Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who Chooses To Go To The Hard Places?

It's the middle of Holy Week; we are leaning hard toward Easter, and in my line of work, that's a big deal.

There's no point in anything we do as followers of Jesus - not to the extent that we exclusively follow Jesus - if the Easter story isn't true.

We forget that, sometimes. We sing about Jesus and preach about Jesus and look to the Bible for guidance, those of us who have tacked his name onto our identity. But we don't always remember the gritty, nastier part.

My friend Jerimy was reduced to tears this morning. He said, "I can't find a word. I don't know. I've just been thinking about it all week..."

I said, "You seem undone."

He nodded and walked out the door.

The truth is not pretty. It's not some sentimental, glorious operatic piece of cinema. It's ugly and vicious, painful and bloody. Tortuous, and true. Some 2000 years hence, we scoot past the nasty part into Easter eggs and new clothes and high attendance Sunday. Who wants to willingly sink into sorrow? Who chooses to go to the hard places?

/ / /

I'm a follower of Jesus, and most of the time my identity fuses with my job and my passion and my healing and a fascination with the way God has interacted with humanity. I shy away from absolutes, save a few, and I don't believe disrespect of others honors God or the people He created. I cringe at most of what Christian culture offers, though that's probably a pride issue, truth be told.

I believe there is a great mystery to this life.

And I believe that Jesus told the truth.

We read that he lived, and died, and came back to life. We read that many years prior to his existence, prophecy indicated the way that he would live - and die - in uncanny detail.

It's there for the taking; or not. It can certainly be explained away, if you so desire; we're all capable of spiritual gymnastics that suit our current situation, in either direction...

But here's what I know today; in spite of the mess we seem to have made of the mandate to love God and love people, in spite of the broken things that will not be repaired in this life, regardless of the lack of respect and even spiteful disdain that comes my way from those who have rejected Jesus as the Christ (quite often with good reason), in spite of how easy it seems, these days, to set aside faith in God and lean hard into a good life for the sake of a good life - in spite of all this, I'm sticking with this identity that I have chosen.

Because past the politics and organized religion and issues and side and songs - beyond it all, there was a man named Jesus.

I believe it. And the most powerful part of the story is the one we re-learn this week; that he willingly went to the hard places, and he proclaimed love every step of the way.

Don't take it for granted; don't think you already know the story. Pick up the book and read it again, the tale of his last few days. Consider what it meant for a man to do what he did, to sink into the sorrow and choose to bear the physical abuse.

What do we do with that truth?

/ / /

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about my "issue"; something that I kept hidden, a thing that plagued me and bothered me. I wrote:

"I wonder if my situation makes you think of something similar in your own life. Because I wager that every one of us could be in a different place if we were willing to make a sacrifice."

And I confess, I knew I might be stirring up trouble. Just a bit. Or at least, stirring up truth. Because so many of you contacted me, privately, to hint at your own issue.

A few brave souls came right out and said it, but most of you - like me - keep it hidden.

A day after that post went up, I felt a bit disingenuous. Because, honestly, my thing is not really as dramatic as you might think. You can find out what it is here - you might be disappointed, and the music is incredibly annoying. But that's the truth - that's my hidden issue.

(At least the one I want to talk about today.)

You can be mad at me or want to kick me, because you probably thought it was something more. I'm sure it feels anticlimactic.

But let's be honest: It's the little things, all the way around. For me, this is an issue that I know how to fix; it requires denying my appetite, since it's triggered by stress and by what I eat.

Self-discipline, healthy living, mediation, denying myself the things I want or "need" or "deserve" in order to live without the daily pain - that's all it takes.

But who chooses to go to the hard places, when we can gorge ourselves on what's easy to reach, and pay the price later?

You may think it ridiculous, but I'm telling you; spiritual lessons can be found everywhere, because we are spiritual beings, and everything is connected. Thinking through this - writing about this, and confronting some truths about my choices and my willingness to rationalize everything; this is the thing that is drawing me closer to Christ in this Holy Week.

Because love him or disdain him, believe it or write it off - Jesus did do the hard thing, all those years ago. He suffered, for a greater good to which he ascribed great worth. In the translation to my life, here and now, that matters.

