thoughts on church.

i visited church today for the first real time since my “hiatus” (Easter doesn’t count).  i’m not sure why, except that it’s been a rough weekend and i just needed something familiar, something like home.  i was quickly reminded why i’m going to maintain my hiatus.  here are some of my notes:

“i am weary with this life…or at least with the life the church expects me to live.  one of the tenents of Christianity is that this world is not our own, that we live toward a greater place.

so then what do we do with this life?  why can’t we just be ordinary, living out and appreciating the minutiae of life?  why can’t we settle into relationships and places and do the steady slow work of putting truth and life and light into the dark places?

we use such language to talk about God–rightly so, He is a big mystery.  but we think we have to constantly work to grasp Him, instead of just allowing Him to be big and us to be small.

why do we have to be aware of what the “enemy” is doing?  did Jesus ask this of us?  did he ask us to be so aware of darkness, or to just love the light so much we radiate?

this is why i’m not “doing church” right now…all of our language is laden with conviction, and some believe strongly that is the greatest catalyst for change.

but Christ brought grace.  He constantly met people where they were and told them He saw all of them, and His heart broke for them.  why do we keep trying to push people into the mold of who we think they should be?  instead of affirming who/where they are, allowing our love to provide space for the transformation they uniquely need, the transformation that looks like what they need it to look like.”

i went in this morning completely exhausted, emotionally, physically, mentally.  i felt weary and heavy and sad.  i needed an old friend and a couch to lay on.  what i realized is that the church is not for the weak, or the weary, or even the marginalized.  the only way to survive there is if you’re strong, happy, able to participate in “meet and greets” and smile.

i want to be that version of church i long for.  i want to be a place where people can find rest and unconditional love.  i want to be that all the time, not just on Sundays.  i want to be a person that meets people wherever they are, in whatever state, and says, “let’s be encouraged, because we are so dearly loved,”  because that’s the heart of what i need to hear.  and the heart of what i see so many around me longing for.

we don’t need another message about we’re not living up to some standard; i think we are all very aware of our shortcomings.  even those of us who’ve learned to hide it well.  we could all say, if we were really brutally honest, that we are crappy creatures.  we need to hear that there are good parts of us too.  that we were created in the image of a loving, beautiful God which means we are also loving and beautiful.  even when we’re messy.

that’s the church we need.

new horizons.

one of the facets of Lent is cleansing. doing an interior and exterior life scan, finding those things that no longer serve you, and getting rid of them.

i’ve found a lot of freedom in that activity…cleaning out my closet and tossing that sweater i never wear, those shoes that no longer fit my style. clearing my dresser and giving back borrowed books. my space feels less cluttered.

i’ve also begun to reevaluate my situation re: work, living in the city, etc. i’ve found that i am in a sweet spot–great projects, fantastic boss, beautiful community, family close by.

but i’m unchallenged. bored, even, as i’ve mentioned before.

as if the two were on a scale–great people, place, etc. vs. being unchallenged–i’ve begun to wonder which would weigh out. which would become more important to me.

slowly, but surely, being unchallenged outweighed the rest, and i began to search for jobs. full-time jobs. in other cities. we’re talking full-out changing it up here.

don’t get me wrong…i LOVE my community and my city. this is not something i’m taking lightly. but there is much about my life that is no longer serving me, and i must rid myself of the deadweight. allow myself to be free and light, and try something new, gain new experiences.

i told my boss this afternoon, with trembling hands, that this meant i would need to leave the gallery eventually. he was gracious, as usual, encouraging and thankful for my service; i will ever be grateful to know him. the conversation was incredibly relieving. i’ve been considering and talking about this process for a couple weeks, but now i feel free to do it in the open.

this Lent season has been weird, that’s for sure. granted, this is only the second year i’ve observed it, but still. it doesn’t feel like what i usually think of for Lent…fasting, humility, repentance. empty. still. it feels full and rich and moving like a rushing river. i went from being content in my city just months ago, to now being “excitedly anxious” as my boss said this eve, looking forward to the possibility of new horizons. i feel hopeful in a way i haven’t in awhile.

Christ came that we would have a full, abundant life, and i’ve never been reminded more of that than during this Lent season. a full life is risky. sometimes means cleaning out everything in the closet, on only the hope that you’ll be able to fill it again. sometimes it means moving forward on a hunch and seeing where the path leads. in my case, it may just mean following a job lead to Madison, Wisconsin or Seattle, Washington.

new horizons await.

