Friday, December 28, 2012

pondering open hands with Henri Nouwen

Met with a friend over coffee.  Just as so many times before, I found myself recommending this book.

Not as another book (how cliche and lame to offer a hurting person a book?), but as a paradigm shift. As an invitation to a completely new path.

Open hands - for the new year, for the next moment ... for life.

A sample:

To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to god's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world...
Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule or a source of support in a time of need. Prayer is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.
In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands - a life where we are not ashamed of our weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our clenched fists.

Monday, December 17, 2012

pondering sad news

We have avoided talking to our children about the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut on Friday.  Why not let them remain blissfully unaware as long as possible?  But it can wait no longer.  Tomorrow we all go back to school - I as a teacher, they as students.  Conversations will take place that I'll have no control over.  It must be done.

So, I pondered. 

And then I wrote this... (meant for each, individually)

Hey there,
We had a great weekend, didn’t we? I loved it!
While we’ve been having fun, though, some people who live in Connecticut have been going through a really sad time. See, on Friday morning a young man – 20 years old – walked into an elementary school with several loaded guns. He shot and killed a few adults and lots of children that he didn’t even know. It was horrible. 
You’re probably wondering why anyone would do something like that. That is a very good question. That’s what everyone is wondering. As your parents, we like to give answers for tough questions – or, even better, guide you as you try to find them out for yourself. 
But here’s the thing ... no one knows the answer to that question. Not your Dad. Not me. Not Pastor Nancy. Not even the President!  Yep, he went to Connecticut to try and cheer up the people who are sad, and he said the same thing I’m saying right now:  a horrible thing happened, and we don’t know why.  (personally, I'm most suspicious of those who claim to)
We do know this, though. We know that we need to love one another - really hard and really well - because we ALWAYS get it right when we love each other. What happened is scary, but there is no fear in love.  Love is always right and good and true, so we need to make that our focus. We can’t let the little things that annoy us cause us to treat one another badly. We have to let that stuff go, showing mercy and compassion to one another.  We have to take the time to do and say those things that remind the people around us how much we care.
The only thing that can overcome darkness is LIGHT and the only thing that can overcome evil is LOVE.  You are so loved.  I believe that love - along with every other perfect and beautiful gift - comes from God. Your life is full of God’s grace!
We are sad for the people in Connecticut today – that is right and normal. But we will not let it take away our peace or our joy. We will be heroes today. You can be a hero - TODAY – did you know that?  By taking the grace that’s been given to you, and giving it away to someone else, you can turn that person's entire day around.  In fact, you did that yesterday in church! You made SO MANY people happy with your play and songs. Some of those people were sad just like the people in Connecticut, but you made them happy.  That's hero stuff.
Will you do that today, too? Show love to someone who needs it. Give a smile or a compliment or an offer of help - and don’t worry if they don’t notice or thank you.  It doesn’t matter if they love you back, because you know you’ll get more than you could possibly need back here at home.
God is always with you. Always. And so is my love.
                                                            See you this afternoon,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

pondering gratitude in a not-right world

It's that time of night, where the heat has finally caught up to the chill. I wake to pull off my long-sleeved pajama top, which has become unnecessary, and glance at the clock as I lay back down: 2 AM.

Sleep eludes me. I crawl out of bed, stumble in the dark to dress, and step outside. Here in Gordonsville, Va, where we are enjoying a mini-vacation, the stars shine with brilliance against the truly dark sky of the countryside.  I gaze as long as I can stand the cold, then head back in to the warmth of the cabin.

That's when I remember, with a pang, what my son had said earlier in the day:  "It isn't right".

We were in the historical district of downtown Charlottesville. I'd watched him hand a man a large hot coffee with cream and sugar, pet his dog for a moment, smile and say, "I think he really loves you!", then walk back toward me.  We took a few silent steps together, then he heaved a loud, heavy sigh and exclaimed,

"It isn't right.  It isn't right for him to be out here like that. People shouldn't live outdoors in the cold. People should have homes that are warm, where people love them."

I stopped walking.  My other son, his younger brother - who had been watching and listening, too - stopped, as well.  I looked them both in the eye.

"You're right.  Listen to me:  YOU. ARE. RIGHT.  What you just saw is wrong.  It shouldn't be.  It has to stop, and it's up to YOU (looking at both of them) to stop it."

They both gaped a bit, but I continued,

"Your generation has to fix this. You have to make them care enough to make it right. My generation has a few who care, but most are content so long as it's not them sitting with their back against a cold brick wall.  In fact, if more people sitting out in the cold means they get more stuff, all the better.  It's wrong.  Look at me:  MAKE IT RIGHT!"

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my husband talking to our girls, as well.  The boys' little sisters were getting the same message.

I then comforted my son with information I could only hope was true, that the man would sleep inside tonight.  That people from a shelter or a church would care for him, as our family has done multiple times through Room at the Inn.  But inside I wondered... he didn't look like he'd had a chance to clean up in quite a while.  I doubted he was willing to leave his dog behind, or that shelters allowed him to bring it along.  As I looked back, his dog was licking his face;  I felt sick at the thought of such a choice.

Back in my warm cabin, I think about the man and the coffee and the dog and my son.  I go to the restroom to look in the mirror.  3 AM looks rough on anybody.  I have bags under my eyes, my unwashed hair is matted to my head ... how long would it take for entropy to take over, leaving me indistinguishable from those on the street?



Someone once told me my problem is that I feel guilty for what I have, that I am ashamed of my success and status in the world.  Was he right?  I don't know, maybe.  Is it wrong to feel that way?  I'm not convinced of that, either.  I'd like to think that I'm grateful, but what does that even mean?  Often, when people express gratitude, it sounds a lot like they are saying, "I'm glad someone else is suffering instead of me".  Is it so wrong to feel that none should suffer?  To not be satisfied?  Is that ingratitude?  I hope not.  I don't know...

