05 March 2014

Letting My Heart Break: A Lenten Journey

I've been thinking for days about my own Lenten journey this year.
I decided not to "give up" something - a food or sweet drinks or gum or anything.
Because in years past that discipline has just served to remind me of my own weaknesses.
I realize that is part of the point of Lent, but it has never taught me anything I didn't already know about myself.

I know I am weak.
I know I lack discipline.
I know I often cave to the desire of the moment.

I thought about writing daily, but I lack discipline and I know it will likely fall to the wayside when I start traveling and get busy.

I thought about committing to do something new for 40 days - an experiment I wouldn't normally undertake.

But none of those things got to the heart of what I most need right now.

It's been a rough year for me and an even harder winter.
The anxiety and stress of my life have raged in my body with an intensity I've never known before now.
Some days I have struggled to get out of my bed.
Many days I have appeared to be just fine but inside my heart was rolling in anxiety and turmoil, my mind littered with fear.

And then this.

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated to go.


My beloved husband posted the entirety of the blessing on his facebook page today.
But it was at line 5 that the tears began.

This is what I need:
To let my heart fall apart.

To stop "being strong."
To stop "managing the disease."
To stop trying to hold it all together with the finest thread.

I need to let it all fall to pieces around me.
I need to find God in that brokenness and begin again.

Inside the walls of my heart - the walls I have fortified so tightly around myself to protect me from my deepest fears - inside those walls is the life I want.  But without the broken open places I'll never find it again.

The blessing continues:
Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you

to the One who waits
who watches
who works within the rending
to make your heart

 ~ Jan L. Richardson

This will be my season.
This will be my 40 days of wandering.
Wandering through the darkest, scariest places of my heart.
Wandering in the wilderness I've let grow up.
I will trust the brokenness can be healed.
I will allow the tears to fall because I know the One who gathers them.

And at the end 
- at the end of the wandering 
and the breaking and the rending and the tears -  
will be a glorious Resurrection!


02 January 2014

A white woman raising a little white girl

Watch this before you go any further.

How do I help my little white girl find an end to this problem?

Because I'm a white woman.
I have a little white girl.

And I don't know how to make this stop.

I desperately want little black boys not to have to live like this.  It's not fair.  I don't want parents of any color to have to tell their children of any color to be careful around police.  Police are helpers.  Unless you're a black teenage boy in the wrong neighborhood.

That makes me sad.
And angry.

I long for justice.
I long for a country where kids grow up feeling safe.
I long for a day when parents don't have to have "the talk" with their kids about being more respectful than "other" kids.

We can do better.
I want to help.

But how?

What do I do?
If I'm not raising a little black boy and I'm not a police officer, how do I help?

Your thoughts?
Particularly if you ARE raising a boy of color, I want to hear from you about how my little corner of this world can be safer for your son.

04 December 2013

Why Black Friday Shopping Doesn't Make Me Less of a Christian

It's a tradition in my family.
Black Friday.

It's not something we do casually; we have a very serious plan about the whole thing.

Every year, before Thanksgiving lunch, we sit down with the ads.  We gather together and talk about what we see that we like, what we want to buy, where we need to go, and what our kids would like as gifts.  This year there were 6 of us gathered around that table.  We spent our time together laughing at the ridiculous, oooohing over the "must haves", and sharing stories of our lives together.  It's one of my favorite hours of the year.

When the time comes to shop, we do it together.  We stand in line together, we team up to help one another get the items we want, we eat together, laugh together, and tolerate one another's idiosyncrasies.  It doesn't get much more "family" than that.

I'm tired of people telling me that my family's traditions are bad.
I'm tired of Christians railing against Black Friday as if it's what's wrong with our world.
I'm tired of being told that I'm partially to blame for the commercialism that Christmas has become.

Black Friday is a special holiday for me, just like any other, and here's why.

I've already told you that it's family time for me.  There are very few things that a 17 year old girl, a 22 year old young man, and a 60-something woman can do together and enjoy.  But we do.  Even the young kids who don't go with us enjoy looking over the ads and telling us about their Christmas wishes.  In a family the size of mine - where we don't even fit at 2 tables, let alone 1 - nothing will be appealing to the whole group.  But this activity is as close as we come!

It's also about the crowds.
Yes, for me it's about the crowds in a good way.
One day a year I have a chance to talk to total strangers about their families and my own.
Every single year I come out of those stores with stories about people I met while standing in a line.
I share my life with these strangers for a few hours a year.
And I am always, always kind!
You know what else?
Most everyone else is too.
It's common for the news to feature the stories of people trampled or shot or otherwise injured in the chaos, and that does happen.  But the reality is that for most of the country, Black Friday is just a fun time.  I think I counted 3 or 4 incidents that appeared on the news this year; that quantity happens every day - we just don't hear about it if it's not in our town.

And here's the part that really gets me.
Please stop telling me that I'm making Christmas more chaotic and missing the point of the holiday by being out in "that mess."
Because by the first day of Advent, my holiday shopping was finished except for 1 gift card still to be purchased.
I choose to do my Christmas shopping early exactly because of the chaos.
I like the fact that we're not even to the 2nd Sunday of Advent and my gifts are purchased, wrapped, and ready to go.  I have weeks to enjoy the peace of the season when all of the shopping is finished.  I don't sit in worship distracted by thoughts of what I still need to do.  I sit in worship and wait - wait for the Christ child.  I have time to slow down and enjoy the mystery and miracle of the season because I put all of my "hustle and bustle" into one evening.

