Sunday, June 23, 2013

Doubt, Washed By The Water

Lord, have mercy.
The view from the booth; the pastor, via video

What a day.

From the challenging situation of a senior pastor physically unable to deliver his message (thank God for technology and a pre-recorded, high quality video!) to the steamy hot, muddy river for a baptism of sixty people, it's been a day that required stretching.

In the grand scheme of things, our challenges were not difficult at all. Our basic needs are met. I ate. I drove. I enjoyed the air conditioning.

But it was not a typical day, and in the midst of the challenges it presented, I learned a few things.

I awoke with questions. I didn't sleep well, I was already mildy anxious about whether or not our pastor would be able to to teach in the morning, and I'd had a hefty dose of caffeine late in the afternoon. It was very late before I heard that daughter number three was safe and sound. Plus there was that Saturday afternoon nap...all combined to keep me up until 1AM. That made the 6AM alarm unwelcome. I stumbled into the kitchen, put the coffee on and reached for my Bible. I was wondering, thinking, pondering.

What did Jesus really tell us to do? Remind me of his parting words again. Tell me, again, why we are doing this. Tell me, again, why it matters.

So I read, rubbing the sleep and doubt out of my eyes. The words rang true, partly because they are embedded in my soul, a product of the culture of evangelical Christianity - and partly because I know.

They are true.

But there are days when I do not feel them as true, when I pull out the phrases and words and roll them in my hands like soft, pliable globules. They reflect light and absorb sound and I'm just not sure what to make of all this, the truth that drives me to work every day. The truth that propels me to a weekly celebration of life and grace, proclamations of words and worship and feelings that bear enormous weight.

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight."

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

I worked this morning, this odd mixture of work and worship that those of us in ministry embrace and push through and fight with and generally, find some way to live with. The tension never abates; the praise and the people, the worship and the work, the majesty and the mess. I worked, and exhorted the people, and worshiped, focusing my own attention and affection on the Creator.

And then we went to the river. We lined up sixty people. We offered guidance and instruction, and then one by one, they walked into the muddy waters of the James. Brian and Sammy and Chauncey and Winston and Anna and Gwen and Tim baptized them, each one.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I know these people. Not all of them, but enough. Their stories - sometimes complex, occasionally complicated, always authentic. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, they walk into the water as followers, making a declaration. Sometimes they get it - the theology, the transformation, the witness. Sometimes, it's simply the next step in a hard journey towards wholeness, or sobriety, or reclamation of a lifetime of wasted opportunities.

We go, and we make, and we embrace, and we give. We strive to obey, and to call to obedience, and it's the best we can do.

Truth is not relative. It does not always sing with clarity, but it resides within and without, and it eventually finds its home and reveals itself. 

Just as he said.

It was a very good day.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Knowing

It is evening, and the day's fullness winds its way through my shoulders and down the sides of my heart.

It was a good day, one full of tiny validations. 

Tiny is fine, isn't it? The small things; those are the ones that make the difference, that warm the heart, that fill the void.

So today's tiny things, in backwards order:

This post, which touched me so deeply in a newly raw place. Recently I have become friends with a woman who wears the label "autistic". She defies all of my preconceived notions regarding autism; a college graduate, gainfully employed as an educator, engaged deeply in the world around her. Knowing her - and I mean knowing her, not just knowing about her - has deepened my understanding of what it means to be on the fringes of what most of us take for granted. I've learned so much from my friend, who is patiently willing to explain to me why I should not throw my arms around her in wild abandon, why I cannot prescribe long, complicated passages of reading, why I need to set aside hyperbole for a fact-based, uncomplicated sentence now and again. I love my friend, and she has changed my life. Knowing about this helps me see how much it matters, this being aware. I long to do better. Read this and you will understand how much it matters.

I have other friends and acquaintances who find themselves on the fringes of what we easily take for granted; life, love, relationships, acceptance, authenticity.... Family and friends who are attracted to and in relationships with people of the same sex, who are tentatively, carefully willing to engage in dialogue about what their lives and hearts and desires are really like; they are helping me to see that knowing and not just knowing about is more helpful and more honoring and, I believe, a lot more like Jesus might be. I'm grateful that conversations are happening that get past the yelling and posturing and flinging of Bible verses - on BOTH sides. It is messy - boy, is it - but I cannot help but think that Jesus would wade right into this mess, and that he calls me, as his follower, to do the same.

I have a stoop, two tiny steps on my front porch. My future son-in-law painted these steps yesterday. Tonight I perched on that fresh paint, the humid air settling around me, the wildness of my front-yard garden in full display. My hostas are growing as best they can, in spite of the fact that the deer make a nightly pilgrimage to devour them down to the quick. I enjoy what I can, while I can. I gazed past the flash of lightning bugs and watched my husband circle the yard of his mother on the riding mower. I thought, it is these, the little things, as I watched the glowing lights inside and out and considered the deep, cogent peace I feel knowing that family is just yards away. My mother-in-law lives in our front yard. This is a good thing.

Church today, as it is every Sunday; but today, something more, with less. We sang, a smaller band by necessity and scheduling challenges. There was space in the room today, from the platform to the back of the room, and in that space I heard voices singing, surrounding all that we offered, and it was so encouraging. So powerful. So defining for me, as one whose heart beats loudly to the drum of praise and worship. It was surreal; frankly, that's not a bad thing when you seek an encounter with a supernatural, omniscient, omnipresent being. Knowing that we gather to worship and sing and praise God each week is one thing; hearing it rise up all around me is another thing completely. It was an unexpected, unplanned thing; redolent of deep, intense blessing.