I think, again, about my son.  It wasn't a question for him.  It wasn't something he was pondering. He'd made a decisive statement,

"It's not right!"

Turning my thoughts back to him brings a hopeful reminder.  I recall how, a couple of years ago, I'd attended the Global Leadership Summit.  What I'd found most inspiring about all the speakers was a central thread each one had in common.  From Cory Booker to Mama Maggie, they'd all expressed some version of the same story:

"My parents worked hard and made sure we had everything we needed.  But with that, they instilled in us a calling, a challenge, a holy duty - that to whom much is given, much is required.  You are blessed, to bless - we have given to you, so that you will go make the world better for others."

And they'd done it.

I crawl back into bed, grateful ... Yes, that I'm not leaning against a cold brick wall.  Yes, that I have a bed to crawl into and someone to share it with.  Yes, that my children are healthy and safe and warm and fed... but also immensely grateful that the challenge is taking root in their souls, and for the hope it brings, that - because of them - the future will be more "right" than the present.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

pondering my words

The last words posted here were my most "successful" yet.

Brian McLaren linked the post.

It was widely shared.

And ... 

I haven't written since.

A month and a half.

No words.


I could say that I'm busy.

That would be true.

I could say that I was wounded.

That is also true.

But maybe 

I'm actually

just afraid.

And so maybe the words I need to say most

Are simply those.

Out loud.


I am still afraid.

I have more to say

More to sing

So much more.

I'm waiting ...




Till the words return.

Friday, August 10, 2012

pondering our evening at the Sikh Gurdwara

From Dare We Hope That All Men be Saved by Hans Urs von Balthasar:
In cases where love prevails, extending directly to one's neighbor and valuing him as one's own self, "one can wish and hope the same thing for another that one desires and hopes for oneself. And as it is the same virtue of love through which one loves God, oneself and one's neighbor, so, too, it is the same virtue of hope through which one hopes for oneself and for the other." (Aquinas) The question that hovers in the background, and remains unstated, is how far this love extends....
Hans-Jurgen Verweyen, in an essay entitled "Das Leben alley als ausserster Horizont der Christologie" (The Life of all as the outermost horizon of Christology"), has at least posed this question. He puts forth this thesis:
"Whoever reckons with the possibility of even only one person's being eternally lost besides himself is unable to love unreservedly." And he stresses here, above all, "The effect of this idea on my practical actions.  It seems to me that just the slightest nagging thought of a final hell for others brings on moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult."
I think Verweyen nails the practical implication of the western church's hell doctrine.  Human togetherness, a brotherhood of man?  Nonexistent.  But oh!  When I followed that tug in my soul, laid my finger upon the invisible thread determined to see where it led... I found myself on the outside of such 'truth', looking back upon it as one who has wiped her eyes from a bleary sleep.  And I can tell you, the light is brighter out here - the air is clearer - and Love is richer.  I can Love my fellow man with no reserve.  I can stand in solidarity with any sufferer, in the Spirit of Jesus Himself who laid down His life "while we were yet sinners". This is sweet fruit.

I recently experienced a practical manifestation of this change in thinking - indeed, in living.  My friend Steve Knight made me aware that our local Sikh community would be holding a vigil and that all were welcome.  All are welcome to any of their services, but this particular evening we were invited to stand with them in solidarity and remembrance of the victims in Wisconsin.

I decided to bring Aaron and Sarah along, while Eric talked to Luke and Mary about it from home.  The time is coming when they will come to things like this with us as well, but their unique challenges require us to take things at a different pace.  Aaron and Sarah were both surprisingly eager - I think it was more curiosity, than anything else.  Sarah's eyes did light up when I told her she'd need a scarf that could be worn as a head covering, "They'll have to help me wrap it right - I want to look like them because I think that will make them feel good."

We enetered the Gurdwara, clearly not knowing what to do, but it was obvious we were not the only visitors.  The gentlemen shooed Aaron off to the men's area where they removed his shoes and assisted him in applying a bandana type of head covering (I hadn't thought about a boy needing one).  As Sarah and I removed our shoes she spoke up, asking an older lady to please help make her scarf look right.  The lady kindly explained that it was called a "choony" and that there was no wrong way, as long as it stays on, while arranging it for her in an attractive way.  We followed her in, and noticed that the men sat on one side and the women on the other- all on the floor.  Aaron bravely took a spot on his own, as Sarah and I took ours.  Before long a lady kindly told us that it is disrespectful to sit with your feet facing the front, that is why they either sit cross-legged or with legs folded to one side.  Sarah thought that was interesting. She continued by saying that even in their homes, they never point their feet toward an elder, out of respect.  Sarah looked at me with large eyes - I too, was surprised. It would take me quite some time to learn to pay attention to which direction my feet were pointing.  But I loved the concept of respect.

As the service began there was a lot of singing, accompanied by two instruments - one a bit like a large accordion, and a drum.  Best we could tell, it was actually one long hymn.  They sang in the Punjabi language, but the English translations were provided on screens via powperpoint.  I wish I could remember all of them, so many were beautiful - but this one stuck in my mind, because Sarah pointed it out:   

 "The clay is the same, but the Fashioner has fashioned it in various ways."

After the singing, a man gave a powerpoint presentation explaining the history of the Sikh faith.  It was both interesting and educational; I found it especially helpful to think about the Sikh faith rising up in India about the same time the Renaissance was taking place in Europe.  It was unheard of in India that a people would live in true equality, but they did - it was daring and new and required a great deal of conviction to live out these "new" values. They have suffered persecution in many ways, often as a result of standing up for others; one guru was tortured to death for demanding the rights of Hindus be protected.

