12.23.2008

christmas costumes, no bathrobes allowed

I've maintained for sometime that Christmas is a very good time for costume creations. In the first place, you can easily limit the color scheme to red, green, and white. Costume materials are in cheap abundance at your local big box store. And no one expects it.

The dear former roommate who now lives in the desert came to visit friends and family for holidays. Her arrival coincided with an annual ugly sweater party. This year's theme: Fa La La Fiesta. Not owning any ugly sweaters and supporting my christmas costume philosophy, dear former roommate and I went to work on our costume. We'd set a high standard the previous year as Christmas Cheer (leaders) complete with tinsel pompoms and pigtails.

Our furious puff-painting on goodwill shirts/brown paper molding/cardboard cutting/tinsel taping efforts produced something I'm quite proud of, actually:
The Merry Mariachis

12.18.2008

merry christmas


Katie Herzig is giving away her Apple Tree album until January 1, 2009, so head on over and grab it for free. It's great!

12.11.2008

the case of the missing forks

Anyone who has ever walked within 500 yards of a church building knows about the church kitchen. The church kitchen is run, dominated, and domineered by a pile of permed gray hair with a little lady underneath of it named Mary and her best friends, Ruth, Esther, and Norma.

Their omniscience is often startling and disconcerting. They know exactly how much lemonade was in the canister last week and where the best pot holders are. They know who last walked in the closet by the lingering smell. And they know if you put the tongs in the wrong drawer.

This week, however, something in the church kitchen went wrong. Very very wrong.

The forks went missing.

Not one fork. Or two forks.

But four full trays full of forks. Two hundred, maybe three hundred forks, just went.......missing. No where to be found. No one knowing who might have used them.

No one seems to know where the forks have gone.

Who steals forks?

I just hope they are returned before our Mary & Crew finds out.

11.17.2008

rachel getting married

A dear friend and I went off of our typical box-office boycot (because hello!! $9!?!? That's insane.) to see Rachel Getting Married. We'd heard good things. We hadn't done something together in a while and it was a cold day (which equals movies in my mind).

Aside for the raging allergy eye that plagued me throughout the film, I loved the movie.

If you can put all of the wildly eclectic characters aside (they are many), you see a very realistic portrait of a family, ten years after a grievous tragedy. There are many movies about grief, but few that look at it ten years later. Feeling mildly bound to the characters by their grief, I empathized with their very real struggles, the reality of their turbulent relationships and their ultimate resignation to love each other (I'm not giving anything away, I don't think). The sisters relationship felt like my sister relationship in a bizarre alternate ending sequence.

On a different level, I thought the spirit of the movie captures something very odd about bourgeois American spirituality. The characters inoffensively speak of God, dabble in Hindu traditions, and pray collectively over the wedding cake. As the film flickered on, I couldn't help but wonder how the characters had managed to find such a uniformly open-minded group of friends (and talented). I found the joy in celebration delightfully void of puritanically and Victorian pomp and circumstance, but also very void of a connection to things outside of what the marrying couple had decided to mash together. That is to say, they embodied the a la carte spirituality that seems void of something larger than itself.

Perhaps I'm reading too far into this aspect of the film. If you've seen it, let me know what you thought.

11.02.2008

autumn

A few weekends ago, I spent the day with a few good friends helping with grape harvest at their vineyard. It was one of many beautiful fall weekends we've enjoyed in Missouri this autumn. More pictures to come.

10.22.2008

living with roommates

I've had my share of adult roommate experiences. I've been fortunate to have had some great roommates--roommates that share my values, my taste in food and decorating, and love of cheesy movies (except dancing/gymnastics movies--those are not allowed in my home.). I've learned a lot about sharing my space and life with someone else. Whether you are rooming with a best friend from preschool or someone you are just getting to know, I think there are several things that make a roommate relationship successful:

1) Eat together. My last two roommates and I committed to eating together whenever we could, at least once a week. The current Roommate and I have taken to cooking together, too. I've really enjoyed spending the time in the kitchen and at the table. It's much easier to talk about things around the house when you are relaxed and sharing a meal. Last night, the Roommate and I made sweet potato fries and meatloaf (shut it, it was delicious!). We had a great time making the food and talking and cleaning up while we waited for everything to finish up in the oven. And the kitchen was sparkling when we finished.

2) Verbalize your specific needs. I need to have a quiet place that is free from disturbances. I bought a reading chair for my room. I tell my roommates, when I'm in the chair, I don't want to talk. It's not code for I hate you, leave me alone. It's code for I'm thinking, I'll talk to you when my brain has recovered.

3) Dishwashers. In college, our three-person, no dishwasher combo bred ill feelings quickly and often. With a dishwasher, the load what you see, unload what you see policy works well.

4) Have a social life that is uniquely yours.

5) Share your life with your roommate. It is important that your friends know, respect, and care for your roommate (and vice versa).

6) Chocolate.

10.18.2008

interdependence

I'm curled up on my couch, studying some vocabulary flash cards. CNN is on the television. I should have turned it out. Shoulda, coulda, didn't. The reporter is talking to patrons at a party for the some Wall Street exec. They are talking about lifestyles on Wall Street before and after this crisis.

While watching this piece, I was struck by the isolation that Americans live in. Take the words of one interviewee: "It may be new and different to middle America, but this is where things happen."

I can hear the retort of a farming friend from my hometown saying, "I've got news for you, New York City, this is where things happen. Wanna eat?"

We're more interdependant than we're willing to admit.

10.16.2008

fall morning

A bad dream tossed me out of sleep. Clandestine war operatives too complex, scary for the early morning. My nose was slightly chilled. I pulled the covers deeper around my face, curling my limbs close together. There it was warm, safe.

Just for a few minutes longer.

Then I'll face the cold cold world.

Just a few minutes longer.

The birds twittered from their gutter nest.

It's morning now. It's time to get up.

10.15.2008

transitions lenses

I often twinge with pity for the kid whose parents bought them transitions lenses for their glasses. On one hand, they are crazy cool. They turn into sunglasses when it is bright. On the other hand, they are über geeky. You can't control when they decide to transition to dark lenses. It might be at the outdoor track meet or it might be during math class. The worst is the in-between mode when they are only a little shady and seem like somebody hasn't wiped them clean in years.

Those lenses remind me a lot of life transition, something that is on overload in my ministry setting these days. We are facing great changes to our congregational ministry and it is both exciting (sunglasses and regular glasses at once!!) and disheartening (but I don't want SUNglasses in math class!!). Two of our pastors followed the call to new ministries. Our facilities (including our offices) are in flux. Our governance is under serious revision. Job descriptions may change. Relationships to staff members will change. New positions have been created.

The lenses that I see my ministry through can't seem to decide on their tone. Are they sunglasses or clear glasses? Are they something in between? What if I don't like the transition taken on by the lenses? What if I don't fit in with the ministry transitions in my midst?

Transition is uncontrollable and overwhelming. And yet regardless of the changes and transition, one thing remains the same: the frame. The lenses, the transitions, the changes in life fit inside the framework. My framework for ministry, for life is Christ. That stability brings me peace.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22

10.06.2008

the fact and the truth

Madeleine L'Engle writes in her book Walking on Water that children are taught early in life to equate truth with fact. She warns of this dangerous frame of mind.

Facts are not always loyal to the truth. Their deceptively frank nature leads one to trust in the fact without questioning its position on truth. Facts can be proven or disproven. They can be manipulated to argue which ever position the holder fancies.

Truth, on the other hand, cannot be proven and cannot be manipulated. It simply is.

I'm struck by the words of Jesus in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." I'm not a biblical language expert, but I'm willing to assume that the translation is faithful to Jesus' original word choice and that truth is distinguished from fact in this place.

Jesus is truth. Occasionally, he is also fact (He was a man. He ate. He walked.). But more significantly, he is truth.

An unmanipulatable, unquantifiable, unprovable truth.

