your torches high let’s set ablaze the sky
Passion’s a fire bright and we’ll be burning forever
Set the world on fire let’s set the world on fire

The world’s on fire.  I can’t breathe.  But, then, but then….  Up There comes Down Here.  John the Baptist says in Matthew:

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Long before Metallica (I now listen to more than just Christian worship and Classical), it was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “Fight fire with fire.”  It means basically that – fight as your opponent fights.  In the Kingdom, we too fight fire with fire.  But, fire from above is nothing like that of earth.  In Christ’s upside down kingdom, the weak are strong, the first are last, there is no hunger, nobody ever receives a cancer diagnosis, justice prevails, the poor are blessed and love always wins.  When flames of holy fire come from Up There to Down Here, we taste shalom and see slivers of heaven.

This is not only the promise of eternity, it is His command to the church today.  And, the whole point of the gospel is that this is the time, this is the place.  Therefore, I am not waiting.  Give us this day, bring your kingdom Up There to Down Here for I am here, fired up and burned out.  Use me.  Let’s set the world ablaze.

 

 

Farewell, Mr. President

 

fullsizerender-12
Medal Ceremony

We’re going through a lot of Kleenex these days.  First, there was President Obama’s Farewell Address in Chicago.  Then, there was the surprise conferment of the Medal of Freedom by Obama to his beloved Vice President, Joe Biden.  This morning, I saw a video of Obama visiting a homeless shelter where children were the recipients of Sasha and Malia’s playground set.  And, just now, Obama held his final press conference.  Cue the tears!  THIS WHITE, EVANGELICAL WOMAN IS HEARTBROKEN TO SEE OBAMA GO.

 

Coffee, wine and then tea…..

fullsizerender-3I love coffee.

I love wine.

Sadly, you can only drink so much of both.  It seems as though even Mother Nature mourns, as it has been an unusually cold and rainy winter in California.  And, so, I drink a lot of tea.  Last night, I stared at the tag: Comforting Camomile….if only.  If only it were so simple.  If only the clouds would part, and we’d realize it was all just a bad dream.  But, it’s not.  And, I’m left to sit with my emotions….to think, and pray and contemplate how I will respond.  And, honestly, I still don’t know.  That’s partly why I’ve not blogged.  What do you say?  Some of what we’re going through is unchartered territory; the other part is rooted in conflicts that have festered for decades, even centuries.

The other reason I haven’t blogged is because life happened.  My daughter broke her ankle in three places.  We got a puppy.  My mom was healed.

That last one isn’t a typo or even an exaggeration.  Today, my mom celebrates yet another birthday, laughing in the face of a cancer that has threatened her place in this world for over a year.  After a lifetime of loving others, the affection has come full circle, as friends and family have become the hands and feet of Jesus, taking her to appointments, bringing meals, saying prayers…..those prayers….they worked.  We never thought that ‘remission’ was a word we’d hear, yet it’s the word that the Mayo Clinic doctors gave – it’s a word we now cling to.

Remission isn’t just for cancer.  Remission is for sins.  I look at the church today, and our divisions are like a cancer.  It is a no-brainer that when a loved one is sick, you pray.  You gather, you organize, you rally, you contribute – one way or another.  But, these days, when our nation is sick and hurting, we seem to be tripping over one-another…sometimes, even making enemies when what we need are allegiances.  If only Obama could pardon our pains in his final days; but, the absolution we seek, is one only God can give.  And, while I believe strongly that there’s much government could and should do, my deep heartache comes in watching mainstream Christians wish to sweep discords under the rug and just move on.

Don’t Be A Dog

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Happy Go Lucky Kid

To be fair, I’m tempted to look for my broom too.  I’m tempted to sweep this moment and this heartache from my life.

 

We just got a puppy, Calli.  My husband used to say that in his next life, he wanted to come back as our happy go lucky six-year-old.  We envy his charmed life.