When he finished his presentation, a woman explained that, in conclusion, we would be served the rashad (?) which I can only compare to our communion, but instead of bread and wine, they use pudding.  Yes, pudding!  (I'd love to know why) Aaron received his before we did - he shot me a worried look but I nodded him on to try it.  He took a bite and his face did not show whether he liked it or not, so I was proud.  By the time some was brought to Sarah and I (we were further back than him) I could already see that the "pudding' was more of a warm, wet dough.  As they placed a ball of it in our hands, we smelled it  and thought it smelled a bit like sugar cookie dough, but it tasted much less sweet than you'd expect.  Sarah has massive sensory issues so I was proud she tried it, and that she (too) didn't let her face register whether or not she thought it was particularly good. 

After they shared the rashad (sp?), their sacred book was carried out - on a man's head!  Now, that's not something we've ever seen Pastor Nancy do! All very interesting.

Immediately following the service, we were invited downstairs for a meal. I dismissed the kids to play on the grounds,  where we'd seen a trampoline and an impressive play area complete with rope swings that I'd have tried myself if I hadn't been wearing a dress.  The food was delicious, but I was disappointed when we (the most obvious guests, aka "white") were directed to sit at tables in the courtyard, while the regular members sat on the floor inside. I wanted to sit where they were, but Steve reminded me that we were being given the honored position and we should accept that with humble gratitude.  So, reluctantly, I did.

Following the meal, everyone gathered in front of the temple for the candlelight vigil.  Five girls from their community read aloud a letter written by a 10 year old Sikh girl - "touching" doesn't do it justice.  Then various faith leaders shared words of condolence and comfort - including our own Steve Knight.  He said that as a Christian, his sacred text instructs him to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.  I couldn't think of anything better to say.  He also spoke of the common hopes and dreams we share, for ourselves and for our children; as he choked up over the words, I found myself doing the same.

There are some who would say - no, who do say - that Steve is less christian because of the inter-faith work he does.  I stood there listening, watching - as his children and my children did the same ... and I knew better.  I observed these beautiful people - girls smiling and laughing under their colorful "choonies", toddler-aged boys being chased by men in turbans who were struggling to keep them still and quiet, older women patting my children on the shoulder with sad smiles.  I loved these people.  I'd just met them, and I loved them. 

I had no reason not to.  

I no longer have the nagging whisper inside me, "But the Sikhs who were gunned down in Wisconsin are all in hell right now. Forever."   As long as that whisper lies beneath, it informs all our attitudes and actions.  Only the most heartless dare speak it, but its power still permeates.  Ponder that with me:  the power of unspoken fear.

I haven't been sure, lately, what kind of Christianity I'm bringing my kids up in, or whether I can still call it Christianity at all.  At times the question has kept me up at night.  And while faith should not require sight, mine sometimes does.  So, I'm grateful - grateful that Steve showed us Wednesday night. 

Showed me.

Showed everyone.


Friday, August 3, 2012

pondering Amos with Eugene Peterson

I read the minor prophets when I'm pissed; they affirm my righteous anger and validate my longing for justice, while - at the same time - knocking me flat off my own personal high horse.
Introduction to Amos, from The Message 

More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and power all take a back seat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it.
The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble, and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. They sniff it out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position or power or authority. They aren’t taken in by numbers, size, or appearances of success.
They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God’s name to legitimize their sin.
None of us can be trusted in this business. If we pray and worship God and associate with others who likewise pray and worship God, we absolutely must keep company with these biblical prophets. We are required to submit all our words and acts to their passionate scrutiny to prevent the perversion of our religion into something self-serving. A spiritual life that doesn’t give a large place to the prophet-articulated justice will end up making us worse instead of better, separating us from God’s ways instead of drawing us into them.

excerpts from chapters 5 & 6: 
7-9 Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar
   and stomp righteousness into the mud.
You bully right-living people,
   taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they're down.
 13Justice is a lost cause. Evil is epidemic.
   Decent people throw up their hands.
Protest and rebuke are useless,
   a waste of breath.
 14Seek good and not evil—
   and live!
You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
   being your best friend.
Well, live like it,
   and maybe it will happen.
  21-24"I can't stand your religious meetings.
   I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
   your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
   your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
   When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
   I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
   That's what I want. That's all I want.

 Woe to you who think you live on easy street in ____,
You assume you're at the top of the heap,
   voted the number-one best place to live.
Well, wake up and look around. Get off your pedestal.
The God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks:    "I hate the arrogance of _______."

Monday, July 16, 2012

pondering wild goose: a storm, and justin lee rescues the gospel

I found Aaron and Sarah just as the wind was really picking up.  We made our way to the campsite and got dinner made before the rain rolled in.  Then we relaxed in the tent together, just listening to it fall ... I could have taken a seriously sweet nap, but the kids got bored.  Finally, I decided, "This is dumb - who cares if we get wet?"  So off we went - we found our friends wandering around in the rain, too, so we all enjoyed the relief from the heat. Justin Lee was set to speak at 8:00, and by then the storm had passed over, so I left the kids playing badminton and throwing frisbees as I made my way to his session.

I hadn't met Justin in person, but it felt like I'd known him for months.  It was over a year ago when I first came across his Gay Christian Network and ordered a copy of Through My Eyes (which I highly recommend - if you can't order one of your own, borrow mine!)  Justin and his ministry are right here in NC, so I'd hoped to meet him someday and was especially excited to see that I'd get the chance at Wild Goose.