10.05.2008

if autumn made lists

Autumn's to do:
Change the leaves.
Make tea taste so wonderful in the morning.
Tighten the skin of knuckles, cheeks, and lips.
Water eyes up with mystery autumn allergens.
Fill the stores with pumpkin paraphernalia.
Confuse plants with wide varieties of temperature and precipitation.
Knit scarves for winter's doom.
Pull out heavy blankets from storage.
Make s'mores more.
Hide Christmas cards and lights on back walls of retail stores.
Control apple proliferation through excess apple crisp making.
Prepare metabolisms for hibernation.
Fend on winter from trying to start early.
...

9.29.2008

technology and ministry

One of the biggest banes of my ministerial existence is technology and curriculum. I want things to be easily emailed. I want things to be easily integrated. I want things to look professional.

You can't do that when you are making photocopies of pages. You can't do that when you are switching between various media presentations. And you can't do that when curriculum aren't designed to be technologically savvy.

To be specific, more and more of my children's ministry volunteers are email oriented. It is infinitely easier for me to email the volunteer their weekly curriculum than sending it to their child's (in-house, day school) teacher, who gives it to the child, who MIGHT put it in their backpack, and where the parent MIGHT find it. And it take 1/100th of the time of snail mail. And 1/10000000th of the fuel energy if I hand delivered the items to each volunteer's home.

I am willing to pay more for PDF files because they are more useful to me than hard copies. I am willing to pay more for .mov files because they are also more useful to me than DVDs.

See how that works?

Editorial costs don't change. Production shifts. Maybe it costs a little more, maybe not. The product looks better because you can make things more colorful if you don't have to print them.

My use of the materials looks 1000 times better. People hear about it. They want their program to look better, too. They buy your product.

Bam!
Money in the bank.
More Jesus in the hearts of young people.
Fewer piles of old curriculum stacked up in my office.

9.19.2008

failing.

I'm distressed this morning.

In fact, I woke up before 6am thinking about it.

My 7th and 8th graders don't get it.

They don't know that they are responsible.

For the people in need--the poor, the sick, the ignored.

For each other.

To not just tell people about Jesus.

But to live like him.

It's my JOB to help them understand.

I might be failing.

God help me.

9.17.2008

the Beautifuls

I don't often think of small winged insects as beautiful. In fact, they are quite buggy.

But yesterday, as they floated through the late afternoon sun between the towering trees, it was obvious that the Creator had beauty in mind in their formation.

Wings lit on fire: translucent glowing floating like snowflakes on a warm early autumn afternoon.

Not bugs, but Beautifuls.

The least of these made wonderful.

9.16.2008

creator and creativity

I ran across this Psychology Today article summing a book about creative people today.
The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes dose to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. Perhaps only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy--even when these experiences remain fleeting and leave no trace--provide a profound sense of being part of an entity greater than ourselves.
As I read through the list of brilliantly explained characteristics of a creative person, my mind wandered around the creative people I know well in life. The paradox of the creative person (introverted and extroverted, passionate and objective, rebellious and conservative, so on and so forth) struck me as accurate and very articulate.

My mind turned the subject a bit. What about the Creator? If creative people are mimicking the actions of the original Creator, surely in some respect they are tapping into the Creator's ethos. Rereading the article with the Creator in mind brought me knowing smiles and a few laughs at the obviousness of it all. For instance:
Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest...One manifestation of energy is sexuality. Creative people are paradoxical in this respect also. They seem to have quite a strong dose of eros, or generalized libidinal energy, which some express directly into sexuality. At the same time, a certain spartan celibacy is also a part of their makeup; continence tends to accompany superior achievement. Without eros, it would be difficult to take life on with vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissipate.
Surely the Creator had great pleasure in mind when he created man and woman. He inspired the Song of Solomon, created in man sexual desires. Yet he was made manifest in Jesus Christ, a celibate man, focused on his "superior achievement" of saving the word for sin and death.

This is only one example of many I saw. I invite you to dig in and find your own.

via kottke

9.15.2008

why am i so hard on myself?

I have been hard on myself in a very ungodly way of late. I don't mean ungodly in the flippant exaggerated sense, but in the truest anti-first commandment breaking sense.

This is most apparent at work, though it seems to be true across the board.

Two weeks ago, I directed the launch of a new Sunday School program at my church. The experience has been change theory made manifest: there are skeptics, there are enthusiasts, there are inbetweeners. Meanwhile, I am somewhere on the outside banging my head on the wall thinking about all of the things I should have done better, all of the volunteers that I might be letting down, all of things that I have potentially failed at.

The funny thing is, each week these kids are getting together, smiling, praising God together. They are still learning the program. The adults are still learning the program. I AM STILL LEARNING THE PROGRAM. Did I mention we've only had 2 hours of this new program? 2 hours. That's 1/12th of a day if you need some perspective (I do).

We have to learn the logistics so that we can focus on the content. (There are a lot of logistics when there are 75 elementary students involved). We are building the framework for Christ to be shared actively and vividly. It won't happen magically. I've got to be patient.
I think the proper expression is: duh.

Jesus is being shared.
Despite me.
My stress levels.
My increasing amount of gray hair.
My sleepless nights.
Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

I don't matter. Focusing on my stress and my perceived failures is ignoring the joy of sharing Christ.

My job this week is to focus on the joy of Christ and sharing it.
Focus on the joy of Christ and sharing it.
The joy of Christ and sharing it....

9.10.2008

freneticism turned hopeful

I have felt out of control of my life for several months. On the surface, things are plodding along as normal, but not so deep below, I feel like a frenetic mess. I've felt like I couldn't get a hold of things at work. I've felt like I couldn't get my eyes to fall on a single book for any length of time. I've felt like I can't keep my closet organized. I can't keep my desk clean. I can't stay on top of my budget. I can't make all of the necessary phone calls. I can't keep in touch with the people I love. I can't communicate without coming off as a cynical expletive expletive expletive. And I can't sleep.

It's frustrating and wearing and it's making me sick, emotionally if not also physically. But all hope is not lost. Even in my most brutally cynical of moments, the hope still has a strong descant voice.

I've been slowly reading Isaiah. Very extremely slowly. Chewing and pondering the situation of the Israelites and the Judeans. They were out of control, too. But even in the harshest of condemnations to the people, Isaiah sings a poetic hope over top of the doom.

You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me." Isaiah 12:1

There are many things that cause our Lord great anger with me. Many of those things listed above, not excluded is my need to control those things listed above. But our Lord turns away from his anger; our Lord chooses to bring comfort, peace, hope.

9.08.2008

finding the way something more

In the midst of a day-long meeting, a swollen sinus system, and an office that is rivaling Fibber McGee's closet, my thoughts were drawn to something more. Something beyond myself and my mess and my life.

I've floundered about in my busyness and my vagabondage. I haven't Sabbathed in a fully restful way in weeks. I'm exhausted. Insomnia seems to be a regular guest star of my nighttime experience. And though those are physical things, there's something more at work. Something beyond myself and my mess and my life.

I'm finding my way to something more.

I have a sneaking suspicion Something More has been here all along.

8.27.2008

punching holes to heaven

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Isaiah 9:2

This is a land of deep darkness. My anxieties over the absence of true dichotomies in this world are overshadowed by the presence of deep darkness. It seems you can't see shades of gray when all is black.

There are so many darkened, marring things in the lives of those around me, a few in my own. I am torn inside for a pair of young teenage girls faced with disastrous situations. I grieve the loss of innocence, the darkening of their world that comes with their passage into these realities. I'm angry, sunken into deep darkness.

It can't stay this way. There must be a hope for light for them, for me.

It isn't a shade of gray. It is a Great Light. It blinds the people who've wandered in the darkness.

Today, my job is to punch holes. Rhythmically with a paper puncher, erratically with a baseball bat. However I can. I punch away at the darkness. With prayer. With words of hope. With compassion. With mercy. With forgiveness, understanding, and letting go.

My strength comes from the Great Light. My hope comes from the sight of others who've seen it, too. On us has light shined.

the false dichotomy

A dichotomy is a division or contrast between two things are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different according to my dictionary widget. (I love the dictionary widget. Everyone should have a dictionary widget.)

