ENOUGH! One Sister’s Thoughts on Orlando

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In the wake of the horrific terrorist hate crime perpetrated in Orlando last weekend, I have felt overcome, broken, outraged, and sometimes numb. I have been stunned by the silence from some who have failed to acknowledge this massacre for what it is. But I have also been uplifted by the outpouring of love for this community, both from inside its ranks and from outside. Heroes of mine have stood up in recent days, spreading love, promoting inclusion, AND relentlessly calling for change. People like Glennon Doyle Melton, Sen. Cory Booker, Diana Butler Bass, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many others have spoken up, not just for gun control, but for LGBTQIA people everywhere who have been violated by the blood that was shed in their place of sanctuary.

As far as I know, I have never met any of the precious lives we lost that night, yet in some ways, I feel almost as heartbroken as if I had. These good human beings were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and family. They were our brothers and sisters through this beautiful, terrible life.
They loved and were loved. They did not deserve this. No one deserves this.

They were killed because they loved differently than some people want to understand. They were killed for the hatred bandied about by so-called faith leaders over the centuries they’ve spent misreading religious texts and spreading exclusion and persecution of the LGBTQIA community.

 They were killed by a society that puts guns before the lives of its citizens. They were killed by a radicalized follower of an extremely hateful sect of an otherwise peaceful religious community.

They were killed in their place of sanctuary–a place this community has relied on as a safe space for a very long time. 

They were killed while celebrating their love and affection for their fellow human beings.

So tell me, America:

How have we gotten so far gone that we fight for the “armed militia” part of the second amendment, but disregard the “well regulated” piece?

How have we gotten to the point where the right to own a weapon outweighs preserving HUMAN lives?

When did we decide that we would fight for the lives of unborn babies, but would do nothing to protect them from mass killings after they’re born?

When did we decide that protecting the right to own a tool of death overrules the right to LIFE?

These questions are rhetorical, of course.

My fifth grade teacher was very clear about the importance of learning COMMON SENSE. She would call you out in front of the entire class for failing to display it. I was called out a few times because my head was in the books instead of in the classroom. She was right to call me out. She was right to instill in us the ability to think critically and show common sense.

So I’m calling out the Congress of the United States of America on their lack of common sense: Get your collective shit together and do something. Ban assault weapons AND/OR stop allowing people suspected of terrorism to buy weapons AND/OR require stringent background checks. DO SOMETHING.

Okay, fine, this is a “heart problem” (whatever that means), but make no mistake: it’s ALSO a gun problem. This is BOTH/AND, not either/or. DO SOMETHING meaningful to help prevent another Pulse, Mother Emmanuel, Sandy Hook, or any of the other hundreds upon hundreds of U.S. based mass shootings in recent years that have stolen precious life from this Earth.

And before you start thumping your bible at me, please recall that Christ loved ALL THE PEOPLE.

Let me repeat that because it is crucial: Jesus Christ loved ALL. THE. PEOPLE. 

Recall that Jesus commanded us above all else to love God and love our neighbors (even if they’re our enemies). He loved his neighbors and enemies so much that he DIED a horrifying death for them.

Recall that Christ reached out to those on the margins of society, consistently going against popular religious wisdom, including scripture.

Recall that one of the last things he told his disciples was to put their weapons away. He reminded them that, “All those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

Well, as usual, he’s right, except that now it’s assault riflestools expressly created to killwhich can do a hell of a lot more damage in a fraction of the time.

And while we’re at it: God did not promise you a gun at your conception. That is not one of your rights as a human. It just isn’t. It was a right thought up by a group of white men who had LITERALLY just fought for their lives and independence in a bloody war that took place hundreds of years ago.

If you value your guns more than you value the lives of your fellow human beings, I implore you to do some serious soul searching.

There is nothing more important than our call to love.Literally nothing. Not religion. Not doctrine. Not philosophy. Not race. Not sexual orientation. Not gender. Not class. Not ethnicity. And certainly not guns. Love crosses all boundaries. Love bears all things. Love hopes all things. Love is our highest, noblest call. How will they know that we are Christians? Say it with me: They will know us by our LOVE.

If your brand of love doesn’t extend to all the people, ask yourself why.

Perhaps you disagree. That’s cool. Well-meaning people can disagree. But in the meantime: I’ll just be over here loving all the people–including you–because love wins.

Grace and peace.

And if you want to know what to do, Glennon has covered that very well over here. Go! Join us! Write your elected officials! Get involved in the push to end gun violence. Enough is enough.

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Why I Don’t Eat Animals

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I went fully vegan and mostly gluten-free in January right before my return to seminary.

The first inklings that I would eventually be vegan came early on. For as long as I can remember, driving past the cow pastures and seeing trucks full of chickens, cows, and pigs really bothered me. I knew where they were probably headed and it bothered me that I’d just seen a particular type of animal and suddenly that animal’s flesh appeared on my plate.

I remember one particular instance when it felt acutely painful. We were on a family vacation to New England and were eating lobster at every stop. Most of the restaurants let you choose your lobster. So I would look at these sad little lobsters who were basically like cows headed to slaughter and think, “Nope, I can’t do it.” But as long as I didn’t choose the lobster, I was able to eat them. Guiltily. Choosing, again, to close my eyes to the torture of the animal so that I could enjoy a tasty meal.