I'd actually chatted with Justin earlier in the weekend, when I recognized him near the coffee barn.  He'd directed me to the Jericho Books table, where he said I could help myself to an advance copy of his new book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay vs. Christian Debate.  I'd practically skipped over, excited to get my hands on what I was otherwise going to be waiting months for.  I knew from the tone of his blog that his book would be one I'd both learn from and enjoy, and hoped to share with others.  By the time his session began Friday night, I'd already started reading it. 

First though, my raw notes from that evening:
Barna group survey (Unchristian) #1 term to describe Christians is “anti-gay”
- 91% of unchurched, 80% of young Christians
young people leaving church in droves - don’t want to be known for that
Matthew23 (Jesus: woe to you)
educate yourself: know LGBT people, learn language, educate others
if we don’t talk about it we let people who are talking about it run the conversation
Tony Campolo - love the sinner, hate your own sin
**our stories are so much more powerful than our arguments**
(extended question/answer)

Justin spoke with the same tone he's known for in his writing (this particular blog post went viral during the NC Amendment One battle this past spring).  Not at all militant, but not apologetic either – a true peacemaker, which is a hard balance to strike.  Only a person who is both gay and a Christian could pull it off.  Not that he is pulling anything off - he's being who he is, exactly who he is.  In that way, he makes me think of Esther,"for such a time as this":  not a beauty queen (wink), but gifted, bright, articulate, likeable, Christian, brave, and (yes) gay.  It's no surprise to learn that this "calling" is often a burden, however.  In one of his more vulnerable posts, Justin wrote, "I hate being the 'gay Christian' guy. It’s exhausting."

I didn't leave Justin's session surprised - he was exactly what I'd expected, and that was a good thing.  I can say the exact same about his book (which I've finished, by the way). I do see it as a potential game-changer because it's both/and.  Yes, it's his story, and that in and of itself is powerful.  But, because Justin is who he is, Christian faith and the Bible are woven completely throughout that story.  He spends most of the book not convinced, himself, of how to reconcile his sexuality with scripture, so when he finally does gain clarity on that, his explanation doesn't feel as though he is trying to win you over to his interpretation. 

I don't want to spoil the book by sharing too much, but I will lift a few quotes to whet your appetites, here.

"We might just be raising the most anti-Christian generation America has ever seen, a generation that believes they have to choose between being loving and being Christian."

"What kind of ministry takes a person who thinks he has a wonderful relationship with his father and convinces him that he actually has a bad one? This was feeling less and less like the work of God to me....As it was, I was losing my faith.  Not in God, but in ex-gays."

"As the yeast of misinformation has spread throughout the church, it has turned the church not only into the perceived enemy of gays, but into its own worst enemy as well... Better education is the anecdote. One of the most powerful ways of educating people is by sharing our stories."

When people like Justin tell us their stories, they make us all better. 

 The question is,  
are we listening?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

pondering wild goose: interfaith relationships

*if you're following my Wild Goose series, as of this post I'm only to 4:00 Friday afternoon (the festival lasted till late Sunday night) and I have 27 pages of pencil-scribbled notes left.  
the point is, stay tuned - I'm nowhere near done. 

Tim Challies said, "He hates God. Period." Let Us Reason Ministires said, "He has no qualms about using fabrication, exaggeration, disinformation, misrepresentation, vilification, prevarication and even falsification to achieve a complete brainwash in his followers".  Way of Life Literature said, "A good test is to ask Christian leaders what they think of this man...if they refuse to come right out and mark him as a dangerous heretic, they are heretics themselves."  And Apprising Ministiries has a post on their site titled (literally): "BRIAN MCLAREN: SPEAKING FOR SATAN" (capitalization emphasis not mine).  

I don't remember when I first heard of Brian, or from whom.  But I do remember reading A New Kind of Christian covertly, tucked inside a Beth Moore book jacket, after tiring of others' "concern".  I liked that book very much, but I didn't become a 'Brian McLaren junky' by any stretch - the hype surrounding him (both positive and negative) turned me off.  I'm not a band-wagoner.  Now, though, at least in my "circles", the hype is fading - and so, suddenly I find him interesting again. Which obviously says a lot more about me than it does about him.   

 I've already shared about how much I enjoyed Brian leading us daily in morning prayer.  On Friday afternoon I made my way to the Exodus tent after enjoying Open Mic with the kids.  Not only was Brian set to lead a discussion on Interfaith Relationships that I very  much wanted to be a part of, but more importantly,  Steve Knight had arranged for us to publicly wish our friend Bill a happy birthday.  If you know Bill, you also know there was no better time or place to sing him "happy birthday" than under a tent at the Wild Goose Festival, just before a Brian McLaren talk. But I'll write more about Bill and my other dear, goose-y friends later.  For now, interfaith relationships.

Raw notes:
what keeps us apart isn't religious differences but similarities - all share a need for "other" to establish our identity

we do 2 things well: a strong religious identity that is hostile to others OR a weak religious identity that is tolerant of others (doesn't matter which identity)

check out book Who Speaks for Islam (what a billion muslims really think)author thanked him for courage to speak up for peace and for the flack he's taken as a result, said to him, "you are a true Christian"

our greatest enemy is not the other, its one of our own upset at us because we are not hostile enough

why millions migrate out of religion into "spirituality" because looking for group where don't have to hate anybody

third alternative - Christian identity both strong AND benevolent to the other

is that truly in sync or would it be a betrayal of our faith?

why hasn't this manifested?

1. historical challenge
reality: Jesus never killed anybody. said no when disciples wanted to, told them "you do not know what spirit you are of". Peter pulled out sword, Jesus said put it away. got in trouble for including "them". voice from heaven said "listen to HIM".
what happened? history hijacked.
conversion of Constantine - cross with spear in sky, "conquer"
Americas (north & south) - religious genocide
all Muslims and Jews and Native American peoples know our violent history, we need honest reflection

2. doctrinal challenge
we become polite and suppress our beliefs and end up saying nothing. only emphasize similarities. weak.  instead could we rediscover our doctrines in way that promotes benevolence? 