And centered within is the cord that tethers me to faith in Christ.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Want To Get Better....Maybe

I have this issue; I keep it hidden. Most people don't know about it.

You might suspect, if you watch me closely. There are certain "tells" that anyone paying attention might catch. Certain things trigger it, and I have to try really, really hard to hide it. But if you watch me closely, you might figure it out.

Lately, it's been bad. And I'm getting to the point where I'm not sure I even care if people find out. I haven't always been this way, but for most of my adult life, it's just been part of me. Sometimes I don't notice it at all. Sometimes it's all I can think about.

I would really like it to go away, but sometimes I think it's that 'thorn in the flesh' thing; I guess I'm stuck with it.

Often, I consider getting some help. I actually have, once or twice. It was embarrassing, but I swallowed my pride and asked for help.


I got two different answers, two different solutions, but neither of them seemed to help long-term.

So I'm not feeling too confident in the ability of some professional to help me with this.

I've googled it, of course. Don't we google everything? In fact, I'm up right now, in the middle of a sleepless night, because I was searching the internet again for answers. Why me? What is happening?

At least I discovered this: I'm not the only one.

That doesn't ease my suffering and I'm not sure I found any solution, but it does mean something - knowing that there are others out there, just like me.

Here's the truth, though; I really do know what will help. Once a few years ago, I sort of stumbled upon the "cure", so to speak. It was sort of accidental - I was doing something else and realized that the side benefit fixed my issue. It was a relief, and I was really pleased.

But it didn't last, because I abandoned what I was doing that helped. And before too long, I was right back at the start - struggling. Distracted. In pain.

I do know what will help; I just choose not to do it, because the discipline and sacrifice of moving past this issue do not appeal to me.

Because that's what is required: I have to lay down my immediate wants, my passion to gratify my desires, and sacrifice for a greater good. And I'm just not willing to do it. The pain of my problem is not yet greater than the pain of what I have to give up to get better.

/ /

Before I tell you what it is - and I will, because I'm all about that full disclosure - I wonder if my situation makes you think of something similar in your own life. Because I wager that every one of us could be in a different place if we were willing to make a sacrifice.

We know what it takes to get better.

Is it worth it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


It's no wonder people don't like church.

I was reminded of this tonight, after a fascinating discussion about what we prioritize in life, where we honestly find purpose and meaning. Most of the folks around this particular table had some history with going to church, and so part of our discussion included things we'd heard or been taught in various corporate religious settings.

Nobody really has a monopoly on bad theology; several different denominations were mentioned. And none of these cases were tales of extremists - no evil David Koresh characters misleading the faithful.

Instead, it seems to often be in the little things, the questioning and wondering about what, exactly, adds up to a purposeful, meaningful life. We're all living for something, pointing our energy in a direction that allows for some satisfaction.






These were the things we talked about tonight - not some trite list of Things Christians Hate, but the very real Things People Value. We've all found ourselves leaning hard into our humanity, because - well, we're human.

The reminder of why church can be so hurtful and damaging came in some discussion of what it means to be "in the will of God". This is a very Christian thing, particularly an Evangelical Christian thing. It sets forth the belief that there is one perfect way to please God - to make the right choices for career, friends, education, spouse, work, food, clothes, habits - in short, everything. "The Will Of God" is a formidable way of living, one that requires a great deal of hand-wringing and striving.

Because you've got to get it right.

Or else.

I looked back at a season of life when I believed that certain people were "God's Chosen Ones" (and I'm not talking about the Israelites) and that Every. Single. Decision. would be either right (because it was God's perfect will) or wrong (because I had failed to discern God's Perfect Will).

This is how so many people understand Christian faith -striving for some sort of righteousness that, though challenging to attain, remains the true measure of faith. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't dance, don't cuss, don't spit, don't have sex outside of marriage, don't sin.

Manage all the "don'ts" and you've got yourself a righteous life.


(For the record, it's darn near impossible. In fact, I think I just blew it with that sentence, because we all know that "darn" is just shorthand for a cuss word, and simply substituting a word doesn't obliterate my bad thoughts.)

It's exhausting. I've tried, and failed.