And then, sometime in August of 2013, it changed.

That’s the thing about life: experience shapes you. If you’re lucky, it may even radically change you.

I went pescatarian (no meat except seafood) on August 14, 2013–a decision made primarily for my health. Meat was terribly difficult to digest. As a person with lupus, I have flare-ups of gastroparesis (basically a kind of stomach paralysis). Fibrous foods and those high in fat can pose a real challenge.

I also began questioning whether dead flesh was really a very nourishing food. Why are we supposed to fuel our bodies by consuming the decomposing flesh of another being?Does. Not. Compute. I read up (Eating Animals, Skinny Bitch, anything by Kris Carr, and much, much more), watched documentaries (Forks Over Knives, etc.), and chatted with vegan friends. I was afraid to visit PETA at the time, though I have since gotten over that “fear.”

Even armed with this info, I didn’t go vegan. I worried about how narrow my diet would get if I had a flare up and couldn’t eat many veggies. And, if I’m being really honest, you guys, I just really loved seafood.

I did not think I could EVER give up seafood. I was born in Maryland and would spend summers on my grandfather’s boat on the Chesapeake Bay when I was young. We’d have crab feasts every summer. I have fond memories of sitting around a newspapered picnic table with extended family picking Maryland Blue Crab. So I was pescatarian, and yet…

I flirted with veganism for short spurts during that time. I’d “cleanse” my body of animal products and gluten periodically (simply by abstaining from them). I felt good during those weeks. At some point last year, I began considering what being vegan would mean for me.

One thing you should know about me is that I am terribly indecisive. I always have been. It’s what has kept me sitting on this post, editing it for days now. I’d like to put a positive spin on it and say that it’s because I’m just that thoughtful. Perhaps, so, but I’m probably thoughtful because I’m anxious about… everything.

The one way I know to make decisions that works for me is to create a pro/con list and simplify. So it came down to this:

Should I be vegan? I feel better that way. I abhor the torture animals go through in factory farming practices. I live in America in the twenty-first century and I have the resources to abstain. Logic says, yes.

Should I still consume wheat and gluten? I’m not allergic, but I feel better when I don’t. I don’t need it to live. Logic says, no (but don’t be a maniac about it).

Finally, I “bit the bullet” (strange metaphor for an herbivore, I guess) and stopped knowingly consuming animal products.

No eggs.

No dairy.

No meat.

No seafood.

No. Animals.

I find out new and perplexing information about products I use every day. One that got me, for instance, is that most wine is NOT vegan. That’s right. That magical elixir made from a most precious fruit is NOT always vegan. Luckily, even though I love wine, I’m not much of a drinker (more than a glass of wine and I’m practically on the floor), so this doesn’t pose a huge challenge. Plus, there’s always Barnivore!

I’m also researching other products I use (lotions, toothpaste, etc) and replacing them with cruelty-free products. I won’t be buying any more leather items, obviously.

Before someone comments (as some of the more obnoxious meat eaters tend to do on vegan posts), “But BACON!” <insert all the eye rolls> I’d just like to say that bacon is not what would bring this vegan back to meat; I’ve never been especially fond of it. And knowing the truth of how it becomes bacon has put me off it permanently.

I have found that being an herbivore is best for my health and fits my worldview, but I cannot tell you what’s best for you. I’m not saying that everyone should be vegan or that you aren’t a good person if you consume meat. I’m the only one in my household who abstains (but the rest are not big on it, to be honest). When I do get animal products for them, I shop as responsibly as I can afford to, avoiding those from factory farmed animals.

No matter what you choose to eat, be as conscientious and mindful as you can about where it comes from (this goes for more than just your meat). Do this for your health, for the health of our planet, and for the well-being of its other inhabitants.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Tolstoy:

“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help him.” 

Grace and peace.

Loving with Radical Inclusivity

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Glennon Doyle Melton (heretofore referred to as “G”) had some things to say about that at the event I went to on Thursday. She spoke about resisting the temptation to refer to others as “haters.” It’s unkind and unhelpful because people don’t actually think of themselves as “haters.” G said something to the effect of: If you gathered a group of people in a room and told the haters to go to one side and the lovers to the other–everyone would go to the side of love, right? Who thinks of themselves as a hater? No one, that’s who. Even white supremacists think they’re loving, it’s just that they love white people to the exclusion of other races. That’s not the kind of love G practices, and it isn’t mine, either.

And yet, we do have unkind rhetoric that pops up during heated debates. It’s particularly painful in an election year in which social media has become the mode of communication between friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers. What do we do when presented with words from human beings conveying, at best, unkind and unloving messages? How do we respond with love and not engage in what my grandmother calls tit-for-tat? How do we build bridges between people we disagree with rather than putting up walls between us? 

