Wednesday, February 1, 2017

With my Nose to the Gravel...

"Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, 'Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. No appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.' But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us,' And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them...'"
 (1 Samuel 8:4-7, ESV)

I've been rereading my Bible. Each year I try to spice up my quiet times with something new and this year I decided that I would start in Genesis and read till Revelation. I would read scripture like the story it is. That means I keep reading until a particular thread is finished. I sit and read all through the story of Noah- ignoring the chapter numbers, that usually have me pausing. Ironically, throughout this election cycle I've been making my way through the stories of Israel's kings.

So my life was saturated with two narratives- one, was all about the battle between one ego-driven, sexist businessman and the corrupt, Lady Macbeth politician and one was the narrative of God's people who demanded a king and began generations of sometimes great and sometimes awful empires. This is how I spent my summer, my fall, and my winter.

God was telling me something, but I am a slow learner, a very slow learner.

This morning I was reading about Manasseh and the roller coaster ride that was his reign in Judah and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I've been asking all the wrong questions. I've been wringing my hands about the state of my country, the state of my friends and family, the state of my news feed. I've worried, debated, argued, and avoided. I've asked questions and tried to engage well. I've done all those things we do when we are participating in the process. And that's great- I guess. Except, I think I forgot something.

I forgot that there's a reason Israel kept having to tear down the altars of idols from the high places. They were asking the wrong questions too. They were wringing their hands about the state of their people, the state of their friends and family, the content of conversation by the temple gates (well, once a temple existed). They worried, debated, argued, and avoided. They asked questions and tried to engage well. They did all the things you do when participating in the process. Except for them- the process was the idol of Baal or some other foreign god. Me? My idol has become the belief that politics, politicians, and the "process" is the empire that saves us.

I forgot that there is only one King I bow to and he doesn't live in a white house or have a podcast. He isn't a liberal or a conservative. The King I bow to doesn't give me easy answers or easy outs. He calls me to action- that's for sure. He calls me to participate. But He also calls me to remember who it is I worship. I've been forgetting. I didn't mean to, but somewhere between Presidential debates and Buzzfeed articles I forgot.

I don't write this as a judgement to my community or as a way to say that we shouldn't be participating in what's going on in our world. I write it, because I need the reminder- in black and white, that God is King. That Christ is the only savior and that no matter who sits in power, one day their empire crumbles and all knees bow before the glory of the Almighty. It helps me keep perspective and it helps to remind me that my King calls me to grace, compassion, and kindness. He calls me to love. He calls me to seek out the other and to welcome the stranger. Those sound nice and they might look pretty if someone stitched them on a pillow, but I know that those are deeply sacred, deeply difficult calls to action.

I hope I have the courage for them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


In the bible there's a story about a guy named Abraham. God makes a promise to Abraham and calls him out into the unknown. On that adventure Abraham spends a lot of time failing. It seems like every few steps Abraham is lying about something or doing something he wasn't supposed to. Abraham just keeps trying and hoping and believing. Years go by and God's promise must seem long forgotten.

I have always resonated with this story. I have always felt this tug on my heart, I have always felt like God was promising me something- calling me to adventure, but I couldn't quite figure out what the adventure was and there were so many days when the promise seemed to be nothing more than a whispered hope. My students ask me sometimes what it looks like to trust a God who they can't see and I've never really had a good answer for that- at least not an answer that satisfies them. But tonight as I think about my whispered promise and Abraham, I think I have an answer...

When I was five I made a decision that would change my whole life: I decided that I wanted to know God. Sometimes when we're young we make choices that our older, more cynical selves wouldn't articulate. So I decided I believed in God and that I loved him and the steps after that were just attempts at faithfulness. When I was eighteen I made another decision, I decided to go to Africa. While I was there I heard this Voice. I didn't quite recognize the Voice because it was quieter and louder and smaller and bigger than anything I'd heard before. But the Voice seemed to be calling my name. And so, at eighteen I decided to follow the Voice- wherever it called. The steps after that were just attempts at faithfulness. When I was 29 I made another decision, I decided to go to seminary. While I was there my mind opened wide. I learned new things and I learned new ways to look at old things. I worked hard and I believed that even in the moments when all seemed lost, God was leading me somewhere. The steps after that were just attempts at faithfulness.

At 32 I will spend Sunday being installed as a new Pastor. A lifetime of attempts at faithfulness has led me to a calling that I will spend my whole existence being grateful for. I listened to the Voice, even when it was hard, even when it led me to scary and new places, even when it felt as if the Voice had forgotten the long ago promises. I just trusted. I put one foot in front of the other, I failed- regularly, and I kept walking. On Sunday I will step into the sanctuary that has always been home to me and I will stand before my church and I will promise to keep listening to the Voice, to keep trying to be faithful. I will promise them that no matter what I do not belong to myself for I have always been and will always be the Lord's.