Diane Butler Bass - doctrine from same word as doctor, healing teacher

3. liturgical challenge
when we exclude others from the table (closed communion) it's us vs. them
hymns often use language of "foe"

4. missional challenge
facing problems no one else will face

I'll be honest - I got lax in my note taking once a storm rolled in, because I was worried about Aaron and Sarah.  At the first crack of thunder/bolt of lightening/gust of wind, my attention was diverted to wondering where exactly they were.  At the second, I excused myself in order to find out the answer to that question.  So I missed most of point 3 due to lack of attention, and point 4 to an early exit.

Still, I wanted to write about this issue of interfaith relationships; it's not only a central theme of the Wild Goose movement, it's also one I continue to be brought back to in my own life.  It's not an easy conversation to have, though.  Doctrinally, theologically - things get downright messy and uncomfortable.  Or maybe it just seems that way because we've been conditioned to expect things to be so damned neat and clean.  What if they just aren't, and were never meant to be?

I don't know. 

What I do know is that I will continue to ponder this.  I'll continue to explore books like Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response, and Richard Beck's The Authenticity of Faith (where he explores, among other things, the work of Ernst Becker who noted "...the great tragedy of human existence [is that the]...very things that give our lives meaning--our worldviews--are the very sources of human evil").  I'll read McLaren's Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  when it comes out in September.   I'll continue to have conversations with my atheist friends and my new Buddhist friend and my "secular Jewish" friends and any others willing to engage.  I have much to learn from them, and who knows - maybe they have some things to learn from me, as well?

Most of all, I won't be scared off when critics critique and worriers forewarn.  I can't.  It's like my finger is on a thread they can't see. I have to find out where it leads. 

In closing, I'll share a comment I wrote late last night in response to this question from a self-identifying atheist I got to know when we stood as allies against Amendment One

"For my theist buddies out there:  Isn't your religion tied to your geological location/cultural influences? Each religion with their own God(s), each adamantly devout that what they believe is the one true religion of the world?"

A younger me would have had pat answers for this... and who knows what the older me will have to say about it.  But last night, in the moment, I said this:   

I read Ghandi's autobiography and closed it, then thought to myself, "Wow - this man was raised Hindu because of where he lived. If I'd lived when/where he did, I'm sure I'd have been a wonderful Hindu. And he remained a faithful Hindu, though he went beyond that ... he spoke of "God's grace", same language I use as a Christian. I'm convinced the same Spirit that leads me, led him - to a life of nonviolence, justice, love, patience, and all the beautiful things that I seek as well. And so I thought to myself, maybe this is what Mother Teresa meant when she said, "“We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied." Of course she is criticized for making such a statement and I am criticized for quoting her on it, just as Ghandi was criticized ... and Jesus, for that matter ... all criticized by those easily threatened. I don't know all the theological ramifications of what I'm saying, I just know that I'm more convinced than ever of a simple truth: "God is Love".

I won't lie - it feels uncomfortable, leaving those words just hanging out there like that.  Incomplete, imperfect, open to a variety of interpretations and misinterpretations.  But I'll let them hang ...because, I'm thinking, that's what it means to really write.  

Finally, on a lighter note - and because some of you are dying to know - Brian does NOT have horns or a tail, and I never once saw him with a pitchfork, but we were on a farm so one never knows.  In all seriousness, I found him to be disarmingly unassuming, surprisingly musical, unsurprisingly smart, consistently considerate, handsome (I have a thing for bald guys with nice heads) and (sorry, Brian) not especially funny. I enjoyed him very much, and I look forward to sharing, later, what I learned from the time he spent with us in the youth tent Saturday afternoon.

*next up: a storm, and Justin Lee rescues the gospel :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

pondering wild goslings: open mic at the youth tent

As Ian Cron was wrapping up his talk on Post-cynical Christianity, a volunteer took the mic to inform us that radar indicated a storm system was rolling in.  By this point it was nearly 100 degrees and miserably muggy, so the threat of rain was more than welcome.  But we'd left the rain fly off our tent for better circulation, so I ran off to take care of that while my friend Meredith made her way to the youth tent; our girls were participating in the Open Mic session, set to begin there any minute.  I got the fly on and secured our things as quickly I could, desperate not to miss their big debut.

Sarah as back-up dancer
I made it just in time!

I honestly can't even remember what they sang (I think it was Firework?) but I do remember how happy it made me, to see all the kids bravely taking the stage to share their passions/talents.  They were celebrating themselves and one another, and that made me smile.

We'd given up a lot this past year, in some ways, when we made the choice to move on from a church we'd enjoyed for almost a decade.  Opportunities like this were numerous there - and while they aren't the most important thing, they are something.  The church where we worship now is rich in many other ways, but there have been times when (whether it makes sense or not), I've felt sad.  So, seeing these kids cut loose and perform for one another in the youth tent was like a little gift wrapped in a bow.  If nothing else (and I do believe there will be "something else's") but, IF nothing else, once a year we will gather with other wild geese and goslings .... they will spend as much concentrated time with like-minded friends and mentors across the span of 4 days as many a Sunday-morning or Wednesday-night, combined... and it will mean something.  A great deal of somethings, I'd venture.

If you'd told me my son Aaron would also grace the Open Mic stage, I'd have responded with a chuckle and a "Yeah, right."  There was a time when he would ham it up with the best of them, but the past couple of years he's become a genuine "tween", cautiously navigating that thin line between childlike and mature, carefree and cool.  As much as I'd love for him to remain inhibition-free, I know this is a necessary process - one I'll be happy to see him reach the other side of.  So, when he told me he'd signed up for the next day's Open Mic I stifled my surprise and excitement (for his benefit). I simply smiled and asked, "Can I watch?"  He pursed his lips and nodded.

