prodigal son

i am more prodigal son than wandering sheep –

a more self-inflicting creature

and less one who takes wrong turns

short-sighted, impulsive,

self-reliant on my own resources of which

i have none.

but you always saw me as

a lost coin

and i wanted so badly to be that valuable.

i wanted to gleam that newly minted

golden glow of perfection,

to possess for myself

an innocence that i can’t remember having.

but, i must have

for don’t we all begin that way?

don’t we all begin with soft skin,

mouths unaccustomed to

forming heartbreak words

scattering across the ground like glass beads

from a broken necklace?

Tell me how i can get back to the beginning

where i could gleam like a minnow

against rain spattered currents

all light and love and breath,

to be pure like cheeks flushed from snow

or gentle like midmorning.

this is the shape of the God hole

its contours like child’s hands

that cannot clean themselves.

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alone

This week, I’ve seen two videos encouraging the idea of cultivating peaceful solitude.

The first, a TED Talk about social media, false connectedness, and what we really need (courtesy of Mike Zosel)

The second,a soft spoken video of encouragement from poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis.

 

I am thankful for these small, bold voices  reminding me that it really is okay to be alone sometimes. I don’t prefer it, but I do need to be okay with it.

Though these words are few and somewhat lost in the clamor of daily needs, anxieties, and demands, I hope they whisper to your heart as they did mine.

haldi

i have learned this week

two home remedies for a cold;

a drink with whiskey, honey, lemon, orange and hot water

the alcohol kills the bacteria, you see

and the honey makes it sweet

also you need vitamin c.

The other

with turmeric powder and hot milk,

like a bitter curry cocoa

that faraway family members of a friend swear by

your great aunt asks for it each time she is sick!

Turmeric is haldi in hindi

a divine allitereration,

a more beautiful word than its taste would suggest

gingery bitter with the ability to turn your

whole mouth yellow

and perhaps your stomach.

Neither of these i will likely try,

but I like the idea of

swallowing something bitter

to heal from the inside

I think I could use a little more

haldi in hot milk

than getting tipsy enough to fall asleep

the acceptance meadow

There are some authors I enjoy. Some who have written books whose words have shaped my being, influenced my perspective, and taught me lessons through their countless pages.

And then there’s Sugar, author of the advice column “Dear Sugar” for the online newspaper The Rumpus.net

Before I read her column, I was going through a season where my mind was in a perpetual state of chaos – it felt like a million molecules colliding inside my brain, or voices trying to talk over one another in my heart. I was entrenched in deconstructing and reconstructing so many aspects of my life, trying to sort the matters of the heart without really seeking advice from anyone on how to do so. It was exhausting, and it never felt safe or right to just be honest about how much that period of life truly sucked. I felt like the only person who didn’t know what they were doing, who was messy and undependable.

I think one thing that modern culture is beginning to really struggle with is the ability to express dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment or rejection. With the influx of social media, there has become an unstated pressure to “like” everything and to tout the aspects of your life that make it seem like you really have it all together. One aspect of Sugar’s writing that really appealed to my troubled heart was the brutal honesty she expressed in her advice without losing empathy for the person who wrote to her. I enjoyed her technique of stripping all of the varnish off the stories that we tell ourselves, and her urges for individuals to look at themselves in the mirror in the stark florescence of reality. Dammit, I needed to end my little pity party and do that. 

It helped. It helped to read the requests for advice; stories of people afraid that they will never be loved, stories of people who have lost children, stories of quadriplegics wondering what the world has left for them. It was all so beautiful to read calls for help and admittance that we sometimes go to dark, scary places inside our hearts. Then the responses from Sugar deconstructed and reconstructed these people’s stories, encouraged them and told them to cut the bullshit and really be honest with themselves.

Then, an unexpected surprise. This mythical, anonymous author of infinite advice and excellent stories revealed who she was on Valentine’s Day, and that woman is Cheryl Strayed.

At the time, I wondered whether knowing her identity would “take away the magic” of her words. Some other readers voiced this as a concern as well. With anonymity, a person can take whatever shape you desire them to be. Anonymity makes an individual easy to demonize, or conversely, easier to elevate.