My mind has been rolling the concept of dichotomy around for the last few days, in particular what characterizes a true dichotomy and what characterizes a false dichotomy. I've been thinking about it so much that I've probably used the word dichotomy in every conversation I've had in the last week. Or I've thought about using it and decided against it because NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT at a bar, a barbecue, or the queue at Target.

I'm going with the inflammatory sanctity of life subject to illustrate some of my thoughts because all other illustrations I've brainstormed this evening are slightly dull and less obnoxious.

When I read Genesis, I see the creation of humanity as a sort of capstone of creation, the thesis, the final project. It was important enough to merit a reexamination in Genesis chapter two. Human life is precious, amazing, and miraculous. You don't have to know an adorable little baby to be amazed by the people around us and the complexities of who we are.

Even those in our society who operate from a rational humanist perspective, have a high respect for humanity. Clearly something is different about the functionality of humanity. Mercy to the needy, caring for the poor, punishing those who have taken life are unique trademarks of humanity. Perhaps I am naive in my understanding of rational humanism, but with the exception of the outlying extremes, I find a respect for human life.

It seems that respecting human life is essential to our humanity. Regardless of your understanding of the origins of humanity, you know that there is something special going on between the ears of a human being.

And yet, as a human race in our wildly varying differences, we express our respect for life in all the colors of a rainbow. We label our "types of respect" with such things as pro-life and pro-choice, but these labels falsely dichotomize the issue of the sanctity of life. Bear with me.

I find a disturbing incongruousness in the support of expanding the death penalty availabilities and an avid stance against laws allowing the availability of abortion. Similarly, I find a disturbing incongruousness in an avid stance against laws allowing the availability of abortion and a lack of support for policies that would eliminate the need for abortion.

You see, I consider myself to be staunchly pro-life. But I cannot simply define it on one issue and one policy, I must see it as protecting the children, the widows, the poor, the unheard, and the unseen. If I am willing to set legal limits on the practice of abortion, I must also legally seek limits to things that harm human life in other ways.

I find a plea in the voices of those labeled pro-choice to protect the lives of those already born. I hear a plea in the voices of those labeled pro-life to protect the lives of those yet born. Their plea is to protect life. And while I understand it to be highly idealistic to imagine we can fully eradicate the need for abortion, I think our time would be better spent on that eradication than arguing about the intricacies of a legal issue that Clarence Thomas once told a roomful of people (in which I was present) is only going to get worse.

If in the pro-life community, we can shed the need to label pro-choice proponents as "baby killers," we might see them as advocates for social programs that support at-risk women, families, and neighborhoods suffering from economic depravity. We might see them as proponents of different forms of life.

We might find that there is a false dichotomy in this issue, that all anyone wants is to care for humankind.

--
Please be gracious in the comments. Don't be falsely dichotomous.

8.22.2008

if time could stand still

If time could stand still, would you pause during that game, that race, in the studio, in the office?

Would you pause at the slumber party, with the wedding party, or at home away from parties?

Would you pause it on the sunset at the beach, the sunrise in the mountains, at midnight on the fields?

Would you pause it with a friend? Alone? With your family?

If time could stand still, which moment would you choose to stand in?

Or would you keep time running?

8.20.2008

facebook, youth, and you

Can teachers (or youth workers) have appropriate relationships with students and youth on social networking websites? Can the law legislate what a teacher can and cannot do on the internet (such as friend a student on facebook, myspace, etc.)?

An article on the topic has really rubbed me raw on the issue.

Yes, there are cases of misuse of technology between a teacher and a student. However, banning all teachers from a particular medium of communication because of that misuse is non sequitur. The technology does not cause the inappropriate relationship, the teacher and student create the inappropriate relationship and would do so regardless of the medium at their fingertips.

Am I missing something here, or is this just sensational social conservatism?

via cpyu

8.19.2008

eleven years of grief

Anniversaries of my brother's death are stacking up. There are eleven now. As many as the birthdays he celebrated alive. Its strange and odd and awkward. You don't celebrate deathoversaries. You don't call home and say "Happy Day!" You don't make a cake. You don't throw a party.

Sitting solemnly seems melodramatic. Re-hashing and remembering the days surrounding his death seems morbid, gory, unneeded. Tears don't come.

As I've spent eleven years grieving in various stages, grief has become a part of me, a part of my tears, a part of my smile, a part of my anger, a part of my laughter. To forget my grief is there is to forget my hair is brown, my eyes blue.

I've never stopped asking what my brother could have done with his life. Especially now that he'd be grown, finding a career, becoming a man. It's inevitable that the questions we ask of ourselves as we come of age, I must ask of the hypothetical, I dream in the daytime. There's goodness in his departure, in knowing heaven is his home. There's peace, finality, and hope. But it doesn't make his absence from our lives good.

Grief through the years isn't easier or harder. It just is.

8.18.2008

no homo

I know a few guys who use this phrase, a lot. A lot a lot.

This videopostlink is for them. Even though they don't read this blog. Unless they do and don't tell me. In which case, boys, this is for you.


via The Bloggess on Twitter

8.14.2008

fuzzy on the edges

I've been asked more than once. So I guess that means I need to make myself more clear.

I moved out of my apartment. I didn't leave my job or St. Louis. If either of those things happen, I will be as explicitly oblique as possible, deal?

I'm just really attached to the places that I live and the thought of not using up every favor owed to me in couch sleeping while I look for another place to live.

But have ye no fear. It looks like both apartment and roommate are on the horizon.

(This is the part where you praise God for providing because you did NOT want to hear me whine about my laundry basket/halfofcloset bedroom. Actually I wouldn't be whining about it ungratefully. I AM grateful for those things. Its the couch sleeping that gets old.)

8.13.2008

square rainbows

Monday was a strange day. I returned to the office after a week of vacation. Everything had changed since I'd really spent time in the office. People have moved out. Whole offices are empty. New spaces are filled with different people.

Late in the day, wonders and worries about the future of everything that faces our church curled up cozily in corners of my mind. They wrapped their legs around my insecurities and warmed up to everything that tells me things aren't going as well as they should. I'm not doing what I should. I'm not who I am.

In the evening, I found myself watching the Olympics, glued to the human interest stories (DUDE! I've been there. I loved Badaling!), disinterested in anything not Michael Phelps. A bit on chopsticks reminded me of a noodle dinner shared with a radio DJ named Dagger. It was in payment for discussing Enya on Chinese radio. I know, strange. (That reminds me. I should add that story to the randomhilariousstories file in my howtotalktostrangers action plan.)

Back to the story. I needed Chinese food. Stat. So I trekked the five minute trek to Wok Express for my favorite moo goo gai pan with steamed rice. The sky was filled with clouds of long outstretched arms. They reached through the sun, over my head, beyond.

A rainbow, glinted through the arms. A square rainbow. As if striping the sleeve of the cloud's arm.

Rainbows are promises, God's promises to be precise. He promised no more flooding. No more destruction by water. He promised to remind us with his rainbow. Rainbows are promises. God's promise.

Sometimes those promises come in strange packages. Sometimes they aren't arches, reaching to the other side. Sometimes they are squares. Sometimes they come when the rain is only metaphorical, or only between the ears, in the mind. Sometimes God's promises aren't expected and looked for.

But they always show his faithfulness. They show his pervasive presence in the mundane and the overwhelming. They show he's listening. He's active. He's promising.

Square rainbows remind me to trust. An ever-needed reminder.

8.11.2008

glint

As I dropped my dear friends off at the airport this morning before work, I filled my mind with song lyrics so that I didn't have time to be sad. I was sad they were leaving. I only see them once in a blue moon. They are my international family. A piece of me belongs with them. Their departure marks the end of the strange schedule of summertime.

As I drove away from the airport, I smiled loudly over top of the droning Diane Rehm Show. I turned it off. The conflict in Georgia is important. But not today. Not right now.

Its August, but the fall is beginning. The weather is strangely cool. The teachers are milling in the school and church hallways. School uniforms are racked in the stores. I'm looking for my new home with a new roommate (finally!!). I'm calling Sunday School teachers, reserving picnic pavilions, planning the fall programs that will bring charge into this year of faith growth.