 

new perspective/the pursuit of truth

the last thing you could really call me lately is contemplative.  i’ve been obsessed with winning a skydiving package (go here to vote! . . .sorry, had to plug it), dealing with high drama in the man department, exploring options for my next life adventure, and running like mad trying to get the next art exhibit set up.

all the while, Lent is passing me by.

Lent comes out of the Catholic tradition and so is, in very nature, meant to be a contemplative time, a cleansing and preparation for the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ.  it is a time to reflect on our own death and rebirth.  it is a season of deep introspection.

i’ve been attending a Lent-focused yoga series and our focus today was “new perspective.”  as our instructor intimated, Lent is a time for taking inventory of life, identifying those things that no longer serve us, and letting them go.  this is definitely a season of that for me, to the point where every direction i turn, there seems to be a new perspective on myself, a new confidence in how I was wired, a new way of believing in myself to make decisions i need to make.

one of these great revelations is that i’m bored.

i learned a little one never to utter these words in the presence of my parents.  “if you can’t find something to do, I’ll give you something,” my parents would warn.  and it was never good.  like one of the recent episodes of my favorite show, Modern Family, i could easily find myself cleaning the cupboards or doing some other undesirable activity.  so, i’ve learned to restrain my honesty in that area.

but i am.  i am unchallenged in many areas of my life, especially vocationally and environmentally.  i enjoy what i’m doing and LOVE my city, but still…i yearn for something bigger, for new experiences.

new perspectives.

in my Lent reading for today, i came across this beautiful passage:

it’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.  your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.  that’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
-john 4:23, the message

the pursuit of truth.

what does this mean?

for me, it means not accepting the black & white, this is right/that is wrong response.  it means testing the boundaries, trying something new, making mistakes.  looking in unexpected places.  putting my foot over the edge to see if there’s a path (catch the Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade reference??).  being willing to get my hands dirty.

because the pursuit of truth is messy.  and risky.  and may involve some pain.

but it is so beautiful.

one of my favorite Jewish parables is told in the movie, Then She Found Me (fantastic movie).  in fact, that’s where i heard.  it goes as such:

There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke.  A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage by having him jump down the stairs.

He put his son on the second stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’ then the third stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’.  The little boy was afraid but he trusted his father and did what he was told and jumped into his arms.  The father put him on the next step and then the next each time telling him ‘jump and I will catch you’.

Then the boy jumped from a very high step but this time the father stepped back and the boy fell flat on his face.  He picked himself up bleeding and crying and the father said to him ‘that’ll teach you’.

When his father caught him he felt filled with love and when he didn’t he was filled with something else, something more – Life.

during this Lent season, may you feel less afraid and more filled with courage to have new perspective.  the pursue truth, in all its varied and complex forms. to climb to the tops of mountains and jump off.  to allow yourself the space to be filled with Life.

a glimpse.

in October, i helped with a church launch in Fletcher Place, the neighborhood just a few blocks from our house.  we meet in the same space as the gallery.

it was agreed that i would eventually be on a rotation of teachers, and in December i was asked if i could do the month of January.  my direction was simply the teachings of Christ, but i began to feel that we really needed to study the lifestyle of Christ, to know what was important to him, that we may begin to orient ourselves in the same way.

this morning, our topic was “prayer.”  i divided the room into groups, allowing them to dive into the assigned scriptures and answer, through dialogue and discussion answers to simple questions about the content of Christ’s prayer, what seemed to purpose, and where he tended to pray.  i roamed from group to group, casually observing their responses, making sure all felt comfortable enough to participate.

in one group, a mom had chosen to include her 10 and 7-yr olds in the activity.  an older gentlemen articulately and with a subtle authority read through the passage and began to facilitate the discussion; he had done this many times before and could do it well.  he asked why Jesus chose to retreat to the wilderness to pray, and the young 7-yr-old piped in.

