‘Cause Tonight the World Begins Again.

Christmas Eve.

There’s a song that reminds me of this night, no matter what time of year. It’s not your typical Christmas song. You probably won’t hear it on your local soft-rock-turned-Christmas-since-Thanksgiving-Station that’s already played Feliz Navidad 50,000 times. I doubt you’ll sing it in Church, either.

It’s called “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I’m not sure what lead singer Johnny Reznik intended for this song, but I can’t hear this song without thinking about the hope of Christmas.

I picture Christmas Eve like looking out the window at midnight after an evening of appreciable snowfall. The roads are unplowed, smooth snow glistening like sugar cookies, fresh in the street, untainted. The media isn’t yet in a frenzy over which facility is closed and which will get a two hour delay. A hushed silence blankets the world, if but for the night, drawing you in closer to the person next to you. There is peace and wonder and beauty, but it doesn’t scream, nor demand your attention. Heaven knows we don’t need more screaming, more arguing. Instead, its peacefulness is what garners our attention and draws us nigh. This is a bit of what Christmas Eve feels like to me- a baby, born in privation, surrounded by the love of God, except this baby isn’t screaming. This baby is sleeping peacefully in Mary’s arms. There is a beckoning to this Jesus that doesn’t yell, but quietly, calmly pulls my soul in deep, especially on a night like tonight. 

This night is always my favorite out of the year. A sense of anticipation churns in my heart as I look up at the stars convinced that hope is always out there for the searching, that life is inherently good, that there is a love out there trying to find ways into every person’s heart.
For the past twenty-some years, I’ve felt a taste of this beauty, this hope, at Church, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. I remember the peace and stillness in my mother’s voice as she sang. Sometimes I would lower my voice, or stop singing altogether just to hear her sing. She rarely sings, but this night is an exception.

This year, I barely went to Church, as in a place you go to on Sunday mornings. But I’ve experienced Church that much more strongly out here in the wide open spaces. I liken it to how some animals have a poor sense of eyesight, but sharp olfactory acuity. I may not get “fed” through sermons and communion and prayer anymore, but my sense of God in the everyday is clued in more strongly than ever before, and I find God gathered around a fire with friends, in 5 AM foggy sunrises, in sunsets over the mountains, in conversations about reconciliation and peace amongst nations, and in the most boring, trivial parts of life.
So I may be joining the crowd of “C and E” (Christmas and Easter) Christians tonight, but there’s no place I’d rather be. I know I’m not the only one. All sorts of people can find their way to Church on this night. Some who haven’t set foot in a Church in 10 years, only to discover that tonight, there really is plenty of room at the inn for all of us.

We discover, tonight, that in the midst of all the gifts, packages tied up in strings, something isn’t satisfying, and we realize that the greatest gifts that we’ve been given, like the song points out, are faith and trust and peace while we’re alive. We realize that we’re in this together, not focused on ourselves or egotistic societal mores, if but for one night. We’re focused on something bigger, on something we can’t explain, on something we can’t quite put our fingers on, on an event that we weren’t even around for all those thousands of years ago, but still choose to celebrate, year after year after year.

•••

It’s not coincidental to me that Christmas Eve falls one week before New Year’s Eve, and somewhere, at some moment in time tonight, you might find yourself placidly at a pew or lying in bed by candlelight, or perhaps driving home from a Christmas party or wrapping that last gift, turned inward, pensive, musing about the year as it slowly dwindles into its final seven days. And maybe your heart will fill with regret, or even bitterness. Maybe you didn’t treat people around you the way you wish you would have this year. Maybe you’ve had more joys this year than you could have ever foreseen, and on this night, your heart is so full, it just might burst with gratitude. Some of us will have lost someone, or something, this year, perhaps unexpectedly, that meant so much to us. And so our hearts are hurting as we experience our first Christmas without them. And as tears of joy and abundance, or tears of pain and hurt—or perhaps an amalgamation of both—warm your cheeks tonight, may you feel a presence come over you. Dare to believe it is God, softly whispering in your ear, “tonight’s the night we begin again.” All of our unmet hopes, all of our grievances, all of our confusion, all of our gratitude, our story, commingled with God’s story- the hope that on this night, like so many thousands of years ago, the world begins again. A hope rekindles. A baby gets born who will one day encourage the whole wide world to know how much they are loved, forgiven, freed. Whose words will affirm the pushed aside and the misunderstood. Who will flip things upsidedown, claiming that the last shall be first, the first shall be last. Ah, yes, that subversive guy. But wait. He’s just a baby tonight. Not a word has come out of his mouth yet, and his life, the story, is just starting, or re-starting. Ah yes, tonight’s the night the world begins again.

May we come to realize we are loved tonight. All of us, everyone of us, united together, seen with eyes of love. And not with a trite “Jesus loves you” kind of love, but a deep, pursuant, persistent love that never shouts nor excessively coddles, but is after you constantly, desperate for you to know how much- just how much you are loved, dear Child of God.

May we realize that together we “will do even greater things…”

May we each realize that Church doesn’t have to be a place you go to, but a peace you feel when you look up at the stars and can’t explain anything coherent at the moment, taken over by awe, knowing that in the midst of all this chaos is order and solace and constancy and bigness and smallness.
And if Church is a place you go to, should you ever feel dismissed, remember, God’s heart never closes. You are welcome here; there is always room in the inn of God’s heart. 

May we remember that everyone is forgiven. That this night is characterized by the innocence of a Child in a Manger. We are forgiven by a God who longs to lift us up out of shame; a God who will bend down on one knee, lift your chin up for you when your crestfallen glance won’t leave the ground, look you in the eye and say, “Look into my eyes, Child. I love you. You are forgiven. Whatever ‘dirty secret’ you hide, whatever you are so afraid of the world knowing about you, whatever holds you down, traps, and ensnares you… Whatever tries to convince you that you can’t change or that it’s too late or that you’re too far behind… Whatever prevents you from experiencing the allelujah… let it go tonight.”

Because God has promised us better days.

For tonight’s the night the world begins again.

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
And it’s someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there’s 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
So take these words
And sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

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The Peace House

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There’s a street in Baltimore where incandescent lights, flags, Christmas trees made out of recycled bicycle tires, and lit up crabs brighten cold December nights as people gather together year after year. Some hold hands, others push strollers, but each meander down the sidewalks with a sense of lifted spirit and joy, a little twinkle of hope somehow rising within them like the sun, undismayed and resolute, shining even if it’s going to be a cloudy day. Now in its 65th year, residents of W. 34th Street in Hampden, Baltimore put on a dazzling Christmas light display, multi-colored lights strung from one side of the street to the other unite neighbors in cheer as a “labor of love.” People from all over the world gather to check out this earnest display. Residents of each house on the block participate to emanate joy and unity, even though for them, this means a hike in their BGE bill, crowded streets with even more limited parking, and people roaming your street until all hours of the evening.