The sign up sheet read, "Aaron McConnell - Funny stories".  I'm not sure there is an anxiety to be compared with waiting for your almost-12-year-old son to try being funny in front of a bunch of kids who are older than he is.  I thought I might be sick (but it could have been the heat).  I smiled a confident smile as he situated himself on the stool, adjusted the mic, and began.  I held my breath ... told myself that these were good kids, no matter what it would be okay ... but he was a hit!  He picked stories he'd practiced on us before, that have gone over well (as any comedian-in-training knows, many don't!)  He got lots of smiles, a modest applause, and one of the older teenage girls asked him if he planned to go into stand-up.  He just smiled that crooked, shy smile that I find especially winsome.  And with that, my no-longer-a-gosling-not-quite-a-gander added a few credits to his confidence account.  

Later, I'll share about the time Brian McLaren spent talking with us in the youth tent.  I learned a lot.  Aaron fell asleep. :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

pondering wild goose: Ian Cron and post-cynical christianity

It couldn't have been a coincidence that "Wonder for Cynics" at 1:00 was immediately followed by "Post Cyncial Christianity" at 2:00.  I wonder how many of us walked straight from The Exodus tent to The Shadow tent Friday afternoon?

I can hear some of you who know me, wondering: "What's with all the focus on cynicism, Michelle? You don't come across that way. Is there something you're not telling us?"

Well... yeah, I guess so.  It turns out the natural tendency (temptation?) for someone who makes a major shift of any kind, spiritually  or politically (or any other "ly") is cynicism.  I have fought it both within (my own soul needs no help with this) and without (many speak as if it's their mother tongue).  I fight to maintain an attitude of hope, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to walk my own journey with inward peace ... but that fight has left me weary, at times.  And as everyone knows, temptations are far more tempting when we're tired.

So yes, I confess - I've been tired lately.  Which meant anytime I saw the word "cynic" on the schedule, I was there... because I knew I needed to be.  And I wasn't disappointed.

I had to run the kids to their tent, first, where I ran into my friend Meredith.  She agreed a talk with "post-cynical" in the title sounded like something she wanted to be a part of, too, so she came along.  But she knew something I didn't: the speaker, Ian Cron (whose name I didn't think I recognized) is an author.  She was describing his book, when I suddenly realized, "Wait - I read that book, too! I love that book! Oh!...."  ( wave of realization).  Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me: A Memoir... of Sorts is a great read.  In fact, I remember reading it thinking, "I'd like to write a book like this one day" - smart, compelling, inspiring.  Check it out.

 Here are my raw notes from the talk.  You can actually listen to Ian recap his Wild Goose experience, and this topic, here (recommended!)

grief and rage following painful church experience (Episcopalian priest)

moved family to Nashville to reboot - thought would be safe - found it to be most religiously cynical place EVER "people are f*ing pissed in Nashville"

same old narrative: "church sucks, but we love Jesus" - cynicism contagious - running negative editorial in mind

it's in vogue to be self-loathing Christians situated on the fringe of established church

Andrew Byers quote "the edgy spirituality of the jaded"

the event that seeded our cynicism really hurt like hell - whether one event or 1,000 little robberies

"we" reject the fear based spirit of anti-intellectualism, "they" protect their certainty with rage & anger

on receiving end of that when perceived as a threat - it hurts!

there's nothing like religious wounding

realized some things about himself over time:
1. I wasn't enlightened, I'd just become a jerk.
2. Cynicism masks laziness. I didn't want to "be the change", I just wanted to bitch about it.
3. Cynicism is freaking delicious. 

decided he must CHANGE - couldn't stand himself anymore - wanted to live as a resurrection person

answer: realistic hopefulness

open-hearted vs a defended heart (pusila anime, "closed soul")

in curvitas se - turned in on oneself, ugly

to live with undefended heart is to live like Jesus, with potential for more joy AND more pain than ever known

Dan Allender: "You cannot hope if you cannot grieve" (work through grief)

you have more to offer the world than your smirk!

Brown quote: "owning our stories and loving ourselves in the process is the bravest thing we'll ever do"

read The Reluctant Saint (on Francis)

need compassionate clear-eyed open heartedness to prophetically critique the situation of the church

don't criticize, just do it better! (Francis of Assisi)

let my LIFE ... BE... a prophetic critique

I don't feel the need to elaborate much, here.  I am grateful Ian shared his story, and that he confessed to us as he did.  I've not experienced anything like the pain he experienced from "church" - if anything, I've been a "victim" of "1,000 little robberies" over the course of my life-of-faith.  But I have tasted the succulent sweetness of cynicism.  Ian reminded me (comparison mine) that it can be like Edmund's Turkish Delight - one bite and all you want is more (especially when it leaves you feeling smart and superior).  But it's ugly, and it makes me ugly.  It makes us ugly.  "Justified" or not, there's a better way.

We do have more to offer the world than our smirk. 
Ghandi was right, "Be the change!"  
Francis of Assisi was right, "Just do it better!"
And Ian is right, "Let my life... BE... a prophetic critique".