That got me thinking about who else I prefer to keep anonymous.

There are people in my life that I’ve painted as two-dimensional, and also people that I have reduced to being two-dimensional because acknowledging otherwise opens up a new reality that I’m just not ready to deal with sometimes. I remember during my parents divorce when I cast my dad as an anonymous asshole that kept hurting my mom, and it felt safe to hate him that way. Only after moving in with him did I realize that he was a human being with a soft heart and a stubborn personality. We had awkward conversations where I cried awkward tears because acknowledging him as more than anonymous actually felt like it was tearing open a hole in my heart.

I know I’ve reduced people that have rejected me as two-dimensional, and that I’ve done that in order to reject other people as well. I’ve also done this with situations, especially grief and mourning.

The mourning process is largely regarded as one with finite phases. You know- denial, pain, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Once you go through those woods, you’re supposed to arrive at a meadow on the other side. The Acceptance Meadow. It’s all supposed to be over because you went through the hard part and you just move on eventually. Losing my dad was one of the biggest lessons in my life that this simply isn’t true – there is no Acceptance Meadow. Even after all of these years, I feel the weight of carrying his memory in my heart. And, as years have gone on and some relationships have faded, I still carry those people in my heart as well. The place where you cease to know someone is the anonymous place we all tell ourselves we’ll get to someday once missing them is over.

And we don’t.

And those people are only as anonymous as we make them.

I think the stark reality is that we are all bound by the human thread. No one is as terrible or wonderful as we can construct them to be when we choose to know less about them. Knowing Sugar’s identity hasn’t taken the wisdom out of her words, or ruined the illusion. It’s the same exact thing that happens when you have an honest conversation.

 It is better to be known, if the opportunity to be known presents itself.

 

regarding those on the periphery

I remember the first time I saw hypocrisy from a church member.

For a while growing up, being a church person was an ideal but not a reality. My family went to church for about a year together in Florida during my freshman year of high school, but it was an abridged version of churchgoing. We came early because my dad loved the worship music – performed each Sunday by Andy Chrisman of “4Him” fame. The man could sing, it was true. However, as soon as the service ended we were quickly shuffled out of the rented theater space and into the car, or perhaps to sightsee at the farmers market nearby.  Either way, the procedure was attend, listen, leave.

So when I became involved in a youth group in high school soon after we moved to Oregon, I was excited that people I went to church with actually knew my name! I had ‘worship nights’ with friends where we would inhabit the local park and sing familiar songs by David Crowder until it got too dark. We spent our summers working menial jobs so we could afford concert tickets to other Christian music artists. Church friends were the friends who were concerned with doing service acts like homeless outreach, loving others, and playing worship music on guitars.

It blew me away one night when I was surrounded by church friends at a birthday party, and the subject somehow switched to homosexuality. One teenage boy got a soured look upon his face and mumbled “its wrong and its sick” and shook his head as though to clear the thought away. It was a foreign thought to me at the time. I previously had a throng of gay friends when I went to high school in Florida, friends who let me dye their hair green in my house bathtub and who joked that they were going to hell in a rainbow-colored handbasket. These people were hilarious and even edgy from my experience  – it never occurred to me to evaluate whether they were living their lives “rightly” or even wrongly. Real Christians didn’t do that, did they? I thought it was only those televangelists and the Westboro Baptist Church that could profess things like that and think they were right in God’s eyes.

An uncomfortable air settled on the group as I fought for words to say against this youth group friend, something that would convince him that it was ridiculous to say such things and that Jesus had my back on this one. I couldn’t find the words, so instead I fell silent. Did Jesus have my back on this one?

The guitar strings hummed beneath his fingers a few minutes later, and the teenage boy fell into the David Crowder song “Oh, Praise Him.” A few minutes after his comment, he was beginning a worship song!  I couldn’t believe it! Looking over at this friend, there was no longer the disgust that had previously registered on his face but rapturous peace as he sang out into the backyard, his mouth curved into that worship-smile.