Last week, my Hebrew Bible class at CTS arrived at the books of Psalms, Lamentations, and Song of Songs. As we have every week, these readings were paired with parallel accounts from the Ancient Near East. Focusing on Egyptian love songs from the reign of Ramesses II in 1290-1224 BCE, I talked a bit about how strange and wonderful it is that we’ve been left with these very human stories:

…we often think of love in other times as being in some way different, restrained, or restrictive because it [was] a different time. Yet there is a timeless nature to love, isn’t there? It is the quintessentially human and eternal aspect of love that, when we read about it, bridges the gap between our world and theirs. Looking at the ancient Israeli texts about love [Song of Songs] and now at the Egyptian ones […], it is a reminder that love is love today, tomorrow, and millennia ago. The challenges are perhaps different, but there’s a universality to the feelings that comes through in these texts.

…Even the heartbreak or separation conveyed feels precisely as it does today. These are human beings living lives thousands of years ago for whom the range of emotions is very real and every bit as relevant as it is today. It humanizes these people we think of only as hieroglyphics in museums, ancient tombs, and textbooks. It makes me wonder who else we might be willing to humanize if only we understood that their love and their feelings are just like ours.

All to which brings me back to the current cultural context and what’s happening between loving-people and other loving-people over social issues (such as LGBT rights, refugees, and where we pee). My thoughts on how we should love are simple: we should love with radical inclusivity. Everyone thinks they’re loving someone, but if your brand of love doesn’t include everyone, it’s not the kind of love I practice.

I don’t care about your politics or mine. I really don’t. I love you and I really don’t care what you think about the national debt and school choice. But here’s the thing: I do care about loving people. I care about loving people as Christ loved them (and as G so honestly modeled for us during the event) arms outstretched, hands wide open, loving until it literally killed him. Loving into, through, and past the pain.

As another sister at the event noted: not every issue is political. Social issues become political when open-armed love is removed from the equation. They become a wedge when compassion for humans is replaced with bureaucratic concern over policies. I think more fruitful discussions can occur between people who disagree if we all just begin from a place of love and of honoring our shared humanity. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about the things that matter.

So I’ll leave you with this: because I try (imperfectly) to approach everything from a place of love, I cannot keep silent on issues of justice, equality, and inclusion. I can’t. I won’t. So maybe what I say will seem controversial sometimes, it’s just the nature of radical love. Join me, won’t you?

Grace and peace!

In my next post: I’ve been called a “lupus warrior” and a “preacher warrior sister“. Which is weird, because I’m kind of a pacifist. So what does warrior mean?

PS. And thank you to everyone who took the time to read and respond to my last post about anxiety and meeting Glennon. Anxious, sweaty badasses unite!

 

 

I, too, am an Anxious, Sweaty Bad Ass

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Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of meeting many of my theological heroes. Such titans as Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Diana Butler Bass have talked with me, signed my books, and even shared a hug. It’s not a competition, of course, but last night, I had the pleasure to meet someone who has impacted me beyond theological concerns–in the realms of mental illness, parenting, marriage, and… life. Last night, sick with anxiety, I met the incomparable Glennon Doyle Melton: truth teller; founder of Momastery and Together Rising; love revolutionary; fellow sweaty, anxious bad ass.

Something you should know about me: I live my life in a near constant state of fear. Along with the lupus (which keeps me in a constant state of pain), I’m a life-long anxious over-thinker. Growing up, I was afraid of almost everything. No one’s fault, it’s just how I’m built. I pushed past it and hid it when I could. Other times, I would just burst into tears seemingly for no reason (elementary school friends may remember this about me). Anxiety runs thick in my veins, it pulses and shoots through me at various inconvenient moments. It’s been manageable and it’s been overwhelming, but it’s always been there.

Anxiety may be the most consistent thing about me.

Fear of social situations is probably the worst of it. I’m almost good meeting with someone one-on-one or with small groups of people I know. I’m okay with going to an event if I have someone to tether me with their presence. I’m semi-comfortable going places I know well (why do you think I’m at Barnes and Noble and Starbucks so much?). And yet, even in these situations, I’m still under a slight haze of anxiety that propels me to, at the very least, pretend to be “normal.” Outside of this, things can get… dicey. From anxiety attacks to all out panic, my fight or flight reflex is usually working overtime when I’m out of the safety of my house.

Such was the situation at Trinity Episcopal Insights series last night. I was sick with worry all week. But Jessie, what’s the WORST that could happen? Well, friends, I. Could. Die. I even tweeted about it Wednesday night, only to get the kindest reply in the history of replies from Glennon, herself. This reply gave me a talking point and allowed me to at least show up, sweaty and scared as I was.

When I got there, my heart was racing and I literally felt like I was going to throw up. This is no exaggeration. Seems overdramatic, maybe, but it’s accurate.

If you want to strike fear into my heart: “reception” or “meet and greet” will suffice. But I did show up. I walked into the room (early, natch) and stood there like the anxious mess I am. A nice man offered to bring me wine (no, thanks) or water (yes, please!). I sat down at an empty table, occasionally glancing up at groups of women, friends who seemed to belong to each other in real life. I was alone, terrified, and intimidated by their effortless ability to exist.

Then Glennon walked in all… Glennon and I just sat there, teary-eyed, terrified, wanting to run the hell out of there, and unable to move. I texted my BFFC–best friend from college (Hi Emma!)–who introduced me to Glennon a few years back. She reassured me as she’s done about a billion times since we met in Psych 100 almost 16 years ago.