/ /

For the past decade, I've been part of group of people who strive to redefine what it means to follow Jesus - to "be a Christian" by, quite simply, following Jesus authentically. Tonight, in our group discussion, somebody connected the dots in a way that clarified so much - and helped me reframe my own understanding of my past. I can't quote verbatim, but the point was this: That instead of focusing on all the things that a person shouldn't do to live a good life, our common goal in this faith community seems to be accepting people as they are - mistakes and all - and seeing God work through the reality of our lives, one by one, and together.
Bread, broken.

It's true. Righteousness that comes through the cracks of a broken life is a lovely, grace-softened thing. Redemption is beautiful.

Here's a good definition of what it means to be a follower of Jesus:

"...Creator God...has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship 
with Him through Jesus. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation... 
It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. 
But it also means He charges us to proclaim 
the message that heals and restores 
our broken relationships with God 
and each other."
2 Corinthians 5.18-19, The Voice

If you're one of those folks who is skeptical, uninterested or just pissed off at the church and Christian people, you probably have good reason. Maybe you don't even believe in God, so these musings are pointless to you.

But for those who wonder how we've gotten it wrong, and what it might take to get it right, consider this: Our charge is to share a message that heals and restores.

Not to condemn or judge. Not to shame. Not to tell someone who suffers a devastating injury that it was likely because they weren't living right.

To share, with love, a message that heals and restores - us with God, and us with each other. Reconciliation.

That's not exhausting. That's living.

Let's go do it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't Dream It's Over

Sitting in Starbucks, headphones poked into my ears, the dim rustle of conversations and clanging
silverware hover around me; the afternoon is waning and the light is rich and golden beyond the glass walls.

Diana Krall is singing in my ear. I keep tabbing over to the youtube page to watch the video. There's a bit of a disconnect, sometimes, when I see her singing and playing. She looks so...normal. She's just a blonde girl, playing the piano, singing a song. Without the visual, though, I'm completely absorbed in the thick resonance of the music she makes, the deep, warm, comfortable sound of...oh, something. I don't know. I can't find a word.

I'm overthinking. I love to hear Diana Krall sing and play, and I love that she's not dressed up fancy, she's not dancing, she's not showing cleavage or the hint of a thong, she's not selling anything but her ability to play and sing. She happens to be a girl, doing what she does, naturally.

I have always related to her music; I'm a girl, I play piano, I sing, so there you go. That's enough, in itself. But I've gotten caught up in listening to her latest, an album full of the songs I played on vinyl in my adolescence (and a bit beyond), and in this new space, as she interprets songs that formed my appreciation of pop music, I'm connecting in another way.

She's a woman, making music.

I wish my life were that simple.

/ /

That's not entirely true. It's just this:

I'm stressed, slightly, today. Straining to fill in the gaps left by the departure of a key member of our team, I'm thinking about music again. Specifically, thinking about music in regards to its role in our weekly services. That's been my calling card, for so long; it's the language I speak. It's easy for me, generally speaking. But my paradigm has shifted a bit in the past two years, and I'm leaning more into ministry beyond the music. Now that I'm looking back at where I've been the past few years, I see the evolution of my passion and what feels like a good fit in this season.

I can do music. I'm comfortable, and at the deepest part of me, I think that singing and playing music - specifically, worship music - reveals the truest part of who I am. But sometimes that feels like it's best expressed sitting in my living room, in the dark, alone - without an audience - than in some other venue. In that other venue, I'd rather shake hands and say hello and listen well and hear a story and make a connection, a clear connection, without a piano in between us.

That's a radical shift for me.

A friend and I had lunch today, and we talked about how changes happen; how we move from thinking about things in certain boxes that make sense, and how our equilibrium is upset when the rules seem to change or the box gets moved. Or you meet somebody that makes you consider changing your mind.

Change happens, externally and internally. Diana Krall plays wicked jazz; she can hang with the best of the best and demonstrate impressive chops. She proved herself in that realm. Today, she's singing an old Crowded House tune.

Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know that they won't win

And I am as powerfully moved by a recording of this simple pop song with a standard string section and a harp - a harp? - and I think to myself, "Huh. This life."

It's who she is, not what she does. It's that simple, really.

She sits and sings, and her hair is a mess, and it makes me cry.