Each resident allows visitors to come up on to their porches and many leave out guestbooks for people to sign, noting that they delight over seeing where people have traveled from. I made my way down this street for an annual pilgrimage yesterday, just a short walk away from my house. I confess I began the evening with a slightly heavy heart exacerbated by too many conversations and images in the past week centered around gun violence or gloomy media portrayals of the fiscal cliff. I had just come from work, where I sat down with a man who had withered down to no more than 100 pounds, hospitalized from an opportunistic infection stemming from an HIV diagnosis. The holidays fast approaching, he whispered softly that his family doesn’t speak to each other. My heart broke. But this man had such a heavenly spirit in him, and warmed my heart with his resiliency, perseverance, and strength to keep hope alive for one more day. Needless to say, the presence of lights, people holding hands, arms draped around each other’s, smiling for pictures, made my heart grow warm on a chilling, windy evening. Of all the houses I visited that night, one stands out the most:
The Peace House. If you go to this neighborhood, it will be halfway down on your right. You can’t miss it. It’s the lawn with this emblazoned on the grass, welcoming you in:

IMG_1160I climbed up the steps and approached a table on the porch with a note from the house owners, Elaine and Ed. They describe the joy of living on this block, being able to mark a holiday season characterized by hope, goodwill, merriment, and joy. “Family and friends come together and peace seems possible. Whether it be a bright smile or the shiny eyes of a child or the kindness people show to one another, peace is all around.” They then invite each guest to write in a notebook what their vision of peace looks like, encouraging people to sign their name and mention where they’re from. Some of the comments in the book were funny, like “peace signs and pizza” and others were more serious, talking about being at peace within one’s soul to intentionally commit to bringing peace in interactions with each person one comes in contact with. Choked up, I continued to look around the porch. Pieces of fabric with “peace” written in over a dozen languages garnered the top of the porch like paper chain decorations. Dozens of rectangular flags criss-crossed above our heads: colored fabric with yin-yangs, the Star of David, the Celtic Cross, and other peace symbols. “Pray for peace” banners and rainbow “peace” pennants blew gently in the wind. “We can be the change we wish to see” emblem stitchery and a “Coexist” sticker (with the Islamic IMG_1181Star and Crescent, peace sign, the Jewish Star of David, and Christian cross) displayed to usher in the observance of peace as not only possible, but already occurring in this world. Also adorning the porch was a “world peace” display with newspaper footage of individual leaders who have stood for peace, containing images of faces such as Martin Luther King, Jane Addams, and Mohandas Gandhi, reminding each of us to take a stand for peace with whatever that looks like in our own creativity and passion.

It was beautiful, and just the reminder the world needs to hear more and more each day.

But perhaps what grabs me most about The Peace House is that when this couple moved here, the Peace House, as we know it, did not exist, but rather, what transpired came from the creativity, beauty, and imagination of their souls. Sometimes, we are met by doubters, by naysayers, by collective media and acts of violence that try to usurp beauty and harmony with discordance and chaos. But every day, we have a choice to make: to go along with the cynics or intentionally create acts of peace, beauty, and love for as many to experience as possible. The Peace House gave me hope that no matter what the news stories might say, or whatever the political or religious divides exist in the world, there are still places in which hope and peace and optimism dwell. That there are still compassionate people who want nothing more than to see the world engaged in love; people who don’t just pray prayers (though prayer may certainly be a part of the process), but actively, deliberately create safe places for peace to blossom. The type of place that offers a downhearted or weary wanderer just a little bit of hope, as if to say, “Don’t let your candle burn out just yet.”

Standing there on that porch, surrounded by words and phrases of such beauty, including a Christmas tree adorned with Tibetan prayer flags, and a banner crosshatched with “peace” in several languages, I knew, irrevocably, that peace can still be found and that even those who say peace on Earth is mere fallacy are welcomed in too, here at The Peace House, here in this world, where we can be active facilitators of peace, reconcilers of wrongs, through our homes, our relationships, our souls, and whenever we feel we cannot find it, that is where we must create it. Yes. We have to make peacehouses. We have to sing songs not just for our own ears, but together, whether on street corners in December or through rolled down windows in the spring time, laughing over off-key renditions of whatever catchy song plays from your radio at that moment. We have to speak and say a hearty, “hello!” to strangers, not waiting to speak only if spoken to.

Because there is more peace to be experienced on this Earth. We need only to get outside of our own microcosms of regularity and normalcy to create something more compelling, more inviting. And together, we will collectively taste shalom, pax, la paz, whirled peas, on Earth as in Heaven, this holiday season and always.

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Thoughts on Grief ((Making Peace With Changing Friendships and Never Going to the Peace Corps))

I gave her several hugs this weekend and got choked up every time. Though we hadn’t been friends for long, I made friends with a gem for the past year and a half who’s now currently somewhere in the middle of the country driving back home to Texas. I didn’t think her departure would stir up so many emotions within me, but it did. And the biggest one was grief.

Grief is something I’d rather push through, fight, overlook, or ignore, immediately shifting my thoughts away from it as soon as I sense it coming. But I’m learning that doesn’t really help anything; in fact, it just makes it worse. Because in stuffing my feelings, I never get to experience God’s hand infiltrating those spots of hurt, loss, grief, and pain with his/her healing hand of hope, forgiveness, peace, and acceptance.

So I grieved this friend’s move and gave myself permission to start thinking about the other things in my life that I want to grieve but haven’t yet. I grieved the fact that I talked about going to Peace Corps incessantly throughout college, and then had plans in my head to move off to Colorado for grad school, thinking I’d have an adventurous, albeit challenging four years ahead of me after graduating college. This March, I’ll turn 26. And I’ll have done neither of those.

Funny how plans change. Circumstances change. How we can be so sure of something, only to discover that in the end, for a variety of inter-twined circumstances, you’re really not ready for this and there’s some rocks you need to take out of your shoes before you go on to do your next great thing?

So I cried. Right there in my room and there in my bed on Sunday night. It had been building up inside of me all day, like a sneeze, and after all those tears came out, I laid on my floor with my journal and candlelight, one again reminded of the definition of “a good cry.”