I was pretty sure I couldn’t do this. I would just stay at the table. This was too much. I was too scared. I think someone sat down at the table in the meantime. I’m pretty sure she introduced herself. I’m certain I barely got any words out.

Then, a very kind soul from the church approached pitiful looking me and asked, “Are you okay?” (I think that’s what she said, I can’t really remember because: anxious haze).

“I’m just REALLY nervous…”

“Well, would you like to meet her?” Friends, this was mercy. Who was the miraculous angel who saved my life in that moment? I wish I knew. Luckily, the tears had started to dry in my eyes by then. If I’d gone up there teary, I would have bawled. And you guys, I’m an UGLY crier. Seriously. A red-faced, blubbery mess. It’s not pretty.

I don’t remember the walk up to meet Glennon, or even what she first said to me (anxious haze), I just knew I had a talking point: “I’m really nervous. You tweeted me last night. I’m Jessie from Twitter.”

“Are you the girl who was afraid to come tonight?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

Awww. But we’re here! We made it!” she exclaimed. I tried to respond to her exclamation, I don’t know what I said–it was probably words. But then came a hug that made me instantly feel better as hugs tend to do.

Hugs, for me, are grace. I’m a hugger from way back. Hugs comfort and speak volumes in moments when words fail.

We talked like “sisters” do because that is what Glennon does. This is what she does even when she, herself, is anxious. She relates to people. And she did that with everyone in that reception hall. She gave me anxiety advice for these social situations (first, get some food). Then spoke to me about our mutual love for the UCC and my seminary studies (she applied to CTS a year or so ago. My seminary, you guys. I could have had CLASSES with Glennon Doyle Melton. But she can’t go, she’s already doing her important work, obvi). We took a photo together. She signed my book (and the free book I’m giving to my BFFC). The inscription is perfect and reads, “Jessie, Be still, preacher warrior sister…”

Later, when we got to the actual “event” part of the event, Glennon candidly spoke on stage as only she can: with humor, authenticity, wit and wisdom. She told the truths we all know too well about love, life, marriage, parenting, pain, anxiety, Jesus, kindness, and faith. She is exactly who she appears to be online in all her messy, feeling, human-ness. 

I have more to say about the event; it was formative for me in many ways. I want to talk about what she had to say about “hate,” politics, and about how we love, but right now, I just wanted to get the experience out and share some of it with you. Some parts can’t be conveyed in words and I want to keep them for myself.

But here’s today’s take away (tl;dr):

I showed up.

I showed up scared.

I showed up scared and alone

I showed up scared and alone and no one died.

Hi, I’m Jessie, and I’m an “anxious, sweaty bad ass.”

I’m also a preacher warrior sister. Glennon said so, so it must be true.

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Thank you, G, for reminding me that I, too, can do hard things.

Grace and peace.

 

Awash in a Sea of Confusion


This is perhaps the most obvious thing I’ve ever written: I haven’t posted anything here in months. Why? I’ll keep this short: I resumed work on my MDiv at Chicago Theological Seminary in February and with two children under the age of 6, a husband in the military, and my work at the church, life has been quite busy. Hence the title of this update, a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer that is also my permanent state of being: Awash in a sea of confusion. #alldayeveryday 

I have good news and bad:

The bad: I won’t be back to writing regularly here until the semester ends.

The good: the semester ends in 2.5 weeks! 

My plan for the summer is to read, write, and do my work for the church (and of course, there’s all the boys in my house who require my attention). But no classes till fall. So look for regular pieces from me–some that are perhaps even decent. 
tl;dr I’ll be back soon with new words.

Grace and peace, friends.

The Enoughness Resolution

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Hey, you there! Yes! You sitting right there reading this post. I see you. I love you. You are enough.

Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favorite people on the planet, recently posted another version of the quote in the above picture* on her Instagram account. It really hit home. I began to think back to all the moments in my life, especially recently, where it felt like nothing I did or said would ever be enough for some folks in this world. No matter how happy my family life, how much I read up on, researched, shared, learned, or spoke out about this issue or that: nothing would ever be good enough. I was frustrated and at an impasse. I would resume study at CTS in February, working to attain a masters level expertise in studies of divinity, knowing that–regardless of my degree of knowledge–it might never be enough. I thought ahead to the future of my career in ministry, knowing that no matter how much I served, helped, and preached, I will may never reach some folks.

I felt, on some level, that I was not enough. I was so not enough. I had a very clear idea how “not enough” I was.

Then I started taking seriously the advice I found from authors like Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Glennon Melton, and Pema Chödrön. I began being still and knowing:

Knowing God.

Knowing that I, like everyone on this planet, am a child of God.

Knowing that I am fearfully, beautifully, and wonderfully made.

Knowing that I am made in the image of God.

And knowing that whatever all of that means, it must mean that I am good and that I am enough.

It doesn’t matter if there are pockets of humanity that will never fully notice my enoughness and my goodness. It doesn’t matter because God notices. God sees me.