Then, Calli came….bliss found even higher heights!  The whole family is entertained by this pup who wishes for nothing more than to just be with her people.  She eats.  She plays.  She cuddles.  She pees and poops.  And, that’s about it.  Life is good.  Now, we joke that we want to come back as Calli.  What could be better?

fullsizerender-8Genesis.  Genesis tells us what’s better.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God had created many marvelous things to fill the heavens and earth; only one was created in His image.  Us.  Only one creation was made to be like God.  As John Ortberg detailed in a sermon at Menlo Church last Sunday, humanity’s very first commandments were essentially to go have sex, to enjoy the delicious fruits and foods and to go innovate, create and rule.  We are made in His image.  And, from Genesis to Revelation, the most constant themes are of love, grace and mercy…..not legalism or jugmentalism.  So, why do we lead with this when we go into the world?

We have a unique opportunity, to be like God.  This is a gift given to no other img_1371creation….even dogs (man’s best friend).  Being ‘like’ God and ‘being God’ are two entirely different things, to be sure.  Assuming that our collective calling is to be like Christ, then the proof of this pursuit is the fruits of the spirit, which are:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  As much as a big part of me wants to shrink back into my safe and comfortable life, to make cups of tea, pull my babies and puppy close and just shut out the world – I know that this is to miss out on not just God’s strongest commandments but also His greatest invitation….to be part of something that is worthy, holy and eternal.

Facebook Follies

I live in Menlo Park….home to Facebook.  I love it for the ways I can connect with friends across the globe.  I love it for the way I can efficiently share life events with those closest to me.  I love that I’ve found women like Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans….all through Facebook.  Facebook has its strengths.  It also has its weaknesses.  We’ve seen this in the last election.  We found our silos.  And, to our detriment, we’ve dug even deeper trenches.

On Monday, many of us availed ourselves of the feel-good exercise of posting favorite MLK quotes.  But, thankfully, women like Rachel Held Evans reminded us of our tainted Christian history:

“Reducing the struggles of the past to conflict between “the Christians” and “the culture” disregards the fact that slavery, Jim Crow, Native American removal, and all sorts of racial and gender inequalities have all flourished in a supposedly Christian culture…It’s easy to comfort ourselves with the thought that Christians of the past were only using religion and Scripture to support their oppression, but in truth those Christians rarely saw it that way. Often the difference between using Scripture to justify injustice and appealing to Scripture to support the truth proves clearest in hindsight. Pride, privilege, and confirmation bias are formidable adversaries on the path to justice, which is why we must familiarize ourselves with past justifications for oppression or inaction lest we make the same mistakes again.”

She spoke to an inconvenient truth that while hard to swallow, resonates because I know it is not a white-washing of history.  And, as they say, if we do not study and learn history in its truest form – we are bound to repeat it.  This is my great fear, as we head into the next four years.  I replied to Rachel’s post and she responded.  Here’s our exchange:

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So, there you have it.

It might not be an exhaustive list of solutions, but it is definitely a good place to start.  And, discussing solutions and paths forward is indeed where the church can and should set an example.

Sadly, without going into details, there were multiple white men who quickly replied to my question, feeling the need to say that Trump isn’t a racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, etc.  I was shocked.  This is MLK Day.  We are exchanging ideas on racial healing.  My question never labeled Trump as any of those things.  But, it clearly touched a nerve.

The day after MLK Day, a friend sent me these wonderful words written by Richard Rohr:

We see in the Gospels that it’s those on the bottom who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners.  It’s demonstrably those on the inside and the top who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers.  

Rohr goes on to emphasize the importance of perspective, saying that Western Christians “fail to appreciate liberation theology” thanks to so many years of seeing the Scriptures through the lens of empowered clergy class rather than the marginalized.  He reminds us that for the first 300 years after Jesus, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed.  And, this isn’t just a historical observation; it’s a reflection of the heart of God.  Over and over and over again, Jesus points us to the least.  As Dorothy Day puts it, we must live at the bottom.  

White Privilege

For several months now, I’ve been meeting with a group of white women, as we study racism and our own white privilege; I recognize my life doesn’t lend itself to truly living with or loving the least.  For those who aren’t ready yet for a year-long study, there was a really good article from 2015, circulating yet again on MLK Day.  One line in it, where a white woman like myself discusses her own white privilege, says: Acknowledging privilege is not admitting to be a racist.