Because grief reminds me I’m human; I’m alive and have a pulse. If my goal was to go through life without experiencing pain, or grief, or loss, or tears, I’d be setting myself up for failure. It reminds me how much I need people around me, even though as an introvert, I don’t always actively seek out community. Throw that on top of a people-pleasing personality, and I have discovered what’s at the root of some of my lonely days and that it’s ok; we’re all uniquely made but we have to get outside of ourselves and experience the world through community. Relationships are messy; never clean cut. But that’s how we learn to forgive, where we learn all the ways that we’re annoying, but still accepted anyway; where we learn the definition of unconditional love, and that love can be hard sometimes, and maybe that’s why God talks over and over again about love, because S/He knew it would be hard for us. 

Grief reminds me that I have wonderful people in my life that are worth missing. And when you’re apart, it’s as though some fragment of you is still really with them, talking to them, doing handstands on a grassy open field with them. Because you’ve let this person into the parts of yourself that experience deep love and attachment. It reminds me to take some of what they taught me, some of the ways in which they showed me more of who God is, and turn it into something beautiful; a little bit of their imago dei rubbing up against your own.

Grief reminds me of the human tendency to run, run, run, trying to field off whatever painful experience or hurt we don’t really want to feel. But it always catches up to us in the end, anyway. And when I finally release those tears, I am in awe, experiencing all over again, so this is what freedom feels like... I’m in awe of what letting go does to my body physically- it releases, relaxes, and exhales, gripped fists now open palms.

Grief reminds me not to fear these feelings but instead reminds me that human beings are intricately wired in such a way that when a friendship dissipates, when someone dear moves away, or we see another senseless, violent tragedy impact a nation, we are each affected. A piece of our soul matches with another, and we perpetually realize in these soft moments our incessant need for each other and our God. If I didn’t experience these things, I wouldn’t be a human. Perhaps I might be a cold frog. But certainly not a human.

Grief reminds me that I have lived another day in this beautiful and broken world. It reminds me of my vision for life today (on Earth as it is in Heaven) and the acceptance to know that we won’t see it at its fullest fruition this side of Heaven. Grief helps me mourn losses in the many ways that I encounter it: loss of joy-filled friendship when I’ve settled in for people pleasing. Loss experienced through wasted opportunities spent discussing the ho-hum things of life instead of asking deep questions and learning one another’s insides. It helps me to experience peace with my family’s past and envision a more whole, intimate, and deeper future. Grief is every part as much of the human experience as eating and breathing and my choices are to either accept this with grace or to resist it with bitterness.

I will commit to choosing the former, but know I’ll need some help along the way. So as I sit here now, tears having been poured out; it’s as though there aren’t any more liquids inside for me to possibly cry with. I’m too tired to cry at this point, anyway. But my soul doesn’t feel empty. I think, if but for the moment, God has placed his hand print on my heart, healing the place that once contained nothing but grief. And grief is never a clean, one-and-done process. So maybe I’ll be back at it tomorrow. But I’m convinced now, more than ever, that this is a necessary emotion of life essential for our growth, healing, and ability to love and understand one another. Thank God we don’t have to do it alone. Thank God we have each other. I thank God for you.

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God is Not a Genie ((And Other Thoughts on Healing))

“There isn’t anything God can’t do!” “God the mighty healer!” “God renews, transforms!” “We are made into a new creation- behold!- the old has gone and the new has come.”

Sound familiar?
These are awesome truths about our God.

But they can’t be taught in a vacuum.

Knowing these truths alone won’t change you. Neither will praying them.

Because God is not a Genie.

No. Leave that for the blue guy in Aladdin, who sings “I’m here to answer all your midday prayers. You got me bona fide, certified. You got a genie for your chare d’affaires. I got a powerful urge to help you out.” (Feel free to sing along to the rest of “Friend Like Me,” all you Disney kids of the 90s out there.)

Instead of a Genie, we have the maker of the universe who calls us into maturity, who heals, restores, renews, refreshes our souls.

But how?

How, exactly, does God heal us? Grow us? Change us?

Because maybe you’ve been praying for God to “change you,” to “heal you,” or, perhaps in your most desperate moments, shouted out a dire, “Fix me! [Now!].” And you might still be sitting there. Waiting to “get healed,” “get fixed,” “be whole.”  And you’ve realized that either God’s not who he says he is, and he really isn’t in the business of healing, or he is and you just never got the message that there’s something for God to do…. and there’s something for you to do, too.

You see, we can wish and pray away our desires for healing, for change, for wholeness, while the rest of the world, so it seems, is getting healed, experiencing the hallelujah, walking in Shalom, while you’re off in your room feeling jipped, wondering where your burning bush is, only to realize you’ve been wondering around in the Sahara and there’s no shrubbery in sight. Just you. And God. ((And plenty of sand)).

Why doesn’t God just wave a magic God wand over us and fix us?
That might be nice, and a heck of a lot easier. But it wouldn’t allow us to experience faith.

Not the “if you just believe hard enough, sincerely enough, and pray long enough, you’ll get healed” faith.

But the kind of faith that has to go through something; go through a journey. Because if all we had to do was pray some prayer and our problems would absolve, that wouldn’t really be faith, right? It would be magic.

Why hasn’t God healed you yet?
Because he has a journey to take you through.
Yes, He wants to go on a journey with you.

Will you go?
Will you sign yourself up?

It’s not an easy one, but it’s worth the risk; it’s worth the pain; it’s worth the discomfort.

Perhaps it might look something like this:

First, you might come out from under the covers and ask the God of Light to come walk you through this darkness.

Then it might look like digging back into your past and uncovering the broken pieces that look really scary. I know the edges look sharp, but go on, see what’s really there. You might discover too that, “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

Because somewhere on your journey, you might uncover all the parts of yourself that you don’t want to see: the part of you that stuffs your emotions, that doesn’t voice your questions, that’s looked the other way for so long because the second you stare at reality face-to-face, your eyes well up with tears of shame. Hang in there. Ask for forgiveness. Not just from God. But from others. Not just from others, but from yourself. And give yourself some grace.

Somewhere on your journey, you might find yourself outstretched on the floor, pen in hand, journaling, and feel a sense of depravity come over you as you are reminded once again that we can’t do life alone. We need humans. And human relationships are messy and vulnerable. Again. Throw on some grace, (wo)man.