This, I think is that it looks like to trust a God you can't see. It means letting go, it means really believing that what you want is never as important as what He wants, and it means allowing yourself to hold onto the promise that He made.

In so many ways Sunday will be a big and important day, but it is also just another day that I get to attempt faithfulness. Thank God for that.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Currently Reading...

Over the last week I have had four friends ask me for a list of the books I'm currently reading (or recently finished). So, I thought I'd post it here. If you're looking for books to read, look no further! I'm only going to post books that I am reading/have read of my own volition. No school books here although that list would be really good so perhaps I have a future blog subject in my hands.

Currently Reading:
These are the books that are stacked on my nightstand. I don't really have opinions formed about these books yet because I'm not done with them. 
1. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
2. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcom X and Alex Haley
3. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
4. Golden Son, by Pierce Brown
5. Rising Strong, by Brene Brown

Recently Finished Reading:
I'm limiting this list to 5 because in the last four months I've read close to 40 books and that's just too many to write about in this blog. I'll try to think of the 5 best ones so that you get exposed to some really interesting reads.
1. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: This is a great book if you love 80s pop culture and/or video games. Its fun and a really quick read. My only complaint is that the dialogue is a little cheesy. But for a YA book this is amazing!
2. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: This book is definitely for mature audiences only! It is dark and twisty and at moments it is incredibly graphic. BUT, if you like mysteries and you don't mind psychopaths than this is the book for you!
3. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: I was gobsmacked at this book. It was deeply sad and intense and yet at the same time I found it inspiring and tenacious. I cannot recommend this book enough.
4. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan: Don't read this book unless you're ready to say goodbye to cheetos.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Place...

I believe emphatically in the idea of "place". I think our bodies and our souls and our senses root themselves to certain places and forever we are linked. For some, their place is right around the corner from home and they are able to visit it regularly. When they have a bad day or want to celebrate something, they can drive or walk or a ride a bike to the place that their soul longs for. That is not true for me. The place my soul longs for is a world away. In fact, it's about a 24 hour plane ride away. Sometimes when I tell people about my place they ask how I can be tied to somewhere that I've only been three times. They ask how it can be my place if I hardly ever go there. Here's how...

Some days when I close my eyes I find myself in the back of a truck, on a dirt path, in the middle of the night. I am staring up at this giant expanse of thick black and I see millions of stars littered across it. I feel the cool wind whipping against my cheek. Other days I will be going about my life and my breath will catch in my chest at the sound of a horn honking. In an instant I'm walking down a busy street in Durban. Teenagers are laughing and carrying their surfboards on their way to the water. I can taste the salt in the air. Or there are those days when I catch the scent of sweet grass and I am transported to the side of a grassy hill. The sun feels hot on my neck and I only have energy to put one foot in front of the other. As my legs carry me towards the top I can feel the anticipation of the view waiting for me. At the top I sit with friends in the dirt and the grass and we share the cold fizz of an orange Fanta and dream about the people we are going to become.

I visit my place when I think about what it felt like to stand in Nelson Mandela's cell on Robbin Island. I see my place when I remember the awe I felt at the sight of my first giraffe. I am in Africa with every zulu song imprinted on my heart.

No matter how long passes, no matter how many days or months or years it's been since I've seen those stars, part of me is always in Africa and I carry part of Africa with me. I carry the faces of the people who slowly transformed me. I carry the sound of rain on a tin roof. I carry the feeling of adventure and new growth and confidence.

I ache for this place always and yet in so many ways I'm always there.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

He Bought Her a Wall...

When I turned thirteen years old a new TV show started beaming itself into my house once a week. Now, as a newly minted seventh grader I wasn't allowed to watch Dawson's Creek and yet in my first true act of teenage rebellion I managed to figure out a way to spend an hour once a week with Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen. There are a lot of reasons why I hold this particular story story close to my heart and I could devote many, many blog posts to those reasons, but for today I think I'll simply write about one...

I am not a traditionally romantic girl. I do not get moon-eyed over pink holidays or spend my time daydreaming about beach strolls. And when it comes to love stories I prefer heroines who can save themselves to damsels in distress who need someone to swoop in. In fact, now that I'm writing about it, I really hate "swooping" in almost all its forms. I don't "ship" things (side note: I just learned what "shipping" is from my eighth grade students. For those in the dark, I encourage the use of google) and I don't get swept up in epic romances... except this one epic romance...