So, church…..can we grow-up enough to create safe spaces where conversations like the one Rachel recommended can happen?  If it can’t happen with us or in our sacred spaces, where do we think it can or will happen?  Can we shut-up and listen to learn, not to defend?  For, if other spaces do manage to facilitate those dialogues, what does that say of us?  Jesus will never be irrelevant but Christians….we can be.  Let’s not.  For God’s sake!

Meet Katharine, Dorothy and Mary

On Monday, I took my kids to see Hidden Figures.  This film introduces us to Katharine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women who were not just involved with but essential to the early milestones in our nation’s space program.  And, till now, their stories were unknown.  But, thanks to Hollywood, we finally get to learn about the obstacles they overcame to work at NASA.  Given my lifelong love of history and recent interest in learning about racism and African American heroes, this was a no-brainer.

But, I have a confession: my kids didn’t want to go.  I am so embarrassed to admit thisfullsizerender-11, but it’s the truth.  In the end, my eldest liked it.  My middle child said his favorite part was the end, when the rocket carrying John Glenn is launched.  And, my youngest (the happy-go-lucky one), spent most of the movie with his popcorn bucket over his head.  I kid you not.  (God knows how to keep me humble.)  But, I am trusting that after a lifetime of leaning into opportunities to learn, whether that’s walking around Angel Island and learning about the Chinese immigrants who first arrived in America or the ‘hidden figures’ essential to our early days of space exploration, there will be a net gain in deep understanding and true compassion.  Reality is that empathy isn’t automatic, which is why it can’t be option in my family.  This is a non-negotiable.  As Martin Luther King wrote:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. 

Writer Judy Wu Dominick recently confessed on Facebook, how she’d come full circle from being an Obama detractor and critic to sincere supporter.  The turning point: when she switched to a more diverse church, one that was over 50% black.  Over time, her perspective and eventually her heart changed.  Our bubbles shape us more than we realize.

I have a dream…

Yesterday, I spoke to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church.  It wasn’t my first time holding a microphone.  But, it was my first time teaching a large group in a religious setting.  All prior coaching and speaking was at universities or in corporate conference rooms and learning centers.  This year, I joined the teaching and missions teams, believing these were areas where I needed to stretch (you learn by doing)!  One of the passages I studied in preparing for this talk, came from the Book of Esther (credit to John Ortberg for his analysis and teaching on this book).  What’s amazing about this story, and what I shared with the ladies, is that the name of God is never uttered in Esther’s story.  As John puts it:

The writer (of Esther) wants you to know that even in exile…no Jerusalem, no temple, no Sanhedrin, far from home, surrounded by problems…God is right there. Even though in Esther’s story God’s name is never spoken, God’s heart is never absent. God’s arm is never missing. So don’t you give up. In your position, however important it may or may not look, however likely your success does or does not appear, whether you feel like your mission is going well or terrible, don’t you give up, because it’s God at work, not you.

So this is what I’m clinging to.  I’m not giving up.  I’m leaning into even those places and spaces that are awkward, even painful.  I’m believing miracles still happen but I’m not relying just on religious institutions or Christian forums.  Because, honestly, I think vast swaths are becoming holy huddles of privilege, be it economic, racial, educational, etc.  And, please know that I lump myself into that group!   But, as one mom shared during our Mothers Together gathering, be willing to do the little things….like, go to a playground across the railroad tracks or facilitate play dates with friends who may live on the other side of town.  Even though big strides are needed, little steps are far better than backward slides.  As the Franciscan prayer Sarah Bessey asks, may we be blessed with the anger, tears and foolishness.