“because Molly just told us,” she said, referring to the children’s lesson they had just received, “that sometimes you have to be alone to hear God.”

the table sat there stunned, but no one more so than the older gentleman.  his face revealed how completely impressed, and yet still humbled, he was by her clear and direct response.

the scene sticks with me as such a beautiful glimpse into the operation of the Kingdom, how the “last shall be first” and “let the little children come to me” and “if you do not approach the Kingdom like a little child, you can not be my disciple” (all roughly paraphrased).  in the Kingdom, we not only learn about life from the seasoned veterans, but also from the purity of children, who’s ears and eyes seem to be tucked right up against that of the Father.  in the Kingdom, we will teach one another, with humility and love.  we will be equals.

life in abundance.

i came so they could have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of…
-Jesus, John 10:10

if my plans had succeeded, i would be writing this in a sweet little coffee shop in Toronto, after having spent the day in Kensington Park, watching hippies and babies and musicians play side-by-side.  instead i am home.  shortly after making the plans to go, i had a deep anxiety i couldn’t shake.  for whatever reason, i needed to stay home.

it’s been a good thing, considering 3 out of the 6 of us at the coffee have had to be away this week; my absence would have been crippling.  like the mother of a sick child, i’ve been sequestered to the house.

bittersweet, at best, as i mourn the opportunity to see Toronto with my good friends, yet enjoy the benefits of working and serving and meeting good people.

i am reminded of Christ’s words, his invitation to live life to the fullest.  we have so often used that as a sort-of selling point for Christianity.  see, we point to new believers almost immediately, this is the way to having it all.  Jesus says so.  we begin to dream of an easy life, with a steady job and good car and kids that are always safe and grandbabies.  our life with Christ strangely mirrors the American dream as we painfully fail to see what it really means to be fully human.

a second look at the life of Christ reveals something altogether different from that train of thought.  we see a man fully human, yet fully God.  perfect in every way, yet homeless, dirty, smelly, unemployed.  a vagabond who understand pain just as much as joy.  loss just as much as gain.  betrayal just as much as love and friendship.

his invitation was not only a call to “eternal life” but to life, fully lived, right here and now.  an invitation to awake and be fully alive.  and being fully alive includes just as much the bitterness of pain and loss as it does the fulfillment of dreams.  to be fully alive is to have a heart that breaks for brokenness, yet still believes in the redemption of all things.

there is comfort in this realization for me during this season of life, where i have some great new ventures on the horizon, beautiful dreams i’ve dreamed of for a long time, yet i am deeply grieving the loss/change of a close friendship.  i pinch myself amidst tears, trying to remind myself that i should be happy and excited.  grief, it seems though, is a part of this being fully human.  as much a part, if not more, of it as the joy is.

so may you (and i, and we all) walk out and embrace the pain with the joy, laugh in the midst of tears.  live into the fullness of the humans we were created to be.

walking on the edge…

reminded again why i must write…this came from a journal about 4 years ago, but is still relevant and challenging to me this morning.

“what would happen if we truly claimed the great power within us?
if we knocked down the walls that keep us in, that keep us ‘tame’…
walls of suburbia and security.  what greatness couldn’t we accomplish?
what darkness could ever really keep us down?

what if we stood at the edge of this, where life is raw, and watched the majesty of this God wreak havoc on our tightly controlled lives??  the invasion would be so stunning, so breath-takingly remarkable…

then and only then could we begin to understand this God…”

“i see a people….”

these words struck me, and since i cannot do them justice in paraphrasing, i decided to share them in full.  enjoy.

“Right now we remain a largely scattered people. . . .But a new thing is coming. . . .

I see it happening, this great new gathering of the people of God.  I see an obedient, disciplined, freely gathered people who know in our day the life and powers of the kingdom of God.

I see a people of cross and crown, of courageous action and sacrificial love.

I see a people who are combining evangelism with social action,the transcendent Lordship of Jesus with the suffering Messiah.

I see a people who are buoyed up by the vision of Christ’s everlasting rule, not only imminent on the horizon, but already bursting forth in our midst.

I see a people…I see a people…even though it feels as if I am peering through a glass darkly.

I see a country pastor from Indiana embracing an urban priest from New Jersey and together praying for the peace of the world.  I see a people.

I see a Catholic monk from the hills of Kentucky standing alongside a Baptist evangelist from the streets of Los Angeles and together offering up a sacrifice of praise.  I see a people.

I see social activists from the urban centers of Hong Kong joining with Pentecostal preachers from the barrios of Sao Paulo and together weeping over the spiritually lost and the plight of the poor.  I see a people.

I see laborers from Soweto and landowners from Pretoria honoring and serving each other out of reverence for Christ.  I see a people.

I see Hutu and Tutsi, Serb and Croat, Mongol and Han Chinese, African-American and Anglo, Latino, and Native American all sharing and caring and loving one another.  I see a people.

I see the sophisticated standing with the simple, the elite standing with the dispossessed, the wealthy standing with the poor.  I see a people.

I see a people, I tell you, a people from every race and nation and tongue and stratum of society, joining hearts and hands and minds and voices declaring,

Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound–
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see. “

Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water