My to-do list is the length of the Mississippi River, but at least my smile glints back in reflection on it.

8.05.2008

the issue at my fingertips

A quick disclaimer: I use a touch of cuss and foul language in the following post. If such language offends you, skip to another post. Otherwise read on.

Also, I do love the Church and her teachings. I just have Jacob-to-Israel Strugglings a lot. I think it is important to be open, honest, and to dialogue about our struggles. Instead of hiding. I am beginning to think that hiding is weak and doesn't really work. I can't hide on this topic anymore.

And this is not about my church, but about an observation made from hours of internet reading, conversation, and other inaccurate methods of investigation.

--

I am thoroughly irritated by doctrine.

Not so much the actual words of doctrinal statements. Those are helpful, useful, and quite good. I think having guidance in our understanding of scripture is invaluable. But the concept of doctrine is culturally shrouded with the pharisaic notion that somehow one's doctrinal upholding makes them better, holier, more true to the word of God. Right doctrine (being right about doctrine) doesn't save. Right doctrine doesn't put me right with God. Christ alone puts me right with God.

The concept that doctrine is so complex and unknowable that the average person or even a learned person cannot understand it seems anti-scriptural. Certainly there are many levels at which one can read scripture, but didn't Christ teach in the simplest of parables? My heart is wrenched into a convulsing fit at these words of former pastor. I've substituted the defining denominational adjectives because this isn't about one denomination or another.
I can think of many people who have had 12 years of Christian education, and don't know what it means to be Christian. I know others who graduated from both Christian colleges and seminary, who still don't know, and don't even understand the Christian doctrine of justification. Several of them work at the national church offices. ...
If it is so damn hard to understand that it takes 12 plus years of doctrinal training to understand the Word of God, we are all going to hell, straight down. We'd be headed there anyway if it weren't for Christ. Our pure understanding of doctrine is some sort of side dish that doesn't really matter, compare, or even exist if you don't have Christ as Savior.

To be clear, I am not promoting a Jesus-Only doctrine or a doctrine-less church or an upheaval of standard teaching in the church, but I am afraid I've seen far too many instances of the knowledge of doctrine in use for building pride (for a group or a self) and not for building a deeper relationship with our God*. The fighting within denominations over doctrinal minutia or adiaphora or the nitpicking over the words of the pastor on a Sunday morning debilitate the ministry, dishearten the workers, and drive the faithful into hiding. It sends our hearts into flurries of 8th commandment breaking (that would be the 9th for the reformed readers among us) and away from the presence of God. If a pastor can't explain justification in plain English, in an accessible way to the men and women of the congregation who work and raise families for a living, he is failing his congregation miserably. And if his primarily concern in the congregation is wholly centered on teaching people about doctrine (orthodoxy) and not simultaneously engaging them in the Work of the Church and seeking the presence of Christ (orthopraxy), something is amuck.

I wonder what would happen if instead of pushing our churchworkers through mountains of theology and doctrine, we pushed them through prayer and service. I wonder what would happen if silent contemplation on the Word of God was a required part of ministry/discipleship training. I wonder what would happen if there were emphasis placed on the unknowable, mysterious parts of God, the dismissal of rationality to explain faith or that which is not stated in God's Word, the trust one must place in God not to attempt to resort to rationality in a time of weakness.

Would we become mystic? Culturally irrelevant? Would we lose a camaraderie of the convinced? Would we bind together in awe? Would we step out of our culture of fear and promote one of hope and belonging?

Are we afraid that in de-emphasizing categorical and minute understanding of doctrine that the True God will be lost? Are we afraid that silence will open us to greater temptation than filling our minds with more words? Are we truly afraid that doctrinal differences could bring condemnation from a God who sent His Son to die on a brutal cross?

Someone recently said to me that you can't "nice" someone into knowing Christ. I would argue that you can't "word" them into knowing him either. A person's faith comes to them in a mysterious way, in an unknowable place between words and deeds. As the Church, we need to spend more time trying to bring people to that place than trying to describe it.

--

*It is a huge pet peeve of mine when people cut off the indefinite article in sentence such as this one, i.e. building deeper relationship with God. A!, people!!, A relationship. I could write a whole separate post about the irritating disuse of indefinite articles, but I think I've summed it up in this little rant that for some reason you are still reading.

8.02.2008

my swiss sis

It's a little known fact that I have a sister in Switzerland. She doesn't look like me. She's medium height, blonde, rail thin. She doesn't act like me. She's always the life of the party, hates reading, and thinks that museums are boring. Clearly, we don't share any DNA. She is part of my family much the same way Tom Hagen was a part of Vito Corleone's family. Minus the olive oil smuggling and the offers you can't refuse. And the orphan part.

She became my sister when she lived with my family as a foreign exchange student ten years ago. We spent countless Friday nights staying up too late drinking Mountain Dew, eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, making brownies and watching The Wedding Singer over and over and over again. I haven't watched the movie in years, but I think I could still quote 75% of it to you. We loved the movie, but my Swiss sis was more than a junk food and movie pal.

She was a bucket full of sunshine in the sea of murky water that was the early teen years of my life. My family was in the midst of the havoc wreaked by death and depression. She didn't let the havoc stop her from loving us and helping us to find hope in new things life. And we haven't stop loving her since.

There is something about sharing your life with someone in the murkiest, weakest moments that binds you together. Eternally. When you emerge from those times, you find that you've become an indescribable sort of family.

My Swiss sis stepped off an airplane this evening with her mom and a suitcase full of chocolate in tow. I haven't seen her in four years. It's time to create some new family memories.

more old roomie. still miss her.


I've never had a bad roommate, but she was exactly the roommate I needed last year. I'm so excited about her new adventure but I can't wait until we can share an evening on a patio again somewhere. I'll make dinner. She'll clean up. It'll be great.

7.31.2008

connections

I think the expression "in the world but not of the world" is confusing and clichéd. Somehow between Merton and L'Engle, it makes more sense.

The artist who is Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it. We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.
--Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water

My father and mother were captives in that world, knowing that did not belong with it or in it, and yet unable to get away from it. They were in the world and not of it--not because they were saints, but in a different way: because they were artists. The integrity of an artists lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it.

--Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

7.30.2008

reality bites

July has been a zoo of a month. Individually, the days have not been so bad. But as a collective whole, July ate my calendar for breakfast.

August is the return to routine (sort of, I've got another week of vacation in there and some random weirdness) and that means I can tweak the routine a little bit. And tweak I wish to do, particularly in one certain part of life.

I am an awful devoter. I think that is because I find reading devotions tantamount to rereading the back of a 1950s evangelism track over and over again. I know there are good ones out there, but I don't have the patience with the bad ones to find them.

Beyond my terrible devoting skills, I am awful about reading scripture. Its odd, I talk about books like they are a snack, but I can't seem to sit down and read scripture. At the same time, I kind of get why reading scripture over and over is hard for me. I've only re-read two books ever (other than children's books, mind you): Franny and Zooey (Salinger) and The Stranger (Camus). I don't like to re-read.

It hasn't always been that way. For nearly a year, I cross-referenced various epistles slowly, writing every verse out. But then I started working on Hosea and my load at work increased and I got distracted and/or bored and I quit.

Now things like my internet addiction call me early in the morning and I forget to meditate on the Word of God.

What can a girl do? I'm not even sure the intention is fully laid-out.

There's hope on the horizon. I just have to find it. Or let it find me? Or does anyone have a hope to share? Or...?

7.29.2008

the disenfranchised

To be disenfranchised implies that your right to vote has been removed or revoked.

As a word, it came up in a conversation between young churchworkers, three, five, ten years into the work of the church.

Does it describe me? Us? You?

Has my right to vote, my voice, been removed or revoked so subtly I knew not to kick or scream?

Is that what it means to "emerge?" To find your voice? To be a part of the Church again?

I see questions, but part of me finds a startling resemblance to statements.

7.25.2008

obligational mercification

When I have to do difficult things or make difficult decisions there is a lot of sucking it up, a lot of biting the lower lip, and usually a few tears. As I've wandered through my emotions and my ultimate decisions of late, I noted something fundamental about myself and my personal motivations.

