Saturday, February 21, 2015

Waiting For Eric and Kelly

We gathered together tonight to celebrate and surprise a newly engaged young woman. Eric worked
out a finely detailed plan to whisk Kelly away to DC on the train, propose and then return home to share a meal with a bunch of folks who love them both.

His family came down from Pennsylvania; hers, from Cincinnati.

The most important thing went according to plan, with - apparently - some improvisation. What matters is this: He asked, and she said 'yes', and so they will marry.

The weather altered the timetable slightly; a tree fell on the train tracks, and so they were late. We ate without them; we visited without their presence.

I found it interesting, to see what happened. All these people - many of whom are bound together in community and familial relationships - were waiting. The atmosphere was festive, with candles and balloons and "KELLY AND ERIC" signs scattered around. There was a photo booth. There was a blessing, and a meal, and lively discussion...

...but no guests of honor.

In the end, it didn't matter; we all got along, found topics of conversation, enjoyed the food. But, truly, it did matter, and it was immediately obvious when Elijah stood up and said, "They've turned on to Mount Hermon Road" and excitement flowed through the room like a torrent of rushing water.

We were there for one reason. 

The crowd gathered in anticipation, pointed toward the front door. We waited for the handle to turn.

When it did, we yelled. We were supposed to say, "Congratulations!!!", but we all just yelled, "Yaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!" and she buried her face in her hands and he hugged her tightly and there we were, to witness the beginning of the next step in a lifelong commitment.

Rachel took Kelly by the hand and led her to a "surprise"; her parents, hiding behind the rest of us. The family hugged and cried privately, and many of us cried, also; tears of joy and gladness. It was like witnessing the cracking open of love, stretching and yielding to include a new son, a new daughter, and whatever comes after. They made space for the future, in that moment of welcome, and it was fresh and new and private and wide open.

What a beautiful thing.

It's something, this life in community. I've said it before; I've never lived so long in any place as an adult, and the long tail of love that grows over the years of being grounded, being present, simply being here; it never ceases to amaze me. To see the sons and daughters of my friends become wonderful, capable adults; marry and have babies; move and shake the world in powerful ways - it is a beautiful, awe-inspiring thing.

Eric sat in my kitchen on more than one occasion, head bowed over a bowl of chili, talking about life and love and the future and God and work and everything else. I've heard him marvel at the touch of God, wonder at the promise before him, step tentatively to claim his future. I've prayed with him and prayed for him. Tonight, he walked through the door with the woman who will soon be his wife on his arm, and the deep, resonant joy of friendship triggered a cheer from every single person in the room.

We will walk with each other; and they'll know us, by our love.

Ironically, I have VIDEO of the happy couple - but not One. Single. Photograph. But here are shots of everybody else, as we waited...

Brian and Susan, "with" the happy couple...

Chenoa, Jerimy and the happy couple's first "child".

When Teresa Farris makes your engagement cake, you know you've got it made...

Brian was concerned about being out too late, so he took a nap.



My son; my son-in-law.

 A selfie. Like they did at the Oscars last year! But better!

Two of my favorites; I've watched these girls grow up. What a privilege...

Waiting for his parents to arrive...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Not Just My Small Self

"There are two moments that matter. One is when you know that your one and only life is absolutely valuable and alive. The other is when you know your life, as presently lived, is entirely pointless and empty." Richard Rohr

Today is Ash Wednesday. I had high hopes for catapulting into the season of Lent with a new hunger for sacrifice and supplication.

We are snowed in, which sounds dramatic but isn't entirely accurate, as I quite easily got in the Suburban and drove to the grocery store yesterday. The truth is, we have some 8-10" of snow on the ground and the back roads remain unplowed and so we sit and wait for things to melt so life can return to normal. The schools are closed again, tomorrow, and my 15-year son is bored. Life has come to a standstill.

What's more, I've spent the better part of these past two days on the couch, surrounded by soggy Kleenex and mugs of half-drunk tea. My head is pounding.