Somewhere on your journey, you might cry. Not just those couple of stray tears that sometimes leak when you yawn real wide, but the kind that are guttural, coming from the soul, not holding anything back as you lament into the comfort of Christ’s arms. You might cry in front of people, too. Or in a counseling office. Or in public, on a day when some slight thing brings back a memory, and suddenly you realize you’re in a long line at some store or in some office and people are staring at you and that’s ok; they don’t understand yet because they haven’t tried to explore the deep seas of their insides yet. And when they do, they’ll wish that the people around them weren’t staring, but instead, respected your moment, perhaps showing just a little extra kindness, like holding the door open for you on your way out.

Somewhere on your journey, you might laugh. Seriously. You might be on the phone with that awesome friend, spilling your guts to him or her, and it might occur to you in hindsight how ridiculous something you did actually was, or laugh at the dumb things that used to upset you, or make some joke at your serious circumstance, somehow capable of finding laughter in an otherwise stir-crazy, disheartening, painful situation.

You might sing. Whether it’s something worship-y, like singing “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” at Church one Sunday, grateful for the dimmed lights because the whole time your soul is unfettered in the hands of Christ, moved, free, tears collecting in the corners of your eyes, confident that no matter how rough it gets, you’ll still be there, standing, and so will your Maker. Or maybe you’ll sing “(Wo)Man In The Mirror,” rolling the car windows down, looking at the guy on your left while idled at a red light, and sing out with a hearty key change, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change. You gotta get it right, while you got the time ’cause when you close your heart then you close your mind!”

So there’s some looking back to move forward, there’s divulging all the secret parts that you’d rather leave in their caverns, unexplored. There’s some two steps backwards. There’s some trying again. There’s some rewinding. There’s some tears. There’s some prayers. There’s facing some fears.

But without a doubt, if we take the necessary steps to stare at our hurts, our pains, all without running away… if we poke around at what it was really like growing up in our families of origin, to confess a burning secret to someone you’ve never told, to reach out to that distant person you love so much but don’t even know where to start because it’s been such a broken journey… if we do this dirty work instead of hiding behind our paltry prayers, we will, indeed, experience the great healing of our God and echo along with Joel, that we also know God will be true to his word when he says,

“I will restore the years the locusts have taken.”

Amen.
Allelujah.
We’ve made out better than a Genie.
We’ve experienced Shalom.

Credit: Sarah Bessey, pinterest

Credit: Sarah Bessey, pinterest

What’s God So Angry About?

There’s things I keep being told about God that break my heart. I can hear them reverberate through my brain right now, voices that, almost hauntingly, make my stomach sink. “God is a God of wrath.” “How long, Lord, will you be angry forever?” Laments the Psalmist. “Where will you spend eternity- in Heaven or Hell? The day of judgment draws near!” shouts the billboard of 1-95 southbound. Here’s 60 more of those.

I get that we disappoint God and ourselves when we hurt one another. When we are selfish. When we forget about the poor and the vulnerable. When we miss the point completely, in all of our arguing and fighting instead of our loving and reconciling. I get that God is out there, somewhere, longing for us to get to know the one who knitted us in the womb.

But why is he portrayed as being so full of anger? Why does he hate our sin so much that he believes we should die for the time when we flipped off the …idiot… driver behind us? Why did he want baby birds or baby cows to die in order to assuage him into forgiving the sins of the Old Testament?

The American Psychological Association classifies anger into two dichotomies: constructive and destructive. Destroying an entire planet except for a dude, his family, some animals, and a boat would fall on the latter end of the anger spectrum. Inciting war? Also destructive. Completely rejecting an entire country? (Psalm 78:59) Destructive. Getting angry over injustice, over what Bono calls “stupid poverty” (preventable poverty, made possible through 30 cent mosquito nets that can literally save millions from malaria), over children being sold into sex slavery, over racism, over sexism, over homophobia, over unfair labor wages, over privilege, over entitlement, over hoarding riches instead of giving freely? Now that’s something worth getting fired up about.

I don’t know why, if our God is love, I’ve heard so much about God’s anger during the course of my Christian development. If you were to be describing a person using the vitriolic language I’ve heard used to describe God’s wrath, anger, and violence, I would be so afraid of this God that I wouldn’t want to show my face- I’d be hiding for shelter all day long, too scared to come out. But, oh, it’s not a person; it’s God. Why is it ok for God to do these things? Because God is who God is and God gets what God wants?

Isn’t there something better that our faith offers?

Isn’t there something more beautiful than wrath and anger and destruction? Getting angry and screaming? That’s easy. But I don’t imagine that a God who created the entire world, including everything, and everyone in it, takes the easy way out. I believe this God patiently wipes our tears after we apologize. I believe this God gives a look similar to the look my dad would give us kids when we did something wrong: We didn’t need to be spanked, or grounded, or punished (though sometimes we were). All Dad had to do was give us “the look” and my brother and I knew at once that we instantly disappointed the very person we love and respect so much. That’s enough for me to feel remorse and regret for my actions. And it was enough for my dad to express his disappointment without destroying me, killing me, or hurting me. And together, we’d have some heart to heart connection after the apologies have been said and the embraces, embraced. And none of that would have ever occurred if we justified our yelling, our destruction, our violence, our rage.

Perhaps the love I experience in those exchanges with my dad is the joy Jesus alludes to when he says, “blessed are the peacemakers.”  There is a gravity inside my heart that longs for God’s heavenly embrace when I’m scared, confused, and alone. It feels like an innate instinct. I think it’s because my heart and mind and soul know that I can trust this refuge, know that I am always welcome back in this Everlasting God’s arms. It must be. Because if my heart and mind and soul didn’t taste of this, and tasted the later- the burning anger, the fiery brimstone, it would protect me from it. For surely, I would die.

I don’t know.

All of this just hurts my heart.

The things I hear youth being told at conferences and conventions and camps about God and how we are detestable in his sight, but luckily, he’ll accept us because instead of making us die, He made some other man die because God loves blood as a means of forgiveness.

It causes me to wonder how we really view God.

If we really see him as so wrathful, how does that impact our relationship with him? Our trust of this God? Our fear of this God? Is this why people are so afraid to propose anything about salvation different from “believe or burn?” Because the God they know is angry and will send people there; no more second, or third, or ninety-nineth chance? What if the “unbeliever” walks gingerly into his or her first few moments of death and experiences a blinding light, struck by the beauty of the God he or she has spent their whole life ignoring, only to realize this wasn’t the God they were  intending to ignore. They wanted to ignore the little gods of hatred, bigotry, and shame. But instead they realized that those gods didn’t exist; at least not in celestial form. The only God that exists is the one who loved them from the start, before the start and now it’s nothing but two long lost lovers in an airport, embracing, making up for lost time, lost connection, and renewed relationship.