When Dawson's Creek first aired it was clear that the main focus would be on Dawson. It was his creek- his life that the show revolved around. But it took all of twenty minutes in the pilot for anyone with half a soul to notice the quiet brown-haired girl playing his best friend; Joey Potter: shy, passionate, artistic, and so incredibly insecure. It was clear that the writers of the show were as swept up with Joey as the rest of us watching at home and the story lines started bending towards her. One of those story lines happened to involve the world's greatest hockey player and my favorite Canadian: Joshua Jackson (aka Pacey).

In season three the writers did something wholly unexpected: they paired the female lead with the goofy sidekick. The storyline begins with Pacey and Joey spending more time together and becoming closer friends. They learn about what makes the other one tick and it isn't long before Pacey realizes that he loves this girl. These bullet points alone aren't what tied my teenage heart to this love story. I think what I loved was how tangible it felt. There was no running through airports or public declarations of affection. Joey didn't need a makeover and Pacey wasn't looking to change her. In fact, Pacey loved Joey as she was. He simply wanted to be someone who always encouraged her and was there for her. He wanted her to be exactly who she was meant to be. He wanted her to be great because he saw greatness in her. He believed in her when she couldn't see herself clearly. He trusted her. He respected her. His love wasn't loud or overbearing or a spectacle- it was quiet and selfless and consistent.

This is my favorite scene of these two. When I watched this moment on TV at the age of 16, I thought to myself, "Now that is romance." It doesn't matter how much time passes, whenever I catch a rerun or happen upon this youtube clip I still get the wind knocked out of me. This may be my one true girly indulgence.

You may be wondering, dear reader, why I am devoting precious blog space to a TV show that aired it's last episode before most of my students were even born. Well, I don't owe you an explanation, but here's one...

Last week I listened as a couple of my amazing Jr. High students talked about love. They spent about an hour dissecting the texts they'd received from boys and analyzing what in the world those few messages were really saying. My whole person ached as they came to the conclusion that until they lost more weight or learned something about video games or became "interesting" they were simply unloveable. They decided that their chests were too small, their thighs were too big, and they couldn't make their selfies look like Kim Kardashian's. Their little hearts longed to be seen and known and cherished. But they assumed that they weren't enough as they are.

I've been thinking about that conversation for a week now and I have many things to say about it. But for today, I simply want to say this: it took my 31 years on this planet to learn that real love has more tenacity than is painted for us in movies. Love isn't found on a scale or in a mirror. Love isn't defined by how many retweets you get or how often boys chase you. Pure, beautiful love is renting a girl a wall because she longs to be an artist and you want them to be exactly who they were created to be. Seeing someone, knowing them, cherishing them reveals itself not in using that wall as a bargaining chip to "win" that girl's heart, but in simply offering the gesture because you know it will make them smile.

My sweet girls (and boys) take the time to learn who you are. Take the time to love yourself, trust yourself, respect yourself and then when your Pacey comes along you'll be able to offer them something valuable- a whole person.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday...

When I was in college I discovered something new: I love school. I love learning and books and new ideas. I love feeling challenged, overwhelmed, and empowered. I love to listen to my teachers and my peers as they point out a new thread to me and take me on a new journey. The classroom has been, for me a place that opens up new worlds, new possibilities, and new hope. One of my favorite things about school is when a professor introduces something I've never heard before and as I hold this new idea in my hands and turn it over- examining it, I realize that what I'm holding is the precious metal of truth. It's rare to be introduced to new truth- a truth that you've never before seen. Holding something like that changes you. It refines you and grafts new depth onto your body. The longer you hold that truth the more it becomes a part of who you are. 

Today is Good Friday and as I sit in backyard and let the California sun warm my face I reflect on the cross and the Christ that was nailed to it. I realize that I look at this cross in a completely new way because of one teacher who handed me a new truth...

About three weeks into my Christology class I began to suspect that I wasn't smart enough to be sitting in the room, on the other hand all my peers looked equally lost- so maybe I was in good company. I remember this night in particular because I had walked into class feeling totally overwhelmed. I wasn't sure I understood my own existence anymore, let alone Christ's. I sat in my seat, took out my notebook, and decided that I would just pretend to know what was going on. 