So, my question isn’t whether you posted your favorite MLK quote on Monday….it’s fullsizerender-10whether you’re still talking about him and honoring his work today….just a few days later.  And, will you keep thinking and praying about how we the church can make his dream a reality?  Cause, here’s the thing…Dr King’s I Have A Dream speech is laden with inspiration borrowed rhetoric from the New and Old Testament.  The dream didn’t originate with Dr King….it originated with God.  It’s God’s dream. We know that this is the picture of heaven.  Frankly speaking, there will always be brokenness in this world.  But, God didn’t stop in Genesis.  He had a dream.  Why not be part of it now? 

Hello From The Other Side.

There is another side.

To the disenfranchised and disillusioned: not all Christians are finger-wagging, science-denying, ultra-conservative holier-than-thou hypocrites.

To the Christians who read the sentence above and are ready to stop reading, at best..or already have their nasty rebuttal ready, at worst – I’m here to tell you Christians are not a homogeneous, one-size-fits all block.  If you’ve assumed all these years that because you didn’t know anyone who was both passionate about Jesus and yet also a lifelong Democrat (gasp!), well, let me introduce myself….and, an entire community of progressive believers.

WHAT IF YOU DIED TONIGHT?

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Me, age 7, with my signature Shirley Temple curls.

My journey to the other side began about as far right as you can get.  I grew up attending a Pentecostal church with my family.  I remember lots of loooooong services.  I remember thinking that emotional displays were good, so I’d conjure up the saddest possible thought in my little girl head, so that I could appear as spiritual as the others.  I remember asking my non-Christian friends, ‘if you died tonight, where do you think you’d go?’.  (That’s a nice happy topic for 2nd and 3rd graders to discuss in the middle of a play date).  I don’t remember any teaching or efforts to reach beyond our holy huddle, to help the poor or hurting.  We’d sooner hand you a tract than helping hand.  Not surprisingly, nobody was converted by my best efforts.  The rules forbidding TV, dancing, drinking, secular music, pants for women, makeup for women, jewelry….those didn’t make for a very persuasive sales pitch.

My parents divorced during my teenage years.  My mom was dropped like a hot potato.  Thus began our search for a new church.  We decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try the new mega-church in our backyard, Willow Creek.

THANK YOU WILLOW

I am not sure I would be a Christian today, if it weren’t for Willow Creek.  Instead of condemning those whose marriages are falling apart, they offered support and community.  Instead of preaching fire and brimstone, they talked about love and grace.  Instead of building walls to keep the outside world out, they invited the best thinkers and leaders to come in and share their ideas.  Honestly, I had no framework for faith that included these concepts, until I heard Bill Hybels give his very simple explanation for salvation.  All these years, I thought I was better than other Christians.  Now, I realized I didn’t even understand the fundamentals.  But, watching a church that refurbished donated cars to then give to single-moms or kept food pantries stocked across the Chicagoland…I started to see the scriptures come alive.  In the midst of turmoil and confusion, I met Jesus at Willow Creek.

THANK YOU KANT & RAWLS 

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My own well-loved copy (now sans a cover), given to me by Dr Waite at Butler – I still have it!

About the same time that I was learning a new perspective on faith, I was also getting introduced to the world of history, government/politics and philosophy.  If Willow Creek saved my heart, Debate Team, Model United Nations and Junior State of America saved my mind.  Teens are like sponges and I soaked up as much as I could!  To this day, I still remember two theories that were my ‘go to’ arguments in values (Lincoln Douglas) debate matches.

  • Kant’s Categorical Imperative: act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were universal law. It’s ‘sorta’ like the Golden Rule, but with a concept of universality thrown in. 
  • Rawl’s Theory of Justice: In what he labeled, Justice as Fairness, Rawl’s advocated a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, to be applied to the basic structure of a well-ordered society.  These notions of justice equalling fairness and liberty requiring equality have stuck with me.  Within the theory of justice, Rawl’s outlines the Original position in which everyone decides principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. This “veil” is one that essentially blinds people to all facts about themselves so they cannot tailor principles to their own advantage.