All of this makes me wonder, What are we telling our kids about this God? How does this impact their development into adulthood?

I can’t explain away the parts of the Old Testament (and New) that describe God in such violent ways. I think there’s allegory and metaphor, and maybe, just maybe, God didn’t actually write in this book about how much he hates people who don’t worship him, people who perhaps don’t worship him because they’re scared of the God they’ve been presented with.

If Jesus told us to love our enemies, is it not plausible that God and Jesus actually practice what they preach and love people who are too afraid to love him? Even the people who don’t believe in Him/Her because they think S/He stands for ignorance and hatred? 

I’m seriously not trying to be divisive here. My heart just hurts from conversation after conversation of trite remarks about God’s wrath without ever considering that perhaps certain voices in Evangelicism have blown God’s anger out of proportion. When I read this book, when I live each day, when I experience grace and mercy and forgiveness, when I experience the divine connection to God in prayer, when I see the beautiful sky at night, I’m convinced so deeply that we do indeed worship a God that I can confidently call “love.” It feels so good to exhale and shed one more layer off of an asphyxia-causing noose, a layer of dogma I’ve heard about God but never experienced- a God who is more concerned about our sin that the imago dei he placed inside of us.

When your God is love, you are freed to love. When your God is love, you don’t have to walk in fear of when this God’s next outburst will be. When your God is love, you are freed from the ridiculous notion that you have to get the words right, the verse memorized tit-for-tat, have an answer ready for every and any question that comes along. When your God is love, your God isn’t afraid of your questions. S/He simply sees them as an opportunity to connect with a soul s/he loves, and mutually, we gratefully delight in each other’s companionship. And S/He loves us so much that s/he longs to have such moments with us. It’s beautiful, really. And sure not lonely. And definitely not laden in anger. 

They say love is patient, love is kind, love is gentle, that love is not self-seeking.
They say my God is love.

And love conquers all. 

Communion: Is it About Sexuality or Love?

This past weekend was the first time I experienced someone looking me in the eye, stating that they wouldn’t partake in communion with me.
Why?

Because of my views on homosexuality.

Is that what communion’s all about?

Clinking miniature plastic shot glasses with pre-filled grape juice as an “amen” to deeming what’s “abominable” in the eyes of God? A meal to lambaste a group of people who are “unnatural” and “cannot procreate?” Is communion all about reminding people that “‘they’ choose their own sexuality,” while you negate to mention that you didn’t choose yours? Does the act of communing only involve eating and drinking and doing life with people just like you, who think like you, who hate the ‘sins’ that you hate, who interpret scripture the way you interpret scripture, who vote the same way you vote?

Is that what communion is all about?

If that’s your version of gathering around the table, I’ll take a pass. Instead, I’ll go to the open field of freedom, where we sit in a circle, Kumbaya style, and each share the same cup and the same bread and say a glorious “Amen” to our maker, celebrating the imago dei in us all. We may not agree on everything and we each are passionate about different things, but together we create beauty and peace. Some of us are married; some of us aren’t. Yes, some of us like men; some of us like women; some of us don’t know; and, really, we don’t care either way. Because together, we know what we do care about: loving God and loving people. And anything we can do to advance the Kingdom of God- that Kingdom- we’ll do.

Because the last I checked, communion was about all of us being invited to the banquet table. Celebrating the Jesus who loves us as people first. People who feel pushed aside. People who are lonely. People who are searching for just one person to say, “Let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone.” People who love him. People who don’t. The world called them “prostitutes,” “tax collectors,” “Pharisees,” “sinners,” “adherent disciples,” “disciples-soon-to-be-betrayers.” The question is, though, Who would Jesus say he ate with? How did Jesus see each person he dined with? Does God see the prostitute? Or as author Shane Claiborne learned from a friend who was an atheist, “Jesus never talked to a prostitute because he didn’t see a prostitute. He just saw a child of God he was madly in love with.”

Realizing the beauty behind his friend’s words, Shane continues, “When we have new eyes, we can look into the eyes of those we don’t even like and see the One we love. We can see God’s image in everyone we encounter. As Henri Nouwen puts it, ‘In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.’ We are made of the same dust. We cry the same tears. No one is beyond redemption. And we are free to imagine a revolution that sets both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” (The Irresistible Revolution, pg. 266)

It’s easy now to see, in this light, how beautiful our God is and how precious we each are one to another, one to the world, one to our beloved Maker. Oh sure, it’s easy to point out the dissension, the arguing, the “righting,” and “wronging.” But when you take a second glance, when you uncover our fears, dismantle our pride, and each reach out our hands, we discover the love that Jesus sees when he looks into each child’s eyes and whispers directly from God, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

If I can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about.
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings
‘Cause we can talk and debate ’till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit just like we don’t have give a sh*t about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today

The Fiscal Cliff: Like the Wall Street Crash, “We Need a Little Christmas”

There are two hackneyed words that have droned on the web, radio, television, social media, and even in some conversations I’ve had this week: fiscal cliff. Not being an economist, I confess I dismissed most of it, just interpreting it as another way of phrasing the “not enough money” message we’ve been hearing about for the past five years, that further reiterate the messages of budget concerns I hear on weekly conference calls at work. Deciding, however, to become a little more informed, I found this Washington Post article to express “the fiscal cliff for dummies” (my words, not theirs). For those who can resonate with not quite understanding this issue, here’s a few main points:

The 2001 Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire on December 31, causing, among other factors, congress to discuss taxes increases/decreases and budget cuts. Congress has set a limit on how much money the U.S. can borrow, therefore, a deal must be reached.

Half of the scheduled annual cuts will come directly from the national defense budget, half from non-defense.

Social Security, Medicaid, supplemental security income, refundable tax credits, the children’s health insurance program, the food stamp program and veterans’ benefits will not be cut.

Discretionary programs (those that do not have earmarked funds) could face cuts. This includes educational and public health programs, to name a couple.

The Tax Policy Center has calculated that the fiscal cliff will raise taxes on 90 percent of Americans.

The tax hike would be largely progressive, with the tax rate increasing more on high-income Americans than lower-income taxpayers.