So here it is, my one and only** “resolution” for this year: take a few minutes a day to meditate on my enoughness. That meditation will take different forms each day. Today, it looks like this: blogging my enoughness. Tomorrow, it may look like two minutes of literal meditation.

Whatever it looks like, I will remind myself, my kids, and my husband that we are–separately and together–enough just as we are.

And this is my prayer for you, friend: That you will remember throughout the year how enough you are. You don’t need to be better or more. You are you. You are loved. You are a child of the Divine. You are enough.

Grace and peace.

 

*Image generated by me using the WordSwag App on my iPhone.

**I’d also like to spend less time on social media, but I’m trying NOT to set myself up for failure. Let’s be realistic, shall we?

 

 

On Frothing, Retribution, and Our Better Nature

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I like to start each morning and end each day with a spot of wisdom or poetry. I cannot consume massive tomes to ruminate or meditate on all day or night long, so pieces like the poem above are perfect. They impart deep meaning or ask thoughtful questions that leave me appropriately pondering the stuff that matters–even when my answers fall short.

I posted the above poem on Instagram with the following caption: “When will we choose our better nature? Why are we so quick to do craziness, toss havoc, froth, and withhold?”

In the current cultural climate, these are apt questions. Yet, I cannot seem to find satisfactory answers. I am not innocent of these crimes against my better nature. I, too, froth. I, too, do craziness. I, too, have withheld and tossed havoc. I try to be gentle, but I also attempt, at least, not to mince words. What I say may not always be popular, but I genuinely work to use my words–written or spoken–to foster and spread love, kindness, hope, and faith.

Sometimes that means making unpopular appeals or saying the “wrong” thing. If it appears I am tossing havoc or trying to provoke, it may be true, but it comes from a desire to teach. If it seems I seek to “stir it up,” I do not do so in vain. I do it to teach, provoke thought, and appeal to our better nature.

So when I look around at our world and the chaos that has occurred among various populations in these recent months, I wonder. I wonder if the masses are capable of finding their better nature, or if they are so blinded by pain, fear, and hate that they cannot see clear to it.

When one of my children hits his brother, I don’t tell him to hit back.  Jesus of Nazareth specifically admonishes retributive behavior, instructing, rather, that when we are struck on one cheek, we should “turn the other.” If it isn’t appropriate for the disciples and isn’t something we teach our children to do, why then, do we think retribution is appropriate conflict resolution for twenty-first century adults?

It’s strange to see among a certain contingent of American Christians who espouse the virtues of God’s salvation, forgiveness, and grace–who claim to follow Christ with questions of WWJD, who shout about religious freedom even if it denies basic rights to others–a deep-seeded strain of angry rhetoric that overrides common decency and the Biblical commands of love and hospitality. It’s a constant refrain that President Obama is somehow unamerican or that all of Islam is in somehow extremist, terroristic, or incompatible with American values. Yet, if I’m being honest, I can’t think of anything less compatible with the idea of the American “melting-pot” than excluding people solely on the basis of their religious beliefs or ethnicity. We excoriate the horrors committed by those who excluded and then committed genocide against the Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled, and others in WWII, but refuse to acknowledge the genocides and exclusions committed in our own country against Native Americans, Africans, and even Japanese-Americans during the same time in history. Somehow that’s different. Our intentions were good. We had to protect the homeland. It was about national security.

But there’s a reason we don’t talk about these attitudes, behaviors, and injustices: it’s a national embarrassment. It’s a dark stain on our shared history. It’s a shameful memory of time we hope is long past. Textbooks are attempting to white-wash over these stains by leaving them out or painting them with rosier language. But the truth cannot be painted over. In 70 years, when we look back on the national sentiment in 2015, will we be proud or ashamed? If you are called one day before God to account for this time in your life, will your words, attitudes, and behaviors bring God joy or sorrow? 

I said during the gay marriage debate that if my greatest sin is that I loved and accepted too many, I feel comfortable standing before God with that track record. When I read the gospels, the biggest lesson I take away is the unparalleled love and compassion of Christ. Yes, he admonished sin, but he did not withhold mercy based on the worthiness of the person suffering. He helped the poor people of his own ethnic background as freely as he did the foreigner. He told his disciples to put down their swords when the authorities came to arrest and crucify him saying that his kingdom is not of this world.

We are so quick to point out the parts of the scriptures that agree with our worldview, even using it to exclude the other. We are slow to accept the literal words and overarching message of Christ: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

If we’re going to brag about God’s grace, expounding on how freely it has been given to us even though we are “worthless sinners,” then we ought to at least extend that same grace to our fellow human beings whether we see them as “worthy” or not.

Would that we all would pay less attention to the worthiness of others, and more attention to climbing down to the level of “the least of these,” returning grace for grace. Not because it is popular, but because it is just.

If my legacy to my children is one of not just tolerance, but of genuine hospitality and acceptance, then that’s a legacy I can live with. If my faith and ministry is controversial for the wideness of its love and the scope of its mercy, it is one I am grateful to offer in service of God and my fellow human beings. If I can impart even a small percentage of the love of Christ, helping to bring this world a little closer to the kingdom of God, then I will feel I have served some purpose.