I don't respond to obligation positively. Tell me I have to do something and I will resent you and the obligation.

This axiom was humorously (mmm, maybe only to me) made apparent in my life in the ninth grade when I refused to read Of Mice and Men for literature class. Meanwhile, I ate F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories for breakfast and wondered why Camus' The Plague had to have so many darn rats. Somehow I managed to pass without ever reading Steinbeck outside of that cement block room.

On the other hand, free me from the obligation, tell me its okay not to want to do something, give me permission to despise the very task of even thinking about it and things change. I will want to do that very thing, as a challenge for myself, as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Today, I might actually consider reading Of Mice and Men. You know, after I read all of Salinger's books and collections a few more times and I have a chance to plow through some Dostoevsky. (Yeesh. Dostoevsky.)

All this to say, obligation is the opposite of desire. Tada! Amazing revelatory statement of the year! Impressive, eh? Maybe not. So, don't worry. There's more.

--

I cannot be merciful or gracious out of obligation. Mercy is an act beyond the façade of my hands and face. It flows out of the heart and can only be shown when truly present. I have to be truly free from obligation to be truly merciful.

7.24.2008

staycation

Alas. The time I have been waiting for since, um, JANUARY, has arrived: staycation. Blessed. Holy. Staycation.

What is staycation, you ask?

Staycation is sleeping in slightly. It is making a cup of coffee. It is reading one half of Franny and Zooey in one sitting. It is going to the gym at 11am. It is going to a bookstore. It is wandering through the art museum. It is taking my camera with me and taking pictures of things that I like. It is making dinner with my sister. It is going to Cardinal's games. It is writing the things I've been meaning to write.

It is not checking my work email. It is not worrying about things that cannot be changed. It is not being busy every minute of everyday. It is not traveling, living out of a suitcase, or anything that implies getting onto a highway and traveling more than thirty minutes.

It is beautiful.

7.16.2008

they might actually have to be funny

The late night comedic crowd is hemming and hawing over what to do with Obama.

For once, they might have to leave behind the mockery and go straight to being funny. Novel.

7.14.2008

planned, not written

This is crunch time. Last minute preparation for the week-o-fun with the micro-machines, I mean, the junior highers (half of whom tower over me). Ordering the birthday cake, calling the pizza den, touching base with the camp and letting them know our schedule, you know the drill.

And writing my bible studies. Not "writing" them per se. I've got them planned out in my head and roughly on paper. But I'm not happy with them as pieces of writing in our servant event book. I don't really want to jabber in front of the group about the studies. I'd rather facilitate a few questions and answers and send the youth off into discovering what God's Word says about salvation, life, and them.

But that's a hard thing to put into action and even harder to put onto paper so that others can follow along.

I suppose it better said that it isn't that they aren't planned, but they won't be written until they happen.

Perhaps as written, the studies will be a blank page. That is, a page waiting to be filled. Waiting for God's presence to make itself known and to teach our hearts what God wills.

Waiting.

lonely in there

I've decided that the conference setting is one of the loneliest places in my work life.

No matter how many friends are there to visit with, laugh with, eat with, I spend most of the day in my head.

Its lonely in there.

7.02.2008

not me.

For those of you who haven't been pained with meeting me: that girl in the header isn't me. That's la señorita.

Officially, this is what I look like:
In real life, its something more like this:

6.29.2008

leaning on an empty wall

I'm sitting next to my bike and a box full of toxic cleaning chemicals. I'm not sure what to do with all of the chemicals. I don't really clean chemically anymore, but that is beside the point.

Exhaustion has set in. Emotional, spiritual, physical exhaustion. Moving is draining. Saying goodbye is wrenching. The unknown is frightening.

I've been repeating clichéd mantras: it's the people not the place; it's not "goodbye", it's" see you soon"; moving on, moving up; forgiveness means forgetness. (I might have made up that last one.) They get me through the moments when I'm leaning against an empty wall surrounded by the strange physical shards of the last few years, mourning what I'm losing.

I've loved my apartment, my roommates, my life in this space and time. Sure, I've complained my fair share. Whined, moaned, and curled into a crying ball a few times. But mainly, when I think about the last two years, I turn into a sentimental schmuck.

It isn't unfounded sentimentality. I have friends who take on friendship like a calling from above. They've painted my walls; they've Tetris-ed my furniture into their cars; they've sat on my floor with me when they knew I was sad. They teach me that #12334 is just a place, that friendship is more portable than my bike and a box of cleaning chemicals.

Today I'm leaning on an empty wall. Brimmed with tears of unreadiness and utmost joy. Completely grateful, yet overwhelmed with fear.

Tomorrow a new hope, a new memory will come alive, a new wall will be filled.

6.27.2008

the patio

There is something wonderful about a dimly lit patio on a June evening.

The breeze that is blowing.

The bugs attracted to porches more brightly lit.

The wafting laughter.

The joy in friendship.

Life is full of change, metamorphosis, goodbye, i'msorries, leavemealones, iloveyous, disappointments, betrayals, needs.

On the patio, life seems still. Without those things.

Just dim lights, laughter, and a touch of fleeting nostalgia.

6.25.2008

A Saint Louis To-Do

As the Roommate prepares to move to the land of imported fruits and vegetables (aka the desert), we made a list of things she had to do before her departure. This got me to thinking about all of the things that someone who lives in St. Louis should do to take advantage of all the city has to offer or things to do while visiting the city. This list was the result:

  • Visit the Augusta wineries (or Ste. Genevieve or Hermann)
  • Shakespeare in the Park (late May to early June) (FREE)
  • Jazz in the Botanical Gardens (FREE)
  • Eat at Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard
  • Spend a night out in the Central West End
  • Visit the Art Museum (FREE)
  • See a show at the Muny (potentially FREE)
  • Eat ethnic food on South Grand
  • Go to the City Museum
  • Listen to live music under the Arch (complicated this summer by the potential flooding) (FREE)
  • Watch a outdoor movie on Friday's at Laumeir Park (FREE, I think)
  • See a show in the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. (named the Duck Room after Chuck Berry’s duck walk guitar dance thing)
  • Visit the Soulard or Tower Grove Farmer’s Market
  • Stroll down Cherokee’s Antique Row (Get a cup of coffee at Mississippi Mud while you are there)
  • Eat at the Scottish Arms, Dressel’s, and McGurk’s—the top British Isle Pubs in St. Louis
  • People watch on The University City Loop (FREE)
  • Catch an act at the Pageant
  • Get some gelato on Washington Avenue
  • Visit Schlafly’s Bottlework’s (Saint Louis’ Prized microbrew)
  • Visit the Anheuser-Busch brewery (FREE)
  • Catch a local(ish) band at Cicero’s
  • Visit the Zoo (FREE)
  • Go for a run in Forest Park (FREE)
  • See a Cardinal’s Game at Busch stadium
  • Stroll down St. Charles’ historic Main Street
Uh. That should keep you busy, but if you have other things that should be on the list, feel free to add them in the comments.

6.19.2008

fantastically human

I know that my joy in ministry shouldn't be tied into material successes... praise, words, numbers, donations, leaders.

I know that my faith, my confidence, in God should under no uncertain terms be tied into my joy in ministry.

But I am utterly and fantastically human.

Exhaustion today is exhilarating.

6.12.2008

nation of wimps

About two years ago, I ran across a few articles written by Hara Marano Estroff about the wave of self-entitlement displayed in kids and in parents. I talked about it a few months later when my then-Roommate gave me some anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon. From that moment on, I was eagerly anticipating Estroff's book, Nation of Wimps.

Nation of Wimps isn't for everyone. I have a hard time imagining handing this book out to the moms and dads in my youth ministry. It would either create a force of retaliation or hit so close to home that the guilty masses would erupt in tears. Part of me wonders to whom the book is directed because Estroff lashes at parents so vividly throughout the early chapters that I can't imagine them wading much past the opening paragraphs. Unless, of course, they are sadists. And yet, she concludes with a happy here's-what-parents-should-do chapter. I guess she's hoping for an audience of sadists.