Sunday, July 1, 2012

pondering wild goose: frank schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer is a name I’m well familiar with - not only from my years growing up as a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church and a graduate of both Lynchburg (now Liberty) Christian Academy and Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's, for those that don't know).  His influence was even more prominent at the Calvinist, Reformed Baptist church my husband and I attended for several years as a young married couple.  Frank is his son, and he's become famous (or infamous) in his own right:  to conservatives, he's considered a traitor - to progressives, a bit of a hero.  But it turns out, he's just a man - a husband, father, and grandather who writes for the Huffington Post from time to time and has several books out (Patience with God was especially good).  He is one of many post-evangelical, post-religious-right, next-generation voices that I find (whether I agree with them or not) that I can relate to, given our shared background.  Jay Bakker is another.  Frank's tone hasn't always been what I’d call kind, but I must admit there's a certain appeal to someone who shoots straight and doesn't leave you wondering what he really thinks.

Frank Schaeffer, Wonder for Cynics
I’d only highlighted a few sessions in my copy of the Wild Goose schedule, ones I intended to make certain not to miss: Friday afternoon's "Wonder For Cynics with Frank Schaeffer" at 1:00 was one of them.  The kids and I shared lunch at the campsite, then hurried back to catch his talk. The youth/kids activities didn't pick up again until 2, so I tried to play it off positive: "You can rest in the shade with your hand-held fans while I listen".  They were less than enthused.  Still, Frank's dynamic style held their interest, and his occasional use of four-letter-words kept their ears perked.  He even made them laugh out loud a few times!

As we arrived , Frank was passionately recommending the movie Hellbound, which many had seen in a premiere screening the night before; unfortunately, I missed it (by the time it started at 11, we were sound asleep).  It comes out officially this fall, and Frank seems to think it will be a “game changer”. I’d like to hope it will help open honest conversation on the matter, but I admit I’m pretty jaded.  Love Wins by Rob Bell had great potential for opening up conversation, too.  That’s not exactly what happened, though - most folks responded by retreating further into their prospective corners.  Maybe he’s right, though ... maybe this time it will be different.

For those who watched that preview and are still willing to read further :) I’ll share the raw version of my notes from Frank’s talk before elaborating further.  He reviewed his background, then explained that he now worships at an Orthodox Church with his family, including grandaughter Lucy.  Much of his talk had to do with her - so much so that, after praising President Obama for a bit, he joked, "Now, you may ask, what - is he God? No, of course not! He's not even Lucy!"


exile, experience of leaving – get to other side – but what’s next?

what comes after cynicism?

true understanding of GRACE

talking to his granddaughter = talking to Jesus

“words that now have greatest spiritual impact on my life are words of love from family”

recalls weight of doubt - Christopher Hitchens asked, “But why aren’t you an atheist?”

book Patience with God

child looking on you with love is the face of God: sees you as you wish you were, doesn’t know your history (or care to know)

unconditional love

intersection between faith and doubt for burnt out cynics is LOVE

for him now, comfort doesn’t come from a book, comes from love every day right in front of me

seems oversimplified

what’s left? pass on compassion

granddaughter Lucy “Are you upset with me?” “No, there’s nothing I love more in the world than you”

kind word to stranger could literally save their life

science tells us energy came before matter – that energy is LOVE – that energy is GOD

Lucy healed him to where he’ll now give a clear cut answer after years of mistrust – she asked “who made the rock?” and without blinking he said “God did”

“someday I want her to come to a kind of faith like this" – "let’s fight for the witness of the gospel”

when in season of doubt, ideas will not save you, you’ll never figure it out – love someone unconditionally, let them love you unconditionally, show compassion for all, treat someone with decency and you will feel decent

As I copy the above words from pencil-scribble-in-a-notebook to official-looking-type, I feel a familiar sensation.  Anxiety whispers, “this is heresy”.  But here’s the thing about Frank – he’s not afraid of heresy anymore, he's too invested in what has real value.  He has nothing left to lose, and nothing more to prove - not to himself or anyone else.  He doesn’t feel the need to make the words sound “correct” or “safe”. 

Now, me - I could rewrite every phrase above in “Christianese”, then support each one with proof texts.  They’d say pretty much the same things, but sound more acceptable - less risky.  But I’m not going to do that, and I’m glad Frank doesn’t.  Because someone else refused to play that game.  He spoke so plainly, with words so true but so shockingly human that the religious leaders literally tore their clothes in response.  We don’t talk about faith that way anymore, most of us.

Is Frank Jesus?  Not hardly.  But I liked the earthiness with which he spoke.  Thirty years away from evangelicalism have clearly freed him from the need to filter every word phrase through a mental doctrine-detector before uttering them.  This realization, on my part, was probably the biggest take-away from his session:  I gained a fresh appreciation for courageous clarity, along with a determination to develop more of the same in my own words, whether spoken or captured in print.

Frank in the dunk tank
Frank also said that last year’s Wild Goose sent him home a kinder, gentler man.  This made me smile. I’d never met the young right wing evangelical poster-boy Frank, or the cynical reactionary Frank who came later.  But I have met the “kinder, gentler” Frank.  We walked together for a bit, sharing a private conversation which I enjoyed immensely.  Tiny things, from his concern that I not be run off the road by a passing golf cart, to his genuine interest in each of my children, to his intense attention for the details of my own story, impressed upon me the beauty of a life lived (as Richard Beck describes) ex curvitas se, outward toward others.  And that's sweet fruit, if you ask me.

I left touched by the (yes) miraculous, healing power of experiencing the gospel of grace - minus its false baggage – amongst a community of bravely honest people.  It's changing Frank.  It’s changing many of us Wild Geese.  And that is why we cannot shrink back when others warn “heresy!”  What's at stake is worth the risk. There exists a pearl of great price… a Kingdom not built with human hands, where Justice and Peace kiss and Love does indeed win.  We’ve caught a glimpse of it, and we’ll not be the same.

The Spirit of Wonder still woos the most jaded of cynics.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

pondering wild goose: sustainable communities

The Wild Goose schedule works like this - every hour there are up to 8 things going on at one time, at various venues throughout the property.  Inevitably, there are time slots where nothing grabs you and others where you desperately want to be in two places at once.