I’m not sure all teens readily dove into the study of deontological moral philosophy.  But, I found them incredibly illuminating; the principles of universality…of justice….of looking at life and others with a posture that questions, ‘what if I could not determine my wealth, intelligence, health, race….?’ – ‘how then might I want others to respond to me?’, were compelling.  These questions led me to a conclusion, that I would always error on the side of fairness and generosity.  These were not just values for Lincoln Douglas debates.  As I studied history, government, politics and international relations – they were principles for understanding the world.  We used to say in the Junior Statesmen Foundation, ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’.  That meant, my opinions could be more than just hot air – they could be the very oxygen upon which our democracy functioned.  And, the more informed and involved, the better we’d all be.

FALSE DICHOTOMY 

Justice and fairness were not just for the secular world.  They were theories that actually dove-tailed with my new understanding of faith.  Centuries before Kant, Rawls and many other philosophers, the pillars of these same tenants had been crafted in the words of the Bible:

  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah)
  • Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah)
  • Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs)
  • Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  (Jeremiah)
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  (Romans)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah)
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John)
  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew)

Matthew’s words sound a little like the Categorical Imperative and View of Ignorance.  The plea for justice and mercy that flow from the Old Testament into the New are very much in line with a theory of justice and fairness.  You get the picture.

I do not mean to suggest that all secular ideas support Biblical principles or vice versa.  But, I do think that a posture that sees the outside world as wrong, dangerous and irrelevant is wrong.  To put it more bluntly, the holy huddle mentality is not just a false dichotomy – it is complete bull shit.  The great commission is about going OUT – not turning IN.  And, by the way, that commission was not about creating converts but about cultivating disciples.

HELLO DEMOCRATS

When I was college, I got the chance to go to Clinton’s inauguration.  I remember walking donkey-and-elephant-1around the mall and seeing information on Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village, where she advocates for the well-being of children by encouraging groups to support families and kids.  I watched and listened as Republicans pounced.  During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Republican Party nominee Bob Dole had said: “… with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”[6] Well, yes, OF COURSE!  But, not everyone has the privilege of growing up in a upper-middle class home with two parents that are healthy, hold good jobs, etc.  Some of us were growing up in broken homes.  Some of us were growing up the ‘wrong’ skin color and/or with parents in prison.  Some of us were growing up food insecure.  Not everyone got the Norman Rockwell life.  Go back and read those verses.  Go read where Jesus says,”Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Or, in the chapter prior, “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”  I watched Republicans take low-blow political shots at ideas that were not only good, they were Biblical.  We are called to love and help one another.  It made no sense to me.  How was this the party of Evangelicals?

At this point, I’m sure there are many screaming at their computer (or iPhone), BUT WHAT ABOUT ABORTION!!!!!  This post would turn into a book if I tried to answer fully here.  But, here’s the short answer.  First, pro-life should mean that….a policy of valuing life from the womb to the grave, not JUST the womb.  Yet, too many want to scream about abortion, and then fall silent when it comes to assisting the children or single mothers who need help.  Too many scream about an unwanted pregnancy but do nothing about sex-trafficking or sexual abuse.  Too many scream about teenage mothers but want to cut funding to education programs that help keep kids in school.  Too many will condemn abortion one second and yet defend guns and wars the next second – even though those kill many more.  And, I’m not saying all abortions are good or all wars are bad or that I want to take your guns away.  I’m just saying that there should be some intellectual consistency.  Rob Shenck, a leading Evangelical leader writes in a Washington Post article, I’m an evangelical preacher. You can’t be pro-life and pro-gun:

I won’t be silent on this issue. The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God’s love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith.And, more broadly, Republicans want to get rid of regulations and policies that protect life with safe working environments or fair labor laws, etc, but in the most personal of decisions – they want to stake a claim?  

We can argue till the cows come home and Jesus returns on what the ‘right’ policy is.  My goal here is not to say what I think the political views of others should be; rather, my goal is to share my journey of faith through the landscape of our American experience.  I don’t agree with Democrats on everything.  I don’t agree with Republicans on everything.  But, in picking 1-2 issues upon which our vote hinges, we’ve given politicians free license to legislate on an endless number of issues, and sometimes recklessly opening the doors to war, injustice and greed.  (For those interested in more indepth political analysis, read Where the Right Went Wrong.)  We cannot throw-up our hands, absconding all responsibility.  For me, I vote for justice, equality and compassion.  I vote for helping those in need.  I vote for education.  I vote for taking care of the world God gave us.  I vote for a love that casts the widest net.

THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S 

There is a God, and I am not it.  In my journey to live out Micah 6:8 (act justly, love mercy and walk humbly), I am reminded that my job is very different from God’s.  There are battles to be fought.  There are judgments to be made.  The Bible has many great exchanges between heaven and earth, but one of my favorites is found in the book of Job.  It is in the midst of this discussion in Job, when God reminds him who laid the earth’s foundations and the seas.  This passage is not only about God reminding Job of His awesome power and sovereignty, it was God reminding Job of His amazing, even un-strategic, irrational love.

As John Ortberg put it in a sermon called, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, he sites this exchange in Job, explaining God is a god of gratuitous goodness.  Why would God water a wasteland where no one lives?  Why would he make an ostrich with wings that don’t fly or delight in the behemoth? Answer: He is good for no reason at all, because He loves to give.  

With that in mind, why should we shower love on the undeserving?  Because, as the Psalmist says, teach me YOUR WAY…the way of gratuitous goodness.  Or, as Jesus commands in Matthew, the greatest commandment is to love God and love others.  God’s way, is that of love that is beyond comprehension.  The Bible is full of many teachings and principles, but it is imperative to not invert the order and priority of God’s commands to us.  There’s this great song by The Afters, called Battles.  A line in it says, Your love is my armor, I fear no evil.

I love that…your LOVE is my ARMOR.

THANK YOU POPE FRANCIS AND JEN HATMAKER

brand_bio_bio-shorts_pope-francis-mini-biography_0_172238_sf_hd_768x432-16x9Thankfully, I’m not alone.  In my journey, I’ve discovered a community of believers who believe in a gospel that leads with grace and mercy includes everyone from Pope Francis and Jen Hatmaker to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis.  And, then some.  Much to my delight, I read that in the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical, he applied the first formulation of the universalizability principle to the issue of consumption:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. … To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.[21]

Turns out, the Pope reads Kant too.  Beyond observations on consumption, Saray Bessey writes in Jesus Feminist: “I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.”  I love the phrase Brandon Hatmaker uses in his new book, A Mile Wide; he beckons us to what he calls a bigger gospel. There are plenty of seats at God’s table, and I suspect that it is not been Jesus’s gospel that’s too small to date – it’s been my own interpretation, born of fear and shame that kept it small and safe.

I AM NOT A HOT POTATO 

Thank God I found a church that didn’t drop the hurting and broken like a hot potato. In Matthew, Jesus says that if he sees the flowers in the field and notices even the sparrow, how much more does he care for us?  He promises a love that never fails, that won’t let go, no matter what.  Everything changes when we open our eyes to the outrageous love of Jesus.  It is a love that is bigger than kings and kingdoms, of politicians and political parties.  It is a love that sees us in our struggles and bridges the gap with grace.  I know a God who makes beauty from ashes, and who delights in my broken hallelujah.

To those who have bristled at most of my words, I’d urge you to re-read the Bible with the lenses of compassion, mercy and justice, to consider whether our present path is actually making a positive impact in the world – in either practical or faith terms.  I’d ask you to truly ponder what love looks like.  To those who have felt alone in a progressive faith, I declare you are not alone.  And, to those who have been skeptical of the church and possibly deeply wounded by it, I would say this:

Some of us believe taking care of our planet means just that.  Some of us believe taking care of the widow and orphan means just that.  Some of us believe that opening our doors to the migrant means that.  Some of us believe in science.  Some of us believe it is okay to not be okay.  Some of us believe that helping the poor or doing justice means just that.  Some of us love mercy.  Some of us believe that loving your enemy or extending goodness for no strategic reason means JUST THAT.

So, what if I died tonight?  I’d say, that I’d choose to bank my eternity on loving Jesus and loving others.  I’ll let God take care of the rest.

 

 

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