The above passage resonates with me this afternoon, as I crawl out of the fog and clogged mucus that has surrounded my head and lungs for two days. It is Ash Wednesday, and I have no ashes but I am determined to make note of this day, as we begin the slow plodding, through the snow and salt and thickness, towards an encounter with something not of ourselves. Ironically, it's less a spiritual matter than an honest, tangible physical place: Monday, I felt "absolutely valuable and alive", flitting from meeting to meeting, cooking, watching the snow fall, excited for a change in the routine. Felled by a simple cold, for 36 hours I can affirm that my life, as presently lived, feels "entirely pointless and empty."

I think, sometimes, of the gift of health; of how difficult it would be for someone like me to find meaning apart from all the doing. Being still, allowing space and time for healing; the minutes and hours tick by and my bones sink into the couch and there is not much of a mark left on the world.

This Lenten season, I aim to be open to what I might discover by welcoming both the valuable and alive and the pointless and empty. Regarding those moments, Rohr goes on to say:

"You nee both of them to keep you going in the right direction...The first such moment gives you energy and joy by connecting you with your ultimate Source and Ground. The second gives you limits and boundaries and a proper humility, so you keep seeking the Source and Ground and not just your small self."

Not just my small self.

The introspective part of me quite likes the sound of that. I don't doubt that the more headstrong, action-oriented space in my soul will put up a fight.

Forty days; I hope to change.

If you are new to the idea of Lent as a meaningful spiritual practice, check out this informative post by my brother.

Richard Rohr's "Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent" is my devotional companion for these forty days; it's available at local bookstores and on

If you observing Lent or seeking spiritual growth in this season before Easter, let me know. We can walk together. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

50 Shades

I'm weighing in.

Please understand that I am not speaking as a pastor, nor as a Christian. Of course, I am both of those things, and that certainly informs my perspective. But I do not want to be read here as a preacher delivering a message, aiming for persuasion; or as just another Christian who falls in line with cultural assumptions ("Of course, you're against "50 Shades"! All Christians think sex is dirty!")

(I don't, for the record.)

This is me writing as a woman; and as a mother, aunt, sister, future grandmother and neighbor.

I have not read 50 Shades of Grey. I've been well-aware of the books for a few years, and though I don't shy away from pop-culture, I chose to avoid them. I don't mean to imply that I walk a squeaky clean path when it comes to entertainment. At one point in my life, I did; compelled by a fundamentalist, self-righteous understanding of faith, I only listened to Christian music, refused to let the kids read Harry Potter or watch Pokemon or participate in Halloween.

That changed.

I've been there and done that, but I'm not jacked up about 50 Shades of Grey because of some moral high ground of anti-pop-culture fundamentalism, using a Christian pastoral platform to shout about the evils of pornography and erotica and BDSM. That's not where I'm coming from.

I'm responding to the marketing and the media hype surrounding the books and the movie. And my response is based, primarily, on what you see here:

My daughters

My sons

I understand that the story in the book and movie is for an adult audience, marketed to adults. I realize that many people find no moral issue with the content of the book or the movie. I know that many adult women have read these books and plan to see the movie, justifying it as harmless fantasy and the power of redemptive love. I'm not here to argue, judge or condemn that viewpoint; that's not the issue at hand in this post.

But I find myself really, really pissed. (Excuse my language if you are offended. But I'm pissed.)

I get that many adults regard this as harmless. I understand that for some, watching an erotic fantasy that includes rougher elements of sex is no big deal.

But I do have a question, and I don't think anybody should get a pass.

Who is responsible for how this is affecting our children?

Because they can't escape it. They will see the trailers and the commercials; undoubtedly, they already have. You can't ignore it.

The Today show has had an entire week of "excitement" about this movie. 

Sure, you can turn it off. You can try to keep it away from your little kids - and you will probably have some success. Parental influence is easy to wield when bedtime is 8PM and you can control screen time.

But I would imagine that pretty much every kid who has hit puberty is running into the marketing machine for 50 Shades at every turn. It's become news. It's hard to escape. 

And the overwhelming message is that this is okay; that bondage and toys and domination are a normal, natural part of sexual exploration. It's even a natural curiosity.

And, hey - if you're a mature adult, that's your business. I'm not going there.