Whether you’re Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Agnostic, American, European, African, Asian, Male, Female, Transgender, Intersex, Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, White, Black, Green, or Purple: I invite you. I love you. Join me, won’t you?

 

 

Confessions of an Imperfect Mess of a Human Being

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I’m an imperfect mess of a human being.

This is not new information to most of the people who read this blog or, y’know, have ever met me. I have been listening to so much music lately and stumbled across a song from Mary Lambert called “Secrets.” (It’s apparently been out for a while and was a pretty big hit, but that’s not the point of this post). The song is a masterful work of public confession in which Lambert openly confronts some personal truths that are often left unspoken in our society. One of the lines in the song goes like this:

They tell us from the time we’re young

to hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves

inside ourselves.

I know I’m not the only one

who spent so long attempting to be someone else,

I’m over it.

Does that speak to you the same way it speaks to me? Are you “over it,” too? I don’t actively try to be someone else, but social media and to a certain extent just being a person IN the world can breed the construction of a sort of “public face” — a mask we unknowingly put on so we don’t have to be vulnerable and risk exposure of our most private selves.

I know people lament the lack of privacy in the age of the internet, and certainly there’s something to be said for protecting yourself and your loved ones where necessary. I can’t deny that. But I do not find “privacy for the sake of privacy” a very helpful strategy for those of us who wish to do the hard work of loving kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly with the Sacred. From whom are you trying to hide?

I used to guard my Facebook page like Fort Knox, and I will continue to do so with personal information that I don’t feel comfortable sharing, especially as it pertains to others. But if I’m going to truly help folks, meet them in their hardship, and reach them with compassion, I must make a commitment to authenticity and openness on my own part.

All of this is to say that if you have recently been “friended” by me on social media but don’t “know” me, the reason is simply that I’m working to build an interfaith, public ministry of love, hope, kindness, authenticity, and wellness and would love to “meet you” in that endeavor.

If you’re in a hurry to know me and for the sake of openness, I’ll spill some “secrets” here. Who am I? I am so much and so little.

In no particular order, I am:

An Imperfect Child of God, Wife, Mother, Writer, Partner, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Niece, Granddaughter, GEEK, nerd, UCC Member, Minister, Seminarian, Pescetarian, Sometime-Vegan, Grad student, Coach, Mentee, Mentor, Reader, Viewer, Fan, Whedonite, Helper, Military Spouse, Amateur Fitness Enthusiast, Lupus-Warrior, Depression-Fighter, Anxiety-Ninja, Spiritual Pluralist, Interfaith Cooperator, Lover of my “neighbor,” and more.

In those roles I am joyful, faithful, doubting, loving, passionate, upset, serious, silly, depressed, anxious, fun, boring, difficult, easy-going, stubborn, interesting, challenging, frustrating, strong, weak, soft, kind, sometimes cruel, intelligent, really stupid, vulnerable, closed-off, inquisitive, gullible, supportive, uplifting, careful, careless, over-dramatic, reserved, prayerful, wasteful, liberal, progressive, depressing, overbearing, affirming, funny, witty, obtuse, determined, ignorant, prideful, and humble.

I am more and, sometimes, I am less. But I am always enough.

Who are you?

What are you?

I bet you are many of those things, many more, and many less. But you, too, are always enough.

I wish you grace and peace as we walk through this world side-by-side whether here in cyberspace or out in the beautiful and terrifying physical universe of ours.

 

 

On Grief, The Whys, And Being Helpers.

quotes-hope-02-anne-lamott-600x411

Last Sunday, November 15, 2015, I preached the following sermon at my church. It was my fourth sermon and one that I am immensely grateful to have preached. I am sharing it here in the hopes that even one person who wasn’t able to be present in the sanctuary that day may find some hope in these words. We live in difficult times, but they we must remember that we need not be without the possibility of joy, of hope, and of love. (For reference, the two lessons read from the lectionary that day were 1 Sam 1:4-20 and Mark 13:1-8):

 

My first semester of seminary, I had a professor who reminded us frequently that God meets us where we are. I have always genuinely believed that. God meets us in the depths of our despair and the heights of our joy. God is present with us here, as we gather together in this place of worship, and as we labor alone in our work. Writer Anne Lamott put this a funny way when she said, “ ‘Help’ is a prayer that is always answered. It does not matter how you pray—with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago, I wrote an essay that began, ‘Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.’”

And because God meets us where we are, we know that God is with us even amidst the worst that happens in the world around us—in our communities and across the globe. It was devastating to listen to the news reports about the destruction and violence in Paris, a city I visited while we were stationed in Germany, my favorite of all the cities I have ever visited. I prayed for the people of France and for all those affected by the violence, but my words felt insufficient.

Then I read about the horrors occurring in Lebanon and Iraq and the worries Japan faces over the earthquake and tsunami warning and I was nearly overcome. SO much destruction. So much grief. So many lost and many more left feeling without hope.