Nevertheless, I loved reading Estroff's whipping and lashing of the state of American childhood. The anecdotes were straight out of a Hitchcock thriller. Chills regularly crept (RAN!) up my spine. The statistical information was intriguing. Who knew so many college students were in such emotional despair? Her explanation of self-harm and self-mutilation is one of the best I've ever read. Even at the lowest moments, Estroff manages the right amount of humor and irony to keep me from becoming wholly depressed.

The wide variety of topics are held together firmly with one main idea: kids today need more out of childhood than soccer lessons, violin practice, and a cell phone to be accessible to mom and dad at every whim. And they are more than future ivy league candidates. Estroff hits every reader in the gut with her timely call for a revisioning of American childhood.

As I read, voices I heard before kept revisiting me:
"I've never felt more peer pressure than I have as a parent of a junior high student," a mom told me after church.

"We try to keep our son's extra activities to one a school quarter, but there is so much pressure to involve him in everything," I overhear a mom saying to another in a public restroom.

"I just want to be free of basketball and band so that I spend more time singing and playing guitar, " an eighth grader moans in my office.
Those are my anecdotal pieces of the puzzle. Estroff takes my pieces, your pieces, her pieces and combines them in statistical evidence that parenting and education at all levels are in need of a serious overhaul. Nation of Wimps is worth a read to anyone who can stomach the criticism.

Tomorrow, I will dig in a little deeper into the idea of "information age education" as a reflection on what she shares and my own personal experiences.

6.10.2008

me and a box of vegetables

I am about halfway through Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She tells the story of moving to the Appalachian Mountains with her family and living off of the local land. the book is part memior, part persuasion, part recipe book. I like all of those genres, so (no pun intended) I am eating it up.

Her journey is fascinating, but it isn't for everyone. We don't all have a cabin in the mountains awaiting our decision to live off the local land. We don't all have flexible employment that allows to pick and move or tend to a garden on moments notice.

Eating local is tough. And it is economically disputable. Local seems like a fancy buzzword for middle class people to use when hoping to feel superior while sitting on the side of a soccer field. And yet this is my second year as a member of the Three Rivers Community Farm.

I joined Three Rivers on a whim that it would be a fun experiment to eat crazy vegetables that were grown so close to home. These days, my membership is a reason for my sister and I prepare and eat dinner together once a week. It is a way to support independent agriculture. It is a means of being connected with the community around me and reminding me of the farm town I call hometown.

Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm this late in the game is probably a long shot. But you can get on a waiting list. Or visit your farmer's market (Local Harvest can help you find lots of local food sources). Or get in touch with the Slow Food movement in your area. And if the concept of local food totally overwhelms you, check Animal, Vegetable, Miracle out at your local library. Kingsolver might inspire you.

6.09.2008

the beautiful and the ugly

If I tried to write a rave review of the weather we had in St. Louis this weekend, it would only serve to sell the weather short on the beautiful that it was.

If I tried to write a harsh critique on the havoc the weather is creating for my eyes via allergies, it would only sell the weeping and gnashing short on the ugly that it is.

Apparently, I can't have my beautiful weather and see it, too.

6.06.2008

even if i had the picture, i wouldn't post it

Last weekend, my family gathered together for my cousin's wedding. It was everything a family wedding is supposed be: slightly precarious, very beautiful, exhausting, light-hearted, memorable. We aren't a high drama family for the most part. We keep our mean-spirited derogatory comments to ourselves and we don't talk politics EVER (unless under the influence of red wine and then everything is free game). We do have a penchant, however, to pull out the embarrassing family photos.

Last weekend, I was the target of much family banter. Let us not beat around the bush: I had a mullet circa age 6. This was followed by the poof-ball circa age 7. Which was followed by a bowl cut circa ages 8-10 (three horrible years).

My mom says the mullet was a "pixie cut" and it was cute! She nearly swore that she didn't even know what a mullet was. She says that I wanted a perm, so the poof is my fault. And she says that Dorothy Hamil wore a bowl cut for ages and pulled if off wonderfully and that it was extremely practical (read: I hated letting her brush my hair).

The funniest part? My uncle had a mullet for a while, too. We were haircut buddies in the early nineties. We are both glad that is over.

Is it a fourth commandment violation to say, "Mom, I praise God you aren't in charge of my hair anymore!"? Because its true. Even if my hair is a regular moppy mess. At least its not a mullet.

5.27.2008

the knob of mercy's door

Just as getting myself out of my thousand mistakes oft requires the mercy of another, pulling myself out of inadvertent messes requires a touch of external mercy as well.

This all became even more readily apparent yesterday evening as my phone hopped between the calls of several friends. I was pondering anew what I was going to do with my personal housing mess when Reuben (female, not her given name, unless you consider a white boy named Julio a proper name-giver) called. Her new, exciting, trans-pacific job that began in a month just lost its government funding. New and exciting has quickly become scary and dead end. Though not for any wrongdoing, she's found herself lying at mercy's doorstep.

On the other side, someone holds the knob of mercy's door. They are employers, parents, friends, acquaintances. Maybe it is you. Maybe it is me. I am convinced that we all hold the knob of someone's mercy door at some point in our lives.

The question is: do I turn the knob and open the door? Or do I turn the lock and keep it shut?

Not feigning humility or shying from reality, today I ponder my knob turning tendencies. Perhaps it is time for a little knob grease.

5.23.2008

motorcycle driveby (or goodbye you)

sun glints through my eyelashes
the colors refract
brilliant
a song swells familiarly
the road lies ahead

jenkins croons
just as at sixteen
so alone
so alive

one foot in front of the next
no longer on a calle
or an avenida
but the streets and avenues

still alone
still alive
the burning and the thinking of you

you've slipped into the passing waves and swells
on a motorcycle driveby

he's not thinking of you again
and so
neither will i
think of you again

5.19.2008

god doesn't hate gay people

The gay and lesbian lifestyle seems to be all over news these days. But I don't bring up the topic because of the recent court decision on homosexual marriage in California. I am going to refrain from commenting on gay marriage and leave my opinions up to your imagination. Verbalized speculation not encouraged. (And frankly, I don't want to debate the morality of homosexuality because really? Again? Aren't you exhausted yet? Wouldn't you rather conduct lab experiments on fruit flies? I think I would.)

I bring up homosexuality because something happened this week that reminded me of the power of my work in the church. We wrapped up a year of 7th and 8th grade bible studies a few days ago. Boys and girls huddled around cans of pringles chips (it made for a fun time-to-try-dill-pickle-chips smorgasbord snack) as we shared what God has worked in our lives through the last year. We talked about the low times and the high times (not the chemically induced kind). We shared things that we've learned about God and through our faith walk.

(I should back up to tell you that every year, I teach the seventh grade girls at our day school about sexuality and faith. We talk about everything from the obligatory piping and plumbing conversations to the sexuality in our culture. Homosexuality always comes up. It makes for a good conversation about God's deep love.)

One seventh grade girl shared very boldly that the biggest thing she learned this year was from our sex education classes. She learned that God doesn't hate gays.

Wow.

What a powerful thing for a young teenager to learn.

She left it at that. And I smiled and commented to the whole group that God loves all people regardless of sexual orientation, skin color, the length of the criminal record, the number of times they've stabbed a friend in the back. The room was a little quiet and we moved onto the next person.

I'm not sure why that was the topic that resonated with her, but it did. And I am so glad it is a message of mercy and not one of hate or despise because the God I know in scripture is a God who forgives and loves and cares beyond our earthly inability to make sense of God's law and God's grace. I'm glad I could be part of her journey.

5.16.2008

crisis

Aside from cyclones, earthquakes, wars, and politics, there are still mountains of depressing news. A depressive economy. An unhealthy population. A global food crisis.

I can choose to ignore wars that happen across the oceans. The same with cyclones and earthquakes. I can turn my nose up at the unhealthy. I can hoard my savings little by little as I can when I can. But I can't choose not to eat.