No harp in this version, but it's the one that moves me. Check out her entire new record, Wallflower.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Making Pathways - And Teeth - Straight

I took a personal day today; we had a couple of medical appointments on the schedule, and it's been a grueling two weeks. I've learned this about myself: Too many days in a row with no empty spaces causes tremendous dis-ease in my soul. At heart, I am an introvert, although I do enjoy people - but silence and space and nothing on the calendar is essential every few weeks, when our Sabbath and days off get overrun by Things That Must Be Done.

So today was the day. Essentially, all it means is a) I don't go into the office, and b) I don't check email. That, in itself, leaves a great deal of space; but inevitably, my mind goes to work-related things. though. How can it not? Ministry is life; it is people and meaningful conversations and pain and sorrow and joy and celebration. It is connection.

All that happened today, but in a dimension beyond the stress of my usual schedule. I found myself connecting with staff at the orthodontist's office in an unusual way, as they asked if I'd be a guinea pig for a new marketing / branding idea they were considering. In my yoga pants, sweatshirt and unwashed hair (day off, remember?) I sat in the treatment consultant's office pretending to be a new patient. We had a great time, actually, discussing the difference between "fees" and "investments" and everything in between, from brochure layout to quick names for payment options. Conversation meandered through orthodontics to helping people in need and ministry opportunities. Snippets of personal conversations ebbed and flowed. I found myself genuinely enjoying the connection with these three people that, up to this point, had simply been the ones making my kid's teeth straight.

I never really take off that pastor hat; it just comes with the territory. I must say that today was one of the first times I felt completely comfortable in my own skin, which now includes the title of "pastor" in a different context (for me, anyway), outside of the church. But ironically, it wasn't because of anything I did; our pastor talked yesterday about how we can "make the pathway straight" for those who need it. Orthodontists make teeth straight...and today's conversation made a pathway straight for my soul in a unique, grace-filled way. Connecting with these three people was an unexpected joy, one that filled me. I was blessed.

David got his braces off and ended up sitting in the waiting room for 30 minutes. It's a familiar refrain for all of my kids.

"Come on! Can't we leave? I'm ready to go!"

"Mom's talking."

/ / /

Back home, I curled up with a novel and pushed reality out of my mind. The sun was shining, the afternoon was quiet and still and full of gentle promise. My husband works on instrument repairs on Mondays; his able assistant runs the music store and Tony stays in the basement, dismantling and reforming guitars and mandolins and ukuleles and whatever else has come into his hands for healing. It's his happy place, and the random selection of blues on Pandora floated through the floorboard, a sure indicator that it was a good day for him, too.

I heard the opening strains of "our" song, the angular stretch of a National steel guitar, the simple suspended pattern and hovering bass that marked a forever moment for us. I stopped reading and sat for a moment, just listening. 

I knew he was listening, too. Quite often, I tend to over-romanticize our relationship; but there are certain things that are ours, and we both know it. It's solid, private and hidden deep in our hearts. In that our lives are lived in the midst of a lot of people who demand our attention, from customers to congregations to kids, these singular things that are only ours are treasures, hidden in our hearts.

Which is why I will not tell you the name of our song, or the artist who wrote it.

But I will tell you that as the first chorus began, I found myself navigating the basement stairs to find him, waiting for me. I nestled my head in that space right under his shoulder, and we stood together in that moment. He wrapped his arms around me and we listened together, and it was more than a song; it was a harbinger of what is to come, that we will always and forever have this portrait of our life together wrapped in a melody that makes us stop what we're doing and find one another. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lead With Your Ears

One morning this week, I sat at the table to do my Morning Pages writing and a memory rolled out, quite unexpectedly.

I was in my mid-twenties, a young mother and wife. Someone I cared about very deeply was struggling with difficult changes in her life. I knew what had happened, and I had a lot to say about it.

So I did. I told her what was obvious to me; that there was a right way of living to please God, and that there was a wrong way. Her choices indicated that she was headed in the opposite direction of good.

I loved her, and I told her so. And I shared with her that I would support her, and pray for her, and that she needed to do the right thing, which - at that particular moment - she was not.

One line is clear in my memory; I said to her, "You know God doesn't want this for you. God hates this. It says so in the Bible."

Truth be told, my intentions were good and my reasoning was solid. I stood on a firm foundation. I was, technically, right.