But a 14-year old boy in the throes of hormonal disturbances has enough to process without adding the element of figuring out at what point you might tie your partner up. A 15-year old girl making sense of her sexual feelings now gets to include whether or not it's normal to be whipped.

I am not alright with my kids - or yours - having to process this information as a normal part of adolescence.

And here's what I think; We've so bought into the incredibly intoxicating notion that we have the right to do whatever we want and see whatever we want that we are slowly abdicating our responsibility to the greater good of culture. We push back against any one who would suggest that 50 Shades is not a good thing - whether they are speaking against the confusing connection between bondage and domestic abuse, against ignoring consent, against the glorification of rape culture, against pornography - if someone is against this movie, whatever the reason, it seems to provoke a fist-shaking DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO tantrum. What about the fact that this sort of intimacy belongs behind closed doors, unavailable for broadband, all-access entertainment? Who got to decided that pornography is now just another entertainment choice, one of the ten films you'll choose from when you take your family to the movies tomorrow night?

Is nothing off-limits anymore?

What I see is the erosion of boundaries regarding private, intimate acts and the co-opting of sexuality in just about every form, all for media buzz and money. Any one who objects is labeled a judgmental bigot; the show must go on.

And so it goes; I watch an innocuous network television show with my 15-year-old son and find myself dodging VERY provocative ads for a movie that introduces a form of sexual behavior into my living room that is completely inappropriate for him.

Do you want to argue with that? Are we at the point where we're ready to encourage teenagers to have the opportunity to fully "explore their sexuality" in the same way that Christian Grey guides the college student in this story?

Is this the world we want to hand to our kids?

Frankly, I don't care what you do in the bedroom. But I care a lot about the fact that adults - specifically, adult women -  are more concerned with their right to "enjoy" 50 Shades of Grey than the impact of an overt stamp of approval on the type of relationship depicted in the story. We all have a responsibility to the generation coming behind us.

I think we can do better.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Grumpy Old Woman Goes To Preaching

We rotate responsibility for the weekly devotional time at work. Every Tuesday, without fail, we gather as a staff and pray together. We celebrate together. Sometimes we cry together.

When it's my turn, I take advantage of the fact that my coworkers are a captive audience. It is with no small measure of delight that I plan a time together that will tickle the fancy of those who lean into the creative side of their brains, and cause discomfort to those who do not.

Sometimes, we draw. Or paint. Sometimes, we sing.

Not everybody loves it.

I had a thing in mind as I prepared last night, but my soul meandered a different direction, and I ended up with a completely different exercise in togetherness than anticipated. We did, indeed, end with singing; gathered around the baby grand piano, I closed my eyes and played my heart out. Nothing blessed me more today than hearing my friends and coworkers sing, loudly, as we started the day together.

Here's what I shared; this is the transcript of my notes, which probably is less effective than my hand-waving, emphatic "sharing". The bottom line is this: I truly was feeling like a grumpy old woman, and I suppose not much has changed in that regard.

But I'm not alone, and I've got a firm place to stand.

Here are my notes:


I am becoming a grumpy old woman. But I’m not sure I’m alone in that.

I look around at the world we live in today, where evil men broadcast the torture and murder of captives to make a political statement; where a 57-year old woman mixes satanic imagery with overt sexual pantomime, throws in a cross and a gospel choir and sings about “love lifting her” - and calls it entertainment; where the anonymity of technology allows bullying and shaming and name calling in ways that literally cause people to kill themselves; where people walk into public schools and open fire on children; where policemen are murdered in broad daylight; where black Americans have no confidence that they will be treated fairly by the men and women whose duty it is to serve and protect them; where the big excitement for Valentine’s Day is a movie that exalts the sexual degradation of women and calls it a story of “true love and redemption”…

I could go on and on. Sometimes I feel like the end of the world is right around the corner. I wonder what kind of life my children will have in 40 years. I worry about my grandkids. We believe in being authentic around here, so it feels very INAUTHENTIC to stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is okay. Because it's not. Not at all.