I thought about the Gospel message for this week, about Jesus sitting with his disciples who were so concerned with the coming devastation of the temple that they couldn’t see beyond it. They seemed only to consider the immediacy of the things that were to come in that day and age, unwilling to hear the rest of Christ’s message that these things were but the beginning and they were ONLY birth pangs, not the sum total and end result. God’s grace in and through the world and our continuing participation in that work brings about restoration after such horrors as the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD and the violent attacks around the world Friday. I’ll admit that this passage from Mark 13 is uncomfortable for me to speak on because I do not care to dwell on destruction, death, or apocalyptic messages. I have had lupus for nearly 19 years and have worked really hard to keep my focus on the joy of life and move past my suffering. I prefer to speak of God’s love and restorative grace, and focus on modeling Christ’s greatest commands. Yet Jesus did address these things. They are included in our scriptures, so we must deal with them.

God calls us to live our abiding faith in all our moments—those that are joyous and those that cause us grief. I see that abiding faith in the way this congregation gathers each Sunday. We are literally small in number but have such a profound belief and commitment to the love of Christ that we show up week after week in service to God and humanity. And it isn’t just here at Faith UCC. People of abiding faith are able to find ways of moving through darkness to light, from alienation to community, from guilt to pardon, from slavery to freedom, and from fear to assurance. With our abiding faith, we find our way to salvation through God’s grace. We demonstrate that faith through ritual and prayer, but we don’t only bring our prayers of petition to God, we bring our prayers of gratitude and joy for what God is doing in this world around and through us. And when we praise God in our joys and in our sorrows, we are practicing what Bruce Birch calls “the giving back of grace.”

Whenever we are authentic and genuine in our prayers to God, whenever we are faithful and trusting, God hears and, in some way, responds to our prayer. And so now, as we think back to our passage from 1 Samuel, we see that Hannah innately knows this. She enters the temple, and in her confidence strides right past Eli the priest to bring her prayers directly to God. In those days, this was a bold act—do circumvent the priest and speak directly to God, especially for a woman, but it is her abiding faith that almost requires that she do that. The prayer Hannah utters is raw in its emotion and desperate in its cry to Heaven to answer the deepest longing of her soul. Not just to satisfy some cultural expectation that a woman should bear children, but also because Hannah confidently believes that her trust in the Lord will bear fruit. Even Eli, who first assumes she’s drunk and making a spectacle of herself, eventually sees that she is genuinely pouring out her soul before God—at that moment, he seems confident that this woman’s prayer will be heard.

And it is, isn’t it? Hannah leaves the holy place and goes forward not to letting her depression overtake her. The scriptures say that when she returns to her husband, “her countenance,” which had been so consumed with distress over the matter of children, “is sad no longer.” In time, she conceives of Samuel, raises and weans him, and then takes him to be in the service of God. She doesn’t know that when she fulfills her vow and gives up her most auspicious blessing that grace will return to her, but it does. This once barren woman has five more children and her firstborn goes on to usher the people out of the violent age of the judges and into the age of kings—one of which, we believe, is an ancestor of Jesus Christ, himself.

In Hannah’s story, we witness that long-running thread that weaves its way through Scripture: that idea that God seeks out the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s curious, isn’t it, that Hannah’s faith was audacious enough to believe that the God of all creation might have any interest in the hopes and prayers of a lowly, barren woman. How moving that in all her brokenness, she takes her abiding faith, that loving, confident faith and walks it right up to God and says, “Here God, here is the deepest longing of my heart. And if you grant me this blessing through your grace, I will return it to you.” And God answers that prayer, trusting in Hannah, too, that this outsider, this “little one” will be true to her word. It is not from political power or some form of earthly strength that the monarchy is ushered in. Instead, it is born of humility and the audacity of hope, faith, and connection with God. How wonderful it is to know that humility is not just part of an oft-quoted verse in Micah and something to be bragged about, but an actual means through which we might bear witness to the beautiful things God brings into our world. And how magnificent that we witness the fullness of God’s love even and especially through the broken, the poor, and the most desperate souls among us.

And so, when we think of “the least of these,” suffering in the aftermath of Friday’s devastation, let us remember Hannah and all those God will work through for good. Too often in this world, and especially in the Christian subculture, the focus turns toward apocalyptic messages. It seems like every time there is a disaster, natural or man-made, self-appointed prophets will prophesy the coming of “last days” and the end of the world. I’m reminded of a particularly prescient line from one of my favorite shows, Angel, where after a painful experience a character new to the world called Illyria says, “We cling to what is gone. Is there anything in this life but grief?” And the usually somewhat morose Wesley replies, “There’s love. There’s hope – for some. There’s hope that you’ll find something worthy. That your life will lead you to some joy. That after everything, you can still be surprised.”

We can get so consumed by the destruction, death, and disease, that we forget that even in the midst of those horrors is God and the certainty of God’s blessing. I look around now at my social media newsfeed and listen to the conversations around me, and I’m surprised by the blessings that abide even still. I see it in the Parisians who flooded the streets just hours after the horrific attacks crying out in their grief, their determination, and in their defiance, lighting candles and raising a sign that said “NOT AFRAID.”