But I continued to talk, and talk, and talk, until finally she lost her patience with me. I remember her fury, when she said, "Do you want to know what's really going on here? Do you really want to know why?"

And then she told me her truth. She honored me, because she was completely, devastatingly honest. It was ugly and shameful and awful and embarrassing.

It was her truth.

And then I shut up.

I quit tossing around Bible verses. I stopped trying to persuade. Thoughts of "fixing" her went out the window. I shut my mouth and heard her story, and it was far more complicated than I ever imagined. I really, truly heard her.

"Lead with your ears; follow up with your tongue." James 1.19

She told me her story; she shared her pain and her shame. And then I saw her. The compassion I thought I expressed was nothing compared to the authentic experience of seeing and hearing her truth - which was not her position or her passion, but the very real story of what happened in her life.

And that changed everything.

Our relationship continues to this day. In the years that have come and gone, I have not always agreed with choices she has made. But neither my theology - nor my humanity - insist that I agree with her; only that I love her.

And I do.

/ / /

That moment was definitive in my life, in ways far beyond my personal relationship with this woman.    I learned a great deal, in that moment and in the years since, about the devastating effects of hidden shame and secrets. There's a backstory to pretty much everything we do and say and think and believe in this life. That popular quote rings true; "Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle."

It doesn't require Bible quotes or definitive demarcation of right and wrong to love someone. It simply takes honestly and a willingness both to tell and hear and tell our stories. Compassion actually takes root and grows quite rapidly when we are slow and speak and quick to listen.

I think we should love first, with integrity. Love that is authentic means we work to build trust and then we sit across the table and listen. Afterwards, we can agree to disagree. Or give guidance and encouragement, speak truth and wisdom - because we've earned the right to do so.

I wish I could say I've done this consistently ever since. I have not. I have agendas and attitudes and opinions and I have certainly shared them at inopportune times. I've stated my case in order to win an argument or two.

But every time - every time - I follow that blatant, obvious encouragement to be slow to speak and quick to listen, the deepest part of my soul knows that this is, indeed, the key to loving your neighbor.

It's obvious. The Bible says so.

Try it this weekend: Treat your kids this way. Your spouse. Your crazy uncle. Your weird neighbors. The person at work who drives you crazy. The acquaintance on the other side of the political spectrum.

Invest time. Build trust. Listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. - James 1.19

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Very Boring Blog Post

Random things, in no particular order.

I've not been writing much on this blog lately. New job responsibilities and a change in routine are the root cause. Yet I have been writing; I've started a practice called Morning Pages, in which, before I get into the day, I sit down with a pen and paper - the old-fashioned way - and let the words pour out. It's been very revealing to see what comes rolling out of my head and heart before I engage in the responsibilities of life. Very therapeutic, as well. Basically, it's journaling - but in a time, place and format that I find very effective. It's good writing practice as well. Most interestingly - the words are for me, only. Well, I suppose you could read them if you came in my house and picked up the orange notebook on the kitchen table. You know, the one that says, Morning Pages. But I'm writing, mostly not-for-publication, and I am finding that it makes a difference.

My beloved brought home a gift today; a transcription of some Oscar Peterson piano pieces. I've been
sight-reading these pieces, which are fresh to me, and it's deeply satisfying. And mildly challenging.

I'll spare you the details, but after a visit to the doctor last week, I've entered a new era of hormonal experiences. Life is never boring. Bring on the chocolate, and if you're considering a Mirena IUD, talk to me first.

The fireplace in our home is functional, again - finally. It's set up for propane rather than wood - which isn't ideal, but it's fire. And it's warm. And it's relaxing. It also now requires that we rearrange the living room - again.

I'm a huge fan of snow days - but I'm ready for spring. School was out today and again, tomorrow; at some point entropy sets in and the blessing becomes a curse.

I heard today that some unknown person(s) connected with our church expressed concern regarding the liberal slant of my blog posts. I just can't help but smile at that one. Most liberal folks I know find me frustratingly conservative.

My youngest used his snow day down time to sew a slipper out of leftover felt. I'm not kidding.

I am completely convinced that Jesus is, indeed, greater than religion. If more of us - myself included - took the time to seriously consider the implications of elevating what he said and did and challenged us to do over obeying rules and regulations, I think we'd live in a dramatically different world.