Those are a few highlights. There’s still a lot over my head. But that’s enough for me right now. I took a break from public radio this week— even though I enjoy listening to all the unique highlights and interviews I wouldn’t hear elsewhere— because somehow, whenever I’d leave for work in the morning, and whenever I’d leave in the evening, I always seemed to catch the headline news update. And most headline news reports this week have felt dismal. Parking my car after work this week and hearing words like “fiscal cliff” and “economy” swirling around my brain began to dull my ability to enjoy the blissful Christmas lights adorning the homes and entryways of my neighbors. So I decided to take a “media fast.”

A day into this “fast,” I went to Baltimore’s annual Monument tree lighting celebration, in which the city comes together for the lighting of Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Strolling the streets after the lighting and celebratory fireworks, I came across a quartet of women singing, “We Need a Little Christmas,” right there, on the sidewalk, taking a moment out of their evening to stop what they would have otherwise been doing, slow down, and simple sing a song of joy. A multi-racial crowd gathered around, cheering on the carolers, lauding them with applause. I listened to an older man with a broad smile tell me his about his favorite Christmas song -Oh Holy Night- and the joy that singing brings him. As we waved goodbye, tears warmed in my eyes, a little lump forming in my throat. I’m not normally this sensitive, but it’s just that this peaceful act of beauty has been missing from the news, often times, and, while I’m at it, missing in my life. Like when I complain about how long the grocery store line is instead of striking up a conversation with the man or woman in front of me, grateful to have an abundance of food to choose from and the ability to pay for it. It’s been missing from the world, as we shift our attention towards banter and money and taxes, when really, can’t this whole thing work itself out if we’d all just be a little more peaceful, a little more civil, be a little bit more willing to listen, and be a little bit more willing to cooperate cohesively as citizens of the United States of America? What would happen if, say, we shifted towards the spirit of unity that can so embody this time of year, a time in which every major world religion has a holy day to celebrate, or just finished celebrating a month earlier, as in the cases of the Hindu holiday Diwali and the Islamic New Year.

I think that’s what was captured in the gathering of people surrounding this beautiful quartet. Coming together, instead of dividing; finding hope, instead of despair; giving out of a loving heart instead of hoarding our riches to bless ourselves… isn’t that in the teachings of most major religions, anyway?

Interestingly enough, “We Need a Little Christmas” was sung in the Broadway musical Mame. The song is performed after Mame has lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and decides that she, her young nephew Patrick, and her two household servants “need a little Christmas now” to cheer them up. Patrick protests, “but Auntie, it’s one week from Thanksgiving now!” Intransigent, Mame insists, “It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough. For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older, and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder. I need a little Christmas now.” I think Mame knew something powerful: the joy of this season can bring hope even in the midst of despair, like in the Great Depression Mame faced.

Though a fictitious story, the lesson that Mame teaches us in the mantra of “We Need a Little Christmas” parallels to times today. No matter how pollyanna or naive it seems, we too can experience peace and joy in the midst of daunting or disheartening headlines that reflect anything but the Christmas spirit. And maybe, if we could focus on things to be joyful about, like stories of kindness and cheer in the media this month, a little bit more than we’ve done during the other months of this year, perhaps that spirit of kindness will help us become united as one this holiday season. As the saying goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” For me, as someone who is guilty of taking life too seriously as I all too frequently rush around with my own agenda, only half-heartedly listening to the world and those around me, learning how to express gratitude and gratefulness in the midst of my selfishness and apprehensions. What about you? What about us? What if this holiday season, we learn that we are truly brothers and sisters, neighbors to love? Let’s reflect this spirit  in anyway we can; you use your gift, I’ll use mine. Perhaps your gift is being able to spread a smile across someone’s face as they gather around neighbors-becoming-friends as they hear you sing mellifluously of hope and joy. Perhaps it’s inviting some friends over for no reason at all other than to be together, celebrating the life we’ve each been given. Perhaps it’s gathering your family together and choosing an animal for a family halfway across the world to use as a source of income. Whatever it looks like, it looks like love, it looks like togetherness, and to me, it epitomizes the true spirit of Christmas. Yes,—-

For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.

20 Songs That Are Shaping my Twenties


If your life were a movie, and you had to choose the soundtrack, what songs would you play?

Every meaningful movie has conflict, some beauty, some struggle, and, if you’ve persevered long enough, some climax. Here’s 20 that hit each of those, shaping my 20s with inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and peace.

What are your songs? What have they brought you through? What memories come to mind when you hear them play?

20. Chasing the Light -Mat Kearney
I remember playing this song right as I would leave work during the summer of 2011, ready to begin my bike ride home. Home at the time was a capricious neighborhood in inner city Baltimore that felt like anything but home at the time. I was in a season of feeling utterly confused about where I was going in life. I thought I moved there to be a part of community development… but was miserable. I wasn’t finding contentment in my career. I just felt lost but knew that there were still passions alive with in me, somewhere, waiting to come alive, if only I would give them permisson. This song helped me to take comfort in knowing that if I just kept trying to “chase the light,” I was bound to find my way, somehow.

“Every bridge that keep on burning
Every leaf that you keep on turning
Every road that you find uncertain
Pray for you now
Baby that you’ll figure it out
As you keep chasing the light…”

19. I and Love and You -The Avett Brothers
I came across this song after entering my first real world job and beginning my first serious relationship. This song reminds me of the process of growing up and maturing, with all of its vulnerability and beauty. I spent many a night driving home to this song, not minding if the light turned red, as to have one more moment to simmer in the beauty of life with the aid of such an alluring song.

18. Beautiful Things -Gungor
I first came across this song on Jennie Allen’s blog in which she posted about her family’s experience of adoption. The video deeply moved me, as international adoption has been on my heart ever since I was in high school. This video got me thinking about the beautiful things in this world, like family, and how within my own family, more and more beauty was arising out of brokenness. I played this song night after night finding renewed hope in that no matter how circuitous or confusing this life stage seems, God makes beautiful things out of chaos. I got teary-eyed the first time I sang it at the new church I attend, which makes an intentional effort to create a safe place for the LGBT community. I thought about all the Christian circles in which I didn’t feel this kind of openness and bridge-building and felt oh so thankful knowing that these places truly do exist, showing that God does redeem and create beauty in the midst of hurt and pain.