I've never experienced a life without easy access to food. I remember once when I was a teenager, I went to the neighborhood grocery store. I put the bags in my trunk and duly locked the keys in my car. It was good I didn't have ice cream. I ran back to my house, no more than a mile, got another set of keys and made my sister or mom or someone take me back to the store. I think that is the most I've ever worked for my food.

But food in excess is a luxury. Regardless of my acknowledgment of the luxury, it is just that. When I hear news reports of the cost of bread in Egypt, the rising prices in America, the starving people in crisis around the world, I take another look at the way I buy groceries. I work hard to only buy what we need, eat everything, and only throw out what is unsalvageable.

Yet, until lately, I have turned a blind eye to my work. Working as a junior high youth minister, I am regularly bombarded with ideas to slather the kids up in chocolate sauce and roll them down a hill. People love getting into food and making it messy. But the voices of the women who can't afford a loaf of bread ring in my ears. They yearn for the simplest of foods and I am promoting extravagant wastefulness?

This simply cannot be. And so gracefully, from here forward (actually several months ago) food-wasting fun will be eliminated from the repertoire.

Food is for nourishment and it should be respected as so.

5.12.2008

ascend (to the ceiling)

I am a sucker for object lessons. I love connecting the visual elements to a story. I think it helps the listener understand the story, it keeps the listener engaged, and it gives me something to do with my hands when I am talking. The last reason for love is key because otherwise I would probably knock a kindergartener out with my wide sweeping arm expressions.

Whenever I give a children's message, I like to use objects whenever possible. Like the time I used colored club soda with red food coloring and then bleached it "clean" again. Or the time I filled a glass so full it spilled all over the place (into a bucket). Or put mud all over my face. Or made a clay creation. Or made the dry bones (sponges) soft again. Let's not forget the time I came to chapel in my (one piece) swimming suit (plus shorts, towels, and a lot of other covering clothing items).

With all of these ridiculous object lessons, I have not yet achieved the gasping awe that resounded through chapel last week.

The object: helium balloons.
The lesson: ascension.

I tied six large helium balloons together on one string. One balloon had a crosses drawn on it and was at the longest end of the string (about five feet more than the rest). It was the Jesus balloon. You guessed that ahead, right? That's because you are so flipping smart.

So I told the story of Christ's life on earth, death and resurrection using the balloons. It was simple. Kids shouted out answers to the world's easiest (at least for Lutheran day school students) and yet most important question: What did Jesus do while he was on earth? (he loved us! healed us! forgave us!)

Then I talked about Jesus' ascension while letting the Jesus balloon rise above the rest.

We talked about what we are supposed to do while Jesus is in heaven. We talked about how we are still tied to him. I read a bit of Romans 8 (NOTHING!!! shall separate us from the love of Christ Jesus!). We talked about how he is going to return to us. And then we talked about what happens next... we rise with Jesus to heaven.

I untied the long string and slowly let the balloons rise up. And up. And up. Forty feet. To the top of our sanctuary ceiling.

The yelps of glee were wholly unpredictable. Who could imagine that balloons could be so entertaining?

Talk about Jesus so that they can soar up with us! Share his love so that we can rise together! Jesus will take us farther than these balloons could ever rise!

The balloons floated at the ceiling for the rest of chapel as a reminder of where we are going when we are tied to Jesus.

(And then I pulled them down using that really long string.)

4.23.2008

teach them how to edify

I've been disheartened of late at the destructive tone that seems to be acceptable in some church conversations. It doesn't matter if the conversation is directed at a program, a person, the direction of a congregation, or the church body as a whole. The communication is "I'm right, you're wrong." It can be carried further: "I am so right that I will damage your ability to carry out any rightness that might exist in you."

I am certainly guilty of carrying this tone. Particularly when someone points the destruction in my direction or towards a pet issue of mine. This diametrical thinking results in church families being torn apart, it produces anguish for both sides. It cannot be a good thing. And yet its prolific status in our congregations, churches, lives would lead one to think that it is an acceptable mode of communication and self-expression.

I have a very wise friend who gives me hope in my disheartenment. She maneuvers through multi-denominational, multi-faith settings as a center-piece of her identity. She listens keenly to every word a person says and can quickly intuitive the communication of their heart. She taught me a rule for conversation in the church: it must be edifying. Destructive words only lead to destruction. If the intent is not edification, it must be destruction and therefore has no place in the Church.

As a church worker, youth worker, congregation member, Church member, my role then becomes teaching, modeling, and expressing edification. Not as the Gospel itself, but as a communication that the Gospel lives in me.

4.17.2008

anomalous

I've been reflecting on the quality of all things that compose of my life today... my ministry, my family, my friends, my choice in music, my interest in low and no caff teas. My conclusions is that I live anomalously in most things.

My family traveled hours (HOURS!) to sit in a church pew and watch someone hand me a plaque. Not just my parents. My aunt, uncle, and three cousins. In our busy, gotta-get-to-the-next-thing-that-will-make-my-resumé-look-better-than-yours world, this is an extraordinary support and sign of worth. Thinking about how awesome my family is makes me want to cry. Maybe just cry.

I have a roommate that vacuums. Yeah. That doesn't happen often. In my life anyway.

I have friends that share life together. We laugh. We watch the office. We study God's Word. We play frisbee. We run. We tease each other relentlessly. We support each other in a wandering life goals. Our relationships are deep and far reaching. Each and every one of them is an uncommon blessing.

I have members of my congregation verbally affirm me on a regular basis. My co-workers are supportive of my wandering life goals. My kids give me high fives, hugs and sturdy I-hate-you-even-though-I-know-you-are-right glares.

The blessings in my life are abundant. Truly abundant.

3.26.2008

quiet

It is a quiet week this week. No children popping in the offices to sing someone happy birthday. No teachers whirring about in a grading fury. Coworkers on vacation, releasing a lent's worth of stress.

I am quiet, too.

There is much ahead of me. Mid-spring is always busier than early and late spring. Retreats to plan. Servant events to finalize. Vacation Bible Schools to prepare. April is one of my most stressful months. Traveling, presenting, retreating, and so much more seems to fall into April like an endless abyss.

But this week is a quiet week. A week of sitting in my dimmed office over a cup of tea, praying over all that is to come. A week of savoring silence, the proverbial calm before the storm. Instead of looking to the next weeks with dreaded anticipation, I can sit in this week and know this is a good place, a quiet place.

3.24.2008

resurrect

For several years after my brother died, he would visit my dreams. I'm not sure, but I think this is a fairly common occurrence.

In some dreams, he would return from the dead, still dead. I would ask him why he died. I would tell him about life without him (making it sound a little better than it was so not to make him sad). I would ask him about heaven.

The conversation was easy. It flowed. I didn't push any of his buttons. He didn't push any of mine. We had mature adolescent conversation, if such a thing exists.

In other dreams, he would return from the dead alive. My family would get a message from the hospital stating some horrible mistake combined with an amazing miracle would be bringing my brother back after months or years of death. In preparation for his return, no one quite knew how to appropriately celebrate his resurrection. Family gathering, celebrations with friends, clean homes, and 7000 helium balloons didn't seem to capture the spirit of our joy. We were incredulous but firm in our hope. It strikes me that even in my subconscious, in my sleep, I am limited in my expression of my joy. It is as though I have an underdeveloped vocabulary for joy expression.

Easter, in it deepest emotional meaning, reminds me of that second dream. I don't even have to see Christ to be simultaneously incredulous and certain. Yet again, the expression of my joy seems limited to good food and fantastic renditions of my favorite hymns. I'm not fully capable of communicating the deep shift in perspective that this resurrection brings to my life.

I suspect that this inability will stick with me until my humanity is perfected in heaven. For now I can only imagine what freedom to truly celebrate is like.

3.20.2008

deep cleanse

As a woman, I think about what the women who loved Jesus might have done on the day he was crucified. For some they sat at the cross praying, pleading, crying. I'm sure there were many others who were listless, distraught, pacing from wall to wall in anxiety.