“That is bullshit,” I thought to myself “there’s no way I’m buying this guy’s faith now.” It seemed so contradictory to everything we had learned in youth group – wasn’t Jesus all about loving everyone? There wasn’t even the ye olde “love the sinner, hate the sin” line thrown in before the worship songs began. There wasn’t even much reason given to have such an opinion. My guess is that he didn’t take time to analyze societal context of the Levitical or Pauline letters, or to look at the greek root of the word pornea, or aphrodisia before he gave it much thought. Shoot, I hadn’t at that point, either.

I’ve thought about writing a blog post in response to the many opinions surrounding Mars Hill Church’s “Discipline contract”  (found here: http://matthewpaulturner.net/jesus-needs-new-pr/mark-driscolls-church-discipline-contract-looking-for-true-repentance-at-mars-hill-church-sign-on-the-dotted-line/) or even to the more recently posted John Piper conference, where he declared that God gave Christianity a ‘masculine feel’ (here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/) But in the end, looking at the two of these articles, it seemed clear that their critics were asking the same question that I was when I was sixteen on the birthday porch with my youth group friend –

“is this how God would treat the outsider?”

And the resounding answer is no. Lately, especially in light of these controversies, I’ve begun to evaluate a church, person, or theological statement on the basis of how it appraises those it excludes.Also, more importantly, I think we all subconsciously evaluate proclaimed followers of Jesus on how they treat those on the outside.

We know from bible stories that Jesus chose to enjoy the fellowship of the outsiders – especially the most hated of all, the tax collectors. In the first article, when Mars Hill planned to ex-communicate the ‘disobedient’ church member who was unwilling to yield to ‘church authority,’ they cited Matthew 18:17

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

This upheld their ex-communicate-unless-he-repents views, except that they forgot how Jesus treated tax-collectors. 

” As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!”And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:14-17

This is where exclusion within churches doesn’t make sense. When we are instructed to treat others as sinners and tax collectors, it seems instead that fellowship and inclusion is what Jesus was trying to communicate in Matthew. The kingdom of heaven’s message is always “come unto me, all you who are weary.

Shouldn’t that be ours as well?

To the women who know that God has called them to teach, to preach, to give communion in church – come.

To the ostracized, the sinful, the people who cannot go a single day without screwing it all up – come.

To the disobedient, disagreeable, and those that differ in opinion and action – come. 

The table will hold you. He has prepared it for you. And the message that He has for you is come.

 

 

 

home

 

The hauntingly beautiful song that has been stuck in my head all day.

 

I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a building high as heaven
But the door was so small, door was so small
I saw rainclouds, little babies
And a bridge that had tumbled to the ground
I saw sinners making music
I’ve dreamt of that sound, dreamt of that sound
I was walking far from home
But I carried your letters all the while
I saw lovers in a window
Whisper, “Want me like time, want me like time”
I saw sickness, blooming fruit trees
I saw blood and a bit of it was mine
I saw children in a river
But their lips were still dry, lips were still dry
I was walking far from home
And I found your face mingled in the crowd
Saw a boatful of believers sail off
Talking too loud, talking too loud
I saw sunlight on the water
Saw a bird fall like a hammer from the sky
Saw an old woman on the speed train
She was closing her eyes, closing her eyes
I saw flowers on the hillside
And a millionaire pissing on the lawn
Saw a prisoner take a pistol
And say, “Join me in song, join me in song”
Saw a car crash in the country
Where the prayers run like weeds along the road
I saw strangers stealing kisses
Giving only their clothes, only their clothes
Saw a white dog chase its tail
And a pair of hearts carved into a stone
I saw kindness and an angel
Crying, “Take me back home, take me back home”
Saw a highway, saw an ocean
I saw widows in the temple to the law
Naked dancers in the city
How they spoke for us all, spoke for us all
Saw loaded linen tables
And a motherless colt, then it was gone
I saw hungry brothers waiting
With a radio on, radio on
I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a wet road form a circle
And it came like a call, came like a call
From the Lord

provacative

I read this article and enjoyed the authors point of view immensely, as someone who has often felt confused when the issue of ‘working on a relationship with God’ was presented.

 

http://www.sojo.net/blogs/2011/12/27/bait-and-switch-contemporary-christianity

Best quote:

Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.”