17. Can’t Let it Go -Goo Goo Dolls
“Some days I can’t believe
others I’m on my knees
Trying to be heard…”

I first heard this song on my iPod while on a run down a dirt road in Africa. I was trying to stay in shape for sophomore year of afrmy collegiate swim season. All of a sudden, a young boy, maybe 10 years old, came up and ran along side me. I turned around and there were another 10 kids slowly running towards us with much curiosity. I stopped running, realizing the immediacy of this moment that I would perhaps never ever again have. We stopped on the side of the road and played “Duck Duck Goose” for an hour. It was one of the best hours of my life. I think about that memory often, especially alongside of my spiritual journey. Some days, if I’m honest, these lyrics are a better description of the precarious position I find myself in as a person of faith than many “worship” songs.

16. Every Tear  Drop is a Waterfall -Coldplayny 12
This was New Year’s Day 2012. It had been a difficult, challenging year living in inner city Baltimore, but when I looked up at the dawn of a new year and saw this, I think I knew what Chris Martin meant when he sings, “And Heaven Is in Sight.”

15. City of Blinding Lights  -U2
Brain a bit fuzzy, I woke up on a window seat of a Boeing 747 to see the 6 AM July sunrise glistening off thousands of square homes in Dakar, Senegal in 2007. We had a brief layover, and right as we were about to take off, I hear Bono echo through my iPod, “And I’m getting ready to leave the ground…. (crash into feel-good choirs of “ooo-oooh–oooh–oooh—oooh–ooooh!”), whisking my heart into a sense of adventure and discovery about the world that I forever want to hold onto.

14. Study War No More -Moby
Sojourners created this video in September 2011 to call attention to the U.S.’ 10 year occupation in Afghanistan, at which point the U.S. spent $445 billion on the war. Conversely, this money could have been spent building 17,000 hospitals or 24,000 schools. Through advocacy and using your voice to contact congress to support the end of war, Sojourners has encouraged us to dream of a world in which “nation will no longer fight nation, neither will they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4). That’s been a big picture image of what I want my twenties to look like… actively taking steps to reflect Earth as it is in Heaven.

13. Cha Cha Slide -Mr. C The Slide Man
My 20s have been full of celebrating weddings. There’s something about this beat that will forever remind me of celebrating the joy of life with friends on the dance floor. I hope when I’m sixty I’ll remember my dear friend Katie Sutherland getting wild to “Apple Bottom Jeans” or how I knew the wedding would be ten times more fun if my friend Anastasia would be able to drive up from Virginia and catch a break from her grad program long enough to get funky on the dance floor to “O.M.G.”, showing me how to celebrate life and still have fun in the midst of overwhelming busyness. I’ll remember “Single ladies” playing at nearly every bouquet toss, and how, over the years, the friends I’d drag onto the dance floor with me for this song would slowly dwindle. But it didn’t matter. It was still fun every time. I’ll remember the time my friends and I drove nearly 6 hours to Virginia Beach for Lindsay’s wedding and piled into tiny stalls in a random Target bathroom to get into our dresses a half hour before the wedding ceremony began. I hope I’ll remember… and if I don’t, I’ll rely on some of these videos and pictures to help remind me… after all, we only capture the memories we love.

jt  red dr  j wed

12. Oh my God– Jars of Clay
Do you remember May 2, 2011? I listened to this song non-stop on this day; the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. I was crushed by the juxtaposition of death and peace and felt a sickness in my heart as I watched images of Americans gathering in the streets of D.C. celebrating the death of another human being. My heart hurt for the world and to see love overcome evil- all evil— all killing– and grew ever longing for the God of Heaven.

When we wake we hate our brother, we still move to hurt each other,
Sometimes I can close my eyes and all the fear the keeps me silent,
Falls below my heavy breathing, what makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder; we all have the need for wonder.
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the plunder.

Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven,
All the times I thought to reach up, all the times I had to give up.
Babies underneath their beds, in hospitals that cannot treat them.
All the wounds that money causes, all the comforts of cathedrals,
All the cries of thirsty children,
this is our inheritance,
All the rage of watching mothers, this is our greatest offense.

11. Under African Skies -Paul Simon
My dad and I have long bonded to Paul Simon, from “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” where I enjoyed the song’s rhymes as a kid, to “Under African Skies.” Paul Simon will always remind me of my dad, forever. This song reminds me of the fabrics that weave us together as humans and the power of love.
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein…

For more on this song, check out Cathleen Falsani’s article: “Graceland, Apartheid, and the Truth That Artists Speak

10. Poison and Wine -The Civil Wars
This song gave me a more beautiful and realistic understanding of love:
“Poison & Wine is a musical snapshot about the dichotomy of love – that while it can be the thing that destroys you, it can also be the very same thing that beckons and builds you. This song was our attempt at being as brutally honest about the dangerous and beautiful process of knowing and being known.” (-Joy Williams, The Civil Wars)

9. Maybe There’s a Loving God -Sara Groves
Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that’s a selfish thought
Or maybe there’s a loving God
Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there’s a loving God

This song helps me to rediscover the beauty and artistry of life and how God created us with an inquisition for wonder.

8. Hallowed -Jennifer Knapp
This song has helped me to wind down many a night to find inner peace.

7. Get on Your Boots -U2
For a couple months, until I broke my phone, this was my alarm ringtone. What would it look like if everyday we got on our boots ready to change the world?

6. Hush -Usher
Complains about the gas prices but still supports the war
He complains about his 6 figure salary tax to feed the poor
He doesn’t understand the homeless, doesn’t think its genocide
That millions die from three lethal letters
He does sh*t to make it better and I’m thinking
Everyone wants to touch the sky
Nobody wants to reach back
For the ones who are scared to fly
Everybody wants heaven
If you don’t want to sacrifice
Don’t say nothing

This song, released around the time of the 2008 election, encouraged young voters to get involved in social activism. According to Usher, “‘Hush’ is about my awakening over the past 10 years to the social issues in our country and realizing that I have a voice.” The striking lyrics got me thinking about the distribution of wealth in our country and wondering how we can make society more equitable and just.

5. What Matters More -Derek Webb
You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak
‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Tell me, brother what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister what matters more to you?

I love Derek’s audacious courage specifically asking Christians, what matters more— laws, rules, doctrine, telling people what you’re against—- or loving people well and showing them the love of God?

4. Words I Never Said -Lupe Fiasco and Skylar Grey
I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence
Fear is such a weak emotion that’s why I despise it
We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
It’s so loud inside my head
With words that I should have said

Bound to offend someone, Lupe sings about his honest feelings about the world, politics, injustice, oppression and inspired me to be less afraid to speak up with the words I haven’t yet said.
To learn more about Lupe’s Islamic faith and his album LASERS (backronym for Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile), check out Relevant’s article “The Incisive Lupe Fiasco.”