"But what about the people forced to work in that mess?!"
Chris worked retail on Black Friday a few years ago.  He was home alone for the holiday and had nothing else to do, anyway.  It was an exhausting night, but he didn't mind the hours of work.  For many families, the holiday pay is what makes Christmas affordable.  I do wish there were a way to make working that day optional, but I also recognize that these employees are getting other time off somewhere to "make up" for the hours (because we all know that the mega-chains aren't paying people overtime!).  40 hours is 40 hours.

It's fine with me if you don't want to shop on Black Friday or "Brown Thursday" as my family took to calling it.  It's fine with me if you choose to have no gifts or homemade gifts or only shop online this year.  It's your choice how you spend your time and your money.  But it's also mine. 

I choose to shop Black Friday because it's a family tradition that allows me to finish shopping early so I can enjoy the season.  I choose to shop because I love to spend that time with my family.  I choose to be among the crowds because I believe that people are inherently good.

Shopping on Black Friday does not make me a heartless consumer.  Black Friday shopping doesn't mean I'm missing the point of the Christmas season.  It makes me attentive.  Attentive to my own family, attentive to the world around me, attentive to our resources, and attentive to the bigger mystery of the season.

I love it.

21 November 2013

Singing with Julie

I needed Julie's words this week.
I needed to hear her - always faithful, always optimistic about the world.
I needed to be reminded of one of my favorite hymns, lyrically speaking.

I live in a world of mental chaos.
My brain never turns off
       not when I watch tv,
       not when I surf facebook,
       not when I read,
       not even when I sleep.
It's not uncommon for me to wake up in the midst of a panic attack at this point in my life.

When you live like this, it's hard sometimes to find the good in the world.
It's hard to feel like there will ever be a day when I'll be able to breathe peacefully without measuring my breath.
I know it will happen; it has happened before.
We'll get to the bottom of this.
I'm privileged to have good insurance, good doctors, good (?) medications, and an amazing support network of family and friends.
I'm not depressed, I'm not angry.
I'm just exhausted.

That's where I live.

Which is why I need a dear friend like Julie.
I need her to remind me that even as we grieve that which is wrong and broken and distorted in our world, that love divine is reigning over us (Julie, that's my favorite line!).

Love divine is reigning over us.

We do everything we can to thwart that reigning love!
Oh how we try to get out from under it!
But the problem with trying to overthrow a reign of love is that it's just not possible.

Nothing is as strong as love.
Not darkness.
Not evil.
Not heartbreak.

No matter how hard I try, the God who loves me with that all-consuming, unfailing love

And that means that in the end, I win.

So, Julie, like you I choose to live into this.

Ever singing, move we onward
Victors in the midst of strife....

I will keep singing.
On the days it's hard to get out of bed.
On the days when I find a little peace.

I will keep singing, keep moving myself toward that divine love.
Because even in the midst of the turmoil, I've already won.
Love divine holds me.
Love divine suffers with me.
Love divine continues to walk me through this valley.

And love will do the same for you, my friend.
Let's keep singing this gorgeous triumphant song of life!

16 November 2013

For Everything a Season

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Lexington Theological Seminary said goodbye to her 631 S. Limestone home yesterday, the place we've lived and moved and had our being for 63 years.  Wearing the robe of a pastor and the hood of an academic, I worshiped the God who has been with us in every stage of this journey.  For nearly 150 years.  In multiple campus homes.  And now in churches and homes across the world.  The move to a new address is a move in the same way a family experiences a move.

This is our first house.
This is the house where we brought our children home.
This is the house where we first met our grandchildren.

But the walls don't hold the memories; our hearts and minds do.

I didn't expect to be moved by yesterday's service.
This isn't my alma mater.
I've only worked here a few years.
Students have never roamed these halls daily for me.
I've never collaborated on a project in the library.
I've never had a life-changing holy moment in worship here.

I love Lexington, but it's not the only home I've known like it is for some.  For most of the service I was a compassionate observer for those who will mourn the loss of this physical sacred space.

And then it happened.

Right in the middle of the last hymn to be sung in Sanders Chapel, the organ stopped suddenly. 

It just quit.

The congregation sang,
Lord you call us to your service: "In my name baptize and teach."
That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each,
(this is where it quit)
give us all new fervor, draw us closer in community.
With the Spirit's gifts empower us for the work of ministry.

And the gathered body kept singing.

Lord, you show us love's true measure; "Father what they do forgive."
Yet we hoard as private treasure all that you so freely give.
May your care and mercy lead us to a just society.
With the Spirit's gifts empower us for the work of ministry.

Lord, you bless with words assuring: "I am with you to the end."
Faith and hope and love restoring, may we serve as you intend
and, amid the cares that claim us, hold in mind eternity.
With the Spirit's gifts empower us for the work of ministry."

It was as if the organ was the literal instrument of God at the moment - a reminder that God had provided this treasured place and God will be with us to the very end, amid the aching of our hearts and the fear of the future.

The organ at 631 has served it's time.
The walls have been the safe haven for study, prayer, worship, and love.
The grounds and apartments and tables have served us well.

But God does not abide at 631.
Nor does LTS.

Lexington Theological Seminary is alive and well in Lexington.
And in Iowa.
And in Florida.
And Brooklyn.
And Israel.

The classrooms have gotten bigger than Dr. Bell could ever have imagined in his days as President of our beloved institution.

As he spoke yesterday, he reminded us that we have always been a people on the move and that God has created sacred space in every place we've been.  God will be just as present in our new home as God has been in this one.

When the body of students gathers for worship in our new home, there will not be an organ.

But there will be a Tom Teater.
And a President Gillett.
And a Dr. Askew with her gorgeous violin.
And a communion table.
And a spoken word.
And a family of prayer, worship and study that is the family of Lexington Theological Seminary.

Buildings don't last forever and the campus at 631 has served its time.
For everything there is a season.
This is a time to plant anew.
For the work of ministry.