Wild Goose kids' tent
Friday, following morning prayer, I dropped Aaron & Sarah off at the kids' tent (which, by the way, was awesome!) then had a long conversation with a young woman who works with people who have autism.  Her point of view gave me hope that faith communities are beginning to "get" the absolute necessity of embracing neurodiversity.  Our talk meant that I walked into the session on Sustainable Communities a bit late.

I was stand-off-ish about this session.  I live in a big house in the suburbs; I'm not Shane Claibourne by any stretch of the imagination.  But Tom Sine and Matt Pritchard weren't asking us to leave their tent and "sell all we have to the poor" (not immediately, anyway).  They took turns describing various intentional communities in existence right now across the country, which I found interesting.

My scattered notes:

look up "peace church theology" (Mennonites)

the future is changing - re-imagine an economy more festive & celebrated that costs less

school loans & house in suburbs grossly high percentage income, keep us from doing good we long to do in world

book The New Conspirators 

nothing in scripture says work 40 hours a week invented in Denmark 50 years ago - look up

cross race, class, culture, intergenerational

mustard seed village - look up

you can live together without living off each other

if you can't sell your house open it up to community, transitional people/families, etc

series on NPR family matters - look up

So... what?  Here's where I've come to, so far, as I reflect on what I learned.

I do want to look up the various terms and books listed above.  I feel ill informed on this topic and it overwhelms me, somewhat, like I'm in a class I missed the prerequisites for ... but I am genuinely interested.  As a family of 6, it's not realistic for us to consider any major changes, but I do want us to be open to inviting others into our home. I believe that will happen more over the years, but frankly, right now, the one we have welcomed is still adjusting in many ways, so I feel no pressure to make any sudden changes, that way.  The one point I do want to take action on is figuring out the garden thing - either planting fruit bushes in our own yard, or joining in a community garden at a separate, nearby site.  This is something I know nothing about, but I have green-thumbed friends. It's time to learn.

What I really took away from this session has more to do with how we advise the kids, as they are growing up and planning their futures. Right now they are 13, 11, 10, and 8 - middle school is here, high school right around the corner.  What will their goals look like?  Are school loans worth it? Is college the only option, or even the best option, for all kids?  Will they follow their passions or accept a job that "pays well"?  Must the two be mutually exclusive?  As they enter adulthood, how can they make conscious choices that ensure they remain free - free to live lives that both make them happy, and do the most good in this world?

I came away with a fresh sense that kids approaching college and adulthood have options, many of them radically counter-cultural.  Some look at the future with doom and gloom because the unsustainable bubble of Western prosperity is bursting, but we need not view things that way.  I am hopeful that the next generation can avoid the trappings and mistakes ours has made - that they can be much, much happier with less.  If so, they will be better for it, and so will the world.

I can't say what the future looks like for my kids and their families, but I'm excited for them....  I really am.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

pondering the wild goose: morning prayer

Mornings at the Wild Goose Festival were wonderful. As I'd open my eyes to the sun peeking through the trees, one or both of the children would be staring at me, silently - watching me sleep. Which I found touching, considering how many times I've done the same with them.  One of the beauties of camping.

One morning little Molly came over to visit during breakfast. Another, I chatted with tent-neighbors Margie and Allana, young 20-somethings who had driven down from New Jersey.  And another, I was invited over to chat with tent-neighbors Jack and Carol, a delightful couple of my parents' generation who had come up from Georgia.  But I always excused myself in time to make it to morning prayer.

At 9 am Brian McLaren greeted those of us who staggered in, coffee in hand, not quite recovered from too-late talking or singing or dancing the night before.  Each day it was the same; he began by having us sing this song, which we'd start in a low key, then inch it up and up until we were singing it high and loud.  It really was beautiful.

Then someone else would lead us in this prayer, in a read/response fashion:

 Almighty God, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Someone would then read to us about a martyr - I specifically remember Martin Bishop of Tours and Hildegard. Inspiring stories of service and sacrifice.

Then Brian led us in singing the Lord's Prayer a new way.  First, though, we were invited to be fully present.  Remove your shoes.  Feel the grass.  Hear the birds.  Pray with your eyes OPEN. 

Then Pam Wilhelms led us in portions of the prayer from St. Patrick - each morning we added a bit more.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

At this point, we were asked to form groups of 6 or so.  We were given a passage of scripture and instructed that one person should read it aloud, then we sit in silence.  Someone else should read it aloud, then we sit in silence.  Finally, someone else read it aloud, then sit in silence.

Then we were invited to discuss the passage.  It was very good for me to hear others' perspectives, especially since Brian had not given us easy passages to discuss (one morning our reading was Psalm 137).

What really stuck with me though, was that each morning I met new people.  I remember the 3 fresh-faced college boys who came together, the couple who run a farm outside of Danville, VA, the young woman who is writing her dissertation for seminary on The Theology of Autism, the young man who I could tell just needed a hug so I asked if I could give him one and tears filled his eyes as he said "yes, please" (later, I saw him laughing as he danced it up during the parade), and the couple who met in AA, were recently married, and have started a ministry of their own in Tennessee.  I remember them - and they remember me.

Following group time, we were invited to stand and recite the prayer of Francis (which I can't say without hearing The Brilliance in my head)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

And finally, in closing, we clasped hands and sang Brian's song, from Teresa of Avila

I am grateful to Brian for sharing this time with us each day, and for inspiring me to use many of these tools here at home with our family and with other groups I may be given to lead.  So simple, so worshipful, so inspiring...

Morning prayer was like fresh wind blowing over the embers of my heart.

(next up, I reflect on my notes from the session on Sustainable Communities)