3. Breathing Air Again -Robbie Seay Band
I discovered this song sometime around 20. I spent spring break that year with friends driving to New Orleans for Katrina relief. We took our time driving home, getting our car stuck in the sand of Pensacola, doing cartwheels in the parks of Savannah, GA and sleeping at a rest stop in NC before heading home. This trip reminded me that while there is much depravity, as witnessed in the abandoned homes in New Orleans, there is also so much beauty in the world if we stop to admire it long enough.
miss  nq  ab

Take the time to be okay and laugh a bit along the way
You could take me for a ride; We could just drive all day…
And we could breathe again; Step outside our front door
And gaze upon the stars, And know we’re not alone
So run into the fields; Scream louder than you can
It’s good to be alive And breathing air again…
                                  
2. We Don’t Eat -James Vincent McMorrow
So if in the future I might need myself a savior
I’ll remember what was written on that wall
That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table
We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust
Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love
So if I were you, I’d have a little trust
   
This song fills me up with hope.
                    
1. We Are United -Vintage Church

Every church on every street
Even when we disagree
Every part it’s all unique
God under you I pray we’ll be…

This song reminds me that at the end of the day, our diviciveness lies null, along with our arguing and disagreement, as we gather around the table as ONE.

All pictures copyright MO

When I’m a Jerk.

Sometimes I’m a jerk.

A self-centered, harried jerk.

Take tonight at the grocery store for example. Trying to multi-task in my “being relational” and “doing more for Jesus,” (yuck… Christianese makes me sick) I secretly want to yell at the lady with screaming, whiny kids in the cart next to me, interrupting my phone conversation, as I forget the fact that I, too, was once that whiny kid; just because I can’t recollect it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Continuing with the multi-tasking, in an effort to bury my head in memorizing one more GRE vocab word, I almost knock someone over while turning down the next the aisle.

I catch a glimpse of James Dobson’s new book “Bringing up Girls” (which of course came out after “Bringing up Boys”) for sale on a random book rack. I glare, grit my teeth, and think mean things about Focus on the Family, wondering what repressive gender role messages they’re trying to spew this time.

I’ve been saying “shit” a lot.

Oh man, I just dropped my cell phone again.
Shit.

I can’t find my keys again.
Shit.

Why aren’t I more organized?
Shit.

Why am I constantly losing things?
Shit.

I’m late to work, late to my friend’s house, late to church.
Shit, shit, and… er, shoot.

Ouch. I can be such a jerk. I’m embarrassed and ashamed writing this that all of this exists within me, sharing space with the same body that wants to live out the “fruits of the spirit.”
The jerk comes out when I give into the lie that we should incessantly strive to “do more.” Doing more is the antithesis of the “come all who are weary” invitation Jesus offers. Doing more turns me selfish. It’s ok if I speed or for you to let me in your lane on the highway, after all, because I’m trying to “do more” to serve (which inadvertently assumes, more so than you, the person in the lane who I just cut in front of. Wow. Two points for jerkiness.). Life is too short. I have to pack in as much as I can, after all, because you or I could die tomorrow, right? So carpe diem, baby!

…Nonsense.

I am so thankful that there’s a recourse to this type of thinking. This type of thinking ridden in self-centeredness; that tries to be a conduit of God’s love, but ends up offering nothing but shallow banter. You know. One of those “hope you’re doing well!”s versus a sincere, “Hey, how are you doing? All of you? Even the parts inside that you don’t want anyone to see?”

I’m thankful that more often than not, God isn’t calling us to “do more.” He’s calling us to back to the “unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matt. 11:28 MSG). He’s calling us back to our first Love. He’s calling creation back to the Creator. He’s calling us back to the simple “love God, love others, and love others as you love yourself.” Serve your neighbor, serve the poor, and serve yourself an ice-cold water bottle to stay hydrated on your Sabbath walk out in the woods. Love your neighbor, love the poor, love your family, love the screaming kids in the grocery aisle, love the elderly person who is “slowing you down,” and remember to consider yourself lucky if you should life to that ripe old age one day. Then, you, as an Old Grandma, or Old Grandpa—remember to forgive the teenager who is glaring at you, wishing you would move faster,  as you remember when you used to do the same towards the elderly.

Confess cynicism. Own up to your own jerk-iness whenever it rears its ugly head. Ask about someone else’s day when you’re tempted to dwell on your own. Start over. Practice patience. Offer a compliment instead of a complaint. Greet your cashier by name. Get lost laughing in games of “peek-a-boo” in the grocery line with the kids who were just having a temper tantrum. Get lost in the stars, get lost in Jesus’ face in the eyes of those who are poor, get lost in God’s love as you feel an appropriate sense of smallness come over you, as awe and wonder take over, leaving the jerk far, far, behind. Do less when you feel the suction of the “do more” trap. Slow down when you’re moving too fast— long enough to count the number of birds you can see in sky right now. Breathe. Dig deep. Hop in the Conga line. Yes. Carpe that diem. 

The Paradoxical Sting (Prayer of Forgiveness)

Give us clean hands, Oh God,

But, like a child who falls down on hard ground,
scraping his/her hands,
dirt and dried blood disrupting
the smoothness of our open palms,
and learns that part of fixing up our wounds
is that awful, stinging, first aid antiseptic
that cleans our cuts,
accepting that we have to add more sting to our stings
in order for them not to sting anymore,

May we, too, realize
That our hands can only truly be made clean
When feel the sting
of our actions,
When we recognize the consequences
of our mangled webs we’ve trapped ourselves in,
When we feel the weight of what we’ve done
or hurt we’ve caused
Or verbalize all the secret truths about ourselves
we try to repress…

When we confess to God,
To those we’ve wronged,
and to ourselves

When we allow ourselves to hear,
taste, and feel the anodyne forgiveness of our God

When we allow ourselves to humbly take in
and receive grace in the forgiveness
of another human being,
the very one, in fact, we’ve wronged

When we, in turn, let such forgiveness
simmer down deep
into the parts of our souls still drenched in shame,
and finally make peace with ourselves through forgiveness,

Then, and perhaps only then, will we experience
the allelujah of being washed clean
,
Our broken pieces made whole
Our scrapes, healed,
Our hearts, resolved.
Our harried minds, resoluted,
Our souls, in holy peace.

Amen.

copyright MO 2012