But there’s this dude…named Jude. He was the half-brother of Jesus, and about 75 years after Jesus died, he wrote these words to those who were followers of The Way:
Jude, a slave of Jesus the Anointed and a brother of James, to you, the ones whom God our Father loves and has called and whom Jesus, the Anointed One, has kept. Kindness, peace, love—may they never stop blooming in you and from you.
Friends, I have been trying to write you about our common salvation. But these days my heart is troubled, and I am compelled to write to you and encourage you to continue struggling for the faith that was entrusted to the saints once and for all.
His heart was troubled. Sounds familiar. He goes on.
Vile men have slithered in among us. Depraved souls who stand condemned have made a mockery of the grace given to us, using it as a pretext for a life of excess, lived without any thought of God. These poor fools have denied Jesus the Anointed, our one Lord and Master.
Hmmmm…..sounds a little like what’s troubling my soul. He goes on…
You have heard the stories many times, and the Spirit has enlightened you about their meaning, but you still need to be reminded. Remember when the Lord saved our ancestors from the land in Egypt? He breathed life into their earthen lungs and took back the life from those who did not believe….. Sodom and Gomorrah and all their neighbors were defeated by their own sexual perversions as they pursued the strange and unnatural impulses of the flesh. The deceivers among you despise what they do not understand; they live without reason like animals, reacting only with primal instincts; and their ways are corrupting them.
Woe to these deceivers! They are doomed!
Intense, isn't he? Jude continues with some harsh and dramatic words:
These men are cold stones on the warm hearth of your love feasts as they glut themselves without fear, thinking only of their own benefit. They are waterless clouds, carried away by the wind; autumn’s lonely and barren trees, twice dead, uprooted; violent waves of the sea breaking over the bow, foaming with shame; lost and wandering stars destined to live forever in gloomy darkness…..These men are complainers who look long and hard to find the faults of other men. They are led by their own lustful desires like fools down the path of destruction. They are arrogant liars who want only to get ahead of others.
And so, I think that there is nothing new under the sun. And I think that I am, indeed, becoming a grumpy old woman, living in difficult times - but no more difficult than other times or other cultures. Humans have been thinking “it can’t get any worse - this must be the end!” for, literally, thousands of years. Even in 75 AD, they thought the end was near!
But you, friends, remember the words of the emissaries of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King: “At the end of time, some will ridicule the faithful and follow their lusts to the grave.” These are the men among you—those who divide friends, those concerned ultimately with this world, those without the Spirit. - Jude 1.1-24
So what do we do?

In his commentary on Jude, Matthew Henry says, “Christians are called out of the world, from the evil spirit and temper of it; called above the world, to higher and better things, to heaven, things unseen and eternal; called from sin to Christ…from uncleanness to holiness; and this according to the Divine purpose and grace..."

So how to we get there - to better things, to holiness that honors Divine purpose?

As much of a Debbie Downer we see in Jude, he ends his missive with encouraging words; words that we can take to heart.
You, however, should stand firm in the love of God, constructing a life within the holy faith, praying the Spirit’s prayer, as you wait eagerly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, which leads to eternal life. Keep being kind to those who waver in this faith. Pursue those who are singed by the flames of God’s wrath, and bring them safely to Him. Show mercy to others with fear, despising every garment soiled by the weakness of human flesh.
Now to the One who can keep you upright and plant you firmly in His presence—clean, unmarked, and joyful in the light of His glory— to the one and only God, our Savior, through Jesus the Anointed our Lord, be glory and greatness and might and authority; just as it has been since before He created time, may it continue now and into eternity. Amen.
And we remember these things - (and if you, the reader, could stand opposite me in this moment, we would alternate reading these next few lines back and forth to one another, declaring the truth that sometimes evades our grasp but never lets us go):

No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. (Jeremiah 10.6)

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. (Psalm 86.8)

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. (Psalm 86.9) For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. (Psalm 86.10) 

How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you! (2 Samuel 7.22)

Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise. (Psalm 48.1)

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. (Psalm 86.12)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4.6)

And then, we sing....

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore every heart that is broken
And great are You Lord

It's Your breath in our lungs 
So we pour out our praise We pour out our praise
It's Your breath in our lungs 
So we pour out our praise to You only

And all the earth will shout Your praise Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You Lord