The dinner table, a true southern meal.
Dinner this afternoon, with the extended arms of a family that will only grow larger in the coming years. My mom, my dad, my husband, his mom, kids and friends and shared joy over southern cooking. These things, I return to over and over again. We create traditions and memories that are layered upon other memories: 

Remember the time we ate ribs at the beach, that first year at the house? Remember the huge pile of bones? Remember how David ate fifteen of them? Remember this hutch, this piece of furniture, these glasses, this recipe? 

Remember how we talk, how we banter, how we are with one another? Remember this things? 

We know one another, this family of mine. There are surprises here and there, but we are known, and we are settled. And when we open ourselves to it, new things slip in and feel like they belong.

It is the little things, the tiniest of motions and the vaguest recollections. We are united in the smallness of life. 

That is a good thing, full of grace.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cookies, Bobby McFerrin, A Good Book And A Very Large Small Group

Well. It's been a while, hasn't it?
Me, on my birthday, in Charlottesville

I'm working on a longer post about faith - losing it and finding it again - but until those words come together coherently, here's a few. My intent is to update, generally.

To set the scene: I am in my house alone, which is such a gift; not one I'd want too often, for sure - but because it's so unique, it is a gift. I treasure times like these. They inspire me to be busy. Sometimes a sort of familial/people ADD sets in - I can get confused when too many people are around, and the resulting paralysis makes me wander, aimlessly, to the land of Complete Non-Productivity (with a side trip to Guilty and Ashamed). My menfolk are out lifting heavy things, relocating some piles of stuff from one storage place to another. My daughters are here and there: one in Savannah still, the other in Colorado, and the third just a few miles away at a friend's house. And I am cooking, cleaning, organizing, baking, and singing loudly all the while.

Syd's cookies
I created some sort of pasta dish tonight, out of penne, fresh local squash and zucchini, red pepper and basil from my front yard garden, along with leftover chicken. I cleaned the kitchen, mopped part of the floor and then made some cookies - chocolate chip, with the first dozen baked without chips to honor my -non-chocolate-eating daughter. (David said, "What are those?" I explained and he said, "Then they're not really chocolate chip cookies, are they?")

All the while, I am listening - with such joy in my heart - to Bobby McFerrin's new record Spirityouall. Anyone who enjoys music - and especially those who enjoy music that has a spiritual element, whether it's something Chris Tomlin wrote or your favorite hymn or even Mumford & Sons - will find something to appreciate in this record. It is fresh and accessible, familiar and yet completely new in the approach to spiritual sounds. Because it's Bobby McFerrin, y'all, the quality and musical excellence is beyond compare. He is a musician without equal - not just vocally, but throughout the creative process of song selection, arrangements, instrumentation, voicings.... This music does something to my heart, and I highly recommend it. If I still had small children at home, I'd have this music surrounding them, sneaking into their hearts so they'd have a little of the long history of spiritual music snaking through their veins. So if you have a little one at home, let this sprinkle over them. Maybe while you're cooking, like me.

Speaking of Mumford, great post about their recent concerts in California discovered here. Great read that helps connect the dots between culture and the spirit and the One who has His hand in both (and more besides). Read it here.

I have a new neighbor, settling down in the house in front of ours. She's the kind of lady I hope to get to know better over the next few years; strong, independent, capable, creative and kind. It just so happens that she is the mother of my husband, but set your mother-in-law jokes aside. We are both thrilled to have her living so close. We'll spend a good bit of time over the next few weeks helping her to get settled, and with both of our moms (and my dad) within spitting distance, this season of life seems to be taking a decidedly familial spin. I like this, very much. Also, she is downsizing, and she gave me a Pampered Chef baking stone that she no longer wanted (hence, the cookies).

I'm reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, one of my favorite authors. It's slow reading, careful and considerate - inspiring for the spiritual thought process. Last week I devoured The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, per my daughter's instruction. Also good - a Lifetime movie story with a lot more class, better writing and an ending that made sense in spite of the tears. Both recommended.

I continue to be inspired, enlightened and filled with joy on Wednesday nights as our Very Large Small Group ebbs and flows through the ups and downs of life. Our group has a definite female bent; it's ONLY women, which wasn't the original intent, but hey - it's working for us. We meet together as a large group to reconnect and we sing a couple of songs together, just gathered around the piano like family, and then split into smaller groups to talk about whether and how God speaks and being Stuck and the story of Ruth and everything else in between. Those Wednesday nights reveal so much about our humanity, as we continue to open up and talk about real things and rub on the raw edges of one another. It's been the most real thing I've encountered in quite some time and I can't get over the depth and breadth of my gratitude for life, lived this way.*

There's more, but it goes to the mundane detail of life. Somehow, as spring has kicked into gear, I find myself more in tune with living in the moments than blogging about them. There have been hands held in the moonlight with my husband, fleeting conversations in the midst of a busy work week that go deep, quickly; lingering, learning dialogue exploring mountains and valleys and the faith in between over dinner, laughter and encouraging words with sons and daughters, intense and rewarding parental interventions. A three-day old miracle baby in my arms, and the incredible joy of her grateful mother, who simply could not stop smiling; a song written and recorded by someone whose voice has become an indelible part of the way I connect with Christ, bringing me to tears again; the first tiny bud of a tomato on the vine tenderly and lovingly planted a few weeks ago; a porch, finally - a safe, secure haven of wicker from which I can watch the rain stream from the sky; a birthday cake for my fourteen-year old baby and the ongoing tradition of birthday dinner at Grandma's; a husband, gone for a week and missed deeply - and now home and loved even more...


And it is good.

*if you are a female and perhaps intrigued or interested in our Very Large Small Group, let me know. We start a new cycle of studies in just a few weeks and it's a great place to jump in. We're saving a spot for you....