My professor came in and began his lecture. He began to speak about Jesus. This wasn't new or unexpected- it was a Christology class after all, the point was to learn about who Christ was and is and what that identity means for the Church. But when he described Jesus- this man, this God I had heard about my whole life, Dr. Bantum handed me something new and something very unexpected.  He began to speak about the human things Christ did while on earth. He said that Jesus didn't eat simply to provide an example that eating is good. He didn't pray so that Christians would know prayer is important. He wasn't baptized so that we would have precedence for the act. Christ embodied divinity and humanity. He was a man- Jewish, born into a carpenter's home, grown in a woman's womb. And he was God- holy, sacred, unknowable. When that divine human stepped into the baptismal waters, he changed the waters themselves. When the bread of supper touched his lips, the act of eating was shifted. When he sent whispered prayers to the Father, the routine of communication was transformed. Christ's body changed everything. A moment before the lecture I had been sitting in a classroom, confused and frustrated. Suddenly I was holding new truth and turning it over and over.  

This morning I am turning an idea over in my mind again. I am thinking about Christ's death on a cross and wondering what kind of punctuation that cross was. I realize that his death wasn't simply a coma before the resurrection- it was a period. That divine man bled on wood and changed death forever. As he hung there, he shifted the cosmic understanding of finality. He breathlessly said, "It is finished." And yet, in some ways it had just begun. 

This morning I sit with grief that is hard to explain and darkness that settles on my shoulders. I won't move too quickly to thoughts of Sunday with it's light and celebration because of a professor who showed me that the darkness has things to teach us as well. I leave you all with his words about Christ and encourage you to let yourself be overwhelmed by this act that we can't quite understand...

"In Jesus we are confronted with God enfleshed who encounters us with a humanity we can neither classify nor ignore. In this encounter we can no longer grasp Jesus as a means of enclosing ourselves against the possibilities of entrapment, but we begin to see the radical transformation Jesus' presence gives birth to. The mystery of Jesus' incarnation must consume us." Dr. Brian Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In My Head Tonight...

My Revelation professor says that most of the book boils down to one simple truth: What you do matters. Over the last ten weeks she has spent almost every class period imploring us to know that the ways in which we represent Christ to the world have impact- they matter.

In my life there are many, many people I love. I am one amazingly lucky woman because my life is woven together with so many different ideas and viewpoints. I was forged by Republicans and Democrats, Women and Men. I was connected to the dirt of this earth by people of faith who believe in a God that whispered the stars into existence, by friends who believe that those stars are simply the result of a big bang, and those who hold both sides as truth. In my life I am blessed to love heterosexuals and homosexuals, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Atheists. I am honored to have learned from Armenians, Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and all the other beautiful colors that make up our world. I am me because of a wide variety of "you's".

And I've spent the last few months reflecting on these two ideas: how I live my life matters and all the diversity that breathed life into me. I've been trying to find ways to honor those who have taught me- to honor the God who loves me, and to honor the voice inside of me.

Tonight I was reading a comment thread on Facebook and I was shocked by the ways in which people speak to and about each other. I was hurt as people used the Christ, who is my whole world, as a weapon to bludgeon the other side. As I looked up from the glow of my computer I had to shake my head clear of the cobwebs because I had lost myself for a good hour in hate and vitriol and poison. All these conflicting opinions yelling at each other- but not really listening.

Each week at youth group I tell the Jr. Highers that I work with that this is a safe space. I encourage them to come to us, just as they are, and that they will have a place here. They belong. They know that there are very few things I won't tolerate, I can handle the occasional food fight or wrestling match- but the number one behavior that is absolutely banned is disrespect. I don't care if they like each other, but I care how they treat each other. But when I read comments on the internet I see that there are simply not the same rules. I think because we don't have to look each other in the eye we find it easier to unleash our perfectly crafted argument and not worry ourselves with how we come across. We forget that there is another human sitting on the other side of a screen.

This behavior goes beyond the ways that we handle ourselves online. Our world has become a brash place. I remember learning in history class that we once lived in a time where our President was protected by journalists who wouldn't photograph full body shots of him so his wheelchair wouldn't influence the nation. Today our President is barely treated as a human- let alone a man to be respected and frankly we didn't do much better with the last President either. I used to hear stories about news anchors that were seen as beacons of comfort during times of uncertainty. Today many of our journalists care more about ratings than they do truth.

We have stopped listening to those that think differently than we do. We have stopped letting ourselves engage in conversation and instead have turned our attention to winning. I say "we" because I am just as at fault as the rest of this world. I may have been shaped by many voices, but now that I know the tone and rhythm of my own voice, I seem to have stopped listening to anyone who disagrees with me.

Here's what I know to be true: How I live my life matters. The ways that I reflect Christ to those around me matters. How I love and listen and speak matters. So... tonight I take a step back from internet arguments and talking heads and heated debates over dinner. Tonight I choose to listen more than I speak. Tonight I remember that if I expect my students to respect each other I better be prepared to show them what respect looks like with how I live my life.