I clean when I am listless, distraught, and pacing from wall to wall. Tomorrow is a cleanse of the inside, on the surface, and the outside. It is fasting out a year's worth of physical build-up. Not eating until the sun has set. It is trimming my fingernails and combing my hair. It is reevaluating the contents of my closet and knocking cobwebs off of the ceiling.

But Good Friday isn't just about those physical manifestations of cleansing. Sure I will be doing those things tomorrow, but they symbolize something more profound to me. There will prayer through each of these things. A prayer of contrition. A prayer seeking absolution. A prayer
that brings a spiritual cleansing far deeper than any bleaching agent could reach.

3.17.2008

st. patrick's breastplate

St. Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer historically attributed to St. Patrick upon his defeat over paganism, is one of my all-time favorite historical prayers. The portion below is particularly important to me.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

You can read more about St. Patrick and his Breastplate here.

3.11.2008

bad grammar is body odor

U is a letter, it does not mean you. Ur is Abraham's first home, not an acceptable way of writing your. Spell check is a necessity in all emails. No exceptions.

Typos are one thing and can be forgiven. Texting on your phone is also different as writing words is annoying on a 9 key pad and there is no spell check.

But in an email, the inability to spell words and use spell check and the unnecessary abbreviation of pronouns is a transgression in which forgiveness could be questionable.

Misspelling words in an email to someone you don't know/barely know/want to impress/ask a favor of/communicate with in a socially acceptable way is like urging the recipient of said poorly written email to dismiss you like the smelly kid in math class.

That's right kids, bad grammar is the B.O. of internet land.

Happy spell checking.

3.04.2008

the kitchen table

One of my favorite places in my house is my kitchen table. I eat breakfast there while reading my morning prayers and scripture. I sit there for hours on my day off reading revisionist histories of Rome and listening through the many hours of music still unplayed on my playlists. I make dinners and eat them with friends there. I stare out the window and estimate how many snowflakes I've watched there (maybe in the 100 trillions today alone).

It is also my favorite place in my house because when friends are over we can sit at that table for hours simply laughing and enjoying each other's company. That is my favorite way to spend an evening. And when we do, everyone simply looks beautiful.

2.21.2008

the religiosity of health care

A bit foreword and perhaps disclaimer.

Talking about politics in the religious workplace is like talking about religion in the secular workplace. At least in a religious workplace where not all workers for the Word are hard lined religious rightists.

I am typically uncomfortable being extremely explicit with my political standings in any setting other than with my family who is forced into loving me by sheer genetics. Believe me when I tell you that when we talk politics over Thanksgiving dinner, our genetics are the only thing that keeps us from starting a mashed potato fight. That and the possibility that if thrown, the potato might get onto the pecan pie (or into the wine, depending on who you are). In that scenario, we'd all go home really grumpy. In non-familial settings, I prefer to listen to what other people are interested in and offer counter-points that I may or may not wholly own as personal viewpoints. I won't likely tell you if I own them or not. Sorry. Ambiguity suits me.

--

Recently, in a strictly religious setting I was listening to a person of strong faith whom I respect a great deal though I differ from them drastically in a political sense. They were sharing their perspective on universal health care and these words as best as I remember came out of their mouth, "When I hear universal health care, I see my paycheck getting smaller."

I was horrified, though I expressed it by changing the topic.

I haven't done the research to speak conclusively of my opinions on universal health care. But my primary concern about it is NOT the size of my pay check. I want to make sure that the people who live in my neighborhood, immigrants, lower income families, students, the elderly have access to good care. I want our government to create or monitor a program that will be accessible to the most people whether that is government run or not. (Let us not forget how much employers in the States are shoveling into the health care industry.)

I hope people of faith will allow their knowledge of the justice of Christ and his compassion for the poor as they consider their political motivations. If the motivation for lower taxes is a bigger paycheck, perhaps you should consider the words of Ed Begley, Jr. as shared by No Impact Man, "I've never seen a hearse with a luggage rack on top."

You can't take your paycheck to heaven. But the righteousness of Christ you reflect might bring another person into the fold or make their life more livable. A lower paycheck may in fact cost more than its monetarily value.

2.14.2008

my sister, the theologian (or in her words, the c-list blog celebrity)

In a conversation about what I want to be when I grow up, my sister says to me, "Basically, WWJD? He would say, 'Lighen up, sweetchild, have a glass of water I have just turned to wine, and let me lead you. For I know the path I have chosen for you...or something like that.'"

I think she's on to something. I'm going to go fill up my water bottle, now.

2.11.2008

the whir of the spirit

February is a tough, dark month in Missouri. There isn't much to look forward to in February. It could still be ridiculously cold, icy, and snowy. The beginning of March doesn't offer much of a contrast. It, too, can be ridiculously cold, icy, and snowy.

Beyond that, February is a month when things get piled on. Students are mid-way through the semester, two-thirds into the school year. Teachers give large comprehensive assignments in February. The schedule is full with basketball and cheerleading and club sports and you-name-it-miscellanea.

Optimism runs thin in February because the end is not yet in sight. The close of the school year is still an ambiguously looming thing not yet realized. The coming of spring is unimaginable. The only holidays celebrate dead presidents and, for the adolescent and others, an unattainable "love" factor.

Yesterday, I gathered with a group of 8th graders and two of youth ministry moms. We had planned an afternoon of hot cocoa, warm cookies, and rest for our youth group. I wanted to encourage their hearts to not cool in the easily chilled environment. I think our goal was met.

Our youth room is not exactly a cozy place. It is big with flexible space, but it isn't cozy. Cozy has to be brought to the room. We brought floor lamps and candles and blankets and a fake fireplace (a television hooked up to a laptop with the fake fireplace screen saver and a nearby space heater!). We played quiet soothing music and made chocolate chip cookies in the oven. We made hot chocolate with all of the toppings and hung out with each other for the first thirty minutes with absolutely no agenda or games or anything to do except be together.

We talked about Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit. We read Romans chapter 8 and explored the work of the Holy Spirit. Youth spent a good deal of time silently pondering a verse in Romans 8 that was comforting to them. We shared our thoughts, we sang a few songs, we prayed together for each other.

As the youth were pondering their verse, the room was silent, but I could sense a loud whirring in the room. It wasn't the whir of an idling computer, but of their prayers. It wasn't audible, but I could hear it. It loudly proclaimed the work of the Spirit.

That whir is making February bearable.

1.22.2008

a familial rant

They hand me the form non-chalantly. "Oh, and in addition to including the names of your immediate family, be sure to include a picture of you with your family doing something you love."

I pause. (Family? Like you think I'm married with children??? or My family of origin? Do you want a picture of me as a child with my family? Because the only thing we do together these days is go out to eat or sit on a couch and talk about the wierdos in our extended family as if we weren't wierdos ourselves. Or do you want the people that I live my daily life with... like my roommate? Because she is kind of like family, but someday one of us is going to get married or move away or get on the other person's nerves and we won't live together forever so she's not really FAMILY. Or do you mean my basil plant? Because I let it die this fall in a freeze. Whoops. Maybe I should get a dog...)

"Okay, I'll find one. Thanks."

I walk away. (I'm so flippin' compliant. I wish I would call people out on their anti-single behaviors. I like being single at this moment in life thank you very much and I resent the fact that your forms and policies treat me like a second-class citizen. And when the day comes that I am not a single person anymore, a day I do actually hope comes at some point, my language will reflect an understanding that single people are not an anomaly in society. Jesus was a single guy, you know. So shove off. Not really. I'm not that angry. I just think you need a reality check, okay? Cheers.)

1.02.2008

on dying

Death and the grief process is something that I find to be highly formative in the human experience. No Impact Man recently shared a link to the blog of a man who is in his closing days of fighting with cancer. He is sharing memories with friends, giving away his books, finding a new home for his cats.

His words are shared with a clarity and a smoothed peace that only the dying know.

He is a Zen Buddhist and his perspectives are very interesting. My heart is necessarily wrenched, but in the fire of sorrow for him, I am given a clarity of hope in Christ. His words have peacefulness, resignation, but not hope and anticipation. I pray for that hope and anticipation. I pray for grace.