Why do bad things happen? I’d like to have an answer for you. I’d like to tell you that some philosophical or theological explanation has somehow satisfactorily answered the question of suffering and pain for me. But the truth is that I haven’t found one. I just don’t know. But maybe the whys aren’t as important as what we DO in the aftermath. And I don’t mean going out and exacting some retributive justice—we are not called to do that. We are called to love and pray for our neighbors and for our enemies. What I mean is that when we see people suffering and in pain, perhaps more important than the WHYS are the WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOUs. And WHERE DO WE GO FROM HEREs. When we meet people in their lowest moments, the whys don’t matter. But we make a difference in how we approach others and how we help them in their times of sorrow and grief. Not with answers, but with care. Not with platitudes, but with love. By meeting basic needs or by sitting with them in silence.

When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Now my kids watch Daniel Tiger, a cartoon spin-off of the beloved classic from my early youth. My favorite quote from Fred Rogers is this, When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” And that is what we are called to do now.

When we are tempted to let the horrors of this world overwhelm us and deny us the joy of each and every day, we need to rebel. We grieve, but even in our grief, we know that our eyes cannot be trained on the devastation and the ones who destroy, but rather on the one who brings us such blessings. There will not be a time in this age where things will be without the possibility of falling apart, but we are called to continue moving forward, striving each day to do our faithful work, to pray our faithful prayers, and to love with the faithful certainty that God is with us, God is among us, God is within us all. So let us move forward into this uncertain week in the world, let us continue to boldly proclaim the love of Christ, let us praise God even in our grief, returning grace for grace. Let us be the helpers. Amen.

 

Grace and peace.

We Need to Talk About Sisterhood

Be someone who roots for others.

Be someone who cheers for others’ success and not someone who roots for their demise.

Friends, we need to talk about sisterhood.

Today, I stumbled across this uplifting post by one of my literary-lifestyle heroes, Liz Gilbert. In it, she poses for a silly selfie with Glennon Doyle Melton, another one of my author-lifestyle heroes. I do so loathe the solo-selfie craze, don’t you? Yet, I “get it” when it comes to posing with friends. I understand that we want to memorialize these moments in digital format. I appreciate the glimpse of two (or more) souls who have connected for a moment in time for the purpose of being in fellowship and sisterhood together. When I speak of sisterhood, I do mean women. There’s something special about women, but I also speak more broadly. I figure, if “brotherhood” could masquerade as a reference to “all people” but really mean all men, then sisterhood ought to have that same power.

This was the caption to my re-post of Liz’s photo on Facebook:

Can we talk about the incredible sisterhood being built, celebrated, and fostered by these beautiful souls and their contemporaries? Do we need to discuss how overwhelmingly comforting it is that there’s a group of strong, creative, loving women out there FOR each other instead of competing against each other? Can we all emulate this sisterhood in our daily lives, stretching it to include women of all races, ethnicities, faiths, and orientations? Can we just celebrate each other all the time? Because this is why I’m here. ‪#‎bethebestyou ‬‪#‎loveallthepeople‬‪ #‎supportoneanother‬ ‪#‎sisterhood‬

This is why I’m here. Sisterhood. Community. Love. Compassion. Forgiveness. Why do we not do more of this? I’d like to think that Liz, Glennon, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, etc. are working to change the stereotypical “chick” fight foolishness that is perpetuated throughout our society. The petty, childish, high-school, catty image that many (even many women) still believe exists between us grates on me. This is only a “thing” if we make it one. It only exists as long as we allow it to. It needn’t continue. We have the power to end it.

When we talk about peace, when we preach about love and compassion, when we admonish hate, I think we often forget that it begins with sisterhood. It starts with relationships between human beings who seek genuine community. This can happen in church. It can happen at school. It can happen in our neighborhoods. It can happen online. Too often it doesn’t. Too often online society perpetuates this female-cannibalization, pitting woman against woman because that’s what we have historically done. Not just women, but men, too. When our ends necessitate the destruction of our “competition”–whether in work, love, family matters, friendship, religion, international relations, leisure activities–it has a tendency to lead to our mutual destruction rather than to our own success.

If we are to behave like full participants in this human experiment, then we need to stick together. The leaders and armies who perpetuate the status quo will always be there to try to tear you down. Those people might be men, but they might also be women who are hell-bent on being the only woman in the room. You do not have to be a part of the status quo. You do not have to continue to languish in the way things have always been. You have a voice and you have the option to decide. Be bold in your love and compassion. Be brave with every step you take. Cheer for your contemporaries, the women who came before you, and those who follow. Root for one another and work together. Refuse to let anyone tell you that you cannot. You can. “You’d be surprised what can’ts you can when you must” and what help and support you can be to others who “can’t.” Be there. Love. We belong to each other.

We will need our sisterhood.

We will need our sisterhood.

A note on race: I know I’ve mentioned primarily white women here, but I do not mean to exclude the incredible sisterhood that has thrived between women of other races and ethnicities. I’m thinking especially of those I know somewhat well: Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou (God rest her soul), Malala, and Rayya Elias. There are more, of course, and that world is only beginning to open up to me. [Remember that when you read my words, they are those of a newly-progressive, former-conservative pale white girl born in the city, but raised Amish Country Pennsylvania, in an interracial marriage who is exploring, striving to understand, and speaking up. I am not fully evolved. I am not perfect.]